In my tiny village in Imo State, after the Christmas Eve Mass of December 24, 2003, a minor incident happened – one that perfectly illustrates Mallam Nuhu Ribadu’s current travails. As church members trooped home after the midnight service, they encountered a famous drunkard who was wobbling along the road, drunk. “Look at them!”, he snorted, “They have gone to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ! Three months from now…by Good Friday…they’re still the same people to shout, ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’ “.
The chant for Ribadu’s crucifixion, years after he had been celebrated as one of Nigeria’s finest public servants, should not surprise anyone who understands the character of public opinion in this country.
At a time when Nigeria had become a huge compost of graft, Ribadu arrived with unprecedented vigour. He instituted structures of Financial Intelligence in the EFCC, such that even “Yahoo-Yahoo” urchins were traced to their houses and entrapped like rats. He retrieved staggering sums of money to the nation’s coffers. He opened our eyes to the enormity of the industry of executive thieving, and embarked on an athletic pursuit of fleeing funds, barring threats to his life. Heads began to roll. Tafa Balogun. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. Well over 270 convictions were recorded, though many other prominent cases were stalled by judicial and political intringues.
Nigeria earned the right to contribute to global discussions on anti-corruption. The anti-corruption war was not probably as successful as we would have liked, but work had at least begun, because that man happened to this nation. Nuhu Ribadu became the symbol of a new patriotism especially for young Nigerians, a patriotism too brave to be true, too firm to be compromised. The media sang, the masses gyrated, the thieves kicked, all to the rhythm of a hopeful nation.
There was a tinge of cynicism, however. Analysts, critics, pundits, and all other members of the theory department seized the narrative: he is prosecuting only members of the opposition party, they retorted; well he has sent a few PDP thieves to jail but those ones are Obasanjo’s enemies; ok, why has he not probed Obasanjo, is that one clean? Typically Nigerian, the discourse became mired in petty, irrational logic.
Corruption acquired demographics, from gender to political party to ethnicity. A new phrase – ‘politically motivated’ – made its entry into our political lexicon. That an indicted thief was guilty of theft was immaterial, so long as somewhere within the space for logic, point could be made that prosecution was influenced by gender, ethnicity, or partisanship. Ribadu was accused of selective prosecution. Funnily enough, the same people that wielded that accusation alleged that he was removed because he stepped on the toes of people in government. If he was selective, how come he stepped on toes?
In the past week, just like my village drunkard had predicted, Ribadu, again, has become a candidate for the cross. Many Nigerians, operating only the left part of their memories, have taken to several media, cursing, kicking. For defecting to the PDP from the APC, Ribadu, they insist, has stripped himself of whatever integrity he had to begin with. They have excavated old excerpts of interviews where he swore never to join the PDP. Somewhere in the heap of accusations is that sanctimonious mantra – he lacks consistency. One understands that a certain sense of political heartbreak can warrant such a wholesale desecration of a rather glorious individual; one understands also that the human memory, especially when it is lodged in a Nigerian political entity, is heightened in the recollection of ‘wrongs’.
Consistency. The word appears sexy enough for the stamp of eternal good. We often love those stories, of men who presented their throats rather than give up an ideal; of individuals who starved to death just so that they might make their points. Consistency is an exciting concept in legends, politics, religion, love, etc.
But it is not an absolute good, consistency. The human experience is a dynamic process. Society. Life. Circumstances. They evolve. They continue to manifest new dimensions in a manner that makes the ever-consistent individual become unfit for progress. That individual who does not review himself upon the encounter of new circumstances, who clings tenaciously to his established tradition, while other factors of his environment have moved, is to be pitied, not celebrated. He merely exists; he doesn’t live. Living is an evolutionary phenomenon. Existence is not.
Ribadu’s defection to the PDP is a political decision, one that should be examined strictly in that context. It is the outcome of political permutations in the interest of his legitimate pursuit of power. Let’s assume, perhaps rightly so, that the PDP is the party to beat in the guber race in his State. Then, does it make sense for him to remain in a tottering opposition and let a less-vibrant character in the PDP gain that power?
The APC, the opposition party upon which many Nigerians had anchored their hopes for a new paradigm, has proven to be a hoax. Bedeviled by internal contradictions, by which it manifests both progressive and regressive politics – as if by compensation, the party appears to be on its way back to where it came from: Action Congress. Just months to the presidential election, a major opposition party has not even produced a presidential candidate. It does appear that so long as the South-West is under lock and key against external incursion, the chief architect of that party is satisfied. I could bet my upper teeth that the APC will be relegated to South-West relevance in the coming elections. I want to be wrong.
It is uncharitable for Nigerians to lampoon Nuhu Ribadu. Among the spoilers of his integrity are people who steal petty sums in their clubs and offices, yet they have the effrontery to condemn a man who refused to accept billions and shut up. In the EFCC, he made his mark: being the pioneer chairman of that body, there was none whom he could emulate – and there has been none to emulate him! Ribadu may not be a saint, but he belongs in the club of patriots who have made this nation specially
We cannot continue to discourage patriotism in our youth by undermining the heroism of those who show the way. Let us give him the benefit of the doubt as he tries working within the same system he had sought to sanitize from the outside.
Photo Credit: newtelegraphonline.com