On December 1, 2009, international lawyer Robert Amsterdam published the White Paper entitled “Reform vs. Status Quo: The Campaign Against Nasir El-Rufai and the Degeneration of Progress in Nigeria.” The paper details the political attack of false charges and slander made against El-Rufai by the current leadership, and offers a perspective on the mechanisms of corruption which have repeatedly encumbered political reform, good governance, and transparency in Nigeria. Writing in the preface, Amsterdam argues: “Anyone who is familiar with the details of this case will agree that it is politically motivated persecution. For anyone who disagrees, this White Paper marks the formal announcement that we are open and willing to defend Nasir on any platform available with all the facts in front of us. That is much more than we can say about those who oppose us.”
DOWNLOAD THE FULL PDF VERSION OF THE WHITE PAPER “REFORM VS. STATUS QUO” HERE. Below are the extracts of the Foreword written by former attorney general Kanu Agabi, and the Executive Summary.
FOREWORD BY THE HON. KANU G. AGABI, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NIGERIA
I thank Robert Amsterdam for making known, through this book, the sacrifices of my friend Nasir El-Rufai for the emancipation of our dear country. He was my friend before the present controversies. That friendship was founded partly on his courage, vision for our country, his resilience and his patriotism. Since these controversies arose I have found no reason to reconsider my feelings towards him. On the contrary, if there ever was need to stand by him, it is now. I can say of him that he is God’s gift to our country. I appeal to those who will be opportuned to read this book by Robert Amsterdam to do so dispassionately. The things that El-Rufai has had to do for the nation are difficult things. He has had to tread upon hard and difficult ground and to step on many and often very big toes. When he had to take difficult decisions, he did not hesitate and his courage never failed him. He is a fair-minded, hardworking and unrelenting man. His great humility is beclouded by his rigid opposition to evil. El-Rufai is a man it behooves us to strive to understand.
God has ordained that whenever there is work to be done there should be somebody to do it. I regard El-Rufai and Nuhu Ribadu as those agents of God who laid the modern foundations of the rule of law in Nigeria. Being human, it is to be expected that works of such monumental proportions as they had to do might be attended here and there with errors. We cannot fail to act just because we are afraid that we might err. The emphasis ought to be, not on what went wrong, but on the good that was done. The human vessels that God himself has used have never been perfect. God uses those who possess the required qualities and who are prepared to do his will. Such a man is El-Rufai.
In assessing the contributions of El-Rufai to the establishment of law and order in our country, we should bear in mind that during the dictatorship which lasted for nearly three decades, the judiciary and the police were neglected with the result that these institutions became very weak and ineffective. Law and order were maintained by the military. And whenever they found it convenient they ousted the jurisdiction of the courts. As a result corruption permeated every department of our national life. Strictly speaking, we were not a nation under law. The nation was stigmatized and despised. That was very briefly, the state of the nation when civil rule was introduced in 1999.
With the advent of civil rule the pendulum swung from one extreme of dictatorship to the extreme of liberalism. Corruption and violence became even more rife. Elections were attended by various malpractices. At one time, the nation was ranked as the second most corrupt in the world. In the various States and Local Government Areas, the structures for accountability were destroyed and the governors seemed above the law. The master-plan of the Federal Capital Territory was grossly distorted and land allocations were attended by all sorts of scandals, abuses and malpractices. One of the earliest actions of President Obasanjo’s administration was to examine the federal capital territory, Abuja, with a view to correcting the distortions of the master-plan. In the end the conclusion of the federal government was apparently that the damage was beyond repair. And indeed for nearly four years after that examination nothing was done to repair the damage.
All hope seemed lost when, early in his second term the President appointed Mallam El-Rufai as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory. He proceeded immediately to do what seemed impossible – to restore the master-plan of the Federal Capital Territory. This entailed the demolition of houses which had been erected along sewage lines and the restoration of parks which had been parceled out and allocated to men and women of rank. Land allocation in the Federal Capital Territory was streamlined and impostors were arrested and charged to court. Naturally, this led to all sorts of controversies and resentment by those whose actions had led to the distortion of the master-plan. The vast majority of Nigerians commended the efforts of the minister and have remained grateful to him to this day. I am one of those Nigerians.
At the time that El-Rufai assumed office as minister of the Federal Capital Territory, I had left Office as Attorney-General and Minister of Justice and was serving as special adviser to the president on ethics and good governance and also Nigeria’s human rights adviser (HEURIST). I can attest to the fact that his tenure as minister coupled with the work of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission marked the true beginning of the restoration of the rule of law in Nigeria. Prior to that we had merely paid lip-service to the concept of the rule of law. The hope which we now entertain that there shall be no further distortions to the master-plan of the Federal Capital Territory is owed to the courage and sacrifices of Mallam El-Rufai. By his works he has immortalized himself and will never be forgotten when the history of this country comes to be written.
KANU G. AGABI, (CON)
FORMER ATTORNEY-GENERAL AND MINISTER OF JUSTICE OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, SPECIAL ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT ON ETHICS AND GOOD GOVERNANCE AND NIGERIA’S HUMAN RIGHTS ADVISER (HEURIST).
It is an unwritten rule of Nigerian politics that the presidency is “rotated” between the North and the South of the country. It is common knowledge that one person from the North stood out as the one of the most experienced, serious, and accomplished political office-holder by 2007: the former head of the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. This White Paper tells the story of how a fearful government is attempting to destroy a successful political career through false charges. Their goal is to destroy the country’s class of reformers, maintain a state of corruption and impunity, and most importantly, barring a popular leader from political contention.
The El-Rufai saga has deep roots. In April of 2003, as Olusegun Obasanjo was re-elected president of Nigeria with more than 61 per cent of the vote, the political economy of Nigeria was showing several signs of hope. The on-again, off-again nature of Nigeria’s approach to reform since independence was on the upswing toward greater transparency at many levels of government and society. Independent bodies had been established to crack down on corruption and financial crimes, a global oil boom was once again bringing economic prosperity to the country, and democratic institutions were in the process of consolidation.
In keeping with this momentum, President Obasanjo immediately nominated Nasir El-Rufai, the country’s privatization czar for the previous four years who had a reputation for no-nonsense work-a-holism, to head the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Administration. The position is part of the president’s cabinet and carries as one of its responsibilities the oversight of far-reaching reforms in the nation’s capital, Abuja.
For El-Rufai, the appointment was merely the logical next step in a career defined by battling the ruling elite to change a notoriously corrupt system of governance in Nigeria driven by a political culture of patronage. One of El-Rufai’s first actions as the new FCT chief was to bring to light the revelation that the Nigerian Senate’s deputy majority leader and deputy senate president solicited from him a 54 million naira bribe (US$414,000) in exchange for a speedy confirmation to his new post. When the ensuing uproar subsided, the Senate voted to dismiss El-Rufai’s accusations and he remained in the position, but the Nigerian Senate as an institution, never forgot or forgave him. The fact that the day Nasir El-Rufai brought his bribery accusations to the Senate floor – October 7, 2003 – was coincidentally the very day Transparency International named Nigeria the second most corrupt country in the world out of 133 countries surveyed underlines the gravity of Nigeria’s situation.
This episode is just one of many examples of the difficulties El-Rufai and other proponents of reform encounter when attempting to improve Nigeria’s political environment. Beginning with his role advising the transitional government of General Abdulsalami Abubakar following General Sani Abacha’s death, to his tenure as director general of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and then as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja (FCT), El-Rufai has consistently acted in favour of transparent governance, even in situations in which there was enormous political pressure to conform with the status quo. Throughout its young history as an independent nation, efforts to reform the politics of corruption in Nigeria are often met with fierce resistance, and the accompanying accusations and charges against El-Rufai during this time fit into this larger pattern.
This document seeks to clear Nasir El-Rufai’s name and reputation. It will begin with a review of his career in public service, including his role in the transitional government of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, his tenure in the BPE, and then Minister of the FCT. The various charges brought against El-Rufai are summarized, as well as the subsequent rebuttals and lawsuits he filed in his defence to counter the falsehoods of the accusations. The persecution of El-Rufai has occurred within the context of Nigeria’s political culture, underscoring a familiar and disappointing trend of the leadership threatening to reverse the country’s tentative steps toward reform back the status quo, and in the process, the government has spread unacceptable lies to its citizens and the international community.