Nobody can bar me from Aso Villa
Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, was on Friday at the Presidential Villa to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari and to offer Juma’at prayers with him and other Muslims at the Villa mosque. State House correspondents seized the opportunity to take him up on the recent controversies swirling round his contentious memo to President Buhari and his face-off with the National Assembly. The governor answered that while nobody can stop his visit to the Villa as a result of the memo, it has achieved its intention by stimulating better governance from Buhari. He denied falling out with federal lawmakers because he dared them to publish their earnings, declaring that he only meant well to help them clear the air on the ridiculous amounts being bandied by the public.
Q: Why the strain in your relationship with President Buhari such that you wrote him a controversial letter?
A: There is no strain in my ties with the President. The Villa is a big place. Within the Villa there are people that like me and there are those who don’t and it is normal. My relationship with the President has never been strained in anyway. I met with him last night, I did not talk about things like that but my relationship with him is like that of father and son and it is privilege for me. I told him I will come today for the Jumaat and I did.
Q: How did he receive you?
A: As usual with great warmth and graciousness and I am grateful for that.
Q: Why would you write such a letter to the President?
A: It was a private memo and it is not a letter. If you want to ask any question about it you ask those who leaked the memo because I wrote it seven months ago. I have written similar memos to the President in the past and non of them got leaked. He knows that he can count on me to give him my views of what is out there that he may not hear and to give him sound advice without any interest on my part. If anyone reads that memo he will see that there is nothing in the memo that has anything to do other than the success of Mr President and progress of the country. That is my goal, my motive and I am driven by that. I stand behind the President to the very end.
Q: Have your views in the letter changed since then?
A: Yes, I believe that since September last year when I wrote the letter, there has been significant improvement in the delivery of services at the federal level. Some of our federal programmes have started in earnest. Social protection for instance, the N-Power budget releases have been accelerated, this is an unprecedented move, the Minister of Finance has released up to about a trillion naira of capital budget. In September last year, little or nothing had been released and that was part of my concern. Since then the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan has been done and published. At the time I wrote the memo there was no five-year plan for the country. Since then the government has moved ahead to change some of the appointees of President Jonathan in the parastatals. This is something that we were worried about, many of us in APC felt that we were in office but not in power because the people that Jonathan appointed were still running most of our key agencies. From September till date even up until yesterday there have been significant improvement. So there is improvement and I believe that part of what I recommended to the President is being implemented, whether because of my memo or not, it is being implemented and the country is moving forward and I am grateful to God for it.
Q: How do you feel about the leakage of the letter?
A: I am disappointed that a private communication to the highest office in the land can be leaked and it was leaked from the Villa, I am told by those that published it. But this is a fact of life, we live in an age where anything you write or say can be leaked. It is ok. My intentions are clear, I have no ill motive but I wanted to communicate with the President what many Nigerians are talking about and what steps can be taken to improve governance of the country and move the country forward. That was my motive and if tomorrow like I said I see anything that the President needs to know I will discuss with him and I will articulate and put it into writing and on the record for him to have a reminder document to work on. I have no regrets and I have no apologies.
Q: Some people believe that you have been stopped by some powerful forces from coming to the Villa?
A: No, no one ever stopped me from coming to the Villa and no one can stop me from coming to Villa. As a governor I come here, I have blank cheques, no one checks me at the gate but I believe what the President needs is for those that love him to keep away from him and allow him to rest. The President needs quality time to rest because it is meeting too many people that strains leadership. I am a governor and I know that when I meet 10 people in a day I get really tired. It is not the paperwork, it is not really the memos approving them or asking questions that strains a leader, it is the stream of visitors. I do not want to contribute to the President’s problem by coming here everyday. I am in touch with him, I know everything going on and I do not think I should add to his burden. Most of the time I come to visit the President I do not come to the office, I go to see him at home. I think and I appeal to all of us that love the President to please allow him some space so that he will recover. We need him and the country needs him, it is in our interest for the stability of the country. We should just let him be. It is absolutely necessary, let us leave him to do his work in the privacy of his room or his office without strings of visitors. Visitors stress leaders.
Q: Have you fallen out with the National Assembly over the brickbats concerning your salary and security votes?
A: There is nothing like falling out with the National Assembly. First of all, I am a state governor and do not have any direct relationship with the National Assembly. They don’t legislate for me specifically. I don’t have any relationship that is negative or positive with the National Assembly. The National Assembly is the legislature of the federation and we have very good relations with the legislators. There are senators from my state and there are representatives and I meet regularly with those of them that are ready to meet with me. Here beside me are Senators Abu Ibrahim and Marafa. If I have problem with the National Assembly, they will not be standing beside me, so there is no problem. The issue is what I did last Friday was to ask the leadership of the national Assembly to fulfil the promise that they made themselves to publish the details of their budget and asking for that is my duty as a citizen. Every Nigerian is entitled to ask that question. It is in the National Assembly’s interest to actually publish it because there are rumours of bogus amounts of money that they are getting which I do not believe is true. I think that the best way to kill that rumour is to publish the details of their budget but some people took exception to that call for transparency and I have no apologies because as citizens we have the right to demand for transparency on how resources are being spent. This N100 billion or so budget of the National Assembly is money belonging to the people of Nigeria and every Nigerian has the right to ask and I am exercising that right as a citizen, not even as a governor. I have no problem with the Speaker (Yakubu Dogara). He is my kid brother, he respects me and I respect him. I have no problem with the Senate President (Bukola Saraki). We worked together in the past and I am confident that we will work together in the future in the interest of Nigeria but demand for accountability is not a problem and should not be construed to be
undermining or any such thing. It is only someone who has something to hide that will do things like that and I don’t believe that the National Assembly has things to hide.