Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the one time strongman of the financial crime buster EFCC, who sneaked out of Nigeria into self-imposed exile some eighteen months ago in the face of apparent persecution, breezed back into the country recently, a rehabilitated man. In a twist of fate, his demotion from the rank of Assistant Inspector General (AIG) to a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) was reversed, and his rank of AIG restored. To complete what would amount to a full circle return to its vomit, the Police Service Commission also announced that Ribadu’s dismissal from the police force had been commuted into retirement. The federal government had earlier withdrawn all cases against him, including a charge that properties confiscated by the EFCC under him were sold to fictitious companies, and that much of the proceeds of those sales, could not be accounted for. Expectedly, some institutions, groups and individuals are already positioning themselves to tap into the emerging new halo around Ribadu. Babcock University at Ilisan, Ogun State, for instance quickly awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree to him – despite the fact that Ribadu made his name in fighting corruption, not in the field of law.
Ribadu’s triumphant return dramatises the ‘game of musical chairs’ that is Nigerian politics – the tendency of the predator to become the prey and for the role to be repeatedly reversed. Our politicians nonetheless carry on as if all that matters is for one to accumulate enough resources to fight back into reckoning when the role inevitably reverses. With Ribadu’s former traducers now on the wrong side of the hunting ground, and with Ribadu himself seemingly spoiling for another fight, there are a number of compelling issues surrounding his return that deserve urgent attention:
One, is the question of how his ‘persecution’, including his self-imposed exile, have affected him and his sense of the way he did his job as the EFCC boss. There appears to be a consensus that Ribadu was overzealous, loquacious and engaged in media trial of suspects when he was the chairman of the EFCC – though his critics and supporters disagree on whether these made him less effective on the job or not. It will appear t that both Ribadu’s critics and supporters are eager to see if there has been any change in the Ribadu that returned to the county.
It will seem however, that if Mallam Nuhu has changed behaviourally, it is yet to manifest, for his public statements since returning to the country have been vintage Ribadu. For instance when asked who he thought were behind his travails, Ribadu was quoted as replying: “In my own case, it happened as a result of a leadership that, probably did not understand, or did not have the capacity to understand, or a leadership that was, one can say, almost ill-prepared; or as I said earlier, inappropriate, and a leadership that collected, probably, some of our worst and put them together into one administration or one group, and with enormous powers, all at their own disposal.” (Vanguard online, June 9, 2010). For his critics, statements like this are indications that Ribadu remains emotionally driven, combative, unreflective, divisive and tactless in his utterances and therefore undeserving of another shot at a top job. Such critics for instance point out that a simple deconstruction of the above quoted statement, will show that by coming hard on the ‘leadership’ of the previous regime, Ribadu, without knowing it, was also bashing Jonathan who was the Number Two person in that regime, and who paved the way for his return! They also accuse Ribadu of unknowingly also condemning himself in that statement because he reportedly helped to pave the way for the emergence of the Yaradua presidency and the nomination of Goodluck Jonathan as his running mate.
My feeling is that it may be too early to judge Ribadu on his public statements because exile – whether forced or self-imposed – has a capacity of engendering bitterness or frustration with the home country, including the circumstances that forced one to flee. Ribadu himself alluded to this recently when he said: “ A lot of times – you know exile is a very tough thing. The difference between exile and imprisonment or being locked up is very little… In my own case, I was not even with my family and that made it very tortuous for me.”(Vanguard online, June 9, 2010). We may therefore have to wait a while to see whether what some are now calling Ribadu’s coded triumphal messages to his traducers are in fact merely the euphoric effusions of a returnee exile while celebrating his ‘freedom’.
Two, another major challenge posed by the return of Ribadu is what the Jonathan government will do with him. There is no doubt that Ribadu is genuinely popular with a vocal section of the civil society aligned to Wole Soyinka and the late Gani Fawehinmi. The noise value of this group is tremendous and Jonathan obviously will want to tap into that constituency by rehabilitating Ribadu, and possibly rewarding him with a job. However such move will also have serious implications that could tarnish his regime. For instance, if Ogbulafor was forced to resign as the chairman of the PDP because the allegations of corruption against him would create a moral burden for the President, then giving a job to Ribadu, who faced a similar allegation of corruption, will open him up to charges of double standard. Additionally, if Ribadu should be given any job in the Jonathan regime, it will seem logical that such a position will be related to fighting financial crimes – an area Ribadu has built up competence in recent years. However to offer him such a job could come across as a deliberate ploy to undermine the current chairman of EFCC, Mrs Farida Waziri, who obviously do not see eye to eye with Nuhu Ribadu.
Three, a third challenge is resolving the identity crisis reinforced for Ribadu by the processes that paved the way for his return. Ribadu has a well-known propensity for populist rhetoric. His speeches and interviews are in fact often an exercise in crowd-pleasing shenanigans. A good example: “In this country we’ve seen it before. We saw a government that hanged Ken Saro-Wiwa, for God’s sake. You can just imagine that. We witnessed a government that locked up an individual who won an election. He eventually lost his life in the process. For God’s sake, for winning an election, a free and fair election, somebody lost his life.”(Vanguard online, June 9, 2010). In other places he would describe himself as ‘a simple Fulani man’ and talk emotionally of how the late Gani had always been his hero and role model. In fact as the EFCC chairman he actively courted the support of the constituency affiliated to Gani Fawehinmi and Wole Soyinka. Some feel that if he truly regarded Gani Fawehinmi as a role model, then he would have rejected the government’s withdrawal of the cases against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal – as Gani and Soyinka would definitely have done – and insisted on proving his innocence before the tribunal. Many also argue that Ribadu’s populist rhetoric contradicts his Gestapo methods as the boss of the EFCC, including the agency’s ignoble role in the sham that was the 2007 election, when it openly hunted down some contestants that were opposed to the political options of Obasanjo, his boss of the time. Such critics often ask the real Ribadu to please stand up.