Nuhu Ribadu and The Rest of Us By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, it has been a week of serious fireworks and heavy bombardment against one of our own on social media. The brouhaha erupted over what should have been a simple migration of Nuhu Ribadu from his erstwhile political Party, APC, to PDP, a Party most of his fans turned attackers consider to represent a complete opposite of the politics that Ribadu professes as well as a total abandonment of his avowed principles. As much as I tried not to dabble into what I considered a personal decision, I was forced at a stage to state some facts on Twitter. I intend to expand the content of that intervention today.
The fury expressed against Nuhu was certainly borne out of acute frustration by those who looked upon him as a saint in a terribly polluted environment. How they arrived at the deification of this gentleman is worth exploring. For those who may not know him well, let me sketch, as much as I can, a vivid picture of a man we all know as Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.
Nuhu was a serving police officer whose ascendancy came when he was appointed by the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, as Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The Agency was empowered to arrest, detain and prosecute economic saboteurs and all manner of criminals seeking to ruin the State or individual through stealing or obtaining by false pretence. Nuhu wielded enormous powers and used it to the fullest. He courted the media and became one of the most famous celebrities in the process. Nigerians found him a fearless Angel who was ready, able and willing to take on the cankerworm of corruption ravaging our country with total impunity. Many of his admirers could not be bothered if he was guilty of human rights abuses and/or extra judicial prosecution of his war against corrupt Nigerians. It even seemed they loved and preferred any kangaroo justice that could be employed to devastate those they saw as enemies of progress.
Naturally, Nuhu stepped on very powerful toes. The more he talked, lashed at and threatened to deal with criminals, the more he exposed himself to danger. I remember warning him on this page in 2007 about the obstacles that would make his mission impossible. He appeared to me like an employee who took his job more seriously than the employer. I do not know of any Mafia nation bigger than Nigeria at this time and age and I tried to paint the lurid picture for him to see how clearly he was heading for a cul-de-sac and how the snakes imbued with power in Nigeria were going to bite him mercilessly.
How on earth did he expect to fight those who funded the Presidential campaigns of his own bosses? He had granted too many interviews using expletives against the godfathers of Nigerian politics. I knew it was only a matter of time before the chickens would come home to roost and the cookie would start to crumble. But Nuhu and his handlers disagreed with me. He was probably inspired by his sense of self-righteousness and proselytising mission. I made a few predictions which all came to pass with almost mathematical precision, the chief of which was that he was going to be turned from being the hunter to the hunted. One day, he was suddenly removed from office, demoted from the Nigeria Police Force, after enjoying some sporadic promotions that left many of his old course-mates, and even seniors, very stupefied. The situation was so bad that he fled Nigeria and settled for voluntary exile in Dubai.
As a veteran of exile myself, I knew how difficult it was going to be for him. What exile inflicts on you is similar to what you experience in solitary confinement. The mental torture you encounter is unimaginable. There is nothing worse than a once active and itinerant man being rendered not only invalid but near incommunicado. The worst even is for such a vibrant man, already used to enjoying public attention and adulation to suddenly pale into irrelevance and insignificance. Sooner or later, this change of fortune and circumstance was going to take its toll and it actually did. Nuhu was forced to eat the humble pie and actually needed no persuasion to establish a channel of dialogue with the Jonathan administration. I was not privy to their negotiations but Nuhu was able to return home. He had his rank restored to him and he started looking good again.
One thing must have led to the other and Nuhu soon took a plunge into the murky ocean of politics in our country. How he navigated his journey and meandered his way to the political Party known then as ACN remains his personal secret. But like the rest of us, I believe Nuhu must have been influenced and inspired by the Obama miracle in America. Many of us were fooled into believing that our personal accomplishments and extensive popularity were the ingredients needed to galvanise our people into voting for a new set of leaders. But Nigeria was not yet ripe enough to produce the likes of Obama, David Cameron and other such youthful international politicians; bright, young, charismatic, famous, visionary and so on.
In reality, the options before any of us then were few and restrictive. The first was to go ultra-conservative and join the Republicans of Nigeria, PDP. But no serious progressive would commit such hara-kiri. It has never been in the nature of the Nigerian Conservatives, that PDP typifies, to throw up inspirational candidates. That is one of the reasons Chief MKO Abiola contested on the platform of SDP rather NRC. The Nigerian Conservatives often over-rely on the use of brute force and constantly live under the delusion that any candidate they field would always win even if that candidate is a dog. It explains the reason Abiola was so underrated and a less influential personality in Alhaji Bashir Tofa was fielded and was expected to defeat one of Africa’s greatest icons.
The second option was to join a Party that had succeeded in carving out its own empire in the South West of Nigeria. Even if there appeared to be no marked difference of personality and principle between PDP and ACN, the latter was still manageable and malleable. The PDP as a Party of too many powerful people would be more difficult to re-orientate. Their power derives from too much wealth and access to it; too many offices to share and its availability in Nigeria and far-flung places; old age and its attendant obligatory demand for respect or even subservience. Nuhu must have taken some of those indices into consideration. But that decision was not going to be as simply rewarding as he must have thought. Many reasons conspired against him. Some of the people he had tried for high-level corruption when he was the boss of EFCC were now in the same Party with him.
It is usually said that “show me your friends and I would tell who you are” became a slogan that haunted Nuhu regularly. On several occasions he had no choice but to deny some his own former explosive statements about some of the leaders of his new Party and his equity and goodwill began to nose-dive and diminish. Despite that, he managed to get the ticket of ACN, not without creating some rancorous dissent from some top Party members who felt he was shoved above them.
He paid me a visit a day after he picked up that ticket and we thought we could work together to make the impossible possible. But he had a major hurdle he didn’t know how to cross. That is a story for another day. But a seed of mistrust was planted when his Party decided to support Dr Goodluck Jonathan for the Presidential race. Only the Governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola refused to support such misadventure. I believe Nuhu never recovered from the shock of that chicanery.
The other option would have been to try a Party that did not carry as much baggage of liabilities like the foremost two, PDP and ACN. That was the option I took when I joined the Labour Party which I thought could be built into a workers’ Party and give Nigeria a semblance of a welfare state like England before realising that my optimism had been misplaced and chose the National Conscience Party. Truth is it would always be difficult to have more than two strong Parties at the centre and the other fragments at the local level. It must have dawned on Nuhu that his Presidential ambition would have no wings to fly in the new amalgamation of ACN, CPC, a faction of PDP, and others, with the avuncular presence of General Muhammadu Buhari, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso, Dr Abubakar Saraki and a possible last minute-joiner, Waziri Aminu Tambuwal. One of those men will certainly emerge sooner than later as the Presidential candidate of APC.
As if that was not bad enough, Nuhu could also not guaranty a gubernatorial ticket in his home state of Adamawa and this must have been the last straw that broke his camel’s back. As a democrat he must have known that imposition of candidates was already tearing the ACN apart and that it would no longer be tolerated or condoned in an enlarged APC. He must have seen that it would be difficult for him to be imposed on APC in the same manner that he was foisted on ACN in 2011. If this was going to be denied as a major reason for jumping ship, the manner he hurriedly picked up a nomination form as a gubernatorial aspirant of the PDP so soon after he joined his new Party gave fillip to that suspicion. What is not known is how easy it would be for him to get that ticket without throwing PDP Adamawa into total confusion, commotion and disarray.
The other informed view is that Nuhu abandoned APC because he’s not convinced it can pull the stunt of defeating an incumbent President in a country where power is everything. Such doomsday scenario would certainly scare anyone who has spent most of his adult life in public service. By next year, it would have been a total of about nine years since he’s been out of government job. Realistically, life would have been too difficult to bear for an average person. Our system is such that it stultifies and strangulates members of opposition. In this season of political confusion, it is easy for most people to give up under the alibi that there is no difference between PDP and APC. While I respect Nuhu’s right to choose either of the two, I believe he should have realised how costly choosing PDP would be to his humongous reputation as the Nemesis of the Corrupt.
While it is always easy to move from the right to the left, it is not usually simple to move from left to right. It is generally believed that PDP is very bad and APC is bad but with flashes of hope from within. Even Biblically, it is better for a bad man Saul to become Paul rather than for Paul to change to Saul. Nuhu’s metamorphosis needs to be situated within Nigerian contemporary history. Most of those who chose to swing from left to right don’t have sweet stories to tell. The people complaining about his move are doing so because they saw him rightly or wrongly as a Messiah. And to whom much is given, much is also expected. Such is the dilemma of a change agent.
The solution to this breaking of people’s heart and dashing their hopes for me is easy. Nuhu is a technocrat who could have opted to work under Jonathan without being a member of PDP. Politics has destroyed too many of our finest brands. Examples abound of those who chose the power of service over the service of power. It is difficult to know if Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, Dr Olusegun Aganga and their ilk are card-carrying members of PDP because of their suavity but Nuhu would now be subjected to the whims and caprices of those tough guys in PDP. This is the tragedy. Despite objections to his appointment as Chairman of the Petroleum Revenue Taskforce by President Jonathan, many still saw that it was consistent his natural role as an anti-corruption crusader. But this time, it seems this defection is tougher to accept.
It was difficult for many of his fanatical supporters to even accept his relationship with some APC stalwarts not to now talk of these PDP oligarchs. They consider this one, a suicidal move to a party where some of the most indescribable characters hold sway. They weep that a man of Nuhu’s calibre would now have to bow to gods with feet of clay or get hacked down to miniature size.
I pray his sojourn in PDP would be a miraculous exception. I sincerely pray he’s right and the rest of us are totally wrong.
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