HOPEFULLY, for his own sake, Nuhu Ribadu will become Adamawa State’s next governor, following his decampment to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) last week to run for the governorship. As a person, I wish him well. As a politician, however, he appears to be in need of counselling.
“I wish to assure you that my defection is in pursuit of a good cause, and never out of any selfish interests…I’ll never let you down on this new path.” he explained last week.
Clearly, the new PDP convert does not understand that he is unlike any other defector, and unlike any other member the PDP has ever known. For him, this path leads into the dark.
The reason: Mr. Ribadu is identified with one moment in which Nigeria claimed to fight corruption, an affliction best identified with the party he now adopts.
Some eleven years ago, when Ribadu captured national and international attention as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), it was for providing close insight into the ethical challenge before Nigeria.
That spark of light was a ruse, of course: President Olusegun Obasanjo simply wanted to sell a forest of monkeys to the international community.
The EFCC boss pretended not to know that, and his critics argued that if Ribadu were a sharp knife, it was designed to cut only in the direction of Obasanjo’s enemies.
Perhaps not, but Ribadu did not make arguments in his favour easy. Consider that he was at the peak of his considerable limelight when the EFCC told the international press in September 2006 that the commission had seized $13.5 million dollars from Mrs. Patience Jonathan, the wife of then Governor of Bayelsa State.
That story was broken to the international press by EFCC spokesman Ositah Nwajah. Not once before he left the commission did Mr. Ribadu suggest, as he would do four years later, that that information was merely political.
Just one month before that seizure, the EFCC had also obtained a court order to temporarily freeze N104 million Mrs. Jonathan had allegedly tried to launder through one Nancy Ebere Nwosu.
Remember also that in that tumultuous 2006, Mr. Ribadu, in his role as chairman of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Joint Task Force (JTF) against corruption, indicted 15 corrupt governors.
That JTF was one powerful body: in addition to the EFCC, it comprised the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Department of State Services, and the Nigeria Police, each contributing five senior members.
Among the headliners of the JTF’s infamous list were Mr. Jonathan, who would later become Nigeria’s president, and Bola Tinubu, who in 2010 would become Ribadu’s political leader.
The EFCC law demands that the commission provide an authoritative annual report to the National Assembly. Fulfilling that requirement in that September 2006 in which the EFCC was dealing with Mrs. Jonathan’s $13.5m matter, Ribadu specifically listed Mrs. Jonathan among Nigeria’s alleged most corrupt elements.
The case—or cases—of the Jonathans would come to define Mr. Ribadu, but nobody knew it at that time.
Obasanjo knew he was not serious about fighting corruption, and Ribadu knew Obasanjo was not, but Ribadu seemed content with that balance of smoke and mirrors. Power, however, shifted massively when Obasanjo, ignoring the heavily incriminating report of the JTF, placed Jonathan on the PDP presidential ticket with Umaru Yar’Adua.
It is true that when a Nigerian is sufficiently powerful, he becomes a saint: the moment Jonathan became a candidate for the vice-presidency, his slate was wiped clean, as was that of his wife.
But nobody was saying any such thing…officially or unofficially. Time passed, as did the political turbulence under Yar’Adua, which blew Ribadu first out of the EFCC, and then into exile.
More time then passed, and Ribadu returned to Nigeria in 2010, having decided to run for the presidency.
To me, he was entitled to that ambition, but Ribadu’s main problem seems to be how quickly he forgets.
Among others, he forgot he was no longer the boss of the EFCC, and that the institution had its own structure, records and processes.
Ignoring all that, as well as all the pronouncements he had made in 2006 about Mrs. Jonathan, Ribadu unilaterally pronounced her clean without any recourse to the burden of proof.
“There was never a time when I was in the EFCC when we ever invited that woman to come and make a statement,” he thundered at an NVS HotSeat interview in October 2010. “…I never I never I never invited Mrs Jonathan for questioning or take her statement.”
That is curious because in August 2006, Ribadu filed against Mrs. Jonathan at the Federal High Court in Abuja suit number FHC/ABJ/M/340/06. Ofem Uket, the EFCC’s prosecuting counsel told the court, “Mrs. Patience Jonathan, wife of the Governor of Bayelsa State, was the person who instructed one Hanner Offor to launder the said sum of N104,000,000 into the account of Nansolyvan Public Relations Limited with First Bank of Nigeria Plc (FBN), Niger House, Marina, Lagos.”
Four years later, Ribadu had forgotten all of it.
He also forgot, as he chose to run for the presidency on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), a one-man business that was owned and managed by Bola Tinubu. He forgot that Tinubu had been one of the most prominent figures in his EFCC diary.
Appearing at the Senate in 2006, he described Tinubu’s alleged corruption as being of an “international dimension,” but running for the presidency, he forgot he ever said that, or that he had listed Tinubu among the alleged corrupt governors. In February 2007, a list of indicted public officials published by the EFCC in an effort to stop them from contesting elections also prominently featured Tinubu.
In Ribadu’s political memory loss, he persuaded himself that the same Tinubu would help him become president. To observers, however, it was no accident that the ACN states voted PDP in the presidential contest. Few things run as deeply as corruption memories!
Little wonder that, in July 2013, the presidency cursed Ribadu out for daring to call Nigeria under President Jonathan a ‘sinking ship.’ It laughed at him for having willingly served Jonathan as chairman of the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force.
“It is only a shameless man that will turn around and accept to be the political lackey of a man he once openly accused of corruption at various times between 2004 and 2007,” the presidency said.
This background is why Ribadu’s journey into the PDP is exceedingly strange. If his presence in the ACN and in the APC was frivolous, his arrival in the PDP is a tightrope walk over the ocean with hungry sharks in the waters below.
Again, I hope he wins the Adamawa governorship. Otherwise, the swashbuckling former corruption fighter is the untrained swimmer whose drowning many politicians will swear they never witnessed even as they joyfully fall over each other to pay for an obituary.