Between Bhutto And Ribadu

by Arukaino Umukoro

Rewind. Then press play. Two moving pictures stand out as box office (news) hits in the last days of 2007: the tragic death of Benazir Bhutto and removal of Nuhu Ribadu as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka has already compared Ribadu’s removal to the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader; both being political icons in their own rights.

It’s almost uncanny how they both draw other comparisons despite happening in different countries thousands of miles apart. They were both swallowed up by national intrigues: Bhutto was consumed by the raging fires of political instability in Pakistan. Ribadu was caught in the eye of the political storm –the corruption war, in Nigeria. One, both events leave vacuums at the heart of shaky political systems. Two, they also remind us of the fragility of democracy in a state of emergency, however different it seems.

Never since Diana, Princess of Wales, has the world expressed such grief over the death of one woman. Benazir Bhutto’s assassination on December 27, 2007, was a shock that reverberated round the globe. Although, she had flaws as a political leader, Bhutto was loved by millions simply because she was a sort of crusader for the masses, the down trodden of the society. She was a woman of the people. One who was not afraid to fight for a cause. She was the soul of her party, the Pakistani peoples party (PPP). Bhutto commanded unbridled loyalty from her followers and millions of Pakistanis who saw her as a symbol of hope for the restoration of true democracy. But the fierce loyalty she commanded also attracted the opposite from Islamic extremists, who saw her as one pursuing Western ideals and a potent threat to their devious plans. Bhutto was courage in the face of adversity. That’s why tens of millions of illiterate and impoverished Pakistanis looked to her with hope, faith and even love. Twice elected prime minister of Pakistan, twice dismissed on charges of corruption and incompetence by the military, Bhutto remained a political giant in a land of political dwarfs and military apologists.

Exit Bhutto and enter Nuhu Ribadu. Soyinka likened his removal to the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader and democratic front runner. He said, just like Bhutto’s assassination, the shocking removal of Ribadu “would have a far more devastating impact on the psyche of the Nigerian nation than the deadly event that now threatens to destabilize Pakistan.”

Ribadu’s performance as EFCC Chairman lends credence to Soyinka’s warning. He was the teeth of the anti-graft agency. Never since the country’s return to civilian rule, has Nigerians expressed such outrage over the removal of a public office holder; as they did over the ouster of Nuhu Ribadu. Just like Bhutto, Ribadu was seen by millions of Nigerians as a symbol of hope and restoration of sanity in a country that has been bedeviled by endemic corruption; he was seen as a shining light in the dark corridors of power. Ribadu was the face of the war against institutionalized corruption and it won him many admirers, as well as enemies. But he remained steadfast in fighting a just cause. Ribadu was courage in the face of adversity; those who saw him as a threat to their corrupt aspirations. He single-handedly swooped down of corruption in high and low places with sheer bravado, from governors accused of financial impropriety while in office to yahoo -yahoo boys; and succeeded against the odds. Twice retained as EFCC chairman amidst criticisms from many quarters for ‘selective justice’, Ribadu towering success in the fight against corruption in Nigeria is simply phenomenal in a land of corrupt politicians and hypocritical elites.

Although the Pakistani government says it will go ahead with the January 8 elections, Bhutto’s assassination has certainly left a vacuum in her country’s quest for a stable democracy. Just like the removal of Ribadu seem to have destabilized the spirited fight against corruption in Nigeria, although the Federal Government believes otherwise. Without the courage of a Bhutto, the structures of her party, the PPP would be seriously tested. The hope of stable democracy lies in the balance. Unless her husband and 19-year old son prove otherwise, there is no guarantee that Pakistan would not slide into anarchy. Without the bravery of a Ribadu, the Economics and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is a toothless bulldog. And unless his successor proves otherwise, there is no guarantee that Nigeria would not slide into the abyss of more corruption.

Both Bhutto and Ribadu had their shortcomings in their respective tenures. But let’s not take this away from them, they fought hard for a cause they believed in. They took on an establishment while others watched and wilted. Against the odds, they both triumphed. Or almost.

And in doing that, they both paid a price too great; one that shouldn’t have been. Bhutto lost her life when her faith in a liberal Pakistan was most needed in a country gripped by the military and still nursing the pains of democratic travails. Ribadu was removed from office at a time when his fearlessness was most needed in the fight against corruption in a country gripped by powerful forces and still nursing the pains of decades of gross mismanagement and poor leadership.

Their wings were clipped when they were in full flight: Benazir Bhutto looked set to win the Pakistan elections in January. Ribadu was already poised to rope in more high profile politicians for financial impropriety.

Exit Bhutto. Exit Ribadu. The pages turn. Pictures unfold dramatically and new scenes are emerging. Can the EFCC retain its bite? Can the PPP continue its momentum and fight? In the long run, can both nations’ government prove to be sincere in their actions? Only time will tell.

May the labour of these outstanding individuals not be in vain. 2008 is sure going to be a very interesting year.

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1 comment

toyin ajala January 3, 2008 - 6:53 am

this article is an eye opener


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