If we must take Nuhu Ribadu seriously as a politician

When Mallam Nuhu Ribadu started out as the anti-corruption Tsar in nascent democratic Nigeria as the head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), some were very sceptical about the man purely because of his approach to fighting corruption. Ribadu’s approach was most predictably little more than “highly selective” use of anti-corruption powers in full favour of his wishes and designs of his master, Olusegun Obasanjo. The sceptics, insistently accused them of being denouncers and enemies of progress, appear to have been proven right.

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The politics of service delivery in Nigeria like anti-corruption is mostly the stuff of media posturing and not proper practical action in any calculable form. The mindless cry: “Ribadu is trying,” swept through the psyche of Nigerians at home and in Diaspora. The messiah who would end the long history of rapacious and culturally reinforced corruption in Nigeria was in ascendance. Trying is never good enough but Nigerian praise-singers and messiah-seekers love to shower the accolade of “trying” but not finishing, completing or succeeding on anyone who has a successful crafted media image or captured their interest regardless of the true substance of the person.

Perhaps, the biggest boost to Nuhu Ribadu’s image was for him to be controversially removed as EFCC boss by the then Inspector-General of police. It has effortlessly created for Ribadu “a legend of what might have been” rich in reveries, illusions and delusions. Yes, many would say that if Ribadu was not removed as head of EFCC there would be at least far much less corruption in Nigeria today than ever. I wonder what suppositions such an “unbelievable legend” is based on. No questions of Ribadu’s bureaucratic abilities, but how he employs them.

It is politically expedient to unleash much greater than usual scrutiny and sterner justice (i.e. the strong hand) on people of ethnic minorities while being soft handed with members of ethnic majorities for the same acts of corruption. Look at Ribadu’s list of corruption prosecutions and judge for yourself. The soft hand may prosecute for histrionics but never seriously seek conviction, impunity reigns. It is also politically expedient to use the strong hand on corruption perpetrated by the President’s political enemies while again using the soft hand on political favourites.

Look again at Ribadu’s list of corruption prosecutions and judge for yourself. In Nigeria, political enemies of the president and politicians from ethnic minorities never do the most stealing because they have the least access to resources and political leverage in the form of protection, support and impunity. This is not about tribe whatsoever, but a necessary finding in the unmistakable realities of the “selection” Ribadu used in prosecuting politicians for corruption.

Corruption fighters do not seek political office because it constitutes an inappropriately intractable conflict of interest. It is inappropriate for the man who has “privileged” files on the entire field of political participants (of note) to contest and compete against them while at the same time working alongside them if elected. Even more inappropriate is the changing of proclaimed positions on previously investigated or prosecuted politicians to suit one’s ambitions.

Take a look at these examples: in 2011, as Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) presidential candidate, Ribadu stated that “Jonathan is one of the most corrupt Nigerians I ever investigated while at EFCC & his level of corruption even as deputy governor is just disturbing. PDP is just a disaster and a total failure. Change is the only panacea;” in August 2014, with Ribadu cross-carpeting from (ACN) to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to guarantee his political ambitions of electoral success, he made a very self-humiliating and contradictory statement to the fact, “It’s an undeniable fact, that President Jonathan has done well for Nigeria in such a very short time, and I think he is the answer to the prayer of many Nigerians. I must not be President, but I have vowed to support anyone who shares the same vision I have for Nigeria. And take it from me; President Jonathan has surpassed my vision for Nigeria.” The hindsight and reflection caveat does not explain anything here. What does explain everything here is the dissembling brought about by ‘denial, co-option and compromise,’ the indispensable tools of high ambition in politics and the insidious weapons of corruption everywhere. I could never imagine Elliot Ness saying Al Capone was a ‘good guy.’

If we are to take Nuhu Ribadu seriously as a politician, which is fair enough and I wish him the very best, we may have to effectively forget his ostensible legend as an anti-corruption messiah.

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