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Kaduna’s el-Rufai: a man of golden networks

By 'Tofe Ayeni
Posted on Thursday, 21 May 2020 13:06, updated on Friday, 22 May 2020 10:39

Widely praised for his work in Kaduna State, some wonder if governor Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, will build on that momentum and run for president in 2023. 

Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai is currently serving his second term as governor of Kaduna State. Formerly Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (2003-2007) and director of Public Enterprises (1999-2003), he was a founding member of the ruling All Progressives Congress.

Business network

A prominent businessman before entering politics, el-Rufai has a large network of politicians and businesspersons, both young and old, who have helped him, and whom he has helped in return in his rise to prominence.

In November 2019, el-Rufai was appointed by the National Economic Council (NEC) as the head of the ad-hoc committee that will review the ownership of electricity companies (DisCos) in the country. This appointment speaks of the admiration and trust put in him by many in government.

Notable supporters of el-Rufai from the business world:

  • Aliko Dangote: The business mogul openly proposes that the north needs more leaders like the Kaduna State governor in order to bridge the development gap between the north and the rest of the country.
  • Hakeem Belo-Osagie: They are close friends, and admire each other’s qualities, leading to the appointment of Belo-Osagie as the chair of the governing board of the Kashim Ibrahim Fellows Programme. This programme was created in February 2018 as part of the governor’s commitment to raising the next generation of leaders. Belo-Osagie is a lawyer, the former Chairman of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) and an astute businessman, and as a close friend, is assumed to be one of el-Rufai’s confidantes and advisors, albeit not in an official capacity.

Political allies

Although el-Rufai initially made a successful mark in business, casting his net to the political world was not fruitful from the start. But through acquaintances and timely opportunities, he began to make his mark and be known.

  • General Abdulsalami Abubakar: Although it is not clear whether they are friends, as Abubakar has close ties with the former military head of state Ibrahim Babangida, it must be noted that he gave el-Rufai his first role in government – a member of the Programme Implementation and Monitoring Committee in 1998-1999, during the nine-month transition to civil rule. However, el-Rufai remained relatively unknown during this time.
  • Olusegun Obasanjo: The former president made el-Rufai the first Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (PBE), which he had established during his first term as president (1999-2003). El-Rufai is given most of the credit for the success of Obasanjo’s privatisation programme, and the liberalisation of the nation’s economy. In recent years, Obasanjo has (controversially) paid official visits to el-Rufai in Kaduna State.
  • Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso: the current Senator and former Governor of Kano State forms a tight trio with Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and el-Rufai. The three share similar views about the political and socio-economic situation in the north and the country at large. They have equally had run-ins with the established political and social order of the north. Being outspoken, ambitious, resource-endowed, well-connected, and former or present holders of powerful positions, some believe that this trio will form some sort of ticket in the 2023 general elections. In 2015, Kwankwaso, el-Rufai and Saraki spoke out against Buhari in their party, the APC.
  • Sanusi Lamido Sanusi: The recently deposed Emir of Kano is a childhood friend of the governor, and el-Rufai has stuck his neck out for him time and time again. Hours of his removal as Emir, the Kaduna State Government announced his appointment as the Vice Chairman of the Kaduna State Investment Promotion Agency (KADIPA) as well as the Chancellor of the Kaduna State University (KASU). In 2017, Sanusi referred to el-Rufai as the only public officer that make him look moderate. In a post on Instagram, he said: “It’s a great pleasure watching my friend and brother Governor @nelrufai [Nasir Ahmad Elrufai] talk to us about his vision for making “Kaduna Great Again”.

His new generation

El-Rufai is eager to hand the political baton over to, or at least share it with, the younger generation of Nigerians, and he equally wants to see more women in power.

READ MORE Nigeria’s women remain vulnerable until power changes hands

To follow through on this goal, he is known to hire many women and young people, making him stand out from his counterparts who seem keen for power to remain status quo and void of new blood.

Some prominent examples are:

  • Dr Amina Baloni: Commissioner of Health, Kaduna State. A medical doctor with a masters in public health, she has been essential to Kaduna’s success during the coronavirus pandemic. She was also active in Nigeria’s fight against Ebola and Lassa fever.
  • Dr Hadiza Sabuwa Balarabe: Deputy governor of Kaduna State – the first woman to hold this position. As a doctor, el-Rufai largely allowed her to take charge, with the Commissioner of Health, in the fight against COVID-19. Kaduna has been praised for taking initiative to get ahead of the crisis, in a way that other states have not done so.

READ MORE Coronavirus: Nigeria’s varied responses to controlling COVID-19

  • Muhammad Hafiz Bayero: Relatively young by comparison to many of his peers, he began working with el-Rufai in 2014 as the Administrative Secretary of the Steering Committee of the governor’s gubernatorial campaign organisation, then followed him into the government in June 2015 as the Special Assistant, Job Creation. Part of the founding team of the Kaduna Investment Promotion Agency (KADIPA), he has, since 2018, held the position of Special Adviser, Inter-Governmental Relations, Kaduna State, responsible for maintaining the state government’s relations with other arms of the government, investors and development partners
  • Alhaji Muhammad Sani Abdullahi: the 40 year-old is Governor el-Rufai’s Chief of Staff. He also chairs the Infrastructure Council of the State, which coordinates the portfolio of all economic and social infrastructure across the 23 local governments of Kaduna. During el-Rufai’s first term as governor, Abdullahi held the position of Commissioner for Budget and Planning in Kaduna State, and was thus responsible for designing the fiscal strategy and coordinating the implementation and monitoring of the state budget. In the campaign for re-election, he was the Director of Strategy in the campaign. Abdullahi is viewed as a potential candidate for governorship in 2023, but El-Rufai has hinted at preference for a female successor.
  • Rilwan Hassan: The 36 year-old was appointed by el-Rufai in September 2019 as the Executive Secretary of the Kaduna State Scholarships and Loans Board.
  • Dr Zaid Abubakar: The former tax auditor with the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) was appointed by el-Rufai in 2019 at the age of 35, as the Executive Chairman of the Kaduna State Internal Revenue Service (KADIRS).

Bottom line: El-Rufai has perhaps one of the most diverse circles in Nigerian politics. Those from the older generation he associates with are largely progressive; a point that he has taken to heart as  he continues to diversify his own government, making him stand out from others of his generation.