By Tonnie Iredia
At the beginning of a venture, certain persons who show ample brightness sometimes end up badly thereby losing the accolades they had received. Indeed, when the indictment of any person is done or endorsed by the Judiciary, withdrawing the honours does not call for controversy.
Thus, the report in the media last week, that some Nigerian citizens with national honours may lose them following their indictment by the courts is not a big deal. What should bother the nation is the way the honours are given in the first instance.
We urgently need to have a re-think of the trend where a serving political appointee is honoured simply because of his post rather than his performance- a trend which stands logic on its head. A political office holder should not get honoured because he “won” our type of election; how an elected person performs in an office is more important.
This was what informed the earlier attack in this column on last year’s national honours where serving political office holders were honoured on the basis of nothing spectacular. The most offensive was that security chiefs got honoured at a time when the nation had its greatest security challenge.
Indeed, a serving Inspector General of Police (IGP) was honoured when he was unable to measure up to the fire power of insurgents who took the battle to his house and bombed everywhere including the Police Headquarters
If the nation had waited for such a political office holder to conclude his tenure before determining whether he deserved to be honoured or not, no one would have considered him or many others whose names were on the list. No one would have supported the dishing out of the second highest honour in the land- the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) to a Chief Justice whose meddling in the affairs of the Court of Appeal brought the Nigerian Judiciary to its Kneels.
At the same time, no one would question several honours to Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais who served without blemish as Chief Justice. Many would similarly applaud yearly honours to Justices Chukwudifu Oputa, Kayode Esho, Andrews Obaseki, George Oguntade etc. Who were not fortunate to head the Judiciary but who gave of their best to our apex court. Therefore, for someone to get automatically honored because he holds an office irrespective of his performance and conduct is absurd.
If our history has shown that any honour to a high ranking Judge who passed through the ranks to his exalted office should be based on the achievements of his tenure, it is reprehensible to bestow national honours on persons who have never held any office or achieved anything worth remembering.
In earnest, it is because we attach honours to positions that we are now facing questionable honours bestowed on some former Speakers of the House of Representatives. Perhaps the best way to make the point is to reiterate our argument elsewhere, that whereas the present Speaker is likely to turn out to be the very best considering his quality performance so far, an award is expedient only at the end of the race.
Since a serving Governor who has immunity cannot be questioned, petitioned against and even indicted while in office the way a legislator can be harassed, there is greater sense in waiting to see how such an untouchable Governor will be handled when he leaves office before considering him for honours.
Indeed, the number of former Governors with cases hanging on their necks should make the nation appreciate that those who hold such a lucrative office can as mere mortals have a propensity to do wrong. Oh yes, those who jeer at former Governor Ibori daily, do not know that the difference between him and many of his colleagues is luck!
Thus, if the tireless Governor Fashola of Lagos was for whatever reason, not among those that the Nigerian Union of Governors coerced the Federal government to put on the list of awardees last year, every Governor ought to wait till after his tenure and have a few interactions with the anti-corruption bodies before being honoured.
It is well that President Jonathan did not reserve the award of GCON for Vice Presidents and Chief Justices and President of the Senate. Instead, he brought in, Aliko Dangote whose contributions to the development of Nigeria’s economy is self explicit. We have more people who can join Dangote on the list.
One of them is Nuhu Ribadu, former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). In his days in that office, Nuhu put his whole heart in the tedious assignment. In the process he got a bribe of a whopping $15m. Without taking the nation through the drama of Otedola type of cameras, he went straight to the Central Bank and deposited the money.
Unfortunately, such uncommon conduct was not appreciated by the nation. Instead Ribadu was persecuted for doing a good job and sent on compulsory training as if he needed to learn how to accept bribes. Thereafter, he was demoted and finally dismissed from service.
In 2009, he was reported to have escaped two assassination attempts. But there were no street protests in solidarity with such a hero. Instead, Nigerians accepted the argument that the young man’s progress in the Police was too fast – an argument that was championed by Police Officers who themselves had been no less favored.
The Inspector General of Police at the time, Mike Okiro, was catapulted from Commissioner of Police to Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) thereby displacing some Assistant Inspectors General (AIG). From there, he became the Inspector General before those he met at the DIG level.
Okiro probably deserved his elevation but he and the Chairman of the Police Service Commission, Parry Osayande, another superb police officer, who had also been favoured were in the Glass house from where stones were being thrown at Ribadu.
Some cynics and critics thought Ribadu deserved his humiliation. They said he operated selective prosecution and was publicity conscious. They may be right because Ribadu is also mortal but not much has been said about his ordeals. Believing rather naively that Nigerians would show love for his efforts, he sought to contest the Presidential election of 2011, where even his party voted against him.
Now that the Delta State and the Federal Government are claiming the controversial $15m bribe, no one is telling us who put it there. For me, this is the time for Nigeria to formally celebrate Nuhu Ribadu as the rest of the world did a few years back.
Apart from the fellowship accorded him by the Center for Global Development, he received the World Bank’s 2008 Jit Gill Memorial Award for Outstanding Public Service as Nigeria’s most courageous anti-corruption crusader. There is wisdom in paying tribute to Ribadu, because if as we hear, the present EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Larmode is entitled to a fair share of Ribadu’s successes, then how Ribadu is handled would matter to Larmode and the successive drivers of the anti-corruption crusade.