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Nigeria: Ministerial Screening – Inside SSS’ Allegations Against Nasir El-Rufai

The withholding of Mr El-Rufai’s confirmation shocked many Nigerians who perceived him as an A-list ministerial nominee of President Tinubu.

Allegations of human rights abuses, unguarded public utterances, and a purported flood of petitions are the issues advanced by the State Security Service (SSS) against the nomination of former Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report.

The Senate on Monday confirmed 45 ministerial nominees after a week-long screening of 48 of them.

It withheld the confirmation of the three remaining nominees.

It was shocking for many Nigerians to find Mr El-Rufai, an ally and one of the staunchest backers of President Bola Tinubu, among the three.

Mr El-Rufai is believed to enjoy the president’s confidence after they overcame their political differences before the 2023 presidential election. He demonstrated his warm relationship with the president by indicating during the screening exercise that Mr Tinubu invited him to work with him.

He was also among the pack of former governors on the list of nominees lavished with respect by senators during the screening exercise on 2 August. Senators fell over one another to speak in his favour. Some even discouraged their colleagues from asking him questions.

An attempt by the Kogi West senator, Sunday Karimi, to table a petition he said was of security concerns against him for deliberation was summarily shot down.

The President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, confirmed that the Senate received a series of petitions against some ministerial nominees, and not just Mr El-Rufai, but that such complaints would be referred to the president, who nominated them, and the relevant investigative bodies.

At the end of confirmation proceedings on Monday, Mr El-Rufai, who many thought had a smooth sail, was among just three nominees whose confirmations were withheld.

The two others were a former senator from Taraba, Sani Danladi, and a nominee from Delta State, Stella Okotete.

Mr Akpabio said their confirmations would await security clearance, which left many Nigerians wondering what the security issues could be with Mr El-Rufai’s nomination.

After speaking with different sources with direct knowledge of the security report on Mr El Rufai, PREMIUM TIMES is reporting for the first time the security concerns the SSS raised against him.

The sources, who asked not to be named because they are not permitted to discuss the sensitive matter publicly, said most of the allegations against the former governor were already known to the public.

PREMIUM TIMES cannot independently verify the allegations.

The issues include broad and specific allegations, including his widely reported controversial remarks and policies, according to sources with direct knowledge of the complaints by the SSS.

They are broadly categorised as human rights abuses, unguarded utterances and conduct, petitions, public trust abuse, and other sundry issues.

Our sources said the SSS did not confront Mr El-Rufai with these allegations.

Alleged unguarded statements

Allegation of “unguarded statements” is a major thrust of the SSS report on Mr El-Rufai, according to sources who shared their knowledge of the matter with this newspaper.

Mr El-Rufai is a vocal politician who has been a recurring feature in Nigeria’s political space in and out of government since 1999.

He occasionally courted controversies in the public offices he held in his decades-long run of political fortune.

He partly owes his political fame to controversial comments, some of which continue to dog him to date.

The latest was the comment he made while addressing a group of Muslim clerics in Kaduna after his party, the APC, was declared the winner of the governorship election in March.

In the comment, which generated an uproar, Mr El-Rufai said Muslims could rule Kaduna for a long period while also consistently doing justice to Christians.

The comment was widely criticised as divisive in a state where religious and ethnic tensions could quickly lead to bloody clashes.

Months before Mr El-Rufai’s latest comment, a former senator from the state, a political adversary, blamed the worrisome security situation of the state on the utterances of the former governor.

Citing Mr El-Rufai’s latest comment, the SSS, according to sources, said Mr El-Rufai’s public statements inflamed mistrust among the state’s citizens and, by extension, between Muslims and Christians in the country.

The security agency also pointed out Mr El-Rufai’s comment in the build-up to the 2019 general elections, when he said foreign election observers and agents of the international community trying to meddle in Nigeria’s elections would return in body bags.

The then governor, who was a governorship candidate seeking a second term at the time, would later clarify that he was only expressing Nigeria’s readiness to “defend itself against needless intervention” by external bodies, saying his comment “is the kind of statement you expect to hear from a patriot”.

The SSS said for that comment, Mr El-Rufai was barred from entering the US, a claim PREMIUM TIMES has yet to verify independently.

Our sources said the SSS also recalled a “blasphemy tweet” it said Mr El-Rufai posted in 2013. The agency said this generated uproar when he made the comment.

Alleged human rights abuses

Concerns were also raised about alleged human rights abuses by Mr El-Rufai while he was governor.

These include the case concerning the killing of the sons and followers of the Shiite leader, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, in Zaria, Kaduna State, in 2015.

Over 300 followers of the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), known to be a body of Shiite Muslims in Nigeria, were killed in the attack by the Nigerian military, according to the report of an enquiry conducted by the Mr El-Rufai-led government of Kaduna State.

Although the military was directly responsible, the operation enjoyed the support of the state government.

Instead of holding the military accountable for the massacre of the Shiites, the government chose to prosecute Mr El-Zakzaky and his wife for the alleged murder of one soldier who was said to have been killed in a confrontation between the military and the Shiites in December 2015.

The case went on for years without the Kaduna State government being able to lead any tangible evidence. The Kaduna State High Court ended up dismissing the case in July 2021.

The El-Zakzaky case, according to the SSS, was reported to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and is being investigated by the United Nations human rights body.

Aside from the El-Zakzaky case, the SSS also accused Mr El-Rufai of having engaged in arbitrary arrests of political enemies and seizure of properties and wanton demolition of properties of perceived political enemies.

The agency also accused him of using force and intimidation to suppress protests, leading to extrajudicial killings of innocent citizens of the state.

Alleged financial misconduct

The SSS also alleged that Mr El-Rufai was facing a series of ongoing litigations for selling federal government assets, although no verifiable proof was provided.

Some other court cases, the SSS also claimed, involved Mr El-Rufai’s alleged embezzlement of public funds, abuse of trusts, allegedly involving the use of cronies, allies and family members for corrupt purposes during his time as head of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and governor of Kaduna State.

PREMIUM TIMES is not aware of pending charges against Mr El Rufai. The trial court dismissed the only widely known case against him similar to the allegations raised by the SSS in 2013.

But the SSS insists that one of such cases is still before a judge of the Federal High Court.

Petitions

Painting Mr El Rufai as the most controversial ministerial nominee, the SSS said his nomination attracted the most petitions and widespread rejections on both the mainstream and digital platforms. It added that aggrieved members of the society also took protests against him to the National Assembly during the screening exercise, sources said.

They added that before his nomination, several petitions weres filed against him. They also said cases were pending against him in different Nigerian and international courts, including the ECOWAS and the ICC. According to the SSS, the agency also listed some petitions filed against Mr El-Rufai, including one it said was sent to President Tinubu by the Islamic Human Rights Commission.

It also listed an ICC document acknowledging the court’s receipt of a petition requesting the investigation of Mr El-Rufai for acts of genocide and crimes against humanity.

The other cases listed by the SSS, the sources said, were a petition to the National Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International, another one sent to the ICC concerning an alleged forceful takeover of prime land in Kaduna despite court orders, and one other sent to the Kaduna State House of Assembly over the demolition of properties in the state.

Sundry issues against El-Rufai

There were other sundry issues the SSS raised against Mr El-Rufai.

These include an allegation that he once insulted Northern elders, whom the agency described as “a respected group of statesmen.”

The security report, sources also said, accused Mr El-Rufai of once describing Mr Tinubu as the most corrupt person and vowing that he would never deputise such a person with a tainted profile.

The agency also accused him of attempting to repeal Sharia law in Kaduna State in his dying days in office as Kaduna governor. This was said to be in his desperate bid to appease the Christian population in the state. According to sources, the SSS described the move as dangerous, with the possibility of triggering clashes in the state.

There are media reports quoting the speaker of the 9th Kaduna State House of Assembly, Yusuf Zailani, that members rejected a bill to scrap the Sharia and Customary Courts in the state. But a member of the House of Assembly, Yusuf Salihu, would later deny the claim.

In what appears to be political profiling, the SSS also accused the former governor of backstabbing his former bosses. Without providing verifiable details, the agency said he backstabbed former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Vice President Atiku Abubakar (who is said to have brought him into the Obasanjo administration), and the immediate-past President Muhammadu Buhari.

The agency also accused Mr El-Rufai of inconsistent character, citing his previous claim of being too old to serve as a minister and his later decision to accept Mr Tinubu’s nomination to serve in that capacity.

The agency also cited “anti-people policies” that allegedly destroyed people’s livelihoods in Kaduna State as evidence that he is unfit to hold office as minister. Such alleged anti-people actions attributed to the former governor included:

Market demolitions without compensation or alternatives.

Eviction and demolition of longstanding low-cost houses.

The sacking of thousands of civil servants and removal of traditional rulers “without due process”.

In the letter to the Senate, the SSS did not attach evidence substantiating these allegations. It said investigations were still ongoing.

When contacted, Muyiwa Adekeye, the media adviser to Mr El-Rufai, declined to comment for this story.

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