by Chukwuma Soludo
Although there is no single definition of fraud, the online definitions that come to mind as one reads Nasir el-Rufai’s book (The Accidental Public Servant) is “fraud as course of deception, an intentional concealment, omission, or perversion of truth”, or “an intentional deception made for personal gain or to damage another individual”. I know el-Rufai as a brilliant fellow and I certainly expected a definitive book. His stated objective was to “tell the story of my public service years…” but it turned out a very bad example of how to write a memoir. It is more of wild concoctions and commentaries on imagined events outside of his “public service years”. As I read parts of the book that relate to things that I should know about, I shook my head in disbelief. I could not believe that el-Rufai could descend so low. While I will surely correct many of his wrong narratives in my book, I thought I have a duty to make a preliminary response – for public records!
Contrary to his narrative, most of us in government knew that el-Rufai desperately wanted to succeed President Olusegun Obasanjo as president. He plotted and schemed, destroying anyone perceived to be potentially in his way. Obasanjo scorned him; the scheme through the PDP Reform Forum failed; and with the bid to replace Major General Muhammadu Buhari in Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) still a work in progress, it is understandable that the bitterness would find succour in a book to smear and destroy any known potential threat. The only good person in the whole book is el-Rufai, and perhaps also my dear sister, Oby Ezekwesili. For him, it is either that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was power hungry or that “Charles was not grateful”. We understand his motives, but for him to also fabricate stories about Obasanjo, Atiku Abubakar, and Mallam Nuhu Ribadu the way he did (the three persons that literally made him tick in government) speaks volumes. What a very grateful person! My people have a proverb that when a foolish and disrespectful child utters abomination before his elders, he beats his chest that he has exhibited uncommon courage.
The book is grossly dishonest. It is amusing to read the purported conversations he had with President Obasanjo on the third term bid. One reads almost two or three pages as quotes from the conversation and most parts of the book are replete with similar long quotes of purported conversations (all in inverted commas). This tactic was deceptively employed to give the impression of authenticity to the claims of such conversations. Surely, it is impossible to report the proceedings of a meeting or conversation verbatim after the meeting. It would therefore mean either that he was tape-recording every private conversation he had with people or that he simply fabricated those long quotes. If he cannot produce the tape recordings of those conversations (which I believe he doesn’t have), he should be honest enough to admit that he made up those stories/quotes. It is too cheap of him to fabricate those quotes and seek to exploit the gullibility of the reading public to damage other people.
I was amused by el-Rufai’s disingenuous attempt to frame stories about the Economic Management Team, which he forced himself upon and probably destroyed. As pertains to me, he lied all the way in an attempt to concoct a mischievous narrative or plot. He calls Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala “Ngozi”. I call her “Madam”. He tells a fairy tale of how I was a student or protégé of Ngozi’s father. Sorry el-Rufai, the respected Prof. Okonjo had left University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) before I became a student, and our paths did not cross until the mid-1990s (while my Ph.D was in 1989). If you even called Ngozi on the phone, she would have confirmed to you that she never got any consulting contract for me at the World Bank or any multilateral institution as you claimed. If you cared for the facts, you would have known that I began to interact with Ngozi in late 1999, in the fourth month of my 18-month consulting assignment at the World Bank (an assignment to which I was nominated by three pan-African Institutions – ADB, UNECA, and AERC – for the project on “Can Africa Claim the 21st Century”). You don’t lie about matters that have records.
For your information el-Rufai, before I met anyone of you at the original Economic Management Team, I had (for a decade) lived in Ethiopia, United Kingdom, and United States of America (USA) and traveled to 45 other countries as an itinerant scholar and consultant; worked at the United Nations; been to Oxford, Cambridge and Warwick Universities; was a visiting professor at Swarthmore, USA; and consultant to 18 international organisations including the World Bank, IMF, OECD, EU, ADB, various UN agencies, etc. I have been consultant to different departments of the World Bank at different times, including being on the Chief Economist Advisory Council (CEAC) for the period 2005 – 2012 and no Nigerian had anything to do with any of them. I spent 19 months at the Brookings Institution, USA (January 1991 – July 1992; and three months in 1998) but according to el-Rufai, I went to Brookings after a consulting job at the World Bank (which would then mean ‘after 2000’?). According to el-Rufai, I became Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in “mid 2005” instead of May 2004. He manufactures both the facts as well as the comments.
By el-Rufai’s own account in the book, the approval to embark on the demolition of properties in Abuja was obtained on 30th August, 2003. I state (and challenge him to prove otherwise) that Ngozi was no longer staying at Bolingo Hotel by the time he started his demolition programme. How can you then fabricate a story that we met at her suite in Bolingo Hotel and also fabricate a purported quotation of what I told you, which among other things, referred to your demolition programme? I thought you were smart enough el-Rufai to at least lie consistently. Is this not fool proof that you made up all the quotations in the book?
As at the last count, no less than 15 persons claimed to have recommended me as Chief Economic Adviser or Central Bank Governor. My simple response to all is: thank you! Thank you also el-Rufai if indeed you played the role I have just read from your book that you played in my appointment as Chief Economic Adviser. Of course, President Obasanjo is still alive and several of the actors are also alive. In my own memoir, I will detail how I joined President Obasanjo’s government. I have also heard fantastic claims of some people that they literally appointed me governor of CBN. In a recent chat with President Obasanjo, he for the umpteenth time insisted that nobody can ever claim to have advised him to appoint me as governor of CBN. He reminded me that even I did not know—which is a fact!
El-Rufai also conveniently forgot that he first met me in late 2000 when I came from the US to help the federal government prepare for the IMF Article IV consultations and also train senior staff of CBN, Ministry of Finance and National Planning on the macroeconomic and technical computations involved (paid for by USAID). el-Rufai chose to forget that he pleaded for my technical assistance to Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) as a consultant but I told him I was too busy with my international assignments. I rather offered to attend any of his privatisation committee meetings anytime I was in the country and to offer my services free of charge. He forgot that I wrote several technical notes to help him succeed, including being the sole author of the initial draft “Anti-trust and Competition Policy” – all free of charge!
El-Rufai seemed unhappy that I gave every credit of our achievement to President Obasanjo. Well, I am informed enough to know that in a presidential system of government, only the president is elected with the mandate to govern and every appointed person in the executive branch has a delegated responsibility to assist him. Only in Nigeria would you see a minister or appointed official write books to take credit for achievements in office. As governor of the central bank, I made it clear that I received every award or recognition on behalf of the president. I have no apologies for that.
Interestingly, el-Rufai tells the story of the great achievements of President Obasanjo in restoring the Abuja masterplan, using him as an assistant. I thank him for at least acknowledging that the idea to restore the masterplan was Obasanjo’s and that he drove it all the way. What he did not tell is the story of how el-Rufai’s vindictiveness almost ruined the exercise as well as the monumental fraud associated with it. This is for another day!
Of course, el-Rufai could not hide his opposition to the banking sector consolidation. Unfortunately as we say in my place, you cannot cover the moon with your palms. You may not like Soludo or Obasanjo, but in the last 27 years, there are two fundamental structural transformations of the Nigerian economy that have taken place – the telecommunications revolution, and the banking sector revolution (consolidation). Ours was not a mere reform, it was a revolution! Nigeria’s only transnational corporations were built in three years.
We put two Nigerian banks in the top 300 banks in the world and they remain there, and nine others in the top 1,000 (there was none before my tenure). The Nigerian private sector as we know it today (especially the new economy in oil and gas and emerging big businesses) largely owes its wealth to our revolution. The world acknowledges that without our foresight and courage, the Nigerian financial system and economy would have collapsed during the global financial crisis. We developed a robust, transparent and no-nonsense regulatory and supervisory regime before the global crisis, and left behind one of the strongest banking systems that was globally rated in the same league as those of Israel, India, China, and Russia. You chose to forget that we revoked the licenses of 14 banks in one day (unprecedented in our history), including banks owned by my friends. This is a story for another day!
The story of how we built the world’s fastest growing financial system and Nigeria’s largest transnational corporations in three years, rescued the entire system from collapse despite the unprecedented four shocks that buffeted the system during the global crisis, on course to fully restructure the few ailing banks before the end of 2009 with or without a penny from government; and designed the comprehensive roadmap for sustainability and growth (under FSS 2020) is told in my book. Our Financial System Strategy (FSS 2020) remains the roadmap till date. Sorry el-Rufai, there is little you can do about this record. Even with ten 234NEXT newspapers, and 20 other books, you cannot re-write history!
Since el-Rufai takes pleasure in reporting what ordinarily should be private conversations, let me also take the liberty to report that he admitted to me on April 28, 2013 that what he wrote about me were the “impressions” he was given. That for me summed it up. My advice el-Rufai, is that you don’t collect some hair dressing salon gossip, hearsay, ‘impressions’, and wild imaginations – all intentionally designed to damage others, and bind them into a book without crosschecking the facts. That is intellectual fraud!