What if Ribadu Leaves the EFCC?

Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the pioneer chairman of Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFFC has always been an interesting source of study in public opinion. And his personality has certainly lived up to this image over the past few weeks. In the aftermath of the recent decision by the Nigerian police authorities to send him on a compulsory one-year study leave at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS, in Kuru, Plateau State, it has been interesting reading and listening to the tremendous outpouring of public sentiments both for and against the move. The response to the issue in the media has been so intense that a few commentators have even likened it, in terms of tragic national impact, to the brutal murder on December 27, 2007, of two-time Pakistani prime minister, Ms Benazir Bhutto.

Perhaps not since the assassination of the late Chief Bola Ige in 2001, have we had the Nigerian press buzzing over the fortunes of a single Nigerian man as it is doing over the Ribadu issue, with eminent Nigerians arguing across the lines. And as the debate rages on, it has been interesting to watch the direction of the argument from both sides particularly in the press. One side of the argument (which is in the majority) contends that the decision to send Ribadu on a study leave at this moment in our national life is part of a less-than-noble design. It has been argued that it is the design by certain powerful forces that have elected to try to undermine the anti-corruption war in Nigeria and protect certain corrupt “powers” by pulling the rug from under the EFCC’s feet with the tactical removal of Ribadu. On the other side of the divide are those who argue that Ribadu had it coming as he has been too arrogant and selective in his war against corrupt public officials and as such deserves to be removed as chairman of the EFCC.

One can hardly hold such an office as Ribadu has held for the past five years, without stepping on some “powerful” toes big time. And very often, such ‘powerful’ elements will want him out no matter the cost. It may therefore, be true that the decision by the police hierarchy to send Ribadu on a study leave at this point, is part of a less-than-noble agenda of a cabal. But it may also be true that the police and the Nigerian presidency have taken the decision for noble reasons. This latter proposition may sound seriously debatable, while it remains to be seen what concrete plans the presidency has for a post-Ribadu EFCC. Of course, even if – and to many, that is a big ‘if’ – the presidency has indeed acted in the best interest of Ribadu, the commission and the war against corruption in Nigeria, it still does not excuse the naïve and clumsy manner they have handled the issue. The fight against corruption in Nigeria, the EFCC and Ribadu are a very sensitive bunch of matter in the Nigerian public domain. Therefore, for the police and the presidency to make such a move as they have done at this stage of the anti-corruption war in the country was always likely to lead to the raising of more than just a few eyebrows. To fail to provide a ‘concrete’ reason other than the excuse that the move was a ‘routine’ one means that, rightly or wrongly, those who made the decision were invariably inviting the suspicion of the Nigerian public. The NIPSS as some of us know, has, in recent years fallen in value such that, to many people, it is no longer more than some form of safety valve through which public servants who happen to (want to) ‘get in the way’ are kept quite. So those who took that decision could have offered an excuse that is a bit more plausible. In any case, however, haven’t we all known for sometime now that Ribadu was likely going to embark on that course sooner or later? At least the man himself suggested this much in his widely publicized correspondence to then President Olusegun Obasanjo sometime ago, in which he (Ribadu) hinted on his preparedness to embark on such a course. Perhaps the government acted for the best interest of us all, perhaps not.

As the pioneer chairman of the EFCC, a position that he has, in the estimation of most people, including this writer, defended largely creditably, it is perhaps understandable that Ribadu and many Nigerians would feel a tinge of nostalgia and even panic and apprehension at the thought of Ribadu leaving the EFCC for any length of time. And there in lies the comedy and tragedy of it all. The EFCC, like most other government agencies in this country, has been ultra-reliant on the personality of the man at the helms rather than been an agency that thrives on its own pedigree without the larger-than-life image of Ribadu. Hence, the apprehension Nigerians are displaying now has its roots in the belief that without Ribadu there is no EFCC and the war against corruption will be considerably compromised. And this is the challenge that President Yar’Adua and whoever gets to fill Ribadu’s shoes must meet. We must reorganise the EFCC such that it will rely on its own structures and functions rather than the image of its chairman. And this also goes for other government agencies.

Nevertheless, for us to suggest that Ribadu’s exit from the commission is a national disaster means that we are tacitly conceding that there is no other Nigerian that can come unto the job with equal, if not more enthusiasm, guts, drive and patriotism as Ribadu has done in the past five years of the commission’s life. This, in itself, is an unfortunate proposition and a sour point to ponder. Rightly or wrongly, some people in some quarters feel that Ribadu has been selective in the prosecution of perceived corrupt public officers and other financial criminals. Wouldn’t it be wise, therefore, for us to try having a Ribadu-less EFCC for a change? As noted earlier, the man has done a yeoman’s job as the chairman of the EFCC. But we may not really know how much the commission has matured so long as it remains under the overwhelming image of the charismatic Ribadu. And there are many Nigerians out there, well-known and relatively unknown – just like Ribadu was before he and the EFCC crossed paths – that are capable of doing as good a job as and even better than Ribadu has done at the commission. So let us concentrate our efforts on finding an unbiased umpire in this corruption versus national interest issue.

Written by
Jibril Sado
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