In the television series, Game of Thrones, two fictional characters remain outstanding for their sheer mastery as skilled manipulators who obtain information on their political rivals, and use that information to advance themselves in the circles of power: Lord Petry Baelish, popularly known as Little Finger, and Varys, also called the Spider. Both men however have fundamental differences, while one seeks power to advance the cause of the realm, the other seeks power for himself.
In Kaduna, an ‘accidental public servant’ who was a vicious critic of previous governments and had served as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory has come to be given the name, Little Finger. But before then, he was the Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises and the Secretary to the Privatization Council.
He had told former President Olusegun Obasanjo, “I want to run an agency, I want to get my hands dirty. I’m sick and tired of assisting or advising people. . . I want to do something for myself.”
While at every point he claimed not to be interested in politics or power, he always found himself, somehow, in the circle of power, even being part of the founding members of the All Progressivess Congress (APC).
It was in his position at the BPE that his stubbornness was known. He would not bow to public pressure when Benue Cement was privatized and the bulk of shares bought by Dangote Cement. The locals protested that Dangote belonged to another part of the country. The dispute lasted for three years but el-Rufai did not budge. In the process of privatisation, he racked up enemies, mostly in the trade union. In an interview with Innovations for Successful Societies Oral History Program in 2009, he said, “The unions we had to defeat. Luckily in Nigeria the unions were weak because of the prolonged years of military rule, so they are not as organised as, say, the unions in South Africa.”
And thus it was very easy to draw a line between his disdain at public outcry and his high dictatorial tendencies. For Little Finger, as long as what he set out to do was getting done, human casualties were a small price to pay.
When the plans to privatize the national electricity company was announced, the electricity union threatened to go on strike. Little Finger went to court and got a restraining injunction. If any worker went on strike, the union leaders would be imprisoned. The scientific and technical approach with which he dealt with privatizing companies was the same way he dealt with humans — a lack of empathy, a lack of concern, and a focus to get the job done regardless of the casualties.
By the time he became FCT Minister he started implementing some of what we are currently seeing in Kaduna State. The FCT staff of 26,000, was reduced to 18,000, including the removal of 3,000 ghost workers. After doing this, Obasanjo handed over the responsibility of reforming the public civil service to him. In 2003, el-Rufai sacked more than 35,000 public servants out of 165, 000 — almost a quarter.
In his words, “there are only three million public servants in Nigeria, all the people who work for federal, state and local governments and the state-owned enterprises, are just three million; we were over 150 million then. And these 3 million people consume a large percentage of the resources of the country delivering poor or no services at all, and it’s just unfair.”
That argument was what he used some days ago when criticising the industrial strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). “KDSG will not submit its treasury to the entitled minority. We will reform and rightsize our public service to meet the needs and resources of the Kaduna State even if the NLC strikes ad infinitum,” he said in reference to the more than 60 per cent civil servants he had laid off.
At all times, Little Finger was in the circle of power, even meeting with Baroness Lynda Chalker, the Secretary for Overseas Development under Margaret Thatcher, and the chair of Obasanjo’s investor advisory council who played a role in getting Nigeria’s $30 billion foreign debt sorted. Just like Lord Baelish who had served in various capacities to the various kings who were in power, General Adulsalam Abubakar called on Little Finger to help with the transition from military rule to civilian rule.
In a 2012 interview with a local newspaper, when asked if he would contest for president in 2015, Little Finger said he wasn’t in politics to contest for any post. He realised he needed to be in politics as a form of defence by having a political base. “Politics trumps everything,” he said. And this forms partly why more political power to someone like Little Finger is treading a dangerous path.
Varys says of Lord Baelish, “he would see this country burn if he could be king of the ashes.” And for Little Finger, as long as he has power, and is able to execute whatever el dorado he has dreamed up, he would quash any opposition, even if it would lead to chaos. And just like Lord Baelish, “Chaos isn’t a pit, chaos is a ladder.” It is no wonder some still devoutly say Little Finger’s high handedness is what is needed for the presidency in Nigeria.
With experience in past positions he held, he has understood how to manipulate the media. Comparing the NLC to bandits is an intentional statement meant to weaken whatever support the NLC is getting. If there is anything the governance of Kaduna State has shown us so far about Little Finger, it is how far he is willing to let things burn as long as his will is done. The handling of the conflict in the southern part of Kaduna, the hounding of journalists, the astronomic increase of school fees in tertiary education and other basic freedoms Little Finger is ready to quash to retain power are pointers to what he has in store if total power is given to him.
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