Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, CON, was born on February 16, 1960. He is a highly influential Nigerian politician known for his extensive political career and significant contributions to public service.
From 2015 to 2023, El-Rufai served as the governor of Kaduna State, leaving an indelible mark on the region.
Prior to his governorship, he held the position of minister of the Federal Capital Territory from 2003 to 2007 and also served as director of the Bureau of Public Enterprises.
El-Rufai played a vital role in the establishment of the All Progressives Congress, a prominent Nigerian political party, and is considered one of its co-founding members.
Born on February 16, 1960, in Daudawa to a Fulani family, El-Rufai faced early adversity with the untimely loss of his father when he was just 8 years old. However, his uncle in Kaduna generously sponsored his early education, allowing him to pursue his academic journey.
El-Rufai is a man of many dimensions, as he is not only a dedicated politician but also a devoted family man. He is married to three wives, with his first wife, Hadiza Ismail El-Rufai, being a renowned writer and novelist. Tragically, Hadiza Ismail El-Rufai’s daughter passed away in 2011, which led to the creation of the Yasmin El-Rufai Foundation (YELF) in her honour.
Education played a pivotal role in shaping El-Rufai’s life and career. He received his early education at Barewa College, where he excelled as a student. Notably, President Umaru Yar’Adua served as the house captain of El-Rufai’s dormitory during their time at the college.
In 1976, El-Rufai graduated at the top of his class, earning him the prestigious “Barewa Old Boys’ Association Academic Achievement” Trophy. He then pursued a bachelor’s degree in quantity surveying with first-class honours at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria.
El-Rufai’s thirst for knowledge drove him to continue his education, leading to his attainment of a Master of Business Administration from the same university in 1984.
Over the years, he further enhanced his expertise by participating in various professional and post-graduate programmes, including those at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C., with a focus on privatisation and leadership.
El-Rufai’s commitment to continuous learning is evident through his acquisition of a law degree from the University of London in 2008 as well as a master’s degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2009. During his time at Harvard, he was recognised as an Edward A. Mason Fellow in Public Policy and Management, further showcasing his dedication to public service and policy development.
El-Rufai’s professional career began in 1982, when he established El-Rufai & Partners, a quantity surveying consulting firm, which he successfully managed until 1998.
During the period of military juntas from 1983 to 1998, El-Rufai’s firm secured crucial building and civil engineering contracts, notably during the construction of Abuja, capitalising on the opportunity. These achievements made El-Rufai and his partners stand out as renowned “young millionaires” in their field.
In addition to his consulting practise, El-Rufai held management positions at notable international telecommunications companies such as AT&T Network Systems International BV and Motorola Inc.
Early Political Journey
El-Rufai’s political journey began in 1998, immediately after the death of the military head of state, General Sani Abacha. He was appointed as an economic advisor by Abacha’s successor, General Abdulsalami Abubakar.
Throughout this role, El-Rufai collaborated with esteemed organisations like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, leveraging his expertise to contribute to economic growth in Nigeria.
In 1999, with the transfer of power to President Olusegun Obasanjo, El-Rufai continued to play a significant role in the Nigerian government. He was appointed director of the Bureau of Public Enterprises in November 1999 and also served as secretary of the National Council on Privatisation. In these positions, El-Rufai spearheaded the privatisation of numerous government-owned corporations, working alongside Vice President Atiku Abubakar to drive economic advancement and efficiency.
El-Rufai’s reputation grew further when he assumed the role of Minister of the Federal Capital Territory in July 2003. His tenure was marked by radical transformations in the nation’s capital as he tackled issues of corruption and deviation from the original master plan.
By establishing the Abuja Geographic Information System, El-Rufai revolutionised the land registry and information system, making Abuja the first Nigerian municipality with a computerised system of this nature.
Additionally, El-Rufai played a key role in reforming the Nigerian public service, which had suffered from dysfunction during years of military rule. Working closely with the President and members of the Economic Management Team, El-Rufai initiated significant reforms that ultimately enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness of the public sector.
El-Rufai’s contributions extended beyond the Federal Capital Territory, as he also held responsibilities in various federal ministries, including Commerce and Interior.
Furthermore, he chaired several influential cabinet committees that led to crucial developments, such as the establishment of a mortgage system, a National ID card system, and the sale of Federal Government real estate in Abuja.
Towards the end of President Obasanjo’s administration, El-Rufai was regarded as the de facto No. 2 official, thanks to Obasanjo’s trust and confidence in him. This elevated position further strained his relationship with the political class, particularly after the fallout between Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku Abubakar. As a result, the majority of the political class harboured animosity towards El-Rufai, leading to subsequent persecution.
In 2008, El-Rufai voluntarily entered self-imposed exile and became a vocal critic of the Umaru Yar’Adua administration. During this period, he fearlessly spoke out against perceived injustices and campaigned for positive change in Nigeria.
A man of resilience and unwavering dedication, El-Rufai returned to Nigeria in 2010 to address corruption charges and clear his name. His commitment to justice and the pursuit of truth brought him closer to party politics, particularly the Congress for Progressive Change, where he actively supported Muhammadu Buhari’s presidential campaign in the 2011 election. In 2013, El-Rufai assumed the position of deputy national secretary of the newly formed All Progressives Congress, a testament to his influence and commitment to the party’s success.
With his sights set on contributing directly to the well-being of the people, El-Rufai declared his candidature for Governor of Kaduna State in 2014. He contested the APC governorship primaries and emerged victorious as the party’s chosen candidate for the gubernatorial position. El-Rufai went on to secure a resounding victory in the governorship election, garnering over one million votes and defeating the incumbent Governor Mukhtar Ramalan Yero, who represented the People’s Democratic Party.
El-Rufai’s tenure as governor has been marked by remarkable achievements and positive impact, leading to his re-election in 2019 with a significant margin of over 200,000 votes from his closest rival.
El-Rufai’s journey and accomplishments serve as a testament to his unwavering commitment to public service, his resilience in the face of adversity, and his unwavering pursuit of justice and progress. His contributions to Nigeria’s political landscape are both remarkable and transformative, undoubtedly cementing his position as a key figure in the nation’s history. Whether it is his extensive educational background, his successful professional career, or his impactful political achievements, El-Rufai’s story is one that continues to inspire and motivate others.
Governor of Kaduna State
On 29 May 2015, El-Rufai was sworn in as the 22nd Governor of Kaduna State. In his inaugural address, he declared that he and his deputy were cutting their allowances by half pending an improvement in the state’s fiscal situation.
On 6 August 2015, El-Rufai in one of his first acts as governor announced that Kaduna State will adopt the Treasury Single Account policy by 1 September of the same year. At the end of the exercise, 470 accounts belonging to different ministries, departments and agencies were closed and a sum of N24.7 billion was recovered and remitted to the Kaduna State Government TSA with the Central Bank of Nigeria.
By blocking leakages and cutting the cost of running government, it is estimated that the El-Rufai administration was able to save N1.2 billion in just two months. El-Rufai also reformed the civil service in Kaduna State and reduced the number of ministries from 19 to 13 and the number of permanent secretaries from 35 to 18. In a bid to reduce the cost of governance, El-Rufai appointed only 13 commissioners, 10 special advisers and 12 special assistants as against the 24 commissioners, 41 special advisers and about 400 special assistants appointed by the previous administration.
As governor, El-Rufai has embarked on a comprehensive education reform with the goal of revamping the moribund state of education. El-Rufai sacked over 22,000 unqualified primary teachers.
El-Rufai’s administration launched the School Feeding Programme, aimed at providing one free meal per day to 1.5 million pupils in public primary schools within the state. He also abolished the collection of fees and levies in public primary and junior secondary schools in Kaduna, thereby removing a financial burden of N3 billion from the parents.
On 28 March 2020, El-Rufai tested positive for COVID-19, following contact with an index case. He has placed a curfew in Kaduna State and restricted movement, to prevent the spread of the virus.
On 20 August 2020, Controversy arose on social media when the Nigerian Bar Association invited Governor El-rufai to speak at its annual conference. Thousands of Nigerians signed a petition on change.org to have Governor El-rufai’s invitation revoked. The NBA succumbed to the pressure and disinvited the governor.
A report by Open Bar initiative cited eight reasons why El-rufai’s invitation to the general conference was turned down.  Some of the reasons include his refusal to obey court orders in his case with Audu Maikori, threatening Gloria Ballason who was Maikori’s lawyer and a report by Quartz (publication) Africa which named Governor El-rufai as the head of a “powerful” group of Nigerian governors who “now regularly use security agents to arrest and intimidate journalists who dare to question their actions or attempt to hold them accountable”.
El Rufai grant pardon to 12 prisoners in Kaduna State, 10 of whom were nearing the end of their sentences, some of the pardons were also granted due to age. Additionally he reduced one prisoners death sentence to life in prison. On August 1, 2023, he was screened by the Senate, following his nomination as minister by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
In October 2022, a Nigerian national honour of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) was conferred on him by President Muhammadu Buhari.