IN DEFENCE OF PUBLIC SERVICE: A REVIEW NASIR EL-RUFAI’S THE ACCIDENTAL PUBLIC SERVANT By Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Ph.D.

Published:7 Feb, 2013

Prof. Chidi Odinkalu
Prof. Chidi Odinkalu
Prof. Chidi Odinkalu

Chidi Odinkalu

Government in Nigeria is a dark art into which only a select few ever get initiated. Passage through the rites and rituals of initiation impose obligations. One such obligation is a deliberate loss of memory, which induces a silence not much unlike the Mafia’s Omerta. Fidelity to these obligations attracts benefits. The doors of government revolve and the benefits of fidelity to its unspoken rituals are a conservationist’s delight: it is run on the principle of recycling. Its grammar is conducted in past continuous tense.

The consequence, rather ironically, is government by dis-continuity, a future uninformed by memory and a present rather disembodied from context. Few of the initiated in the dark arts of government have the courage to break with this deliberate loss of memory. The most notable contributions to this genre have come mostly from tenured or career public officers. Former Chief Justice, Atanda Fatayi Williams, titled his own autobiography published in 1983, Faces, Cases and Places. Our Unforgettable Years was the title of excellent recall by Chief Simeon Adebo, pioneer lawyer and public administrator, in his autobiographical account of the building of the peerless civil service in the old Western Region published in 1984. The 1995 autobiography by Chief Jerome Udoji, another lawyer who achieved distinction in the public service, was issued under the title, Under Three Masters.

These titles were the reminiscences of public servants looking back with mixed feelings at the end of long and distinguished public service careers. It is rather unusual for mid-career or active public servants to issue memoirs in Nigeria. Similarly unusual are memoirs by political office holders or politicians. The reasons are in plain sight: such a memoir could also be a political suicide note or worse. In a country in which the primary purpose of political office is subsistence and accumulation, a faithful memoir that is worth its name even minimally would invariably break all the unwritten rules that accompany initiation into government in Nigeria. It would be a fatal opt out from the benefits of political recycling.

In The Accidental Public Servant, Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai sets out to do more than merely break the unwritten rules of ex-political office holders in Nigeria; he utterly annihilates them. For a vocal politician with somewhat activist credentials who only turned 50 in 2010, the motives of his narrative will be the subject of speculation for some time to come irrespective of whatever he says or believes are his own reasons for putting this out. By this book, this author says in effect that Nigeria is bigger than any one person and he cares more about Nigeria than any temporary benefits from partisan politics. In setting out this tale, El-Rufai manages to serve up a memoir whose principal characters hark back to Udoji’s title; whose narrative evokes Fatayi Williams; and whose title could also easily have been Adebo’s.

The book has three organizing themes that indeed resolve into one. It is a story about how, in Nigeria, “governance outcomes really depend on a series of accidents rather than any meritocratic or rigorous process.”1 This is the origin of its title. There is a bigger theme, however, which the author goes back to repeatedly in the book: in Nigeria, “we are pretty much the same everywhere.”

Indeed, it is possible to read the title as only an illustration – for good or ill – of this larger Nigerian condition. In terms of its message, The Accidental Public Servant is also a passionate advocacy for firm, equal and non-discriminatory application of rules to everyone irrespective of status or other irrelevancies. It makes a solid case for the normalization of processes in governance.

Although the author makes his entry into public service appear like an accident, in reality, it was anything but. This was a case of opportunity meeting preparation. His guardian, Mallam Yahaya Hamza, who insisted on sending the author to “the elite” Barewa College for his Secondary education, knew why he did so. Our author honestly admits that his “four and a half years in Barewa remain the most significant in shaping” his “future life, friendship, and person.”3 Barewa has produced at least three Nigerian Heads of State, countless Ministers and heads of extra-ministerial departments. The author is just one in this production line.

In Tweet-bite The Accidental Public Servant is the story of a bright young man who graduated in Quantity Surveying at the top of his class, made early money and got called into public service where, under three different masters/principals, his brief was successively to help transfer power from soldiers to civilians; undertake the sale of government assets (privatization); and then, administer the allocation and sale of arguably the priciest real estate in Africa (Abuja). The book is an account of the people whom he met along the way, mostly in the inner sanctums of Nigerian power, how they bonded, fell out, suffered betrayals and what they learnt about one another, before he would be hounded, first into exile and then into opposition politics. Many people after this experience would become soaked in money and lives of vulgarity. It is a tribute to the author’s values that he chose after this experience to go back to school and to write a book.
This summary does not nearly enough do credit to the audacity of the story or the sweep of its narrative. The book has multiple identities, unfurled in multiple trinities, each like a little

(1 The Accidental Public Servant, p.57 2 Ibid., p. 23
3 Ibid., p. 16
2
Final) diamond – with a pointed and racy beginning; a somewhat portly, sometimes didactic middle section; with an equally breathless and pointed ending.
The trinities in The Accidental Public Servant are many. It is an account of public service mostly undertaken under three institutional acronyms: the PIMCO (Programme Implementation and Monitoring Committee); BPE (Bureau of Public Enterprises); and FCT (Federal Capital Territory (a.ka., Abuja). Our author unfolds in three persons – an activist professional/technocrat, a politician, and a family man. The story is a tale of service with three successive principals and Heads of State: a serving General, Abdulsalami Abubakar; a former General, Olusegun Obasanjo; the brother of a dead General, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. There are some other significant characters, none more so, perhaps, than Atiku Abubakar, President Obasanjo’s Vice, whose Teflon qualities are evident in the account. The dysfunctional chemistry – or lack of it – between the author, Atiku and Obasanjo is indeed another of the book’s trinities. It also produced perhaps its memorable line when President Obasanjo tells the author: “my short friend, I have a duty to train you… to make sure you learn to work with everyone, not just people you like.”4 The book is also a story of bonds formed, betrayed and in various stages of re- constitution in the racy cauldron of Nigeria’s messy politics. And it is a story of the three options confronted by Nigeria in the transition after President Obasanjo’s Third Term debacle. At the personal level, the narrative fulsomely acknowledges the support of the author’s three spouses in the making of an outstandingly readable tale and career.

The story of The Accidental Public Servant is told in 17 chapters over 627 pages, including 38 pages of source notes; 90 pages of appendices and 490 pages of the author’s own narrative. There are another 60 pages of prefatory, introductory material, including a captivating insider account of the drama of President Obasanjo’s Third Term project as a prologue.
The Accidental Public Servant is both a bold story and a spirited defence of a tenure in Nigerian public life, sometimes perceived as controversial. Perhaps a little over half of the book is dedicated to the author’s tenures, first as the Director-General of the BPE and then as the Minister for the FCT. Six of the seventeen chapters are dedicated to various aspects of the latter and the various controversies that were to arise during that tenure.

The story has many sharp edges and the author does not leave the reader guessing about his positions on most issues. For instance, he thinks that Obasanjo is consistent “in putting his personal interest before that of the nation”,5 complains that Atiku Abubakar “actively undermined me and accused me of inappropriate behavior simply to get contracts for his friends”,6 and found the manner of the fund-raising for the Obasanjo Presidential Library simply
(4 Ibid., p. 126 5 Ibid., p. 460 6 Ibid., p. 232
3
Final)

“disgusting”.7 It is a tale told with committed clarity. It provides ample information as to not just decisions taken but also the reasons behind them. The reader does not have to agree with the conclusions. The author marshals ample material in support of his story and, in all fairness, provides evidence to support his occasional use of adjectives.

The Accidental Public Servant offers a forceful defence of the policies and decisions that the author took as Minister responsible for Abuja. Notable gaps, however, exist in the narrative; several aspects of this narrative could be argued; and some unevenness in cadence invite close attention.

Among the omissions, three are notable. First, the author narrates that he quit the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in 2010 and rather laconically mentions elsewhere in the book that “as Ministers, we were given overnight party membership cards”, without providing details as to time, place or rationales.8 If Ministers could be appointed without party affiliation, why could they not serve out their terms without party affiliation and what were the reasons for their being whipped into a party? Did this affect their subsequent performance? Second, the author recalls that in the run up to the 2007 general elections, he was “doing more or less whatever the President usually assigned the Vice-President to oversee, like serving as a liaison with the electoral commission….”9 Given the appalling perversions committed by the electoral commission in 2007, the narrative could have provided greater information to explain what happened or enable the reader to exculpate him from or inculpate him in the crimes of electoral mis-management that characterized those elections. Thirdly, with ample space devoted in the book to the defence of the idea of Abuja, the author missed an opportunity to interrogate the Abuja project or examine whether any aspects of it could have been open to re-think. For instance, how proper is it to make the governance of such a limited resource as land (in Abuja) subject to the Ministerial caprice through the political economy of “allocation”? Should a political appointee such as a Minister have monopoly of decision making on such allocations? If not, how do you eliminate such an inherent architecture of abuse? Should there be specific rules governing conflicts of interest of the administration of various aspects of the FCT?
Equally troubling is the story in the book of the meeting with the FCT judiciary led by a man fondly described by the author as “my Barewa senior”, “for their support” and the confession that following this meeting, “the FCT judiciary supported us strongly throughout my tenure.”10 In the absence of more details about what manner of support this was, readers may ask legitimate questions as to whether this crossed the line into compromising the independence of judicial decision making. The role of the judiciary, after all, is not to support
(7 Ibid., p. 365 8 Ibid., p.416 9 Ibid. p. 365 10 Ibid., p. 202
4
Final) anyone as such but to administer the law fairly and impartially. Many of the commendable enforcement actions initiated by the author through the courts in the FCT remained uncompleted at the time of publication, long after he had left office, calling into question the institutional wherewithal of the FCT High Court.
The most obvious differences in cadence are in the treatment of four characters in the book that, by reason of death, are no longer around to speak for themselves. These are:

Waziri Mohammed, late former Chairman of the Nigerian Railway Corporation and alleged arrow-head of President Obasanjo’s Third Term bid, who was tragically killed in an air crash;

Chief J.U. Igweh, proprietor of Bolingo Hotels in Abuja, who, was killed in the same air crash with Waziri;

Justice Bashir Sambo, former Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal; and

President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, also the author’s senior at Barewa.

To these four, the author applies three different narrative standards. He introduces Waziri into the narrative on Third Term namelessly merely as “an Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) alumnus and friend who chaired the board of a federal parastatal and was very close to Obasanjo.”11 Most readers would struggle to identify who this is about. With respect to Chief Igweh, the author limits himself to a narration of the official interaction.

Similarly, with Justice Bashir Sambo, the author acknowledges that following his death in April 2007, he (the author) “remained silent because the man could no longer defend himself”,12 and tastefully limits himself to disclosure of the official correspondence in the matter. Although it is possible to deduce possible reasons from the text, the author offers no explicit explanation, however, as to why he fails to extend this standard of restraint to the parts of the narrative relating to President Yar’Adua, whose High School nickname, the author discloses, was “Bad Man.”13 In hind sight, he may consider that this could have been essential to a better understanding of this part of his story.

In recalling the public statement issued on 2 December 2010 by the collective initially known as G-55 which later became G-57 asking President Yar’Adua to vacate office, the author narrates that this was followed by “initial set back, when, under pressure from the NSA, Abdullahi Sarki Mukhtar, some of the people dissociated themselves from the statement claiming that ‘they did not sign’ any statement.”14 This contains a factual inaccuracy. This
(11 Ibid., xlvi
12 Ibid., p. 272 13 Ibid., p. 369 14 Ibid., p. 429
5
Final) Reviewer is one of the people that “dissociated” themselves from the statement. No one called me about this and, surely, no one put any pressure on me to do so. The fact is I thought it was plainly poor organizing and utter bad manners for anyone to associate me with a document – no matter how well intentioned – whose contents no one had made any prior effort to inform me about. I still think so.

The production of The Accidental Public Servant is professionally done. The book is not marred by habitual editorial slippages that often mar a lot of our books, although a few slippages nevertheless intrude. Anoraks may wish that the Indexing at the end of the book could have been a little more comprehensive and the appendices were better clustered. The quality of the product nevertheless is excellent.

On the whole, this is a book by a brother who must make many of us feel proud to be Nigerian and which must restore our faith in the project of nation building. Anyone considering public service in Nigeria would do well to consult this book, or, if you have access to him, its author. You do not have to agree with everything in it but it is a compelling read with jaw- dropping disclosures on every other page and compelling lessons dripping from most of its paragraphs. The disclosures in this book will surely inform and possibly affect the landscape of Nigerian politics. Even if they don’t, this book is likely to inspire spirited conversations that should enrich citizenship and political participation in Nigeria.

For this and more, Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai deserves our gratitude for memorializing his record of public service and for courageously inviting public scrutiny of that record. Many more who preceded him in public life and all who do so after him should do well to accept his invitation to “document their experiences and tell their sides of the story.”15

TITLE: THE ACCIDENTAL PUBLIC SERVANT AUTHOR: NASIR AHMAD EL-RUFAI PUBLISHER: SAFARI BOOKS LTD IBADAN YEAR: 2013
PAGES: 627 PAGES
PRICE: N5,000 (SOFTBACK)/N10,000 (HARDCOVER)

Related Posts

Recent Posts

Avoid The Jonathan Error, Sanusi Warns Buhari

The current Buhari-led administration may end like the Jonathan administration if it fails to retrace its footsteps, the Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi II, has warned. Sanusi, who was the chairman, Special Session at the 15th Joint Planning Board and National Council on Development Planning, said if the Federal Government toes the way of the last administration, it will end up like it. He said the economy created terrorism, following the government’s inability to create employment opportunities...

World’s Largest Aircraft Damaged In Crash Landing

The world’s largest aircraft suffered cockpit damage on Wednesday after nosediving while landing on its second test flight, but there were no injuries, according to the craft’s manufacturer. The 92-metre-long Airlander 10, part helicopter and part airship, came down at Cardington Airfield in Bedfordshire, south east England. “Airlander sustained damage on landing during today’s flight,” said Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV). “All crew are safe and well and there are no injuries.” Amateur footage of...

Supervisory Councillor, Another Arrested For Allegedly Defrauding Teachers

Crack police detectives have arrested the Supervisory Councillor for Finance and Education, Sapele Local Government, Mr. Eric Ojuromu, and the Special Adviser to the Sapele Local Government Chairman, Joseph Okpereogho, for allegedly defrauding some primary school teachers from the council area through a fake screening exercise. Ojuromu and Okpereogho, it was gathered, were allegedly caught in the act and arrested on Tuesday morning in the council premises by men of the State Police command and were...

Sheriff Denies Sponsoring Boko Haram

The former governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff has dismissed the allegation that he is the sponsor of Boko Haram terrorist organisation as “rubbish” saying that he is one of the biggest victims of the organization. Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice, Borno state, Hon Kaka Shehu Lawan accused Alhaji Ali Modu Sheriff of being responsible for the growth of the dreaded Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, saying he should be arrested and prosecuted. He...

Mahmood Yakubu Reacts To Allegation Of ‘Inconclusive’ Elections

The Independent National Election Commission, (INEC) has dismissed insinuations that all elections conducted since the assumption of office of the current chairman of the commission, Mahmood Yakubu, have been inconclusive. The commission said it conducted 139 elections which were concluded. The reaction was contained in a press statement signed and issued Tuesday by the acting secretary to the commission, Musa Adamu, in response to a statement credited to the outgoing president of the Nigerian Bar...

Robert Mugabe Orders The Arrest Of Zimbabwean Olympic Team For Not Winning Any Medal

Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe has instructed the Commissioner General of Zimbabwe Police Republic, Augustine Chihuri to arrest and detain the whole Zimbabwean Olympic Team members immediately the arrive at the Harare International Airport on Tuesday, August 23. Zimbabwe which is one of the countries in the Olympics without a medal presented a team of 31 athletes. The closest any of the athletes came to win a contest was at the 8th position. Mr. Mugabe who is incensed with the team’s performance...

Alibaba Shows Off His Pet Dogs Named After Obasanjo, Others

Veteran comedian Alibaba shared a photo of himself with his pet dogs on social media on Wednesday. Alibaba revealed he named the dogs over past leaders including Obasanjo, Abacha etc. Read below what he wrote alongside the photo above My dogs and I back in the day. Must have had like 12 at a particular point in time. Interesting time. That time I mean. I had traveled...

Niger State To Establish Special Schools To Train Teachers

Niger State government has taken bold steps towards boosting education and also making the teaching profession more attractive by endorsing the establishment of three Special secondary schools to train students who have passion for teaching and ready to be professional Teachers. The Special Secondary schools will be located in each of the three Senatorial Zones of the state and they will be mainly for graduates of junior secondary schools who really want to take teaching as a profession and ready...

John Kerry Leaves Nigeria

The United State Secretary of State, John Kerry has concluded his visit to Nigeria. Mr. Kerry’s next stop is Saudi Arabia where he will meet with Foreign Ministers from the six nation Gulf Cooperation Council. Some key issues he discussed with President Muhammadu Buhari, include the anti-corruption campaign, religious extremism and the violence in the Niger Delta Region. Nigeria’s President,...

Naira Is Worst Performing Currency- Bloomberg

The naira is the worst performing currency this year among more than 150 currencies globally, the Bloomberg media has said. It has depreciated 37 percent against the dollar since the central bank abandoned its peg on June 20, while bond yields have jumped to more than 20 percent. The naira strengthened 4.6 percent to 315 per dollar on Tuesday after falling to a record 350.25 on Aug. 19. “The cheap naira is attracting foreign...

Two Men Rape Another Man In Park

Police are hunting two men for raping a 27-year-old man in a park. According to Metro UK, the man was attacked as he walked through Goffs Park in Crawley, Sussex, on Friday morning by the pair. Police said that he was found at around 12.20pm by a passer by who called an ambulance and it is believed he knows his alleged attackers. He said he had been pushed against a wall then forced to...

Fuel Tanker ?Explodes On Benin-Auchi Expressway

A fuel tanker has ?exploded at Upper Mission junction along the Benin-Auchi expressway, in Edo State. According to @Gidi_Traffic ‘Over 4 houses have been gutted by fire at Upper Mission junction along the Benin-Auchi expressway after a tanker fire accident’ Read More: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2016/08/fuel-tanker-%e2%80%8eexplodes-benin-auchi-expressway/

Zamfara ‘Blasphemy’ Killings: What Really Happened

Further details has been obtained of the killings in the Talata Marafa town of Zamfara State, where eight residents were burnt to death by a mob suspected to be students of Abdu Gusau Polytechnic. Reporters spoke to a resident of Talata Mafara, Salisu Mafara on Tuesday. He said trouble began when a student of the Polytechnic was accused of blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad. “The young man was a...

EFCC To Arraign Olu Falae Over N100m Dasuki Money

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is set to arraign a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Olu Falae. Falae admitted receiving N100m from the former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain, Tony Anenih. The money is said to be part of the funds meant for the purchase of arms for soldiers waging war against Boko Haram. Falae has been visiting the EFCC office in Lagos state, to shed more light on the money which he received from Anenih. His spokesman,...

Father Walks Out Of Jail After 25 Years As DNA Evidence Reveals He Is Not Guilty Of Crime

A Philadelphia man walked free after 25 years behind bars as DNA evidence proved he did not rape and murder his neighbor. Anthony Wright, 44, was 20 years old when he was convicted in the death of 77-year-old Louise Talley in the Nicetown neighborhood. Authorities found her naked body on the floor of her home in October 1991. Talley had been raped and stabbed 10 times with a kitchen knife in the back, chest and neck. Wright was taken into custody the...

Man Docked Over Abduction Of Teenage Girl In Lagos

A 36-year-old man, Ezechi Uwazie who allegedly abducted a 17-year-old girl, has appeared before a Surulere Magistrates’ Court, Lagos. The accused is facing a two-count charge of abduction and fraud. The Prosecutor, Sgt. Christopher Okoliko, told the court that the accused committed the offences with others still at large at Suru-Alaba in Orile-Iganmu area of Lagos on Aug.19 at 12.00 p.m. According to him, the accused walked up to the girl and presented himself...

PTDF To Establish Research Centre For Renewable Energy.

The acting executive secretary, Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), Mr Aminu Galadima, has revealed that the fund is planning on establishing a National Coordination Centre for Research and Development in Biofuels and other alternative energy sources in order to intensify effort towards biofuel production in the country.   Galadima, who was speaking at the Peer Review programme for the 2014/2015 Cycle on Annual Oil and Gas Research Grant Competition, stated that the coordination centre which will handle biofuels and other alternative...

FG, Delta Collaborate To Check Spread Of Lassa

The Federal Ministry of Health says it is collaborating with Delta Government to enhance disease surveillance and curtail the spread of Lassa Fever recorded in the state. Prof. Isaac Adewole, Minister of Health made this known in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja on Wednesday. The minister was represented during the interview by the Deputy Director, Media and Public Relations of the ministry, Mr Olajide Oshundun.The minister said that the...

4 Types Of Relationships That Are Bad For Your Money (MUST READ)

1. The broke friend Do you have a friend who always seems to be in a financial bind? When you ask about his day are you usually met with a heart-wrenching story of his never-ending financial woes? It’s not unusual to fall on hard times every now and then, but it can get annoying when you keep encountering that one friend who seems to be perpetually broke. It’s OK to help out, but if your friend is starting...

FG Approves Review Of Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

The Federal Government on Tuesday took stock of its war against terrorism, especially since the inception of President Muhammadu Buhari, and effected changes in its counter-terrorism strategy.   In doing this, the Presidency attributed the popularity that the terrorist sect seemed to enjoy during the immediate past administration on embezzlement perpetrated by those who stole funds meant to acquire equipment to fight terrorism in the North-East.   Buhari made the remarks at the launch of the reviewed National Counter-terrorism Strategy (NACTEST), which was...

5 Reasons Pretty Girls Are Still Single

1. She's grown out of "dating for the sake of dating." These girls are not into wasting their time or energy on a guy they really can't see themselves being with long term. Casual dates just seem like a waste of time. It doesn't mean she isn't interested in dating, she's just not interested in attending ONE more mediocre date. Mediocre dates happen solely for the sake of going on a date. This is a concept...