Before his death in 2010, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was planning to serve a single term in office in view of his debilitating health, a new book by former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, has revealed.
The book, titled "The Accidental Public Servant", detailed how the late president in September 2009 consulted a prominent and influential emir from the North to assist him in finding a successor since he would not be able to run for office again because of his failing health.
When asked those he would want to succeed him, the book revealed, the late Yar’Adua wrote a list containing four names: First Lady, Turai Yar’Adua; the then-Kwara State Governor and Chairman, Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), Dr. Bukola Saraki, as well as Kebbi State Governor, Alhaji Saidu Dakingari, and his Bauchi State counterpart, Mallam Isa Yuguda. Both Dankigari and Yuguda are married to the late Yar’Adua’s daughters.
The book also uncovered the third term plot executed to get former President Olusegun Obasanjo another four-year tenure in office by amending the 1999 Constitution to remove the two-term limit, and how the former president worked to undermine the chances of the then acting President Goodluck Jonathan in being elected president in the 2011 general election.
Despite his serial denials that he was not interested in tenure extension, the book noted that Obasanjo actively worked behind the scene for a third term agenda that would have made him spend 12 years in power.
El-Rufai, a key member of Obasanjo’s inner cabinet, in the book detailing his experience in government, revealed how the idea of the third term agenda came about and the manoeuvrings by both the supporters and the antagonists of the plot.
El-Rufai, who was the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) before he was appointed minister during Obasanjo’s second term, in the book also revealed the scheming by top government officials as well as their friends and associates in cornering the nation’s patrimony during the privatisation of public enterprises under his watch.
The book, which he described as neither his autobiography nor a memoir, uncovers the shenanigans of those entrusted with the nation’s resources and why corruption thrives in the public sector.
It also detailed the emergence of Yar’Adua and his Bayelsa State counterpart, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, as Obasanjo’s successor and deputy respectively, and how the former president’s plan turned awry as he and Yar’Adua fell out. As such, he was in constant fear that his successor could order his arrest to answer for his stewardship.
In recounting the meeting between Yar’Adua and the unnamed emir, El-Rufai wrote: "On his way out, the emir was ambushed by Turai who wanted to know if Yar’Adua had included her on the list of potential successors.
"The emir was a little shocked, but went on to confirm that. Turai thanked him and suggested that she was the only person that could be trusted with Umaru’s legacy, as the mother of his children."
On the third term plot, El-Rufai wrote that Obasanjo while denying that he was interested in tenure extension to others, had another group working for the actualisation of the agenda and who periodically briefed him on developments.
It was a grand plot, with foot soldiers such as former Chairman, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Board of Trustees (BoT), Chief Tony Anenih; former PDP National Chairman, Dr. Ahmadu Ali; former PDP National Secretary, Chief Ojo Maduekwe; former Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu; and Dr. Dalhatu Sarki Tafida, ready to do the dirty work.
Funds for the execution of the project, which included bribing lawmakers, were to be sourced from ministries, government parastatals, governors and Lagos-based businessmen with Obasanjo’s Special Assistant on Domestic Affairs, Andy Ubah, acting as the conduit. Each senator was to receive N75 million and each member of the House of Representatives N50 million.
The former president on several occasions had denied that he had any intention to stay beyond the two-term tenure of eight years for presidents and governors guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution.
In an interview with Channels Television in April last year, Obasanjo had said the idea generated from the National Assembly and not him, stressing that he would have succeeded with the idea if he wanted a third term.
He said there was nothing he ever wanted that God did not do for him, as such, if he truly wanted the third term, he knew how he would have gone about it and would have secured it because God has never failed him.
But El-Rufai in his book detailed the covert plans by Obasanjo to actualise his ambition and how he and members of the Economic Team, which included the then Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the then Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the then Special Assistant to the President on Budget Monitoring, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, and Dr. Aliyu Modibbo had tried to ferret out the truth from him.
He wrote about emissaries sent to him to get him on board and his vehement opposition to the idea, which he said was not in Nigeria’s interest.
According to him, Obasanjo started nursing the ambition of a third term in office, which could only be possible by amending the 1999 Constitution, two years into the last lap of his administration.
El-Rufai said the former president must have been in a quandary on who would be better placed to manage the vast resources his administration would be leaving behind when it exited power in 2007 after he had briefed him on the concern raised by the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) Senior Economist covering Nigeria, Mr. David Cowan, on the possibility of frittering away the projected $40 billion in foreign reserves and about $20 billion in Excess Crude Account (ECA) by 2007.
El-Rufai recalled that Cowan, during a private dinner with him, after the EIU held its first roundtable with the Federal Government in January 2005, said: "But you know something? I am an economist. I run these numbers, I conduct these scenarios and I see this. But you know someone else that knows? Your potential successors. They can smell the money.
"They know that the way you are going, by the middle of 2007, there will be a large amount of money in the bank. They are not economists, they do not know the numbers, but like dogs with raw meat, they can smell it.
"If your boss (Obasanjo) has not done so already, you guys have to start thinking about who is going to succeed you, because the guys that want to steal already know there is a huge bank account in the future and they will start planning now.
"I have not seen anything indicative of a succession plan. You tell Obasanjo to start planning."
Based on the request, El-Rufai booked an appointment to see Obasanjo who was spending the New Year holiday at his Ota farm and after briefing him on his discussion with Cowan, he said the then president asked him what to do.
"Mr. President, I am just a messenger. My job is to give you the information. You are the president; it is up to you to figure out what to do with it," he wrote as his response to Obasanjo’s poser.
"No, Nasir, this is a problem for the country. What are we going to do? None of my prospective successors will make good use of this," El-Rufai quoted Obasanjo as saying.
On who were the serious aspirants for the office, Obasanjo said: "(Vice-President) Atiku is obviously interested, but you know I will never hand this over to him. Babangida is interested and you know very well what he will do with these levels of financial resources, he already showed his hand the last time he had the chance."
According to the book, the discussion between Obasanjo and El-Rufai set the stage for the scheming and manoeuvring on how to give the then president enough time to consolidate in the "national interest", which included the convocation of a national political conference to recommend which areas of the 1999 Constitution needed to be amended to strengthen Nigeria’s fledgling democracy.
However, the ultimate aim of the conference was to propose some amendments to the constitution, including one that would move the tenure of the president from two terms to three.
El-Rufai wrote on his confrontations with the former president to make him come clean with him on the third term agenda, including a meeting of the Economic Team with Obasanjo’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Abdullahi Mohammed, to warn him that he would be risking all he had laboured for if he failed to backtrack from the third term agenda as the National Assembly would not pass any constitution amendment bill that would extend Obasanjo’s tenure.
Obasanjo, El-Rufai recalled, was incensed by their audacity that he had to dress them down.
"The following morning Obasanjo called Oby and Ngozi aside directly and dressed them down. They had gone to worship, as usual, at the morning church service at the State House chapel.
'You are of weak faith and do not believe we can build a modern Nigeria. We are going to achieve what you do not think is possible,'" he rebuked them.
It was El-Rufai’s turn to be rebuked the day after as the former president, who was quoted as often saying to his aides and close associates that "no third term, no Nigeria," labelled him "the leader of the coup plotters" for going to see his chief of staff to express their concern over the third term agenda.
However, the attack rather than cower them, spurred them on the more. El-Rufai subsequently gained Obasanjo’s confidence for him to divulge some of the tactics they were going to employ in getting the National Assembly to pass the constitution amendment bill and also in reaching out to Northern leaders such as former Head of State, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, former President Shehu Shagari and the then Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Maccido.
Although the defeat of the term third agenda, following the Senate’s rejection of the motion to further consider the constitution amendment bill, brought the chapter to a close, some of those who worked against Obasanjo, including Okonjo-Iweala, who was redeployed as Minister of Foreign Affairs, were "punished" for their roles. With his loss of the third term bid, Obasanjo zeroed in on Yar’Adua as his successor with the hope that he would make him to retain his coterie of aides in the late president’s government while he, from his Ota farm, would be influencing events in government with Yar’Adua as a figurehead.
However, Obasanjo’s selection of Yar’Adua as his successor did not go down well with Ribadu, who thought El-Rufai was better suited for the position.
Ribadu not only queried Obasanjo’s choice, he embarked on a hostile investigation of the then governor with the hope of forcing him out of the race and had to back down following the intervention of top government officials, among others.
According to El-Rufai, Ribadu’s opposition to Yar’Adua’s nomination might have been responsible for his problem with his administration that eventually led to his removal as EFCC chairman and demotion from the rank of Assistant Inspector General of Police.
On his activities in BPE, El-Rufai, who once threatened to resign his appointment, following his disagreement with the then Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, who was the chairman of the privatisation council, wrote on pressure from Atiku and businessmen to ensure that they or their friends emerged buyers of some of the privatised companies.
He recounted how he was approached with N25 million and another $100,000 as "thank you gifts" for selling one of the companies to a leading entrepreneur and how his rejection of the money eventually led to the sack of a BPE Deputy Director, Mr. Charles Osuji, through whom the money was offered to him.