By Rotimi Fasan
Just before I got down to writing this, I heard a news report that Adamu Waziri, the Minister in charge of Police Affairs, had advised 139 police officers demoted alongside Malam Nuhu Ribadu to apply to have their demotion reverted.
I had wondered what would be the fate of these officers, especially now that Malam Ribadu, beneficiary of an unusual presidential pardon, has had his dismissal commuted to retirement and has been restored to his rank of Assistant Inspector General of Police. I shall come back shortly to the advice from Mr. Waziri but before that letâ€™s take a quick trip down memory lane to remind ourselves once more of the Ribadu matter, an otherwise sordid tale of vendetta and official witch-hunt, that has hopefully ended on a happy note.
Right about this time last year Malam Ribadu was more or less a fugitive from the Nigerian state that had, tongue in cheek, pronounced him wanted and answerable to charges of corruption that were not clearly spelt out.
While the late President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua looked on from the sidelines, his Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, now rightly consigned into oblivion, led the charge of Ribadu traducers as they chased the former Chair of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission around the world.
Prime properties and huge foreign accounts were allegedly traced to Ribadu who took no prisoners during his time as the EFCC boss. It was clear these charges were meant to tarnish the reputation of the fire-eating former anti-corruption chief. Nothing specific was traced or proven against Ribadu and even when the Police and the other security agencies declared him wanted, their attempts to bring him to justice were at once perfunctory and unprofessional.
And the comic nature of the whole episode was made obvious when, towards the end of the year, Ribadu came home from exile to commiserate with the Gani Fawehinmi family and pay his respects to the memory of the deceased lawyer. It was indeed a funny turn of events when Police IG, Ogbonna Onovo, claimed he had no evidence that Ribadu whose pictures were all over the media had been in the country.
The same IG had earlier said that Ribadu had no problem with the Police but, apparently unsure of what to make of the confusing noises from the Yarâ€™Adua administration and, perhaps, to cover the foolish antics of some senior members of the administration, he shot himself in the foot with that faux pas that Ribadu couldnâ€™t have been in the country when Nigerians had evidence to the contrary.
Prior to all of this, Ribadu whose graduation from the Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies in Jos was aborted had sneaked out of the country when, as he claimed, his safety could no longer be guaranteed as he was attacked by gun men. While all of this continued, both Ribadu and Malam Nasir el Rufai, favourite children of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, remained real pain in the posterior of the Yarâ€™Adua government. They campaigned against the government abroad and appeared to have had the ears of those who mattered out there.
Now things have changed and Aondoakaa has been sent packing along with others of his ilk. It is not at all certain if President Goodluck Jonathan believes in the integrity of Ribadu or he simply sees his rehabilitation as opportunity to slight those members of the Yarâ€™Adua government that had worked against his assuming the presidency in the wake of President Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s incapacitation.
The truth is that the cabal that went after Ribadu and Nasir el Rufai was not significantly different from those who were opposed to Jonathan assuming office as president. A few of them are today running from justice as they have been severally found corrupt and culpable by courts of competent jurisdiction. They had sought to make Ribadu pay for going beyond the call of duty to bring many of them to justice. Nobody is saying all Ribadu did in office was right. He was not without his faults and is still as human as any of us. But within permissible limits he did his job without fear or favour. For once, corrupt public officials knew there was someone who could hold them accountable.
They knew the law could some day come after them and they, not unexpectedly, fought back and tried to discredit the whole anti-corruption move as a farce in order to create the impression that we are all dirty and culpable. The manner they went about their campaign was both crude and wicked.
Their misuse of state power to fight a former state official, with President Yarâ€™Adua and other members of his administration watching on unconcernedly, made it all look like it was a crime to work diligently in this country. Forcing Ribadu out of the NIPSS graduation in Jos and ultimately dismissing him from service were scare tactics that did a lot to make nonsense of whatever were the Yarâ€™Adua administrationâ€™s claims to fighting corruption. His demotion was part of the scare tactic. The unfortunate part of it was that it came with its own â€˜collateral damagesâ€™.
No doubt Ribaduâ€™s rise in the Force was rapid and perhaps irregular in certain respects. But he was rewarded mostly for his hard work. True he was not the only hardworking police or public officer. But his demotion was done in bad faith as was the later charge that he failed to declare his assets before assuming office at the EFCC. To make his demotion look less suspicious, the Police Service Commission, led by that otherwise effective and reputable man, Parry Osanyande, had to make other â€˜innocentâ€™ heads roll- innocent to the extent that Ribadu and not they was the direct target of the demotion. One of them, the late Haz Iwendi, former spokesperson of the police and commissioner in Kaduna who was posthumously demoted, had his ranks restored on sentimental grounds. Others are not that lucky and it is in respect of these people that the PSC must ensure that justice is done to all.