At Daggers Drawn: Progressive Mallams Conservative Alhajis

It is difficult to tell, especially for one, who like many others, know Mallam Nuhu Ribadu by reputation, rather than acquaintance, whether or not, he is a man given to reposing trust in astrological prognostications. Instinctually, one would think not. Indeed, as a man of professed religious faith and one who goes by the style and appellation of the more pious and scholarly sounding moniker – ‘Mallam’ – rather than the more common ‘Alhaji’, he is more likely, it seems, to regard such notions of stellar motion as superstitious nonsense and the staple of ‘infidels’. But even for one of religious inclination, without an interest in the precession of celestial bodies, he will, I think, concede, in view of his recent experience, that the planetary configurations for this, and last, December have not been in his favour.

T. S. Eliot, the acclaimed poet, proclaimed in one of his notable poems that ‘April is the cruellest month.’ But in Mallam Ribadu’s calendric experience, December, rather than April, has to be the cruellest month. How odd it is, that a month, which presages goodwill for mankind on account of reminders about the annunciation and nativity of the Christ, should hold ill-will for some. For others in other lands, December is seen as propitious, as it is the month in which the vivifying Sun re-emerges victorious and ascendant from its deepest descent in the sky; an event underscoring the triumph of light over darkness. But no such association is likely to be drawn by Mallam Ribadu in view of his present circumstances. For him, for now at least, it must seem like a triumph of the dark forces of corruption over the reformative forces of light.

December past and December present, have been for him, seasons of misfortune in which long knives, rather than glad tidings, have been borne his way. Twice now, at this time, he has had to endure the sharp thrust of the blade of daggers, expertly wielded, to perforate the ‘heart’ of his ambitions and sever his links to two institutions which he served and loved over the years. He could not have known that last year’s events were simply a prelude of more sorrows to come. Future Decembers may yet bode well for him.

But for one as intelligent as he, it could not have escaped his mind, that there would be, at some point, mounted against him, a concerted rearguard action, by the very forces of corruption with whom he was engaged in spirited battle. For such was the muscularity of his performance at the EFCC, particularly, in raising public awareness about the problems and perpetuators of corruption in Nigeria, that he was bound to provoke a reaction from his opponents.

And so now it is, against the above background that a dichotomy of opinion has emerged and crystallised around him. Such that, in much part, public commentary regarding his present plight seems to centre on his perceived even-handedness or supposed bias during his time at the EFCC. To those who regard his actions at the EFCC as being even-handed or not even an issue worth considering, he is, in their estimation one of the finest public servant ever to emerge in Nigeria. And for those who see him as nothing, but a willing lackey in the hands of a vindictive former president, enough opprobrium, it seems, cannot be found to heap upon him. However, regardless of the relative merits or otherwise of each of these poles of public opinion, there does seem to be another dimension, which I believe is being overlooked in the heat of the debate as to whether or not Mallam Ribadu is deserving of his current fate.

It appears that as a direct result of his and the actions of others, a rupture might have occurred in the body fabric of the usually tightly knit dominant core Northern conservative elite. This elite group, has for much of Nigeria’s post independence history, monopolised its fortunes and affairs, albeit, in collusion with a certain number of Southerners. The abiding legacy of this group has been that Nigeria has been prevented from achieving its rich potential and assuming its rightful place as one of the leading nations in the world.

And so in the last few years, it has been something of a relief to note, the emergence from the core North onto the nation’s stage, of a group of relatively young, well educated and industrious men, such as Mallam Ribadu and Mallam El-Rufai, who have been keen to engage with others across the Niger and Benue in the pursuit of a progressive agenda for the nation. Their credentials underscored by their active and passionate leadership of their different departments and the implementation of a reformative agenda. All of which, signified a crucial point of departure away from customary core Northern conservative thinking and behaviour. But in their pursuit of these reforms, it is clear that they must have impinged upon the vested interests of some of the ‘kingpins’ within this conservative elite group.

There is no denying the fact, that both Mallam Ribadu and Mallam El-Rufai made mistakes in the pursuit of their aims. But it would seem, unduly harsh, particularly, in the light of the realities of Nigeria, to condemn or dismiss them because of their shortcomings while in office. These men have been bold exemplars of a much needed paradigm shift in government attitudes and approaches required to put Nigeria back on the right track.

The fact that Mallam Ribadu is now being hung out to dry is proof that he ruffled some important feathers. In the past it would have been unthinkable for the core Northern elite to allow one or some of their own to be ‘dealt’ with by a group of Southerners, not matter how highly placed.

Mallam Ribadu, in particular, raised his head above the parapet, and there is no doubt, that it is for this reason that he is now being aimed at from many quarters. He needs the support of all well meaning and progressive Nigerians, regardless of his shortcomings. He has been one of our best and boldest public servants in recent years, and he deserves our support as he currently ‘walks through the valley of the shadow of death.’

No nation and certainly not Nigeria can survive with intolerable levels of corruption. Even fish, as it has been said, realise that there is only so much of sea water that they can ingest. Our political leaders must also come to this realisation. The ill-gotten acquisition of wealth simply for the sake of it, is utterly meaningless and serves no constructive purpose. We must rise above this narrow animalistic instinct.

But whether or not, Mallam Ribadu believes in astrological prognostications, he can rest assured, that in his present travails there is an ever present star which guides the humble; and so I say to him, regardless of his chosen faith, in the words of a great and majestic hymn:

‘Courage brother do not stumble,
Though thy path be dark as night,
There’s a star to guide the humble,
Trust in God and do the right’.

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