2027: Between El-Rufai’s consultations and party faultlines

By his recent moves, the former governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, has left no one in doubt of his ambitions ahead of the 2027 presidential elections. A bit unsettling for members of the ruling party is his indiscriminate handshakes across party lines, SODIQ OMOLAOYE reports.

For many political observers, if there is any politician that has started politicking ahead of the 2027 general elections, it is former governor of Kaduna State, and one time Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nasir El-Rufai.

Although the last few months have seen some politicians granting interviews or making strategic statements to whip up sentiments or positioning themselves to run for offices either at state or federal level come 2027, none has gained traction like the recent activities of the former Kaduna governor. His visit to key political figures, opposition parties and some APC big wigs that have lost out in the sharing of perks of office and political appointment is instructive.

For many political watchers, when it comes to long-term and strategic planning in politics, El-Rufai is a reference point.

His strategic moves began with a visit to his ex-principal, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in his home in Abeokuta, the capital city of Ogun State. The visit came less than two weeks after he was conferred with chieftaincy title of Gbobaniyi of Ijebuland by Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona. He was said to be the first Nigerian outside the Southwest to receive a chieftaincy title from Oba Adetona in his almost 64-year reign.

The former Kaduna governor also visited former Minister of Aviation and one of the spokespersons of President Bola Tinubu’s presidential campaign council in the 2023 election, Femi Fani-Kayode. Both served under Obasanjo at the same time.

Aside that, in the last one week alone, El-Rufai has made a series of visits to the homes of some APC leaders, including the former Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Ali Pantami, and Obasanjo’s former Special Adviser on the National Assembly and former chairman of TETFUND, Alhaji Kashim Imam.

However, last Wednesday’s visit to the national secretariat of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP), where he met with the national chairman of the party, Alhaji Shehu Gabam, and other party leaders, further heightened speculation that the former governor might defect from the APC. A viral video of El-Rufai posing with some officials of SDP on social media fuelled rumour of a possible defection to the SDP.

During the visit and video released, someone was telling the photographer not to upload it on Twitter (now X), but El-Rufai was heard saying that the images could be uploaded on social media and that he cared less about it.

“Let them upload it, I don’t care”, the former minister of the FCT stated.

GFM5LT2XEAAkrkyBut El-Rufai’s spokesperson, Muyiwa Adekeye, dismissed the speculation that the former Kaduna governor planned to defect from the ruling APC to SDP, calling it an “unhealthy obsession.”

Adekeye insisted that El-Rufai’s visit to SDP chairman was a social interaction that held no hidden political motives.
He stated that the camp of the former governor is not expecting such reactions to any move by Mr El-Rufai to end anytime soon.

“People have personal histories and relationships that predate political affiliations. It cannot be a hallmark of civilisation to have friends from within only your political party,” Adekeye stated.

Few days after he visited SDP leaders, Alhaji Kashim Imam led a team of notable northern political stalwarts to his home, including National Security Adviser (NSA), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, Senator Nawaz and others to visit El-Rufai. Also, last Friday, El-Rufai visited Abdul Ningi, the lawmaker representing Bauchi central district in the senate, who was suspended by the upper chamber for three months over his allegation that the 2024 budget was padded by N3.7 trillion. Ningi belongs to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Some political analysts said El-Rufai’s proactive approach signals a calculated strategy aimed at positioning himself as a formidable contender for the nation’s highest office. But even at that, within the north, dissenting voices are already emerging against the perceived presidential ambitions of the former governor. This is aside those who have issues with the timing of the visits.

Recall that last year, El-Rufai allegedly declined his nomination to be part of President Bola Tinubu’s cabinet after the Senate withheld his confirmation as a Minister alongside two other nominees for security reasons. It was gathered that since then there was no love lost between him and the president. He was said to have been disappointed that despite his support for Tinubu during the election, especially in the north, he allowed some senators to humiliate him.

El-Rufai has not left anybody in doubt of his presidential ambition, but coming out so soon for consultations was the only surprise APC chieftains are battling with.

Those who argued in his favour are of the opinion that the pendulum of power often swings with the winds of strategic alliances, calculated manoeuvres, and widespread public perception. To them, political manoeuvring and coalition-building are at the forefront of every ambitious leader’s agenda.

But what factors underpin El-Rufai’s presidential ambitions? Firstly, his tenure as governor of Kaduna State from 2015 to 2023 has earned him both accolades and criticisms. His reformist agenda, focused on infrastructure development, education, and healthcare, has garnered praise from supporters who view him as a visionary leader capable of driving progress at national development.

However, his tenure was marked by ethnic and religious tensions, which has raised concerns about his ability to foster national unity and cohesion.

APC director of publicity, Bala Ibrahim told The Guardian that there is nothing wrong with El-Rufai’s visit to members of the opposition party, saying the former governor has not violated any law of the party.

Specifically, he described his visit to the SDP chairman as a simple reciprocation of gesture that shouldn’t be given any political colouration.

For the spokesperson of Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, individuals like El-Rufai have gained a reputation for their daring and ruthless tactics in pursuit of power.
Suleiman said the former Kaduna governor has not hidden his ambition for the highest office in the land.

He, however, cautioned that the potential decision of El-Rufai or any other northern politician to contest for the presidency should not automatically be viewed as a breach of any unwritten agreement between the North and South, adding that, competition, qualifications, and vision for the country should be the primary considerations when choosing a leader.

He said: “El-Rufai’s track record shows that he is willing to betray allies and disregard party affiliations to further his interests. His calculated moves and alliances with powerful figures indicate his ambition knows no bounds. His recent maneuvers suggest that he is laying the groundwork for a potential challenge to the current leadership of APC, particularly to President Bola Tinubu’s influence.

“His willingness to play dirty and use any means necessary to achieve his goals sets him apart as a master player in the game of politics. His history of betrayal and manipulation serves as a stark warning to his opponents.

While calling on the President to watch his back, Suleiman described El-Rufai as a formidable opponent who will stop at nothing to achieve his ambition.

Speaking on whether it is early for the former Kaduna helmsman to make his political moves known, the NEF spokesperson said it is a bold move for El-Rufai or any other person to begin positioning themselves for a possible presidential bid so early in the current administration’s term.

He added: “The timing of El-Rufai’s move may raise questions about his priorities and could be perceived as opportunistic by the public. It is crucial for him to recognise that building a strong track record of governance, delivering on promises, and addressing the needs of the people should be his main focus, rather than solely concentrating on personal political ambitions.

“Ultimately, the people will decide the fate of any political candidate, and their actions and decisions should reflect a commitment to serving the best interests of the country. A leader’s focus should be on serving the people and fulfilling their responsibilities, rather than prematurely campaigning for future positions.”

National Coordinator of Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), Balarabe Rufai, said that though El-Rufai has the right to pursue his ambition, the recent move to opposition political associates was to get back at the president for the humiliation he suffered during the ministerial screening.

Noting that it is not too early to start making political moves ahead of the 2027 poll, Rufai said the present administration needs stronger opposition voices to push them to work.



He said: “A lizard can only enter the wall when the wall is broken. El-Rufai is one of the serious supporters of this present administration but along the line, he has been abandoned and as a politician, he must make his move. Whether he wants to become president or not, I’m very sure he wants to get back at the government and that is the politics.

“Without an opposition, a very strong opposition, the government cannot work. It’s only opposition that pushes the government to work. The present APC is an arrangement of merger. So, if he is trying to threaten them or he is serious about doing it, I’m very sure the ground is very fertile for that. So, they have to check themselves.”

On the unwritten rule that has seen the presidential slot rotated between North and South, and how such arrangement might be jettisoned if the former governor decided to throw his hat in the ring, Rufai said the most important thing at this point of the country’s history is to have leaders who lead the country out of its current mess.

He added: “I think it’s high time to go away from the delusion that it has to be my own that has to be president. You can see that Buhari had eight years. In those eight years, almost 26 out of 34 local governments in his own state, Katsina, are no longer peaceful. You can barely say it has been taken over by the bandits while Buhari was president. So, as Nigerians, it’s high time to stop thinking about this, this is my tribe, this is my religion and this is my section. Recently there was this muslim-muslim ticket.”

Commenting on the issue in an interview with The Guardian, a policy analyst, Baba Yusuf, described the move by the former Kaduna State governor as basically a consultation with stakeholders in the political terrain.

According to him, El- Rufai is demonstrating that he has political reach beyond the APC by trying to stage a subtle political comeback after his disqualification to become a minister by the senate.

He said: “My opinion is that El-Rufai is trying to send a signal that, look, I have political allies across party lines and it will also reflect potential positioning against 2027. Because whether we like it or not, Mallam El-Rufai is not really enjoying the spotlight in APC at the moment. There is nobody that will deceive himself to say that his body and soul are still in the APC.”

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