By Hakeem Baba-Ahmed
“How long shall they kill our prophets,/ While we stand aside and look.”- Bob Marley
IT is not easy finding anything new or profound to say over the defection of Malam Nuhu Ribadu from the APC to the PDP in search of a governorship position of his state, Adamawa. I know how deeply personal that decision has been for him.
As someone I closely observed and admired for fighting many odds to remain consistent and loyal to values that were very dear to him, I know some of the more scathing criticisms cannot fail to hurt him. But he has been an opposition politician since his return from exile, so he knows better than to wear thin skins to battles.
The most charitable of his critics say a good rider chose a poor horse in an important race. Such is the uniqueness of Nuhu in the political firmament, it will be unfair of him to expect anyone to cut him an inch of slack.
He will, for the next few months, have to swim in waters with crocks and sharks, shepherded by bigger fish who may be preserving him for dinner. His singular motivation for this ground- breaking action will be tough to achieve, but not impossible.
The big question is whether, win or lose, Nuhu will ever be the same man after October. Many will ask if it really matters to Nuhu anymore.
Some people have said there has never really been the same, one Nuhu Ribadu. They point to his remarkable achievements in the fight against corruption, much of it sending many of his current compatriots in the PDP to courts or prisons, or getting them to disgorge massive amounts of stolen wealth.
Then they point at the cynical manipulation of the Nuhu Ribadu/EFCC franchise by Obasanjo, and blame Nuhu for unpardonable naivety, or active collaboration, in the deployment of the awesome powers of the EFCC in pruning political enemies of Obasanjo. Many political careers were torpedoed by Nuhu’s list, including many in the opposition.
Nuhu’s list helped the Yar’Adua/Jonathan ticket fly against Odili’s billions and other contenders who could have survived closer scrutiny and done better for the nation. Nuhu’s list placed prominent politicians such as Tinubu on the public’s bad guys list, and reinforced earlier reports of massive corruption against mostly PDP governors. Without being tested in a judicial context, Nuhu’s list helped Obasanjo exercise life-and-death stranglehold over post-2007 developments.
No Nigerian had made as many powerful and wealthy enemies as Nuhu. The long list included Vice President Atiku Abubakar, governors and prominent businessmen. Most succeeded in stalling the process of concluding investigations and prosecutions which left Nuhu exposed to backlash and revenge from people who wielded frightening powers. The world and millions of Nigerians who saw in him a glimmer of hope could not protect him when corruption fought back.
The new leadership he unwittingly facilitated to power felt uncomfortable with a man who knew too much and who stepped on toes that had grown even bigger. The Yar’Adua/Jonathan leadership soon turned on him, hounding him out of office, out of his new rank, out of a NIPPS graduating ceremony and eventually out of the country into exile.
His record was smeared and rubbished in his absence. He fought gallantly from exile, but it was obvious that too much of the EFCC zeal and cutting edge was the person of Nuhu. Many of the people he investigated and accused are more powerful today, and some are directly involved in the fight to get him to become governor.
The same people who sent him into exile attempted to make some political capital out of him by allowing him back. The Jonathan administration wanted to look good in the rule of law department and it thought welcoming Nuhu Ribadu and Malam Nasir el-Rufai back will earn it a few browie points, or perhaps, even more naively, a couple of high profile new recruits.
President Jonathan miscalculated. They both went straight to the opposition, becoming some of his worst critics. Nuhu was convinced to run against President Jonathan and General Buhari on the platform of the ACN, a personal outfit of Tinubu, a man whose corruption Nuhu may have forgotten he had described using a few choice words.
ACN fielded Nuhu, then its leaders promptly turned and instructed its multitudes not to vote for him, but for Jonathan. Nuhu’s profile earned one additional entry: a former presidential contender.
With the merger of ACN, CPC and ANPP, Nuhu became a smaller fish in a larger pond. He had the potential to become bigger, but the pond had massive sharks who determined who ate and who starved. Everyone tip-toed around them, carefully concealing personal ambitions and waiting for the slightest signs that they had any future in a merger that promised a lot, but leaked very badly. The bottom appeared to fall out when the desire to oust Jonathan in 2015 was identified as an absolute priority, but strategic mistakes were being made. The floodgates were opened to PDP’s legion of disgruntled to move into a party that promised to be everything the PDP was not.
They did, and were handed over large chunks of the party to do as they wished. Massive territory of the APC were taken over by former PDP bigwigs, and in the specific case of Nuhu, they included the liability inherent in impeached governor Murtala Nyako. Prominent APC founders and members who complained were told to go and sit down. PDP money and members took over and built new structures within APC. APC leaders began to leave in droves, which suited the new defectors from the PDP. Nyako obliterated the APC he met in Adamawa, without putting anything in its place, because he lacked anything to put back.
Then PDP goes and impeaches Nyako, and a whole new vista was opened in Adamawa politics. The people who convinced Nuhu to dump his party and move to PDP must have used very powerful arguments: he, more than anyone else, is qualified to pull his state out of its dangerous levels of despair. He cannot become a governor unless he runs on a PDP ticket, because his party, APC, is either incapable or unwilling to give him the ticket.
Atiku, the only game in town will rather die politically than give Nuhu the APC ticket. Every trace of APC has been wiped off through defections after Nyako was impeached. Without money of his own, and even less of a structure, he cannot re-invent APC in a few weeks and win on its platform.
They must have assured him that the presidency will blast his way through massive resistance from old Adamawa PDP warhorses and newly-defecteds who left the APC for Nyako. Perhaps, they made the case that his own party had elevated defections to an art form, evidence of which is that Atiku, Nuhu, Saraki, Sylva, Amaechi and Kwankwaso are now roommates; and Shekarau, Bafarawa, Sheriff, Marwa and Belgore are now Soulmates. Perhaps someone had reminded him that Nigerian politics has no room for principles, ideologies or values, only powerful people.
They may have assured him of the existence of a warchest to treat local injuries, and massive resources to create a local presence to mitigate the limitations of an Abuja politician.
Whatever it was they told him, it worked. Or, to be fair to Nuhu, he accepted to engage in the biggest gamble of his political life. He has been told that he has done incalculable damage to his image and standing as a principled politician in the eyes of millions particularly younger Nigerians; that he is today just another politician whose respect for party loyalty is zero.
He is trading this off against scary intangibles: that he will scale all the odds and win; that he will so dramatically transform the fortunes of Adamawa State in such a short time that all will be forgiven; that the PDP will trust a man who was its enemy yesterday not to turn his back on it once he gets to power on its back; that the crises that will attend his attempt to get the ticket will not bring the whole PDP house down in Adamawa; that he would bring to an end the awesome powers of Atiku in Adamawa and in APC.
For now, Nuhu has made his choice. Few will grant him the concession that he means no harm to his former party, his fellow rivals, or the democratic process. He is likely to be reminded that he may soon share a plate with one of the administration’s multi-tasking muscles, Steve Oransaye who attempted to rubbish the work he did in the fuel subsidy probe panel. He will have to mount the podium a few months from now to appeal to the people of Adamawa to vote for President Jonathan in 2015.
He will need to convince many sceptics that he will not become the reincarnation of Nyako, a politician who knows that his ambitions were made real in Abuja, not Adamawa.
Above all, Nuhu should worry that he does not become part of a history that will record that his party the PDP is so desperate to put him in power that it has to violate every rule known to the party and the electoral process.