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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 September 2004, 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK
Profile: Mallam Nasir el-Rufai
By Mannir Dan Ali
BBC correspondent in Abuja

Mr Rufai
The federal capital territory minister has ruffled some senators' feathers
Nicknamed "Giant" at university because of his diminutive stature, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai has proved he is capable of rocking the Nigerian political establishment.

Nigerian senators are baying for his blood, demanding the sacking of the minister for the federal capital territory after he called them "fools".

The enraged senate went on strike for two days last week and refused to accept President Olusegun Obasanjo's apology on his outspoken minister's behalf.

By his own account, the 44-year-old comes from a humble family but was supported through school by a caring uncle.

Made millions

Many of his classmates say he was a brilliant student and he graduated from the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University with a degree in quantity surveying.

Mr Rufai went on to get an MBA from Harvard University in the United States and is doing a law degree in London.

Abuja building site
Mr Rufai cancelled all title-deeds in the capital, Abuja
After university he went into private practice and made his first millions whilst still in his twenties, he said in a recent interview.

The minister's first break into politics came in 1998 during the transitional government which followed the death of military ruler General Sani Abacha.

Part of a think-tank used by General Abdulsalami Abubakar's military government, Mr Rufai impressed many officials with his sharp mind.

His first big appointment in government came under the civilian government of President Obasanjo, when he was put in charge of the privatisation agency.

Feisty character

He made his mark there as an effective technocrat - surrounding himself with brilliant young civil servants - as the agency carried out the privatisation of many government-owned companies.

He came to be known as 'Mr Demolition' for his destruction of illegal buildings
His feisty character came to the fore when he challenged all those alleging foul play in the privatisation exercise to come forward and buttress their claims.

President Obasanjo has had to intervene previously on Mr Rufai's account, asking him to stop talking to the press after a very public quarrel with then Minister of Aviation Kema Chikwe.

After the 2003 general elections, President Obasanjo rewarded the zeal of the former privatisation czar when he nominated Mr Rufai to be a federal government minister.

Mr Rufai's uneasy relationship with the Senate began when he accused two senators last year of asking him for a bribe before his nomination as a minister was approved.

However when the ensuing uproar died down, he was eventually cleared for the post to head the sensitive ministry of the federal capital, Abuja.

'Mr Demolition'

Here he has pursued a number of programmes which have shaken both the ministry - better know for questionable corrupt land deals - and powerful landowners.

He came to be known as "Mr Demolition" for his destruction of illegal buildings all over the capital city, where land prices are high.

He also cancelled all Abuja's title deeds issued since 1976 because of huge land scams.

In place of the many illegal structures, Abuja now has many parks and gardens and its many beggars are now learning a trade at the government's expense.

Mr Rufai's influence in Mr Obasanjo's government does not stop with his official designation; he is considered a key member of the president's economic team.

But his latest spat with the Senate shows that while he may be good at his job, Mr Rufai needs to be more tactful in his relations with the political elite if he wants to stay in government.

Many Nigerians feel it will be a pity if such an effective minister falls victim to a seemingly careless remark.

It is still unclear whether he may soon be spending more time with his two wives and nine children or he whether may yet survive his current trouble and retain his post as one of President Obasanjo's foremost crusaders.




SEE ALSO
Nigerian bribe claim dismissed
10 Oct 03 |  Africa
Country profile: Nigeria
23 Apr 03 |  Country profiles

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