Second-guessing El-Rufai on 2023 presidency

He is involved in a running battle with bandits and insurgents on account of whose threats he had to withdraw his children from the public school where they were enrolled.

By Vincent Akanmode

Governor Nasiru Elrufa of Kaduna State

After years of endless speculation, it finally came to light last Saturday that the controversial governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, has no ambition whatsoever to become President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor in 2023. For one and a half decades before the vociferous governor cleared the air last Saturday, the word on the street at the market place and even at worship centres was that El-Rufai’s ultimate political ambition was to occupy the nation’s number one seat at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa. Courtesy of an interview he granted the Pidgin service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) last Saturday, we now know that El-Rufai does not only lack interest in the 2023 presidential race, he is so averse to it that he would not touch it even with a six-inch pole if presented to him on a platter.

While some busybodies had literally turned speculating about his presidential ambition into a vocation, El-Rufai, speaking with all the seriousness he could muster during the BBC interview, declared that whereas he had “suffered presidential ambition suspicion for 15 years”, a 62-year-old man like him should have no business presiding over the affairs of the nation. 

He said: “Look at me. Look at my grey hair. If you see my picture when I was sworn in (as Kaduna State governor in 2015), my hair was very black. But look at how it has become. This is a very difficult job. And that is just state governor; one state out of 36. A big one, yes; a difficult one, yes, but it is not the same as Nigeria. The Presidency of Nigeria is a very serious job. It is too much for a 62-year-old.”

Political analysts will no doubt be grateful that the Kaduna State governor thought it expedient to clarify his thoughts about 2023 presidential election. If nothing else, it will reduce the number of names they have to grapple with in their permutations and analysis on the next presidential race. The only thing they would find difficult to understand is why the Kaduna State governor allowed himself to “suffer presidential ambition suspicion for 15 years” when he could have saved himself the trauma with a simple clarification that would require fewer than three words.

They will also find it curious that his expression of no interest in the presidency is coming at a time that the popularity of the ruling party on whose platform he rode to power has waned considerably, particularly in Kaduna State where the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) backed by the governor was roundly beaten by that of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the by-election for Sabon Gari Constituency in the Kaduna State House of Assembly held a few weeks ago. This coupled with the collective declaration by the governors of the southern states on Monday that Buhari’s successor must come from the south has caused many to wonder if El-Rufai’s avowed position was actually impelled by his advancing years or his realisation that the sun was going down after the shadow he saw on the wall.

It is hard to think of magic by which any individual would create so many enemies and fight so many battles like El-Rufai has done without the colour and texture of his hair taking a blow. The Kaduna State governor is at war with many members of his political family. He is at daggers drawn with virtually all the political heavyweights in his state. He is involved in a running battle with bandits and insurgents on account of whose threats he had to withdraw his children from the public school where they were enrolled. He is in perennial battle with Southern Kaduna people and in an endless war with organised labour among other forces. It is, indeed, a surprise that the governor’s hairline has not beaten a more frantic retreat.

The good news, however, is that he can still redirect his political future and even arrest the speedy deterioration of his hair colour if he mends his cantankerous ways and live at peace with his numerous adversaries. Only then would he realise that age is nothing but a number. If Buhari could become President of the world’s most populous black nation at 73 and Nelson Mandela, one of the most amiable leaders the world has known could become the President of South Africa at 76, it is defeatist of El-Rufai to give up hope at 62 except he is insinuating that voting Buhari as president was an error. The immediate past American president, Donald Trump, assumed office at 71 while the incumbent, Joe Biden, was already 78 when he was sworn in on January 20 after setting a record as the presidential candidate with the highest number of votes in the country’s democratic history. El-Rufai surely has no reason to despair once he mends his querulous ways.