After watching Arnold Wesker’s classic ensemble, “The Kitchen”, at the National Theatre, London, in a production which celebrated drudgery and toil of the work-place, there is a penchant to relate two of its underlining metaphors: character and effects of frustrated dreams as reasons for this screed. Additionally, there is an attractive temptation not to be defined by this piece; its polysemousness is to afford readers imports suitable for their own interpretations and conclusion. This is an invitation to debate.
Several meanings are enumerated as reasons for the offer of an appointment to Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, a retired police officer and past Chairman of the Nigerian Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to chair of a newly created Petroleum Task Force. He says it is an opportunity to serve his fatherland in mode of his father’s distinguished service. That is somewhat noble. Others say that he is being set up by the present administration; and he is on his own. These forms of reaction depict how unserious we are as a people. Merits of his qualifications; access to superb assets to succeed in the appointment; and quality of his character seem non-essential to those agonised by his acceptance of the appointment. To them, there is always a sub-text to decisions of those in authority – even when we had gone on a strike to make demands which are now granted. Interestingly, besides the hysteria of Grub Street, reaction of erstwhile handlers at the Action Congress Party of Nigeria (ACN) necessitating a Press Statement is so infantile and quite frankly, a disgrace. Often, statements from that political party beg the question, if they are collective responses of its leadership. Where its General Secretary ought to announce positions of the party, what comes across are personal whims of its Publicity Secretary which is approved by the party’s leader. Someone needs to advise the party that oftentimes, there is dignity in silence.
As for Mr. Ribadu, highlights of his career include a footnote of a disastrous presidential ambition. He dined on a harvest of goodwill where he had not sowed. A faulty strength of character and ACN, a mainstream political party, made him forget basic tenets of politics which require ideology and herding with others of like minds. If during the presidential elections, he had a mind, he was to find out that its quality and strength were different to the leadership of his party. Two lessons from that venture: never pursue a political ambition which is of the head; follow an ideal from the heart. But then, the enterprise may have offered him no lessons. He may not be much different from the leaders of the pack whose political machinations he championed in public service and partisan politics. May be they are more adept in recognising character defects than the rest of us. The new retired police officer was to them what he was not to the rest of us. A Yoruba adage rings truer: Ole lo mo ese Ole to ni ori apata; roughly translated: Thieves know how to identify footprints of their cohorts upon a hill. There is no evidence that he is a thief; his blinding ambition overpowered his reasoning. We were just as gullible as he turned out to be. Now, that is in his past.
After realising that a political machine built by someone else could not be taken over, in May 2011, he became an independent member of United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (UNAMA MEC). He was soon to show his classic preference for trial by media whilst in that country. This soon led to frosty relationship with the Office of Afghanistan Attorney General and the High Office of Oversight (HOO) – so much so that there was a threat to abandon the assignment. Does that not sound familiar of the antecedents from EFCC? The need for a reaction against the backdrop of monumental corruption in war torn Afghanistan and unwillingness of the authority to prosecute may be appropriate in the circumstance. I shall revert, below, to these issues herein raised.
Before that appointment, he cut a pitiable sight. His reaction to the loss of his presidential ambition was to “leave everything to Allah.” Then, as like now, involving Allah without ensuring that a path is of a divine ordination may be low level foolhardiness – even for a zealot. But then, unrealised ambitions make people vulnerable. This is another metaphor drawn from the production at the National Theatre. The susceptibility of Mr. Ribadu as a damaged article foreknown to his erstwhile political handlers shall crystallise in this appointment. The exposure of the Chairman of the Task Force may finally be described as what that imbecilic and alleged war criminal, Mr. Donald Rumsfeld, former U.S. Secretary of Defence opined as: “there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know”.
What is unknown of Mr. Ribadu; though, preferably to ride above schadenfreude of missteps of his last call, much of which are already acknowledged, begs for more questions as to what can be expected this time. Here is a prediction: a public melee. This was how Wasker’s production ended at the Olivier Stage.
A Leopard never changes its spots. However, before considerations of a future expectation, what dish has the past chairman of the EFCC served or less appropriately, what shall he be served? Given his political party’s statement and reasons in “Why I am accepting Jonathan’s offer to serve” – revenge is still a dish served cold. Since defeat of his presidential ambition, he has maintained a commendable and dignified silence. His attitude should serve as a lesson to too many other ambitious partisan politicians in our country. So, is this appointment a vindication from Allah? Not so fast, buddy. Even, if this rings true for his ACN handlers – what of this present government? Is this appointment intended as revenge from Diezani’s kitchen? Is this a revenge safely stored in a deep freezer waiting to be served on the Corruption Czar? The level of corruption in the oil industry and complex technicalities create ambivalence whether he is the right man for the job. What if he fails? That is unlikely with the steady hands of Mr. Steve Oransanye. What if he is ridiculed? So what? What if this government is not serious about tackling corruption? Contributions from the Task Force shall not be diminished. None of these resolves our difficulties, though. This is why Mr. Ribadu’s courage is exemplary. I am somewhat impressed.
His willingness to serve our country suffices for me. This is a decision from the heart and not a blind ambition. It follows an eminent ideology and for that reason, he has my vote. Nonetheless, a perturbance of the mind niggles that technical adroitness required in upstream oil business and economics of downstream may be overwhelming for him. Though, it is fair to submit that he is one of seventeen people. He can rely on the judgment of others and he does not need to be an expert in Petroleum Engineering. What he and other members require are good and skilful advisers. Their problem shall be in the quality of available advisers. If quality reliance is like what he had at his the EFCC where a serving policeman behaved like an Outlaw, this appointment shall expose insincerity.
In addition to the above is the legal frame work for the Task Force. On checking the enabling legislation for the creation and operation of Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI), the remit of the Task Force is a duplication. Added to the backdrop of reporting to the Minister, Mr. Ribadu needs
to have clarified what is expected this Task Force. This is no reflection on him – it betrays the level of those in charge of our affairs.
It is arguable that the retired policemen recent experience makes him nonpareil to access more sophisticated assistance for the work ahead. This task force does not have access to the presidency; there is no guarantee that its reports will be acted upon, expeditiously. Consider this: after reporting to the Petroleum Minister, the report goes to the office of the Attorney-General for decisions to prosecute or litigate. Remember the level of “romance” between Mr. Michael Aondoakaa who was alleged to be the country’s most corrupt Attorney General? If the next Attorney General is in the mode of Mr. Aondoakaa, toss a coin, this task force enters a bet at its peril. Heads or tails, it loses.
As for the earlier submission of the pattern of Mr. Ribadu’s modus operandi previously at EFCC and latterly, Afghanistan, he should retain the same posture, maturely and with good legal advice. There are other advices. He should ensure that when this administration serves its own revenge, it falls on its own sword.
It is for this reason that he needs to cultivate a culture of keeping a diary of events during his tenure; use available technology to keep contemporaneous attendant notes of meetings and interactions with others and be less loquacious. Recollection of engagements with the former American Ambassador should serve as a lesson. Keep a diary which at the end of his engagement shall in turn keep him till the end of his days. When considering publication, he should avoid labelling his account as a “front row account”. In addition, facts are better provided to the public than sensational briefings which are unsustainable in courts of law. As a lawyer, respect the rights of others. They remain innocent until proven guilty not on the pages of newspapers, news websites or social media but in a court of law.
In closing and as earlier alluded – what is above has not led to a path by which I know what to wish Mr. Ribadu and members of his team. For his sake and the rest of us, I wish him and this government well, in what appears as a marriage of self inflicted inconvenience.