There are three fundamental principles in choosing a leader, especially when it comes to a country like Nigeria. Character, capacity, and energy are the most essential ingredients in picking a 21st century leader. This simply means that a leader in Africa’s most populous nation is expected to be a paragon of integrity, and a high flyer whose capacity in politics and public affairs must transcend both the state and federal government.
Nigeria also needs a leader that exudes energy and resourcefulness to drive the dividends of democracy to the people. And having elected Bola Ahmed Tinubu as its presidential flagbearer ahead of the 2023 election, the APC’s quest for choosing his running mate must revolve around the aforementioned qualities.
So far, three names have been shortlisted by the party for its Vice-Presidential slot. Babagana Zulum, the incumbent governor of Borno State, his Predecessor, Senator Kashim Shettima, and the current Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir Ahmad El Rufai are alleged to be the key contenders.
But which of these men has all of what it takes to become Nigeria’s next vice president? It is no longer a hidden secret that the Office of the Vice President has for a long time been something of a delightfully bland euphemism for ceremonial leadership in Nigerian politics. An office that has been occupied by a series of men lacking in capacity and ability to inspire economic and political change. Except for Atiku Abubakar whose effect was in a way felt during his time, all other vice presidents that had emerged since Nigeria’s return to democracy have been merely political spare tyres. Goodluck Jonathan for instance was rather ineffective when he occupied the second-highest office in the land, and the unfortunate demise of his principal, the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, which led to his enthronement as President was a vindication that occupying political offices was entirely not one of his strengths.
GEJ’s deputy, the meek and unmotivated Muhammed Sambo also had nothing of value to offer as Vice President. Then came in the amiable Professor of Law, Yemi Osinbajo—one we all expected had the X factor to switch things up. But yet again, we were offered another ceremonial figurehead—this time, a smooth great talker who, in almost eight years has been a little doer. It must be pointed out that Nigeria does not need a manager, it needs a leader, and It perforce follows that for over a decade, the tradition of non-performing attributes has pervaded largely the position of the vice presidency in Nigeria.
With that in sight, it is expected that the APC’s choice of a running mate for Tinubu must be someone viable enough to create the needed political effect. Note that Tinubu’s candidacy for the presidency has conjured up a lot of reservations among Nigerians, and if the party must clear several doubts regarding the nation’s topmost job, then it must present to Nigerians a good enough vice-presidential aspirant. Of all three, Mallam Ahmed El Rufai is by far the most qualified for the job. He is suave, he understands better Nigeria’s current reality, and he is yawningly the most detribalized northerner in the mix. The truth also remains that Babagana Zulum will not be a bad pick either, but unfortunately, he is not El Rufai.
Note that, Mallam El Rufai singlehandedly coordinated all the APC governors to support the bid for Tinubu’s Presidency. He is a man who commands more respect in the Nigerian political clime than most of his counterparts. If picked, Mallam El Rufai will be the perfect piece to the jigsaw of an APC government that is in dire need of a reformative swagger.
To many, El Rufai comes off as a man that is overly principle, but it is his kind that Nigeria needs as number two at this point of reckoning. One of the most cosmopolitan breeds from northern Nigeria, El Rufai’s public service records speaks volume. This is a man whose reformative mind transformed a large part of Obasanjo’s government, not that he was even Nigeria’s vice president at the time. As minister of the FCT, El Rufai established the Abuja Geographic Information System, creating the first computerized land register and information system in Nigeria. He led reforms in the Nigerian public service and oversaw a transformation in the Ministry of Commerce and Interior while playing a key role in the country’s national economic team.
El Rufai is a political outlier and a pragmatic statesman that can hardly go missing in the business of statecraft. It is these leadership qualities that made him share a close connection with President Obasanjo during that dispensation, one that bears semblance to the connection enjoyed by President Richard Nixon and his brilliant aide, Henry Kissinger (for those familiar with the history of 20th century US politics). It was the same connection that made Nuhu Ribadu describe Mallam El Rufai as the ‘de facto no. 2 official’, tagging him the vice president given his active contribution to Obasanjo’s government.
There is no gainsaying how Mallam El Rufai has transformed Kaduna State in the most progressive ways. Under his stewardship, the State attracted a Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) of $2.61 billion in 2021. His progressive method of cutting the cost of government to reforming the state civil service and education sector is arguably the best policy thrust embarked upon by any current governor in Nigeria. Last year, he appointed a 28-year-old into his cabinet, and he is the only governor in northern Nigeria with a deputy as a woman—Dr. Hadiza Balarabe. Note that 53% of commissioners under his aegis in Kaduna State are women—a milestone that reaffirms Mallam El Rufai’s position as an incomparable modern statesman.
If anything, the APC stands a better chance of retaining their seat in Aso Rock should they go for Mallam El Rufai as Tinubu’s running mate. This is a man who can give Nigeria 20 hours of his time daily and can create compelling connections with Nigerian youths. There is a sense that if Nigeria finds a vibrant and disciplined Vice president like El Rufai, the country may as well get it right from 2023.
—Omotoriogun Emmanuel writes from Abuja