The Day Obasanjo Fell for Ribadu By Nasiru Suwaid
Ever heard of the phrase; ‘love at first sight’ or the defining circumstance of ‘making a first impression’, well, it was what happened at the Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission, a panel convened and enabled by the democratic regime of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, which was more popularly known as the Oputa commission, in honor of the domineering presence of the chairman of the panel, the retired Supreme Court Justice Chukwudifu Oputa. To put things in proper perspective, it was an investigation group set up as at the time, by a new government that had immediately succeeded a chain of military governments, but most especially, it was established to examine the dictatorial benevolence of the General Sani Abacha oppressive junta, as many Nigerians have been openly complaining about the gross abuses of the president’s men, it was also an opportunity for the wily Ota General to settle scores with his former military colleagues, by romping them into an exercise that could largely interdict them and easily indict them for past misdeeds done while in office.
One of the unique characteristics of the sitting is the fact that no one wanted to take responsibility, indeed, everyone of the invited accused, denied participating, orchestrating, directing, authorizing or even being witness to the abuses, even when it is proven of their existence within the surrounding vicinity of the alleged crime. For Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, it was such a shock, the elementary and need I say, infantile attempt at the shirking of responsibility that is so glaringly obvious to situate, especially as the commission was convoked in the image of The Southern African Truth Commission, which was established to follow the African penitence and forgiveness option, where the accused is expected to bare in the open all acts of guilt, while the abused is encouraged to forgive, in the African village square model of public naming and shaming as a recompense for all acts of injustice done.
It is instructive to note, while Justice Oputa was at the Supreme Court, one of his special qualities was scholarly wisdom as well as erudite grace, in fact, it was the reason why former Chief Justice Muhammadu Bello named him as the ‘Cicero’ of the apex court or the erudite philosopher justice, because of his high intellectual eminence and generally accepted reverence, that is the ability to stimulate deep thinking and capability to simulate novel situations of the past, by recreating and applying them into the challenges of today’s social communal living. Yet, despite all the enumerated qualities of the cerebral judge, the commission was slowly turning into a failed healing process, as the establishment employing most of the culprits, which is the Nigerian Police Force seemed ill prepared for the task defending the indefensible.
It was at that juncture, appeared on the stage Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, who is the Nigerian police prosecutor detailed to defend an organization facing a litany of charges, more so as, even the somber grace of the commission membership was fractured by the uncooperative attitude of the membership of the national policing agency, thus as expected he met a hostile panel. One of the uncharacteristic contradictions of the appearance is the fact he looked a charismatic and capable lawyer, when most police prosecutors are neither smart nor efficient but most significantly, within the realm of legal profession, there is a world of difference between being a public prosecutor and a defence attorney, as for someone schooled and cultured in the art of attacking, it becomes an incomprehensible burden learning how to defend so suddenly, in fact, you could sense and see from the demeanor of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, he looked ill prepared for the task at hand, though, knowing how the Nigerian system works, I would be the least surprised, if he was merely ordered to make an appearance without even being properly briefed.
It was a disastrous outing for the young police prosecutor, where the panel simply told him off for the infractions of his organization but it is noteworthy, it was also on that day President Olusegun Obasanjo made an appearance to give evidence on his detention, trial and coup plot conviction. However, what is most interesting is that Ribadu never tried to defend the indefensible but was very firm and distinctly honest, in accepting the ills of an employee he was detailed to protect, more so as, many a young lawyer usually melts at the sight a Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, Ribadu respectfully stood his ground firmly. For a President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is adept at using protégés to fight his battles, it was such a magical find, what more, the young man had a name with a distinguished lineage.
It is noteworthy that this incident happened at the last quarter of the year 1999, then a few years later or more precisely, the year 2003 heralded the establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, with Mallam Nuhu Ribadu as the Executive Chairman and the rest is history. Many a Nigerian citizen have found the personality of Ribadu quite contradictory, as here is a man who exhibits the image of pure honesty, yet he allows himself to be used by people with less than noble intentions. What happened on the night before the 2007 People’s Democratic Party Presidential Primaries is a clear pointer, as it was him who using the anti-corruption agency, cleared the field for the emergence of a very sick Umaru Musa Yar’adua as presidential candidate and an ill prepared Goodluck Jonathan as vice presidential candidate, so we can easily blame him for all the leadership challenges Nigeria is facing today.
Unfortunately for his admirers, that infamous role he played a few years ago is about to be replayed, as his mere presence in the People’s Democratic Party, burnishes the image of a very corrupt institution, while politically, his going into contest with Acting Governor Ahmadu Fintiri, in the governorship primaries of his new party is like entering a boxing match with one hand tied at the back. The reason is very simple to situate, Ribadu’s main capital is his integrity, which cannot sway any delegate in Nigeria, at least not a People’s Democratic Party representative, even though, he has the support of the general mass of Adamawa state population, anybody who will win the primaries, must have the local government officials in his pocket, who in turn control the local government party structure directly and indirectly, the state party structure, it is called the power of incumbency. As of now, the only man who has it is the acting governor of Adamawa state.
Suwaid writes in via email@example.com
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