The Trials of El-Rufai
By Bashir S. Garba
It seems naïve of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai not to have anticipated his current persecutions. So far, his public defense of his trials by two separate Senate committees on his handling of affairs of the federal capital territory (FCT) when he was the minister portrayed him as inadequately prepared. But given his audacity of courage in the revolutionary decisions he took while in office, which adversely affected some very prominent personalities in this country, one would have thought El-Rufai should have prepared for retaliatory measures in whatever shadows they were sure to manifest.
Meanwhile, the senate committees have made recommendations to the full senate for debate and possible adoption. “The reports held El-Rufai to have abused his office in the sale of government houses, allocations of land, failure to account for funds accruing to the FCT and disobedience of court. The report also recommended that El-Rufai be prosecuted and (permanently?) barred from holding public office”.
Aloy Ejimakor’s erudite position on the senate committees reports published in The Sun newspaper of July 22, 2008 should be of immense value to the former minister. El-Rufai should have articulated his defense from the angle of the arguments advanced in Ejimakor’s article. Outside the allegation of his failure to account for the sum of 32 billion naira, which Ejimakor rightly said, “if found credible, needs to be referred to any of the federal agencies (EFCC or ICPC) charged under law with handling matters of such nature”.
As regards the three other major issues(contempt of court, buying a government-owned house and time-barred allocations against the former minister, the senate committees’ guilty verdicts on El-Rufai are based more on emotions and morality than any clear nexus to significant violations of the law. More to the point, the allegations are not recognizable as indictable misconducts under the constitution, “unless it is finally determined, pursuant to due process by the proper forum that the actions were in clear breach of the black letter law on point”. Consequently, the senate committee’s reports cannot stand. Ejimakor’s learned position on this was expository as it was educative.
First, Ejimakor had asked this pertinent question: “why would an El-Rufai, who himself was also a government official, be indicted for taking advantage of an auction/sale that was open to the entire Nigerian public?” The premise on which the senate committee based their decision that El-Rufai “cannot sell an item to himself” or that he cannot be a lessor and lessee at the same time is basically ethical than legal. Were El-Rufai cast in the mould of some of the nation’s notable crooks, he would still have purchased the house in question by proxy or a false name. As Ejimakor rightly canvassed, “nothing in the extant black letter of the federation of Nigeria and the regulations governing the sale of the house at issue explicitly prohibited El-Rufai or any other FCT official from being qualified to purchase”.
Further, the federal government accorded its officials the first privilege of refusal; in other words, “the government openly favoured them over the rest of the citizens”. What would have been outstanding from the senate committee’s probes is if they have discovered from their probe that El-Rufai sold the properties in question to himself contrary to the provisions of the law. I share Ejimakor’s submission that “contrary to the assertions of the committees, El-Rufai is entitled, just like any other able and willing Nigerian citizen, to purchase the house at issue”.
Regarding the land allocations El-Rufai was said to have made after the dissolution of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on may 15 by president Olusegun Obasanjo, Ejimakor pointed out the fact that “El-Rufai, like other ministers continued to function in acting capacity and thus was in order in continuing to discharge all the powers of an FCT minister –including the power to execute instruments of offers of allocation of land”. There are other probing questions the senate committee needs to answer which Ejimakor also raised in his article. If the senate thinks El-Rufai is culpable, is it “prepared to reverse all official actions taken by all ministers of government or members of the FEC after May 15 2007”? Does the senate position also include actions taken by Obasanjo who was also a member of FEC? Why were some of the ministers, including El-Rufai, allowed to continue for some time after president Yar’Adua was sworn into office?
What is the basis then for the committee’s recommendations for El-Rufai’s prosecution and to the extent of declaring him unfit from holding public office? Why would the senate committee suggest the punishment should apply retroactively? Why would the senate committee cry more than the bereaved when it decided to act on behalf of a court whose orders El-Rufai was said to have disobeyed? As Ejimakor’s learned position advanced: “at common law, disobedience of a civil court order is a quasi-criminal offence (a misdemeanor, not even a felony) against that very court (exclusively). It is neither a crime against the state or Nigerian citizens as a whole. Therefore, it cannot be punished by an uninvolved court or in new proceedings brought before another forum –be it a court of law or a legislative chamber”.
How do you then rationalize the senate’s overzealousness in this direction as if El-Rufai was in contempt of it? Or the curious twist now that the EFCC has suddenly joined in with much gusto, not on any independent investigation of its own but solely on the findings publicized by the senate.
In a situation where his pursuers – the senate and the EFCC are appealing to public sentiments, El-Rufai has much to do with his public defense than what he has presented so far. He seems to have gone to sleep while he is being pursued. Whether he is culpable or not, he still must step forward with a well-reasoned public defense of his hard-earned integrity other than just filing motions in court. This is the only path to El-Rufai’s vindication.
Bashir S. Garba wrote in from Abuja firstname.lastname@example.org