Nasir El-Rufai is all but guaranteed to excuse himself from President Bola Tinubu’s federal executive council even if his security clearance ultimately goes through for ministerial confirmation, Peoples Gazette heard from two people familiar.
The former Kaduna governor said he was incensed by the hold on his senatorial endorsement that appeared to cast a pall on his security status as a prominent Nigerian politician, according to the sources who urged anonymity to relay aspects of a recent meeting with the ministerial nominee to The Gazette.
From our findings, Mr El-Rufai has not publicly announced his intention to abandon his ministerial nomination because he believed the Senate would eventually receive a green light from the national security establishment and subsequently confirm him. He has decided to wait until his confirmation before announcing his desire not to serve in the cabinet, sources said, eliminating any emergency developments that could force his hands otherwise. He could be the first to resign ministerial appointment between Senate confirmation and inauguration.
The reason Mr El-Rufai decided to follow this approach, The Gazette heard, was to show the Nigerian public that there were no justifiable grounds for the outcome of his security assessment to be placed on hold, presumably by national security adviser Nuhu Ribadu, much less being heinous enough to preclude him from serving as a minister.
Mr El-Rufai was among three politicians whose confirmations were withheld by the Senate on Monday. They were among 48 total ministerial nominations forwarded to the upper parliamentary chamber by Mr Tinubu, with lawmakers clearing 45 names who are now being assigned portfolios. Senate President Godswill Akpabio was silent on what informed the body’s decision to reject three ministers.
Whereas the grounds for withholding confirmation for the two other nominees, Abubakar Danladi of Taraba and Stella Okotete of Delta, were publicly documented, even if unstated by Mr Akpabio, Mr El-Rufai’s fate has been stranded in the realm of high octane speculations that have proven rather stubborn for his supporters to quell. Some of his opponents swore the hold was due to Mr El-Rufai’s handling of ethnic and sectarian clashes that overshadowed most of his tenure as a two-term governor; while others cited the politician’s insinuated propensity for corruption and betrayal of allies.
Mr El-Rufai’s decision came despite relentless entreaties from his closest and most powerful friends, who said he should follow them to see Mr Ribadu to resolve any outstanding issues.
“His Excellency Nasir El-Rufai is a man of conviction, and he has made it clear that he won’t be meeting Nuhu Ribadu to lobby him for security clearance,” one of our sources said. “In fact, he was supposed to be in Abuja on Wednesday for a meeting with the NSA but he vigorously turned it down.”
Mr Ribadu’s involvement in the last-minute intervention of the NSA in the ministerial nomination process was first reported by Sahara Reporters. The Gazette heard that Mr El-Rufai insisted that he won’t be meeting Mr Ribadu because he strongly believed the NSA lacked requisite political stature to unilaterally withhold a ministerial nomination.
Mr El-Eufai and other nominees had been previously cleared by the State Security Service prior to being asked to proceed to the Senate. They were all questioned for more than a week as part of the screening process. It, however, remained unclear how Mr Ribadu managed to successfully raise objection to the previously imminent confirmation of Mr El-Rufai and two others.
“Whatever Nuhu Ribadu might be doing, he won’t be able to do it without the president’s prior knowledge,” the source said, echoing Mr El-Rufai’s position. “So that is why he would wait until he finally gets confirmed before pulling out of the cabinet.”
Mr El-Rufai did not return a request seeking comments from The Gazette about what he told his friends, yet he didn’t object to running this story.
Mr Ribadu, whose specific grouse against Mr El-Rufai could not be yet ascertained by The Gazette, did not return a request seeking comments about his involvement on Tuesday night. A spokesman for the president was not available for comments on Wednesday morning.
A career civil engineer, Mr El-Rufai served in different capacity under President Olusegun Obasanjo between the early and mid-aughts, including four years as Abuja minister from 2003-2007. He later abandoned the then-ruling Peoples Democratic Party amid tensed political atmosphere and aligned with then-opposition elements that ultimately formed the now-ruling All Progressives Congress.
He was elected Kaduna governor in May 2015, serving for two terms until May this year. His political opponents have often deployed his acerbic interference in public discussions against him, but he has rarely ever apologised for his views, which ranged from confronting a sitting president in populist advocacy to championing execution of foreigners who interfere in Nigerian affairs on national television.
“There is nothing new about being a minister to him anymore, since he has done it before, so he would turn down the position after security clearance,” one of his allies emphasised to The Gazette. Mr El-Rufai faced criticism recently for accepting Mr Tinubu’s nomination after publicly stating that he was no longer interested in being a minister. An ally said he accepted the nomination based on fresh factors that emerged after the elections.