The notion that Tinubu is a master political strategist can be confirmed by how he played former Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai. Some see Tinubu’s relationship with El-Rufai as manipulating for his political gain. But is it? Finding people to play vital roles in achieving a goal without knowing the larger scheme is not uncommon in politics. The technique can be seen as Machiavellian, a calculated move to use others as tools for personal or political advantage without regard for their autonomy or awareness.
Tinubu saw it necessary to recruit El-Rufai for his campaign even though he was pained for not being considered the vice presidential candidate and dared to leave the country immediately after his tenure. Therefore, El-Rufai’s lukewarm attitude during the campaign made them choose him as the perfect prey to play the political script. Also, APC was desperate for support in the North and could not afford an in-house conflict in the party like with PDP.
During the campaign, Tinubu courted El-Rufai the way he would court the attention of the most beautiful lady in town. He lined up like a suitor to dance and catch his attention at all costs. The way Tinubu courted El-Rufai, standing out from the crowd, mirrors the special treatment a gentleman might give to the most admired lady in the room, ensuring she feels distinguished and treasured.
Tinubu showed El-Rufai the respect he craved throughout their courtship. He even brought him into the spotlight at Chatham House when no one expected. He visited Kaduna and begged him to change his mind and work with him.
For El-Rufai, he felt empowered to go after anyone that worked against his newfound love. He was so confident to the point of assuring people that he would be Tinubu’s goalkeeper—Chief of Staff—once they won the presidency. At some point, he overcompensated his confidence by quickly turning it into arrogance. He denigrated the northern elders with all sorts of names. When the campaign got tougher, he even took Buhari to court at the expense of his newfound love—Tinubu.
In the end, when Tinubu knew El-Rufai had served his full purpose, he made efforts to make the separation amicable. Of course, some will feel it was tough, but in hindsight, Tinubu has limited options, and using El-Rufai seems the best choice. A few pockets of people view the non-confirmation El-Rufai as a humiliation to him. But is it?
How many people did El-Rufai humiliate since he joined politics? In the words of my law mentor, those who live by the sword will die by the sword, implying that the way he treated others is eventually coming back to him. The question of whether this constitutes humiliation, or is merely the result of playing a political game, is a complex one.
Tinubu knew El-Rufai was dispensable because there were so many petitions against him. A standing order from the Senate Committee of Senator Sodangi from Nasarawa State indicted him for misappropriating public funds in 2008 and recommended that he be banned from holding any public office. It was also a kind of revenge for Tinubu because they had some back and forth. His unguarded utterances are well-documented too.
In his book ‘The Accidental Civil Servant’, El-Rufai wrote a 4-page story about how Atiku prevented Tinubu from scamming the federal government. In May 2019, during his war of words with Tinubu, there were newspaper reports of him saying he would never agree to be a vice president to a drug baron or corrupt politician. In the same month, he suggested that Lagos’s godfatherism could be ended as he did in Kaduna and even said he is unapologetic to those who feel offended. Some would say his behaviour is just politics, and I hope they will agree what Tinubu did to El-Rufai is politics too.
The argument about competence is a non-issue because the president cannot be compelled to work with those he does not like. And by listening to his Senate presentation objectively, it was clear he was not the right fit to be the Minister of Energy. He clearly failed to demonstrate a track record of education or experience in the energy sector. He said he had degrees in quantity survey and law, a diploma in computing, and master’s degrees in business and public administration. His experience was in construction consultancy before joining the public service as the DG BPE, minister and governor. If this was a job interview, he did not articulate his competence.
The well-orchestrated plan also dragged a useful opposition party member, Senator Khalid Ibrahim, from the PDP. He was played like El-Rufai too. He was the one that stood up to commend El-Rufai for his good work in Kaduna and even asked the Senate members for him to bow and go.
The story behind Khalid’s emergence as a senator is an emotional one. His constituents voted for him in protest against El-Rufai’s government. His local government, Soba, is one of the most bandit-ravaged areas in Kaduna. Of course, the non-confirmation has debunked his false praises about El-Rufai. If he were wiser, he would have kept quiet instead of saying what is untrue, but this is how they select useful political tools.
Following El-Rufai’s non-confirmation, he went on the radio to say no one could ever mentor him before leaving the country. Obviously, everyone knows it is just another gimmick. He will come running whenever Tinubu decides to be benevolent. If that time comes, I recommend he works under the tutelage of Vice President Shettima because he has a track record of taming people like El-Rufai, including some past governors.