First off, I must start writing this by admitting a fact: I am a fan of the man, Nasir Ahmad El- Rufai. Not only do I think he is extremely brilliant, I also think he is one man who truly has the good of Nigeria at heart. I began to hear of the man when his brother Bashir El-Rufai ran Intercellular, and I have admired him since. Referring to him in our home simply as 'my uncle', the fact that he graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria a few years after my mother, helped to bolster the belief that we were family. I had the pleasure of first seeing the man in full flesh in 2007.
Funny story; my elder brother, my mum and I had embarked on the holy pilgrimage through the Pilgrims Board of the Federal Capital Territory. If you've ever travelled via state, you would know that this is no easy feat: after relocating to the Hajj camp in Gwagwalada where we didn't have immediate access to amenities we ordinarily would access at home, we were squeezed into a 'Mangal' aircraft some 3 days later that took us to Jeddah. I complained to my elder brother who sat beside me all through the flight. He would just look at me and smile, he was only too grateful to be able to fulfill his religious rites.
After changing into our 'Ihram' at Jeddah- a piece of white cloth firmly tied to your waist, and another lazily flung across your upper body, my mother pointed at someone in the distance and said, 'see your uncle'. At this point, I was getting familiar with walking in what to me felt like a skirt, all the same, I looked, and I whispered 'El-Rufai'. A memory I wouldn't hastily forget. We went on to have a conversation with him, very pleasant. He would later go on to demolish what was a major income earner for my family, our 'Corner Shops' but I admired him nonetheless.
I first encountered Gimba’s writing in his ‘Safari Pants’ anthology, and have admired his ease with rhythm and imagery ever since. As someone who has come to expect objectivity as I have seen in the many articles that have run on his blog www.gimbakakanda.blogspot.com, I approached his review with similar hopes, I was disappointed. Not only did his analysis reek of resentment, it also was not a representation of the book.
The opening of Gimba's review reads 'Malam Nasir El-Rufai is a saint. El-Rufai’s intellectual and managerial wisdom is unmatched by any living thing that has ever been in power in Nigeria.' he would then go ahead to describe the Accidental Public Servant as a 'revelation of the destructive elitism on whose back this polarized nation suffers'.
To a large extent, this is correct, one would even think that this is what the author sets out to accomplish in writing the book. After all, the book is a personal account of his nearly one decade in public service: the belief in the restoration of a public sector which has suffered systemic breakdown over years as a result of the very same elitism Gimba speaks of, and is doomed to suffer future breakdown due to deliberate policy reversals, amongst other ills. Having read the book wholly, I come from it with a lot more respect for El-Rufai, I come from it, challenged and inspired. Most importantly, I come from it with the surprising knowledge that with courage and confidence, it is possible to live a life of public service without being compromised.
Gimba is quoted as saying 'One, though, hears a man too angry'. When I read this statement I found it funny, amusing even. Reading Gimba's review, it is easy to imagine that the man is angered at the author: from El-Rufai's intellect which he describes as 'illusory' to his academic exploits which in his opinion makes everyone around the former minister dumb, it is not hard to question therefore if Gimba's anger got in the way of his objectivity during his review.
Gimba's description of how El-Rufai portrays President Yar’Adua cannot be farther from the truth, and to objective readers, would constitute selective interpretation. He chooses to only mention that the author sees the former president 'as an unserious student and chain-smoker', and chooses to leave out the portion of the book where the author describes his relationship with the ex- president as 'decent, professional, sort of brotherly' or where the author describes the ex President as 'modest and humble, both qualities he considers endearing', or where he describes his respect for Yaradua at par with his respect for Bashir El- Rufai - one of the only people who according to Gimba, the author considers saintly.
Gimba alleges that the author, 'never lets you forget he graduated with a first class honours degree; perhaps that is because he is the only one who has ever done so?' One would wonder what this statement demonstrates besides the ranting of someone obviously embittered over the accomplishments of another. Is he suggesting that the author keeps numb on his educational attainment in his own memoir? Or belittle his accomplishments to service the ego of a few insecure people?
Evidence of Gimba's deliberate misinterpretation of the author's words is evident in his attempt to explain the 'accident' in the book title, he states that 'there was no accident in El-Rufai’s public service career;' explaining that 'what he (the author) optimistically calls an accident was in fact an invitation from his elder brother’s friend to serve as a member of the advisory council in General Abdulsalam’s transition government'. What people like Gimba fail to understand is that you underestimate the understanding of the reading public when you deliberately misconstrue words to suit purpose.
El-Rufai's accident is in fact justified by the fact that nominees for ministerial appointment are simply recommended by certain people who are in the inner circle or are confidants of present leadership. Often, these recommendations are not based on known experience or qualifications.
I remember my sister making the joke when I first offered her the book, she asked, 'Why did he have to write 12 epistles?' and we both laughed. When I started out reading the 625 paged book, I thought I would find it a difficult read and would probably abandon it half way, but as I read, every page led to the other: the language is simplistic and refreshing, the humor of the book is genuine.
The Accidental Public Servant is the most gripping and insightful analysis of Nigeria’s political decay I have read of recent. I recommend the book wholly to every Nigerian and to anyone who has the interest of Nigeria at heart. Read it objectively, then decide who to believe: one who saw it happen, or a roadside book reviewer.
Adejoh Momoh (firstname.lastname@example.org) can be followed on twitter @adejoh