by Moses Ochonu
So, per Saharareporters.com, Nasir el-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State, who is perhaps Nigeria’s most intolerant and autocratic state chief executive, has apparently been presiding over a contract bazaar for his family, aides, friends, and associates, adding yet another dimension to his growing list of egregiously offensive conduct and abuses of office that includes slyly justifying the genocide in Southern Kaduna, paying “compensation” to the perpetrators, recklessly inflaming the volatile ethno-religious situation in the state, detaining critics, and opportunistically insulting former and present political benefactors, including Obasanjo, Jonathan, Buhari, Atiku, and others.
The said contracts, N3 billion worth, have been predictably abandoned because they were little more than fraudulent self-enrichment schemes to begin with.
Nigerian politics is a den of thieves, but for at least a decade I have been warning Nigerians about a particular brood of thieves, which for lack of a more elegant descriptive idiom I will call the den of competent thieves. This specie of crooks comprises of thieving politicians who mask their corruption with ritualistic performances of competent leadership.
They are the theives who speak well and have mastered the jargon of technocratic governance, becoming the darlings of NGOs, civil society, and neoliberal institutions. They are the politicians who say the right things, bamboozle the naive with the language of good governance and transparency. They know what to do and what to say to impress their local and international interlocutors.
They can make mesmerizing presentations with or without notes or PowerPoint slides. When accused of corruption or other misconduct they do not retreat or perform contrition, and are not rattled. Instead they arrogantly go on the offensive. They deploy counterattacks and counter-accusations as a tactic of deflection, distraction, and defense.
They are media savvy; they work the press and seduce and induce them into buying their obfuscation, sophistry, and glib rhetoric. The thing is that they do not believe that the laws and rules governing the conduct of public officials apply to them.
Almost a decade ago, I wrote to criticize the competent corruption of Charles Soludo, whom I took the liberty of inducting into the fraternity of the competently corrupt even as details of his shady dealings in office were emerging to complicate the emerging myth of his competent revolution in the Nigerian banking sector. That was before SLS came and exposed the rot that Soludo incubated and nurtured as CBN governor.
Because of his reputation for competence, some people did not believe that Soludo was capable of corruption and not only rose to his defense but also accused Saharareporters, which published evidence of his corruption, of trying to sully his reputation. Some people said, “eh, he was corrupt but at least he did something good in the banking sector.”
Nasir El-Rufai is perhaps the most illustrious member of the club of the competently corrupt. His articulateness and technocratic awareness relative to other Nigerian politicians have served to inoculate him against accountability. As a result, he has arrogantly continued to thump his nose at rules and laws while craftily and fraudulently playing the competence and “good governance” cards.
Remember when El-Rufai was accused by a senate committee of awarding choice FCT plots of land to his wives and children? His response was neither denial nor contrition. Instead, he arrogantly told the committee that his wives, children, and friends were Nigerians and were thus entitled to said plots of FCT choice lands.
He didn’t see anything wrong with his conduct as FCT minister. He certainly doesn’t see anything wrong with distributing contracts to his family, friends and aides as governor, contracts that have been abandoned according to Saharareporters.
That is how corrupt but marginally competent politicians behave. They know that their reputation for technocratic competence, deserved or not, will insulate them or at least confuse Nigerians. They almost feel entitled to a pass on account of their grammatical competence and choreographed, elaborate pretenses to governing ability. They are slick operators, hard to pin down because there are always compatriots who are taken by their polish and educated conduct and are willing to overlook all else.
Corrupt politicians perceived to be competent, enlightened, and well educated are the most dangerous kind of political thieves because they are the most difficult to hold accountable.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Moses E. Ochonu is Professor of African History at Vanderbilt University, USA. He is the author of three books, the most recent of which is Africa in Fragments: Essays on Nigeria, Africa, and Global Africanity (New York: Diasporic Africa Press, 2014).