By Femi Fani-Kayode
I read Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s article about of my friend Mallam Nasir El-Rufai with amusement (”Sanusi Lamido On El Rufai” @ Omojuwa.com) and I have to say that I was pleased with the fact that he wrote it. I am glad that he has reiterated his love for Nasir and expressed his tremendous respect for him. He has also spoken very well about Mallam Nuhu Ribadu who is also a good friend of mine and he has said that anyone that is their enemy is his enemy too. I am happy for him and when it comes to both Nasir and Nuhu most people know that these are precisely my sentiments as well.
As I have always said these are the two people that gave me hope that we could have a united Nigeria again where northerners and southerners could live and work together. I cannot say the same about Sanusi Lamido Sanusi who I have always found a little bit more complicated ever since I have known him in the days of the Progressive Action Movement in 2001. We were both members of that vibrant political association and we often clashed in terms of our world view and our vision of what Nigeria should be. I remember those days with fondness and we have both come a long way since then. At that time, as he quite rightly said in his essay, I was a a regionalist and Yoruba nationalist who did not believe in a united Nigeria anymore simply due to what the Abacha administration had put our people through and due to the June 12th annulment. I was also a hard-line foot soldier of NADECO and I reflected the thinking of every self-respecting Yoruba man at that time. I believed then, and I still believe today, that if we cannot have a Nigeria where all people are treated as equals regardless of tribe or faith then we should not have a Nigeria at all. People like Sanusi opposed that view and they believed, and possibly still do, that some Nigerians were born to rule and that some faiths are greater than others. And yes, at that time, my views about President Olusegun Obasanjo were precisely what Sanusi said.
I, together with virtually every other self-respecting Yoruba man at the time, regarded him as a tool of the north and that he was brought in to serve their interests in 1999 and as a pawn to stop the Yorubas from breaking away. That is what we all believed and that is why Obasanjo was overwhelmingly rejected by his people in the 1999 Presidential election. It was after my brother Chief Akin Osuntokun took me for a series of meetings with Obasanjo and after Uncle Bola Ige, his Attorney General and my mentor and leader, encouraged me to get closer to him that I knew that Obasanjo had changed and that his intention was to serve all Nigerians and not just the north. This was precisely why I joined his government and after serving him for three years as his spokesman he, thankfully, promoted me to the position of a Federal Minister in two separate Ministries which is a position that Sanusi is yet to achieve.
Now to the point of this contribution. What I find curious about Sanusi’s article is the following. He expresses so much love for El-Rufai and Ribadu yet he so gladly served a government that tried to kill and discredit them both and that drove them into exile and yet he said nothing in their defence publically at that time. I see that as a contradiction but then that may just be his way. People have different ways of manifesting their loyalty to their friends so let me give Sanusi the benefit of the doubt here and assume that he was not playing a double game of deceit and subterfuge. My own style and approach to friendship is very different. When I give my friendship or enmity I give it totally but I am always uncomfortable with those that swim with the tide. And I am loyal to a fault to my friends, followers and leaders unless and until they give me a cause not to be. More importantly I could not for the life of me understand why Sanusi felt the need to bring me into his love letter to Nasir El-Rufai. What the relevance of my name was in what was an otherwise brilliant article is something that is beyond me.
Clearly he brought me into it in bad faith and with malicious intent and I suppose he has every reason to do so given the role that I played in the oil subsidy debate and because I referred to his boss, the Minister of Finance, Ngozie Okonjo-Iweala, as an agent of the IMF and the World Bank. There is also another reason which has to do with the various intellectual clashes that we have had over the years. I thought that he had got over the series of heated debates that we used to have in the newspapers when he was a public commentator and when I was a NADECO foot-soldier 10 to 15 years ago but evidently I was wrong. On his part the bitterness is still very much there. Yet despite that what I found curious about him was the fact that in his celebrated contribution on El-Rufai he boastfully asserted that I had written ”in defence of Nasir” and that the words used were mine and ”not El-Rufai’s”.
Where on earth he got the idea that I was seeking to represent Nasir’s views or speak for him on this matter I don’t know. I challenge him to produce the article in which I wrote in defence of El-Rufai on the oil subsidy issue. Nasir is a respected friend but I am not his spokesman. I have spoken up for him on various occasions when lies are told about him just as he has done for me but on this occasion the issue was ”oil subsidy” and not El Rufai. What I wrote about the removal of the oil subsidy was my own contribution to the raging debate and I believe that as someone that has been in active politics for 21 years and that was part and parcel of those that brought the Goodluck Jonathan and Yar’adua administration into power, I have a right and duty to do so. Whenever and if ever he becomes a Federal Minister or even works at the very highest level of government and not just at Central Bank he will appreciate the burning desire one has to contribute to national discourse whenever one sees fit.
My contributions to the oil subsidy debate, which were encapsulated in just two articles titled ”Who Will Deliver Us From This Goodluck” and ”The Problem Is Mrs. Ngozie Okonjo-Iweala” respectively were both directed at his two bosses, namely Mr. President and the Minister of Finance who he reports to, and they did not have anything to do with El-Rufai. Nasir’s views and mine on the removal of the oil subsidy just happen to be the same but my write-ups had already been published in various newspapers before he publically expressed his views on the matter in his brilliant interview on AIT. Sanusi also criticised my words and writing style in a subliminal manner which is certainly his right and prerogative. But frankly as regards my style and the words I used in this matter I have no apology and it is clear that I reflected the sheer disgust and anger that most Nigerians had about the removal of the oil subsidy. And that disgust was directed more at the hardliners in the Jonathan administration like him and Ngozie than anyone else because the removal of the oil subsidy was their brain-child and they sought to justify it.
Sanusi spent many hours on television trying to pontificate to the Nigerian people about the ”blessings” and ”beauty” of having our pump price at 145 naira per litre but unfortunately for them they failed to convince anyone but themselves. Frankly they should both resign now and they would have done so if people placed any stock or value on honour and decency in this country. Let us not forget that many people were killed over this issue and there was much brutality displayed in the streets by the government’s security agents. As we speak there are still soldiers deployed in the streets of Lagos. And some of us feel bad about this series of events and we blame people like Sanusi for misleading our President. People like him are completely detached and they simply have no empathy with or compassion for the ordinary people and neither can they identify with their hardship and suffering. That is the difference between a technocrat from the strange world of international high finance like Sanusi and a politician, lawyer, ”freelance contributor” and ”public commentator” like me. We have a feel of what the people are going through and what they will or will not take but they do not. I congratulate him on whatever feelings and affection he may have suddenly re-cultivated and rediscovered for Nasir but frankly this has nothing to do with me and he should leave me out of it. Regardless of all I still wish my banker friend well and I will certainly lose no sleep over what he thinks or writes about me.