By Ugoji Egbujo
Nuhu Ribadu, was a ray of hope. The salt that came to stop the rot. A public desperate for salvation embraces eagerly. He contained the temptations that swept away pretenders. He sparkled where others had dimmed. We squelched our doubts. When he fought corruption with zeal, we didn’t count his sins, didn’t regard his foibles. Focused and determined war against a legion of rugged looters summoned adoration.
So he wasn’t suffering an attention seeking disorder. No, that would make him vain. And his convictions didn’t lack principled footing. That would make him a charlatan. When he broke the rules, we blamed it on the system.
It was too weak to support the crusade. Rigged system. The arbitrariness and tyranny that came with it were not Gestapo stuff. No, they were unavoidable pains of radical redemptive surgery. Desperate measures for desperate circumstances. Ribadu used to be a comet.
So when corruption fought him off and the EFFC lapsed into insipidity, we mourned our luck. The EFCC was effectively cornered. Ribadu and his piety traveled the world and told of the immortality of corruption. His stock rose and many prayed that that wilderness, his tribulations, would season him.
Would get him accustomed to introspection and sober reflection. Because there was nothing really noble in being a whip the president cracked at his fancy.
Though we concur that an EFCC enslaved by vindictiveness is better than a comatose one. But there was no affront against the constitution greater than the brazenly illegal impeachment of governors orchestrated in daylight by Ribadu’s EFCC. Though we had welcomed anything, even from the devil, that rattled impunity. ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier and his agents had claimed they were fighting decadence too. Abacha suffered same delusion.
Ribadu outlawed torture. Improved detention facilities. But instituted a policy where bails were a taboo even for trivial offences. Ribadu didn’t quite believe suspects were innocent until proven guilty. Ribadu let Nigerian undergraduates languish in his cells for more than two years without trials. Ribadu knew his actions were in themselves criminal. He was fighting internet scams- ‘yahoo yahoo’- the way the mob would fight robbery at mile two bus-stop. But Ribadu was patriotic. He however lacked the moral grounding to understand the burden imposed on him by the law. Ribadu should have known that corrective measures that lack moral foundations and legal supports are self serving pieces of tyranny. He is lawyer. Corruption will succumb to sound institutions and cultural re engineering and not to repression and arbitrariness. But he was our hero.
He fought corruption. But with the help of substantial lawlessness. He actually got to the point of barring politicians from contesting elections. The courts didn’t hide their shock at his brazenness. For him, prosecution was a gladiatorial contest – nothing was spared. He scorned judges that upheld freedoms.
He was possessed by a passion to rein in impunity. He contrived justifications for his disregard for due process. He strayed beyond excusable excesses of crime control and dabbled into political manipulation. He wanted to prevent ‘questionable’ characters from accessing the levers of government. Our moribund criminal justice structures could not deter high profile criminals, he said . But the problem is , once legal protections are cast aside the fight loses legitimacy and becomes vulnerable to mischievous applications. Despite these atrocities, Ribadu remained peerless.
Did we then take too lightly the recourse to arbitrariness? Did we fail to appreciate his penchant for exaggerations and media trials? Ribadu lacked the patience for rigour, craved the limelight and played to international gallery. Fawehinmi craved the limelight but complemented courage with stamina for personal pains and sacrifices. When Ribadu fled into exile, he could have stayed and confronted the injustices headlong. Ribadu missed the opportunity to defend himself against charges of corruption. A true freedom fighter would have relished the opportunity to set examples.
When he returned from exile he lost the protective shield his exuberance in the agency provided for his moral deficits. He jumped at the opportunity to lead the then AC. Anyone given to sober reflection would have balked. The moral complexity of that choice was daunting. When he started denying the statements he had made about corrupt activities of his new colleagues, he cast himself as an unscrupulous chameleon for whom integrity meant less than principled consistency.
Ambition has preyed on him. It is true politics offers the best chance to bring about change. And will entail uncomfortable compromises. But integrity lies not in denying the past. Integrity must entail offering difficult costly explanations. But more importantly, did Ribadu think through the burden of leading an opposition party before accepting that ticket? He abdicated his political responsibilities after he lost the presidential election in 2011.
For many Nigerian politicians, politics is a selfish venture. So he lost and took to loitering between bouts of hibernation. Boko haram ate up the North East, ravaged his home state, he remained mute. When Governor Nyarko ran into slippery grounds, Ribadu stuck out his neck for him. His loyalty then was no longer for the fight against corruption. When the PDP dangled that banana, Ribadu had to switch political camps with immoral haste. Many thought such prostitution was beneath him. But Ribadu ,possessed by ambition, had lost regards for scruples. A man who had run for president under the main opposition party was about to become a confirmed political Esau. The porridge of Adamawa government house seemed served. Fate was playing cruel jokes on him.
He failed to muster the support needed. His popularity wasn’t local and perhaps his naivety was gross. He had to wait for the general elections and for his new godfathers in Abuja to manipulate the PDP governorship ticket into his pocket. Means and processes had stopped to matter too. Fate wasn’t done. He lost , his godfather lost, and ,he was in the opposition again. And once more he returned into hibernation to listen for a call to another porridge! Can Nuhu Ribadu ever do hard unnoticed, unglamorous work? He has, with reckless enthusiasm, answered yet another call. If Nuhu Ribadu is disdainful of party politics, why is he covetous of its fruits? The self -demystification process is almost complete.
If Ribadu were President Buhari , he would have decamped to the PDP centuries ago. Because that his theory of ‘local politics’ would have propelled him towards the PDP presidential ticket when the ANPP was utter hopelessness. If he were Bola Tinubu he would have received irresistible calls that would have transformed Nigeria into a one-party state. Ribadu has a corrupted idea of patriotism. That idea that opposition is perhaps not nation building. A man who wants to change a society but can’t sit in the opposition is an opportunist. But if Nuhu Ribadu with all the goodwill and public trust can’t champion oppositional politics the country sorely needs then he is truly unworthy of the ascribed reputation. He is perhaps an impostor.
I like Nuhu Ribadu. He once sizzled. Has he fizzled? Was he just a flash in the pan?