by Nasir El-Rufai
Long before the publication of The Accidental Public Servant, I had decided to resist joining issues with whatever commentators wrote in response to the book by way of either attacking the author or its contents. It is a narrative of my experiences and views, and I would simply invite others to document theirs. Many of those that commented on, or ‘reviewed’ the book had not even read it in full. Others had decided long before it was published that they would attack El-Rufai and whatever he writes, while a few others were simply going to be unhappy with how they were presented in the book as being less than perfect. When one writes a 700-page book, one has to take a deep breath and allow others the slack to write a few pages in response, however disagreeable or abusive.
When I wrote The Accidental Public Servant, there were no illusions that its account would be uncontested. As I have said repeatedly, it is simply my account of the people and events that defined my years in public service. I took several precautions (such as double-checking from the copious notes and diaries of events that were taken after every major encounter – about forty seven note books in total) of ensuring that it is a truthful, balanced and fair account of my experience. I do not have a professorial memory, so kept daily journals of events including verbatim records of statements. I am delighted that I took the time to write it, and I once again encourage others who have been privileged to be in the public service to similarly record their experiences. Those who may choose not to write books can still contribute by responding to specific issues mentioned in my narrative on which they may have other information, however critical or contrary to my account.
Professor Charles (I have always called him Charles because that is how we were introduced. I have never gotten used to calling him Chukwuma) Soludo approached me at the end of the recent thanksgiving service for my sister, Oby Ezekwesili, to complain about some of the assertions in my book concerning him. He denied that he owed his consulting jobs with the World Bank and other institutions to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. He denied being mentored or taught by her father. He added that he had not read the entire book but would send me two pages of his initial observations. I encouraged him not only to do so, but publish it and work on a book documenting his experiences. Knowing Charles as I do, I had no doubt that he was already doing that and the first episode has now been published in his fortnightly column in Thisday.
Thus, his rebuttal did not come as a surprise; given that I encouraged him to do so as I have nothing to hide. Even so, it is shocking that he chose to sensationalise his version of events by describing The Accidental Public Servant as intellectual fraud. There is a question mark in the title of his article, but the last sentence of Charles’ diatribe restated his magisterial conclusion. He went further to provide his own definitions of fraud as “an intentional deception made for personal gain or to damage another individual” or “as course of deception, an intentional concealment, omission or perversion of truth”; only to stop there! Fraud has a technical and legal definition and if Charles had bothered to consult his lawyer, he would have gone beyond the ‘online definition’, but that is another matter for now.
It is illogical to contest someone’s CV with him in the absence of contrary and superior information. I therefore concede to Charles’ account of his professional odyssey prior to his being introduced to us in 2000 by Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, long before joining the Obasanjo government in 2003. The logical question therefore is how any of the examples he gave of the errors in his resume would without more, rise to the level of fraud? Why would I intentionally deceive the world that Soludo’s tenure as governor of CBN started in mid-2005 rather than May of 2004? This only occurred when one of the book’s editors thought the 2004 date was wrong and ‘corrected’ it but that escaped subsequent editorial reviews. What is the personal gain to me in describing Soludo as a protégé of Professor Okonjo or how did the description damage him when he just referred to the same Professor Okonjo as “respected”? So, Charles needs to substantiate how any assertion, error or omission in the book amounts to “fraud” per his definition.
After that, I do not see much that is significant to warrant a clarification from me. One friend on Twitter observed that Charles’ polemic had so much anger and little substance that he truly sounded as angry as a woman scorned! Much of Charles’ response is enlivened by innuendos. He repeats the frequent charge about my ambition for the presidency in 2007, a charge that is untrue but that is often echoed as if that ambition, if it existed, is akin to treason. Charles knows that I do not consider illegitimate his desire to be governor of his state or his current hopes to be a presidential running-mate. But he should know better than most that ambition for office is not the only reason for being active in politics. Since Charles has claimed that I ‘schemed desperately’ to succeed Obasanjo, he should please tell all – inform Nigerians what I did, who was involved and spill the beans! Virtually all the narratives in The Accidental Public Servant about Charles involved others that are still alive, and if he said I made them up, perhaps he should state his version and invite others mentioned to invalidate my claim instead of calling anyone a liar just because he did not like the way his conduct appeared in the book.
Charles was introduced to me by Ngozi, and that was the foundation of our professional relationship and friendship. As far as I know, it was also Ngozi who proposed his name for economic adviser and Oby (and her husband) took him to Obasanjo several times before he was appointed. If Charles is denying that this happened, that is fine. It does not change the facts, and those that did what they did know what they did or did not do! Why is Charles so hurt that others have helped him? Is he suggesting that he had won the Nobel Prize in Economics and that is how Obasanjo got to meet and appoint him?
Charles presented his jaundiced interpretations of what I wrote in clear language as my views in his piece. For instance, there was nowhere in the book that I wrote that ‘Ngozi was power hungry.’ She was pragmatic and realistic about power relations. How does that equate to being power hungry? Charles is playing with words in a patently dishonest way, knowing that many that will read his piece have not read the book, but he is not the intellectual fraud! Charles also asserted that I forced myself on the economic team and “destroyed it”! Was it El-Rufai that composed the membership of the team? When and how was the team single-handedly destroyed by me? As far as I know, warts and all, the economic team kept on working till May 29, 2007. Again, I invite Charles to educate us all now, bearing in mind virtually all the team members are still alive and around, even after he stopped attending its weekly meetings.
In the book, I wrote that Charles did many things to ingratiate himself to Obasanjo, one of which was to attribute every good ‘idea’ to the latter; not actual achievements, since there were few in the early days. Charles’ response was to misrepresent what was written, just as he knows that there is no weight to the claim that appointees under a presidential system cannot claim credit for their work. To acknowledge the opportunity President Obasanjo gave me to serve, and the support he provided to help us succeed at the FCT is very different from pretending that only the boss had any ideas on how to administer Abuja, or that he oozed perfection, presidential system or not.
Charles also came out guns blazing questioning my narratives of events involving his new mentor Atiku Abubakar, and Nuhu Ribadu and Obasanjo. In Charles’ views, these three people made me tick in government and I should be eternally grateful. Charles has not read the book. If he did, he would have come across all the instances in which I gave each of them credit for what they did right and how they contributed to the work I did. Unlike Charles who makes people believe they are perfect when he needs them, I was consistent in and out of office in pointing to those I worked with where I believe they went wrong just as I was self critical of my own shortcomings. In Charles’ vocabulary, that is ingratitude. In mine, it is simply utilitarian sycophancy to attribute perfection to imperfect mortals because they are likely to help one’s career next week!
Charles claimed that I pleaded with him to provide technical assistance to BPE. That is false. That conversation just never happened. Those familiar with BPE know that we hired people either as regular public servants, individual consultants called ‘core team’ members that work full time in the organization or investment bankers and consulting firms like lawyers and accountants that provided periodic transactional services as needed. Charles and his economic consulting firm did not fit into any of the three categories. I appointed him to the membership of two reform steering committees – Competition and Anti-Trust and the Industry and Manufacturing Reform Committees along with persons of the calibre of Pat Utomi, Oby Ezekwesili, and Aliko Dangote. I was the coordinator of both committees as DG of the BPE, with Ibrahim S. Njiddah, now a presidential assistant doing the day-to-day management. I am now learning from the Charles’ piece that he single-handedly did the work of the Competition Reform Committee for free. I did not realize that all the other notable members did nothing! Well, thanks Charles, but Steering Committee members got hotel accommodation and were paid sitting allowances by the BPE, so I do not quite understand what was meant by asserting that you did the work free of charge.
That leaves us with asking Charles to detail the fraud he alleges was attendant to the efforts we made to restore the Abuja master plan. He claimed that my ‘vindictiveness’ nearly ruined the exercise. Really? There is need to say more right on this away. I am challenging Charles to substantiate these innuendos with names and details of my alleged vindictiveness in his article since everybody knows that my service at the FCT is a matter of public record that has been investigated by several institutions unsympathetic to me, and all Abuja residents know about and still comment upon it.
The rest of Soludo’s article was spent blowing his trumpet of banking consolidation with his characteristic modesty! The dismissal of Charles’ over-hyped banking consolidation in The Accidental Public Servant therefore appeared to upset him more than anything else. He is still under the illusion that his ‘revolution’ changed our lives the way GSM licensing did! No one needs a single 234NEXT to see through the hype and the disingenuous comparison. Banks like First Bank, UBA, Union, Zenith IBTC, and GTB needed no consolidation. They had sound business models and were doing well without it. Soludo’s consolidation abolished investment banks and regional banks, while creating a few ‘big’ banks with funny names many of which were either comatose by 2009 or had to be subsequently saved by the Sanusi Lamido Sanusi rescue exercise. It is pathetic to measure the success of consolidation by the number of banks in the top 1,000 banks in the world. Did that ranking translate into increased lending to the real sector, greater employment opportunities for our people and intensified mobilization of savings in the way the GSM revolution did? No way, only massive margin loans to create a stock market bubble, engender insider lending and incestuous relations between regulators and operators in the industry.
The kind of targeted interventions needed to fill the gaps sustained by some of such policies were opposed by Soludo unless the ideas originated from him. As CBN governor, Charles did all he could to frustrate the attempts to establish a national mortgage system and was openly critical of Ngozi’s drive and contributions in getting the Paris Club debts written off for the simple reason that the the credit might go to others not Soludo!
Charles is free to beat his chest and claim that the deformed baby called consolidation was a revolution, but today many of the poster-children of the policy like Intercontinental, Oceanic, Finbank and Spring Bank are history, the banking-stockbroking rock stars are facing prosecution, and with N4 trillion spent to prevent the collapse of his revolution. When Charles’ memoirs are published, those that either witnessed it or had to clean up ‘the world’s fastest growing financial system’ will have their own views. And it will be good for the country. After all, it has been said that every story has at least three sides, my version, your version and the truth which lies somewhere in between the two.
If one refers to a book one finds disagreeable as intellectual fraud while insisting that a cancer one created that has cost nearly the annual budget of the federal government to treat, so far, as a resounding success, then what more is there to say? It simply points to the moral and psychological mind-set of such a person.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Nasir El-Rufai