Omojuwa: Your honest and sincere opinion, did President Goodluck Jonathan?
Elrufai: Jonathan probably scored the 2nd highest number of votes. I do not believe that some of the results in some of the northern states were right. In my state, Kaduna, it was simply impossible based on what I know for Jonathan to win 25% in Kaduna state but he did because they wrote the results. What happened in the 2011 elections I think, in many ways was quite unfortunate because a lot of money was spent on preparing for the elections; biometric register, all the logistics were done with a lot of effort and I think INEC should be commended for the amount of effort they put in preparation. The elections at the Polling Unit level were mostly okay in most parts of the country but the moments the results left the P.Us the manipulations began and I think that as the election tribunals go through this process of forensic analysis and ballot paper matching, we will get the real results of the election but I do not believe that Jonathan and many of the PDP Governors won the election and I’m quite certain that for instance, in Katsina, Kaduna and Bauchi, the PDP didn’t win the election and the results of the tribunal process will reveal that. In some states like Niger, it is uncertain whether we won (CPC) or PDP won but we will wait and see how the tribunal process goes. I think we lost a great opportunity to have clean elections. Personally I think that we would have had a run-off because I also did not think that the CPC had enough of a presence in the South-West and South-South to have won outright. I think what would have happened would be a run-off and depending on whether ACN and CPC were able to come together before the run-off as had been attempted before. PDP or ACN-CPC alliance could win but the PDP didn’t give us that opportunity because they went ahead to hijack the process and wrote results and declared themselves the winner so we’ll wait and see how the tribunal plays that out.
Omojuwa: Apart from tribunals, how can we avoid situations like these?
Elrufai: In my opinion, there is only one way to have clean elections in Nigeria and that is to remove human intervention in the manipulation of results. So the ideal situation would be a biometric register that is a very good foundation, at least to prevent fraud. Accreditation with one’s finger prints. The kind of accreditation done the last time was inadequate in my view. If you have everybody’s biometric details, why not bring the machines and I run my finger prints on the machine and the machine says I’m on the register and then I go and vote. So I think that’s the next stage, the next stage is to ensure that at every PU, you have biometric machines that will truly accredit the voter rather than the manual system of the person looking at your picture.
Secondly, from the PU, as soon as the ballots are counted and results announced, there should be a way that the Presiding Officer can send the results using encrypted technology to a central computer that registers it. So there is no human intervention between the Polling Unit, results at the PU to the announcement of the result. It should be a completely automatic process depending on the elections. If it is Presidential elections, from the PU, the results should go straight to say Jega in Abuja. If it is governorship elections, it should go straight from the PU to the returning officer in the state capital, if it is senatorial, the same. If we can find a way to remove those interventions, those, what I call ‘human agency’ in the election process, then we’ll have clean elections. Throughout the history of Nigeria, the problems with the elections results begin when you collate, when you have human beings adding up the numbers; putting an additional 0 at the end or a 1 before the figures. This is what happens. So if Jega is serious about having clean elections, he should start preparing now. We would need to amend the electoral act to allow for electronic voting, if we will not have electronic voting because of our power challenge, let us at least remove forms EC8b,c,d,e,and f from the process. Let people vote and from the process of voting, let the results go straight to the announcement centre, not collation centre. We have the technology and infrastructure. The GSM infrastructure can be used as the backbone of some kind of encrypted pathway to send these results direct to a central computer so nobody can intervene with it. I think that’s the only way and if we don’t do that, this democracy will end! That’s the only way. I have no doubt in my mind that the next time we have elections that are bad, there’ll be no democracy because nobody will be able to contain the crises that will follow. We saw what happened in the northern states this April, I think next time it’ll be all over the country if we have bad elections again.
Omojuwa: What in your opinion is the single most challenging problem facing Nigeria?
Elrufai: Bad governance, bad leadership. I think that Nigeria has everything. Resources, people, passion, capacity, we have everything that it takes to be great. What we’ve always lacked in a consistent manner is leaders that will put all that together and move us to the next level. We’ve had some decent leaders okay but we’ve not had them for a length of time on a consistent level to move the country forward.
Omojuwa: Tell us about your time with the SSS (State Security Service) in July
Elrufai: (Laughs) I came down from the plane and was going through the immigration process. They always come and say pass, we’ll bring your passport but I prefer to be on the line, I don’t like jumping queues. I think it’s one Nigerian malaise. I refused but they insisted. I go through immigration then the guy that collected my passport from me showed my passport, I asked to have it back because I did not have any luggage and he said that his bosses wanted to see me. I asked who he was and he said SSS. I followed him, we went to an office, there was no boss. I asked for the boss and he said he was on his way. I asked how long he’ll take and he said a few minutes so I sat and waited.
To cut the long story short, it took about 30 minutes to an hour before the boss arrived and he said to me ‘Sir, I have instructions to take you to our headquaters’. I said ‘Am I under arrest’, he said no sir, we just want to talk to you and I said okay no problem.
My BlackBerry power had gone out by the time I boarded the plane in London so I did not have power to tweet but while waiting in the SSS office, I brought out my charger and got an hour’s charge on my BB. So the moment we got into the car I sent a tweet that I had been detained by the SSS and we are now on our way to their headquarters and kept giving updates until we got to the headquarters. When we got to the headquarters, they said I should come in with my baggage, by then I had called my wife, she came to the SSS building waiting. So when we got in, I gave her my bag and they said I should please come with my bag. I told them they weren’t going to have my bag, my bag was my property and they wouldn’t take it. Clearly they wanted my bag because they wanted to search it because I had just gone to London and was at Chatham house with Gen. Buhari and had spent about 10 days strategising on the next steps. I think they were more interested in that quite frankly than arresting me.
I think that they thought that if they got my bag and laptop, they may find some subversive materials but I said my bag wouldn’t enter their building, it’s going home and you won’t get access to my bag unless you have a search warrant from a high court judge and today is Saturday and I know you don’t have a warrant. So my bag left, that was the first disappointment. We went to the headquarters building and they said they wanted my phones, I said no. They said it was their practice that every visitor had to give up their phones and I said I wasn’t a visitor but I was forced here. If I came voluntarily, then I’m subject to your rules but I didn’t come here voluntarily so I have to keep my phones because I don’t know what will happen to me. My lawyer has been informed and is on his way but until he gets here, you won’t have my phones. So they let me.
I continued tweeting but my battery was going down but it was fun. Then they kept me waiting and said I was going to see the DG. I know the DG, he used to be my Director of Security in FCT. I know him very well, nice man. So I tweeted I’m about to see the DG. I tweeted something like ‘he’s a good guy but I don’t know if the fresh air has got to him’. For me it was all amusing and then they changed their minds. I think someone in the SSS…..then they came, Sir, we must have your phone and I said they couldn’t. We went up a floor or two and they kept me in another place with a TV. I think that was the only time in a long time that I watched NTA news because I’m not a TV person and I certainly don’t watch NTA News because it’s useless. ‘The President has done this, gone to the toilet, had lunch etc.’ Why would anyone waste his time watching NTA News but that day I watched everything on NTA including the dramas. At some point they came and said they were ready to see me. By then my lawyer and wife had come. So they said I shouldn’t take anything from the SSS, water, coffee and tea and how to conduct myself in SSS custody. So I said okay to all the rules. I told the SSS that I wanted to go in with my lawyer and they said no, I asked why and they said because I was not under arrest. I went in and there was a panel. There was a lady who is either Director or Deputy Director, 3 guys on one side another 3 with a lady on the other side and I had a chair which I sat on. We greeted and they said they wanted to talk to me regarding some of my publications, that I had been writing in the newspapers and internet and I said yes. They asked since when I had been writing and I said since the age of 6. So she said ‘you admit to writing these articles’ I said which articles? She brought out 2 articles, 1 from Sahara Reporters ‘Jonathan’s tough choices’ and another on the back of Thisday ‘What Nigerians pay the Federal Government’ and she said ‘you wrote these?’ I said I did. She said ‘why are you disparaging the president?’ I said ‘What’s disparaging the President?’. She said to me ‘you said he is divisive, a bad manager of politics and economics’ I asked if that was disparaging, she said yes and I said that’s my opinion. It’s a free country and people are entitled to have their opinions. I said anyone who doesn’t want to be insulted should not present himself for public service because we all were insulted and abused so please don’t start lecturing me on what I should or shouldn’t do. I’ve been to places where….I would write in response to your question. So as someone with an LLB I know that once I write that it becomes inadmissible in the event of any prosecution. On top they said I’m making this voluntary statement and I cancelled the voluntary and put involuntary and they said why and I said because you brought me here by force, by false premises. I didn’t come here willingly and I’m not making this statement willingly so how can u say it’s voluntary. So I signed it. That’s one of the advantages of having a law degree I guess, you know how to get out of situations. Anyways we had that and by 2:30 we were done and we went back up. At that point they didn’t know what to do with me because by then CNN, BBC, Reuters, everyone in the world knew I had been arrested so they had to issue this statement which even made things worse for them and they kept me till about 10PM. So between 2:30 and 10PM nothing happened, I was just there watching NTA news. At about 10PM they said they were granting me bail and Nduka Obaigbena will be my surety, my lawyer was there, they brought some papers which were signed and I went home. They got me about 5:10 AM and I left the SSS office 10:10 PM, exactly 17 hours. It was inconvenient, I needed to sleep. It was annoying because some of the officers, the questions they asked, the way they think, you’ll understand why Nigeria is in trouble security wise. If these are the people in charge of our security then we need prayers. This woman looked at me and said ‘your’ people and in said ‘my people? Are they not Nigerians?.’
Omojuwa: Taking questions from twitter now. Deji says some years back you mentioned Gen Buhari as one of the past and that Nigeria doesn’t need his service as a president. So what has changed that you supported him for the presidency in 2011?
Elrufai: That’s not exactly what I said and I will give the background of what happened. I went to one of the 50th Anniversary celebrations hosted by Leadership Newspaper and I saw President Babangida, Abdulsalam, Aliyu Gusau and Babangida stood up and made a speech and I was taken aback because I know President Babangida very well. When he was president, he was sharp, smart, articulate and very bright. He has his problems but you can never say IBB was not smart. But I saw a very different IBB and I said wow, when you’re 70 a lot of things change. It was not the same IBB that I knew as a young guy, smartly dressed on TV speaking. I was supposed to speak after him and someone else and I decided to leave the event because I was down. As I was coming out, AIT confronted me and wanted to interview me and ask about Nigeria at 50. I said we’ve done well. Then they asked what I thought of Babangida and Gusau (not Buhari) because the zoning thing was still on and I said that these guys that were presidents 25 years ago should just leave us alone, their time is gone. Babangida and Buhari were presidents when I was in my 20s and now in my 50s they still want to be president. It means that the country has not developed or moved. I said they should just get out of our lives. The world has changed, for many of them BlackBerry is a fruit and I walked away. The Sun Newspaper headline read ‘You are expired ‘Elrufai tells IBB and Buhari’ and I never made any mention of Buhari.
Of course IBB called me and said Nasir, we’re expired and I said Mr President that’s not what I said but I think your time is gone and we laughed about it. Buhari’s people responded differently. The National Publicity Secretary of CPC issued a statement attacking me that how could I say that? That I was stupid, that I was incompetent and corrupt as minister, they just went personal. My media adviser said I had to respond to that and I disagreed and told him to allow it ride but he insisted that we respond. So we agreed to respond and I told him to issue the response. Muyiwa is my media guy so he wrote a response which attacked Buhari as well. He said Buhari is from the past and he has run for president and remained unelectable because he has been making the wrong choices about policy etc. Really nasty attack on Buhari, I issued it. Of course I attracted the wrath of the Buhari boys because I attacked him back. He called the guy because the person who issued the statement actually issued it without Buhari’s authority. So Buhari called and said what is all this. We had this issue. This is what people refer to say that I had condemned Buhari and so on. Not quite. If you read the statement you would see that that’s not what I said. It was an attack on Buhari as a person and to say his time had gone. I honestly believe as I said earlier even people of my age are on their way out so people in their 60s and 70s I definitely believe should not present themselves for leadership. This is the truth. But you see, the presidential election is a beauty contest. You have to pick those that present themselves. In a beauty contest, the most beautiful woman is often not there. She’s probably in someone’s house as his wife but you cannot pick her, you have to pick one of those that present herself. So at the end of the day, this country had a choice between Jonathan, Buhari, Nuhu Ribadu and Shekarau and some other clowns. This is what it boiled down to really, I’m not even sure Shekarau should be counted. He spoke well in the debate so people began to take him seriously. If you go to Kano, you’ll understand why speech is different from action. On election day, Nigerians have to make that choice. Ideally for me, Buhari should get a younger version of himself and present but he didn’t. I now have to look at all the candidates and decided which one I think will change the direction of Nigeria for the better. In my opinion, Buhari was the best choice we had particularly after he picked Pastor Bakare as his running mate. I felt strongly because I know Pastor Bakare, I’m very close to him. I felt that was the ticket that would give us a chance to change the direction of the country. Buhari is older, ex military and he’s not perfect but he has an image of integrity and rectitude that I think will even scare many bad Nigerians from doing certain things and for me that is a good place to start in fixing this country. I didn’t see Jonathan being president will send any shivers down the spines of the criminals in Nigeria but I think Buhari will do that.
Nuhu would have been a younger version but in my opinion he was in the wrong party and platform and he did not adequately prepare himself for the challenges of running for president and it came out in the debate. If I had to choose the closest person to me to support for the presidential election, it would be Nuhu Ribadu because he was closest to me, we work together, we’re brothers. But I didn’t think he had a chance for many reasons so I pitched my camp with Buhari, not because he was perfect but because he was the best among those available.
So my comments about Buhari to a large extent still stood. In my opinion he had taken steps to rectify some of his defects and correct some of the wrong perceptions about him. I think he did that, so he remedied some of his defects which persuaded me to change my perception about him but I wished he was 20 years younger.
Omojuwa: Musa Mohammed Musa wants to know. What would be your approach to ensuring food security for the Nation?
Elrufai: Produce more food. (Laughs) But seriously the way to boost agricultural production I think is to work on 2 fronts. To encourage agricultural mechanization because Nigeria’s arable land is largely left fallow. We only use 30% of our arable land. So there is still a lot of land out there that can be cultivated, given to the huge multinationals like ADM, Mosanto of this world to produce corn, rice etc on a huge scale. We need to do that, to find a way to attract such large scale investors in agriculture to do that. In our subsistence farming we also need to solve 3 problems that face our farmers. The first one is title to land, we must ensure that all our farmers have title to land because once they have this, you’re on the way to solving the second problem; credit. We must find a way to provide subsidized credit if possible to our farmers and then the third problem is storage. If we can invest in more infrastructure, both public and private, I have no preference then let us have storage infrastructure such that when farmers harvest their crops, they don’t have to sell them right away. They can then store and sell over time, which will encourage price stability. At the macro level, we need to find a way to put a system of price support. For instance, we could announce that next year, whoever produces rice, the federal government will buy the surplus at ‘x’ price while the market price is less. So the farmer has the incentive to produce knowing that he’ll not be short-changed by market forces. The government will take in the slack. So for me, instead of subsidizing fertilizer which is useless because the subsidies are captured by the well connected and the rich rather than the farmer. The farmer ultimately buys the fertilizer at the market price. It is better we support price support system for whatever agricultural product we consider of strategic importance.
This country spends about a $1billion importing rice. This is money that goes out of the country with jobs. If we spend 500m subsidizing the production of rice, I think it’s worth it because we’re keeping the jobs in Nigeria and we’re making our country more secure in terms of food and you can take each of the commodities and do similar analyses and apply the same system. I think it is possible to do it.
Omojuwa: Alicia wants to know, in 2015 are you going to run for an elected position or would you remain the voice of the consciousness of the masses?
Elrufai: (Laughs) I think she wants me to remain the voice of the consciousness of the masses but seriously I do not at this point have any intentions of running for office. I intend to remain politically active, I will continue to work within the CPC to try to rebuild it into a national party, a rebranded party of the future and that’s what I’ll work on. Whether I run for office or not will be a decision not so much for me but for the party and the circumstances of the time because you cannot say for sure but I am just planning to make money now. (Laughs) I am not interested in running for any political office for now.
Omojuwa: Stanley says do you think privatization and liberalization are right considering what’s happening now?
Elrufai: I think so and said so when I appeared before the senate committee on privatization. People ignore facts and rely on sound bites. Before these companies were privatized, were they doing well, they were not. So if they are privatized and not doing well, what is the difference? The difference is the government no longer has to spend money on them while they’re not doing well. It is somebody’s money. So for me even if the only thing we did was to save the FG the N265billion it spent on public enterprises, we’ve made progress. But more than that, many of the companies are doing well. All the banks and oil marketing companies we privatized are doing well. The cement companies have increased production. Of course some will not do well. There is no way you will sell 122 companies and all will do well. Some of them won’t. Some will go down because of bad management or changed public policies but to say that government ownership is preferred to private ownership is absurd. Government ownership doesn’t work. There is nothing in Nigeria today owned by the government that works. There are countries in which public enterprises have worked, Singapore is an example but in Nigeria I don’t know of any. Government ownership is an oxymoron, it basically means nobody owns and when nobody owns, nobody cares and we’re all suffering from it. I really don’t think there’s any debate on the matter. Can privatization be improved? Certainly! Are the processes of privatization as we have seen from the public hearings perfect? No. When I was in charge of the BPE, we did everything by the book, we followed rules and though many people think I was the target of the investigation by the senate, I went to sleep because I knew that everything we did were based on very clear procedures and approved by every committee or council. After we left, many things went wrong. The privatization of Ajaokuta steel was messy, it wasn’t the right to privatize, Delta steel didn’t go the right way. ALSCON, you can ask questions about how it was done but whether the government should own and manage these companies or not, I don’t think there should be any debate on the matter