White Paper on Nigeria’s Nasir El-Rufai

Today we have published a new white paper entitled “Reform vs. Status Quo: The Campaign Against Nasir El-Rufai and the Degeneration of Progress in Nigeria.

You can download a full copy of the paper here – below is my preface and the executive summary.


I made one of my first trips to Lagos, Nigeria, as an overly curiousteenage student from Canada in the 1970s. The experience, while bothsad and beautiful, was powerfully motivating to me in my future careerin international law, not least for the impressive people I met there -including a family which had practically adopted me into their home. Ibelieved then as I believe now that no nation which contains suchbrilliant human resources should ever be consigned by fate tounderdevelopment. In other words, I share the view of many Nigeriansthat there is no “cultural excuse” for the plague of corruption, andthat a better government can and should be built.

I first met Mallam Nasir El-Rufai through a friend some years ago,and quickly discovered that he not only held ambitious dreams forNigeria’s future, but also had shown his ability to work towards thesegoals. When the new government of Umaru Yar’Adua began its rapidretreat away from the previous administration’s reforms andanti-corruption efforts, and the campaigns of persecution against Nasirand the other reformers began, I felt proud to formally join theirinternational defence effort.

The story of El-Rufai in Nigeria raises many parallels which I haveseen in my other cases, ranging from Venezuela to Russia to Singapore,in which we see state actors in control of state institutions begin touse them for personal and even criminal purposes. The main problem inthe international community is that we have a tendency to presume theregularity of such institutions – that if a government official inMoscow or Abuja or Tehran tells us that a certain popular oppositionpolitician is a criminal, then it must be true. I am proudly workingwith Nasir to make sure that no one takes these accusations against himat face value.

I have authored the following White Paper to accomplish severalgoals: 1) to present Nasir El-Rufai and his accomplishments to theworld, 2) to summarize the motives behind the attack on his reputation,3) provide ample evidence to prove his innocence of all these libel andslander, and 4) make it clearly understood that this case is muchlarger than just one person – that this fits into a historical patternof the Nigerian pendulum which swings in one moment toward reform,before plummeting back to the status quo. Clearly my suggestion is thatwe should no longer be confused about which way the pendulum isswinging.

In summary, all the main attacks on Nasir are groundless and withoutevidence, manufactured by a hardworking scandal factory otherwise knownas the Presidential Administration of Umaru Yar’Adua. He is beingaccused of improper allocation of a plot of land by a privatedevelopment firm called Rosehill from years ago, but even theseindividuals have twice sought settlement for the damages caused bytheir false accusations, and then changed their minds (the governmentis thus chasing phantom crimes). Others have attempted to smear himwith an invention of a massive N32 Billion embezzlement, when in factthe reputable accounting firm Deloitte delivered an audit disprovingit, while no name or source has ever been attached to the accusation.The Legislature has been deployed to ruthlessly pursue El-Rufai toappear time and time again before politically packed committees ofcorrupt politicians who hold grievances against him for having enforcedthe law and revoked their illegally held properties. Though he hasnever been convicted of any crime, the Foreign Ministry refuses torenew his passport, and openly refers to him as “a menace.” This is allbeing done out of fear of Nasir’s political appeal, and the fear thatone of the country’s true reformers could someday put an end to thematerial benefits of office and widespread graft of a certain sectionof the elite.

We must pay close attention not just to the frivolity of the chargesagainst El-Rufai (the State isn’t even trying that hard to make acase), but also the methodology being deployed against the reformers ofNigeria. They could have invented any variety of crime to fake againstEl-Rufai, but of course they had to choose corruption. They could haveused any instrument of power or threat to go after him, but of coursethey transformed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC),once headed by the greatest corruption fighter of Africa, Nuhu Ribadu,and began to use this very institution to go after the reformers of theprevious government. Perhaps the most telling change that has comeunder the Yar’Adua government is that the EFCC under Farida Waziri nowpursues at best a dozen cases – under Ribadu the institution wasprosecuting hundreds of Nigeria’s most corrupt and powerful leaders,while recouping hundreds of billions stolen from the Nigerian people.

In a conversation I once had with the Russian journalist AnnaPolitkovskaya, who was tragically killed in the line of duty in 2006,she described this type of process as the “döppelganger effect.”Whether it is Lagos or Moscow, the corrupt work in the same ways – itis imperative that the reformers are tainted with the very crimes thatthey themselves fight against. A corrupt and criminal state ispermanently at war with ideas of justice and rule of law, weavingnarratives to support their waning legitimacy, and shore up falsecredibility. In point of fact, the mantra of the Yar’Aduaadministration is “rule of law”. Their trials are not about justice orevidence or facts or wrongdoing, but about reputation, media, andpublic beliefs in manufactured myths.

For many readers, this White Paper may be too long and detailed toconsume in its entirety, while others may study it in detail. If thereader takes away only one message, it should be that the accusationsagainst Nasir El-Rufai cannot be taken at face value. His strength ofcharacter and career accomplishments deserves our consideration. A widevariety of individuals have pledged their support to his cause, fromNuhu Ribadu to Oby Ezekwesili , to Nasir’s former liaisons in the IMF,World Bank, and U.S. government, to his former employers and colleaguesat AT&T and Motorola. Anyone who is familiar with the details ofthis case will agree that it is politically motivated persecution. Foranyone who disagrees, this White Paper marks the formal announcementthat we are open and willing to defend Nasir on any platform availablewith all the facts in front of us. That is much more than we can sayabout those who oppose us.

-Robert Amsterdam, December 1, 2009


It is an unwritten rule of Nigerian politics that the presidency is”rotated” between the North and the South of the country. It is commonknowledge that one person from the North stood out as the one of themost experienced, serious, and accomplished political office-holder by2007: the former head of the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, MallamNasir El-Rufai. This White Paper tells the story of how a fearfulgovernment is attempting to destroy a successful political careerthrough false charges. Their goal is to destroy the country’s class ofreformers, maintain a state of corruption and impunity, and mostimportantly, barring a popular leader from political contention.

The El-Rufai saga has deep roots. In April of 2003, as OlusegunObasanjo was re-elected president of Nigeria with more than 61 per centof the vote, the political economy of Nigeria was showing several signsof hope. The on-again, off-again nature of Nigeria’s approach to reformsince independence was on the upswing toward greater transparency atmany levels of government and society. Independent bodies had beenestablished to crack down on corruption and financial crimes, a globaloil boom was once again bringing economic prosperity to the country,and democratic institutions were in the process of consolidation.

In keeping with this momentum, President Obasanjo immediatelynominated Nasir El-Rufai, the country’s privatization czar for theprevious four years who had a reputation for no-nonsense work-a-holism,to head the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Administration. Theposition is part of the president’s cabinet and carries as one of itsresponsibilities the oversight of far-reaching reforms in the nation’scapital, Abuja.

For El-Rufai, the appointment was merely the logical next step in acareer defined by battling the ruling elite to change a notoriouslycorrupt system of governance in Nigeria driven by a political cultureof patronage. One of El-Rufai’s first actions as the new FCT chief wasto bring to light the revelation that the Nigerian Senate’s deputymajority leader and deputy senate president solicited from him a 54million naira bribe (US$414,000) in exchange for a speedy confirmationto his new post. When the ensuing uproar subsided, the Senate voted todismiss El-Rufai’s accusations and he remained in the position, but theNigerian Senate as an institution, never forgot or forgave him. Thefact that the day Nasir El-Rufai brought his bribery accusations to theSenate floor – October 7, 2003 – was coincidentally the very dayTransparency International named Nigeria the second most corruptcountry in the world out of 133 countries surveyed underlines thegravity of Nigeria’s situation.

This episode is just one of many examples of the difficultiesEl-Rufai and other proponents of reform encounter when attempting toimprove Nigeria’s political environment. Beginning with his roleadvising the transitional government of General Abdulsalami Abubakarfollowing General Sani Abacha’s death, to his tenure as directorgeneral of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and then as Ministerof the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja (FCT), El-Rufai hasconsistently acted in favour of transparent governance, even insituations in which there was enormous political pressure to conformwith the status quo. Throughout its young history as an independentnation, efforts to reform the politics of corruption in Nigeria areoften met with fierce resistance, and the accompanying accusations andcharges against El-Rufai during this time fit into this larger pattern.

This document seeks to clear Nasir El-Rufai’s name and reputation.It will begin with a review of his career in public service, includinghis role in the transitional government of General AbdulsalamiAbubakar, his tenure in the BPE, and then Minister of the FCT. Thevarious charges brought against El-Rufai are summarized, as well as thesubsequent rebuttals and lawsuits he filed in his defence to counterthe falsehoods of the accusations. The persecution of El-Rufai hasoccurred within the context of Nigeria’s political culture,underscoring a familiar and disappointing trend of the leadershipthreatening to reverse the country’s tentative steps toward reform backthe status quo, and in the process, the government has spreadunacceptable lies to its citizens and the international community.