Of late, two men have dominated political discussions in the Nigerian public space – two men who have both served Nigeria in different executive capacities in public service and both of whom are now out of government, enjoying different post-office fortunes from the same establishment they both worked for.
Today, both are fighting the battle of hearts and minds, one from self-exile abroad and the other from Nigeria where he holds sway after he and his friends have succeeded in hounding out the former. The issues at stake between both men are the perception of their personal reputations in the eyes of Nigerians and the role the other has played in the travails of the other.
James Ibori fingers Nuhu Ribadu as the reason he is being “packaged” now “as the face of corruption” and “the greatest obstacle to Nigeria’s development”, while Ribadu sees Ibori as one of those who’ve made an industry of fabricating lies against him to get the attention of President Umaru Yar’Adua, part of which led to the loss of his position as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and his self-exile abroad. While Ribadu believes they did this and are still doing this to challenge his uncompromising fight against their corrupt practices, Ibori believes Ribadu is a pretentious man who is fixated with power and control and who is now throwing brickbats from abroad because he lost out in a power game at home. Curiously, both of them have affirmed they are still friends.
For Nigerians, it is easy to get distracted by the personal animus and the unsubstantiated rallies of accusations and counter-accusations flying back and forth. Indeed, because of the way the battle has developed and the strategies adopted by each side, it is easy for people to take sides or to see this as just a case of ‘two fighting’. But there is a much more serious dimension to this tango because of what it represents and portends for the health and future of the Nigerian polity. Yet, before we get to that analysis, let’s consider the background and antecedents of both men to possibly give us a better picture of what is at play.
To understand Ibori’s phenomenal rise in national politics, we need to understand the system. Ibori’s success hinges on his understanding of the system and how to play it. He recognised early that in the sick Nigerian political atmosphere, contrived and dominated by the predatory elite, conscience has no place. So, once he had resolved to pursue a political career, he ripped out his conscience and made of it a huge bonfire. He collected the ashes and blew them into the vast Atlantic. From about the early nineties, he began to court all manner of facilitators within the military establishment and covertly advertised himself as an odd jobs’ man for the high and mighty. He flirted with the Babangida-era National Republican Convention (NRC) under whose banner he unsuccessfully contested for the House of Representatives seat for Ethiope Federal Constituency in 1991. However, his friendship with Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, General Sani Abacha’s Chief Security Officer was to be a decisive factor in his rise within the Abacha political family. The relationship opened all doors and he was so useful to the regime that they allocated him a duplex within Dodan Barracks. With Abacha’s support, he soon joined the class of newspaper publishers in 1996 with the Diet newspapers, a move aimed at diluting the vibrant anti-Abacha press of the time. To help him further, Abacha engaged in a spate of newspapers and magazines closures and the hounding of critical journalists all over the place. It was the leapfrog Ibori needed. He has always wanted to be close to the man at the top and to do the latter’s bidding pursuant to his own political career.
On December 28, 1997, four members of staff of The Diet newspapers were arrested by Abacha’s security forces. These were Niran Malaolu, the Editor of the daily, The Diet, Wale Adele, the Night Editor, Emmanuel Avwara, production Sub-editor and Emeka Egerue, Head of the Computer Department. Reports about their arrests indicate that Ibori had called Niran Malaolu shortly before they were arrested only to ascertain if he was at the office, which was located at the Alagomeji area of Yaba, Lagos Mainland. When the soldiers from Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) came, they reportedly stated that they had the permission of the publisher to be there. All those arrested were freed the next day, except Malaolu.
On February 14, 1998, Malaolu was arraigned along with some other alleged coup plotters before the Special Military Tribunal (SMT) headed by Major-General Victor Malu and charged with the curious offences of “information gathering” and “concealment of treason”. Malaolu’s paper was accused of publishing a story about the alleged coup in its Sunday, December 28, 1997 edition, titled “The Military Rumbles Again”; but even more curious is the fact that Niran Malaolu was not the Editor of the Sunday Diet. He was the Editor of The Diet, the daily version.
Ibori was said to have promised that he’d use his influence within the Abacha government, security and intelligence services to get his editor out; but on 28 April, 1998, Malaolu was sentenced to life imprisonment. Though the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) commuted his sentence to 15 years, another curious development was that while all the other journalists held at the time over the coup such as Chris Anyanwu of The Sunday Magazine, Kunle Ajibade of The News, Moshood Fayemiwo of Razor, George Mbah of Tell, Babafemi Ojudu of Tempo and Charles Obi of Weekend Classique and several others had been released by the General Abdulsalami Abubakar regime by 20 July, 1998, they held on to Niran Malaolu until the 4th of March, 1999.
Furthermore, while General Obasanjo as President granted “pardon” to the other journalists in 2000 (even though they insisted they never committed any offence for which they needed pardon in the first place) he still did not extend the pardon to Malaolu. In fact, the wicked irony was that the Obasanjo government went on to defend his detention before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Banjul on the grounds that Malaolu’s trial was conducted under a law validly enacted by the competent authority at the time!
Clearly, Niran Malaolu’s arrest, trial and detention raised several questions that are still unanswered till this day. While the other journalists arrested at the time had good anti-military and pro-democracy credentials, Malaolu had none. He was not a big name in the sector and was editor of a paper that was essentially pro-Abacha. Did he stumble upon information about the depth of Ibori’s collaboration and/or the relationship of some other powerful person(s) with the Abacha junta that they didn’t want out? Was his arrest on such a serious charge relating to coup plotting an attempt to scare him into silence? Why did Obasanjo, a man supposedly framed for an earlier coup and who was in detention at the time Malaolu was thrown there by Abacha, treat him differently from other journalists at the time? Did he know something about what Malaolu knew that the rest of us didn’t know? Who was the official at the American Embassy that Malaolu spoke to shortly before his arrest and what did they talk about?
Curiously, all the affected journalists in that episode have been speaking publicly ever since, including some writing books about it; but Malaolu has kept sealed lips. Yet, he was the one treated more brutally than the rest. From the time he was arrested to the time he was arraigned at the Tribunal, he was not given access to his lawyers. And when he was arraigned, he was assigned a military lawyer who hadn’t even taken any instructions from him. He was put in solitary confinement and chained, hands and legs to the ground. He was constantly beaten and tortured and for 147 days, he was not allowed to take his bath and by the time of his release after 16 months in detention, he had lost part of his vision and hearing. In any case, whatever the role Ibori or issues affecting Ibori played in Niran Malaolu’s arrest, trial and detention, the onus is on him to speak up. His continued silence can only lead to heightened speculations that his silence has been bought. After all, what is he still afraid of several years after the demise of Abacha?
By the time the Abacha transmutation agenda hit top gear, Ibori had been planted in the Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM) as his acolyte. While there, he worked closely and ceaselessly with Major Hamza Al-Mustapha to intimidate and sideline the party bigwigs like M.D.Yusuf, Tunji Braithwaite, Jim Nwobodo and Gambo Lawan to ensure that Abacha was unanimously adopted at the party convention in Maiduguri. When Abacha died, he transferred his allegiance to General Olusegun Obasanjo, but not until he had built a political machine that seized the Delta State Peoples Democratic Party leadership. Ibori was reported to have used a huge financial outlay for this venture, but mystery has always surrounded how he came about that money. There are those who believe that Major Hamza Al Mustapha used Ibori to move large sums of money originally stashed away by Abacha during the period immediately after the latter’s death and in the midst of the confusion that followed. Whatever the truth of the matter, what followed was that under the operational leadership of Ighoyota Amori, the Ibori political machine first overran Urhoboland by undercutting the old Benjamin Okumagba leadership of the Urhobo Progressive Union. They then brought in people like Ifeanyi Okonwa, Ovie Omo-Agege, Ray Inije, Emmanuel Ogidi, James Manager, Emmanuel Uduaghan, Benjamin Elue, Festus Okubor, etc. They bought and cowed the opposition, as the case demands, and in the end, Ibori’s ascension to the governorship in 1999 was a mere coronation.
Sometime before the January 5, 2003 PDP Special Presidential Nomination Convention in Abuja, Ibori fell out with Obasanjo. Hitherto, he had been part of a close circle of people used by Obasanjo, Abubakar Atiku and Nasir el-Rufai in a blitz of buying up state-owned concerns on the cheap in the name of privatization. When the schism between Obasanjo and Abubakar Atiku developed, Nasir el-Rufai remained on Obasanjo’s side, while Ibori was on Atiku’s side. They took the animus to the PDP Convention in Abuja where Atiku challenged Obasanjo and used Ibori and some of the state governors to send the message. While Obasanjo deftly negotiated his way out of this very dicey situation to get the party ticket, he granted huge concessions to Atiku and his gang of plotters. It was reported that Obasanjo largely conceded domestic political power to Atiku and the governors, while he undertook to pursue foreign policy. Indeed, the unfurling of a huge banner during the inauguration of the second term at Eagle Square declaring: “ATIKU FOR PRESIDENT 2007” was interpreted to mean a confirmation of the agreement at the Convention and a statement to the world that a new “Khalifa” is ready to take over with the agreement of the establishment. While this couldn’t have been nice viewing for Obasanjo, not many discerning people doubted that he was not going to take what he must have considered impertinence lying low.
The genesis of the problem reportedly was the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ supposedly reached between Obasanjo and Atiku in 1998 before he got the Atiku-led Peoples Democratic Movement’s machine to formally install him within the PDP. The agreement was that Obasanjo would run for only one term of four years – two years to reverse military policies and influence and stabilize the nation and the other two years to repair Nigeria’s battered image abroad before Atiku takes over in 2003. Obasanjo had later denied the existence of such an agreement and considering that Atiku had originally contested and won the governorship election for Adamawa, with Boni Haruna as his running-mate, before being called on by Obasanjo to join the ticket as the vice presidential candidate, the question of when exactly such an agreement was reached, if reached, becomes an issue. Moreover, the popular conception is that Generals Ibrahim Babangida, Theophilus Danjuma and Aliyu Gusau were at the head of the group that actually got Obasanjo drafted. If this is true, it follows that such persons couldn’t have plumped for Atiku to succeed Obasanjo. Perhaps, at the time, Obasanjo was being everything to every person and agreeing to all sorts of conditions set by various groups of power brokers just to get to power.
Anyway, what became clear was that midway into the first term Obasanjo’s body language and statements began to indicate he wanted to run for a second term. Atiku and a few of the vocal governors, including Diepreye Alamieyeseigha protested this privately and did so indirectly in public by proposing for Obasanjo the ‘Mandela option’. But Obasanjo told them he was waiting on God and finally, with the support of his military constituency within the party, marched down to Abuja for a showdown with the ‘bloody civilians’. Now, this is not the place to go into much detail about what happened at the party convention in Abuja, but suffice to say that the rancour between the principal characters was further calcified at Abuja, despite the pretend smiling faces and backslapping that followed the choice of the ‘continuity team’ of Obasanjo and Atiku. Not surprisingly, once he’d been returned as president for a second term, Obasanjo was now fully invested in teaching the political upstarts led by Atiku a lesson in bitter politics.
In the meantime, shortly after the PDP Convention, a young man in the police was coming to national prominence. Nuhu Ribadu, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, had just been appointed as the Chairman of the newly-formed Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Ribadu had also received a career boost under the Abacha dictatorship. He had served as a member of the Failed Banks Tribunal and was police investigator and prosecutor of certain pro-democracy elements at the time; but Ribadu himself would rather want to emphasize that he was the one who brought Major Hamza Al-Mustapha and Salihu Buhari to justice as a police prosecutor. Whatever the truth, his most high profile job in public service was to be appointed the Chairman of EFCC ahead of more senior officers, serving and retired. Kanu Agabi, who was one of Abacha’s appointed consultants at the Failed Bank Tribunal, was now Obasanjo’s Attorney-General and he it was who recommended Ribadu for the job.
As would be recalled, the EFCC was not one of the institutions originally earmarked or proposed to fight corruption at any level when the Fourth Republic was being ushered in. The institution promised and eventually created for this is the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). Indeed, on coming to power, the ICPC bill was one of the first that was passed into law. Of course, there are those who want us to believe that the EFCC became necessary because the ICPC was sleeping on duty, yet what they are not telling us is that Obasanjo himself ensured that the ICPC remained shockingly moribund as he showed quite early that he was going to use it only to fight his political battles. At a time when the political transition was still at its infancy and political alliances still somewhat ideologically solid and compromises hard to come by, Obasanjo hit upon the idea to use the ICPC to destabilize political opponents and change the political topography in his own favour in a bid to achieve a second term and, if possible, hold on to power beyond that. He was acutely aware that his home base, the South-West, didn’t support him electorally and was determined to use the ICPC as a political battering ram to break the ranks of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and Afenifere.
Obasanjo’s idea was, in May 2001, to put on trial Messrs Segun Ojo and Dele Ogedengbe, the then Ondo State Commissioner for Finance and Attorney-General respectively supposedly for the Adebayo Adefarati government’s purchase of some property in Lagos. Ogedengbe absconded, but by the time the case was being thrown out in 2004, Obasanjo had already got what he wanted, which was the factionalization of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and Afenifere and the capture of the South-West (except Lagos) for the PDP. What the judgment of the Akure High Court revealed was that the ICPC was not even serious about prosecuting the matter! They could not establish a prima facie case, because Obasanjo’s intention was not to try them for corruption, but to use the ICPC as a political tool.
The nation once again witnessed this charade with the purported trial of the politicians and others indicted for fraud over the national identity card project. The trial of Sunday Afolabi, Hussaini Akwanga and Mohammed Shata - all former ministers in Obasanjo’s government – and Okwesilieze Nwodo, a former National Secretary of Obasanjo’s PDP, Turi Akerele, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Mr Niyi Adelagun, SAGEM S.A. representative in Nigeria ended as deceitfully as it started. Then, there was also the attempt to use the ICPC against a former Senate President, Pius Anyim and a former Speaker of the House of Representatives Ghali Umar Na’Abba (who were resisting Obasanjo’s dictatorial tendencies and his disrespect for the principles of separation of powers) which led to the National Assembly at the time having a face-off with him over it, especially as Obasanjo’s own corrupt credentials were established over and over with the various Ghana-Must-Go antics culminating in the dramatic display of bribe money on the floor of the National Assembly.
Indeed, if anyone had any doubts that Obasanjo was not handicapped in using the ICPC in a positive way, the Supreme Court in 2002 (in the case brought by the Attorney-General of Ondo State challenging the validity of the Act) put to rest those doubts when it declared that the Federal Government has the power to enforce the ICPC legislation nationwide. Clearly, the judgment gave a much-needed fillip and legitimacy to the ICPC to the extent that if the Obasanjo government was serious about fighting corruption, it should have used the momentum effectively. Instead, after all the legalities had been settled, when there was no longer any legal or obvious impediment to the law or Federal Government’s power, Obasanjo in several instances over several issues continued to show that he was unwilling to let the ICPC do the work for which it was originally established.
Of course, there was no surprise, considering that the scheming Obasanjo had ensured that the ICPC is no more than a relegated arm of the Ministry of Justice. He did this by the singular instrument of Section 26 (2) of the ICPC Act 2000, which states: “Prosecution for an offence under this Act shall be initiated by the Attorney-General of the Federation, or any person or authority to who he shall delegate his authority, in any superior court of record so designated by the Chief Judge of a State or the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja under section 60(3) of this Act; and every prosecution for an offence under this Act or any other law prohibiting bribery, corruption, fraud or any other related offence shall be deemed to be initiated by the Attorney-General of the Federation”. In other words, all that time, effort, manpower and national resources are being wasted on a body that has no power to prosecute even a fly! Needless to say, even its funding is dependent solely on the good graces of the president! Thus, frankly, there is no doubt that the EFCC was not established because the ICPC failed since ICPC’s failure was contrived by Obasanjo himself from day one.
The impetus for the EFCC came from abroad. The background to this dated back to the Abacha era. At a time Nigeria became notorious for advance-fee fraud, the West tried to prevail on Abacha to deal with this from source. But they didn’t get the needed cooperation from him as The Goggled One declared war on everybody, every nation and every institution that he considered to have made Nigeria a pariah nation due to his style of governance. As a result of Abacha’s intransigence, the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering blacklisted Nigeria and declared it one of 23 countries refusing to cooperate with the international community on the issue of money laundering (Non-Cooperative Countries and Territories – NCCTs). This was the situation when Obasanjo came; but in the midst of hurray that greeted the return to democratic rule and the attendant international goodwill, the issue was not raised in the first couple of years of Obasanjo’s presidency. However, with 9/11, the whole dimension changed as being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force became equivalent to being declared a rogue state or a terrorist financial haven, a status that automatically attracted more severe sanctions. The United States, United Kingdom and the European Union began to put pressure on Obasanjo and he caved in with the hurried establishment of the EFCC with the aim of fighting not only advance-fee fraud (419), but also banking fraud, money laundering and other related crimes that provide channels for laundering putative terrorist money.
Typically, Obasanjo’s establishment of the EFCC broke all the rules of government protocol. He did not consult with the National Assembly. He simply got his Attorney-General Kanu Agabi to draft the establishing legislation and the latter went ahead to recruit a young, starry-eyed police officer for the Chairmanship of the body ahead of more senior persons serving and retired. Obasanjo then got his favourite minister, Nasir el-Rufai to fund the Commission before he took the establishing legislation to the National Assembly to rubberstamp. It didn’t matter to the honourable members that Obasanjo and Agabi had cooked up a legislation that gave both of them unlimited powers over such an important agency of state. Of course, at the time, the politicians didn’t know that it was going to be used later, even though illegally, to harass them as the law establishing and governing the operation of the EFCC makes clear that it was not and still is not designed to fight political corruption. Indeed, the legal framework purportedly putting it in the forefront of that fight is wrong. That is why we see that politicians are being charged wrongly under the Money Laundering Act. Again, all this was the manipulating Obasanjo at work as our National Assembly went to sleep.
In any case, Obasanjo diverted every other anti-corruption effort to this new agency and with his international friends gave it the highest visibility internationally. The government pushed its young Chairman forward in every forum and ensured that it was seen as successful at home. Unlike the ICPC Act, the EFCC Act creates a legal unit with full prosecutorial powers. Even though Kanu Agabi ensured that between Sections 3(2) and 43 of the EFCC Act, he and his boss had the whole organization stuffed into their back pocket, the point is they deliberately created one that unlike the ICPC could bite. The reasons were clear - the government was desperate to score political capital abroad to remove Nigeria’s name on the blacklist, because being on that list affects a whole lot of things Nigeria could do internationally and it also wanted to gain political capital at home with the 2003 elections a few weeks away.
With such target-chasing packaging, it was no surprise that Ribadu made his mark with the task he was actually legally equipped for which is fighting 419 and related crimes. That was how he garnered his reputation nationally and internationally. Even as people like Rep Maurice Ibekwe were illegally dying in detention and Ribadu was frequently committing terrible booboos with the law and his understanding of civil liberties and fundamental rights, people still gave him benefit of doubt nationally and internationally because of the inroad he and EFCC were making in checkmating the 419 crimes.
However, once it was clear that Nigeria was going to be removed from the blacklist by the FATF because of Ribadu’s work, Obasanjo surreptitiously recalibrated Ribadu and the EFCC to pursue his own political agenda. The combination of Ribadu’s popularity and credibility up to that point and the clear impatience of Nigerians to rein in political corruption made it possible for Obasanjo to manipulate things. He simply turned EFCC into his own private army and began to also use it to fight his political battles against his perceived enemies, those he felt threatened his position or those who wouldn’t do his bidding. At that moment, the mission of the organization and its Chairman had become compromised. We saw this tendency in how the EFCC was used politically in Bayelsa, Adamawa, Plateau, Ekiti and Taraba. We saw how it was used against Otunba Oyewole Fasawe in Obasanjo’s fight with Atiku and we also saw how it was used to harass Mike Adenuga and Muhammed Babangida in a bid to send a message to the still politically ambitious Ibrahim Babangida that there was no vacancy in Aso Rock as the Ota tin-god pursued his Third Term agenda. We saw how Obasanjo used it openly to threaten Olusegun Mimiko for daring to challenge his anointed candidate Olusegun Agagu and how he used it to intimidate Lanre Tejuosho into backing down from his challenge of Iyabo Obasanjo for a Senate seat.
Indeed, EFCC’s political misadventure culminated in two defining developments with regard to the future of political leadership in the country. First is the release of a prejudicial media list of supposedly corrupt people before the election of 2007 and the second was Ribadu playing a pivotal role in bringing Umaru Yar’Adua to power once his political godfather, Obasanjo had anointed him as his successor after the failed Third Term bid. He and Nasir el-Rufai did not only do this openly by campaigning for Umaru Yar’Adua in well-choreographed set-piece media outings, but as Nasir el-Rufai himself inadvertently confessed to, Ribadu actually removed Yar’Adua’s name from the EFCC purported list of corrupt persons and proceeded to launder his image as a corrupt-free politician in order to get him to Aso Rock. Ribadu also used the Commission to scare off anyone, including Peter Odili and Victor Attah, who were taking themselves seriously as potential successors to Obasanjo.
Of course, Ribadu is always quick to point out that he arrested Ibori and put him on trial; but what he is not saying is that he did it very late in the day. He possibly cannot raise the excuse that Ibori had constitutional immunity while he was governor, because he had showed in other instances that he had no respect for such immunity, especially where Obasanjo’s political interest is at stake. In fact, there was overwhelming evidence against Ibori years before he was arrested. The reason Ribadu couldn’t move against him was because Ibori was a cunning player within the establishment and was always alert to what Obasanjo and his minions were up to. For instance, when it became obvious that Obasanjo was going to use the EFCC to vindictively move against Alamieyeseigha, who had become very vocal against his attempt to perpetuate himself, but who, like his Delta State counterpart, was evidently one of the more extremely corrupt governors at the time, Ibori quickly went to beg the Oracle of Ota and Ribadu himself reportedly mentioned this to Alamieyeseigha shortly before he was set up to be arrested in London.
To survive the treacherous political terrain, Ibori mastered the art of massaging Obasanjo’s ego when he had to while fighting him on the ground politically when he considers it necessary and, at times, through proxies. For instance, when Obasanjo began his campaign to seize the PDP machineries from the South-South governors who were giving him trouble, he succeeded in Bayelsa by using the EFCC against Alamieyeseigha, removing him and installing Jonathan Goodluck; but he couldn’t succeed in Delta because his hope of using the Ibori conviction saga was checkmated by the equally corrupt Ibori who bought everybody buyable to get a kangaroo judicial reprieve. When Obasanjo attempted using money and Ahmadu Ali to do the job, Ibori matched him naira for naira, Ghana-Must-Go for Ghana-Must-Go and in the end, Obasanjo’s frontman, Godswill Obielum was totally outmanoeuvred even with his massive bag of gold. As for Ahmadu Ali, after promising him that his wife Mariam Ali would be taking the Delta North Senate seat, Ibori pulled the rug from under his feet at the last minute. Yet, when Ibori finally succeeded in manoeuvring his cousin, Emmanuel Uduaghan into position as the PDP flag-bearer for the governorship race in Delta State, the first place he took him to was Aso Rock for Obasanjo’s blessing and to pledge his loyalty to the man!
One other thing that defined Obasanjo’s distrust of Ibori was the Resource Control issue. Though the agitation was a general South-South affair, from very early Obasanjo began to see Ibori as the strongest political face of it. Though Obasanjo had his political doubts about the principles of the agitation itself, his main worry was security. He believed that the agitation was empowering the militants in the creeks and security reports at the time copiously suggested that some of the key militants had links to government houses in the South-South. Ibori and Alamieyeseigha were high on Obasanjo suspicion list. He felt they were using this as an alternative power base and as an instrument of blackmail against the Federal Government. Senator Fred Brume representing Delta Central was Obasanjo’s man to undercut Ibori’s influence in this regard; but the Ibori machine quickly alienated him from Delta politics and ensured that he was not re-elected in 2003 by sponsoring another political heavyweight, Felix Ibru, the former Delta State governor against him.
Obasanjo’s response to Ibori was to play ‘presidential politics’ in the South-South. Pursuant to his design to clip Ibori’s wings, Obasanjo separately gave indication to Peter Odili, Victor Attah and Donald Duke, the other governors in the region, that they were in a position to succeed him. Indeed, as part of the quid pro quo of the Resource Control agitation, he had promised them that he’d make sure they produce the president after him since they produce most of the nation’s wealth and have never produced a president or head of state throughout Nigeria’s history. He said it was a matter of justice and fairness and that he was going to back them all the way. Meanwhile, at the same time, he was using his actions in fighting Ibori to show each of them that anyone of them that is not loyal to him wouldn’t be put in a position to succeed him.
Indeed, Odili took his promise seriously and actually campaigned nationally, spending huge amount of money to pursue this dream, organizing highbrow campaign outings in five-star hotels and garnering countless chieftaincy titles as he went along. Yet, it was such spending that became the linchpin of Ribadu’s case against him when it was time to wheel out Yar’Adua, who was Obasanjo’s real choice all along, especially as it became clear that the Third Term agenda wouldn’t fly. During the same period, Ibori through his friends in the security and intelligence services got wind of Obasanjo’s grand plan to disgrace him at the South-South PDP convention in Port Harcourt where Obasanjo declared that Rotimi Amaechi’s governorship bid had “K-leg”. While Ibori craftily avoided the gathering, his influence was there in the form of secret support for Amaechi’s bid against Celestine Omehia who was Odili and Obasanjo’s choice.
Ibori’s huge gamble against Obasanjo was in the decisions he took after it became clear that Obasanjo had chosen Yar’Adua as successor. While the old man was busy congratulating himself and campaigning for his handpicked successor on the pages of newspapers and on the airwaves, Ibori put his machinery to work on the ground. On one hand, Ibori began by exploiting the seething disgruntlement amongst the ranks of the cowed PDP governors and power-brokers who felt Yar’Adua was the wrong choice and, on the other hand, he appointed himself as the bridge for reconciliation between them and Yar’Adua. Once Yar’Adua bought into this agenda of Ibori being a key supporter, the latter began to work on a formula to wean Yar’Adua off Obasanjo as much as possible.
Sources said he went to Yar’Adua and began praising Obasanjo for having the foresight to choose the best amongst the governors to lead the nation - a graduate to lead the country for the first time, a fair-minded person, and, at last, a true civilian who would pursue the rule of law as opposed to the rule of force that former rulers have instituted. He told Yar’Adua that they all love and respect Obasanjo and would protect his legacy, because without him Nigeria would not be one today. But he then inserted a little pin in the Obasanjo balloon he was inflating. He pointed out to Yar’Adua that he must be aware, like every one of them, that Baba is an overbearing man who likes to control everything, though, most times, for the good of all. He asked Yar’Adua if he was prepared to live under Baba’s shadow as president or if he’d want to be his own man. The answer, he told him, was in funding his own campaign. He pointed out to Yar’Adua that if he allowed Obasanjo and his favourite people to fund his campaign, he may not have the free hand to take some tough decisions that he inevitably would need to take when the time comes. When Yar’Adua wondered where the funds for such a massive undertaking was going to come from, Ibori provided the ready answer. He deployed his corporate posse immediately for Yar’Adua’s use, charmed Turai Yar’Adua to his side, while he made himself the unofficial Chief of Staff to Yar’Adua during the campaign. Yar’Adua was waking, eating and sleeping with Ibori within earshot. It was not surprising to see Ibori follow him to Germany for medical treatment when he collapsed during the campaign. Once again, Ibori outflanked Obasanjo.
At this juncture, it is important to make some analyses of what happened within this period as they relate to the activities of the EFCC and Ribadu’s role at the time. Some elements of these analyses (though very few) are necessarily based on conjectures, because where propaganda reigns, truth usually is the first casualty. Nonetheless, intelligent conjectures can be made from facts available and discerning political observers can actually connect the dots and come out with a clearer picture - even if not the whole truth, something closer to it. This is because political actions are always driven by motive – good or bad, altruistic or self-serving, patriotic or treacherous. Thus, Ibori can say anything he likes to project innocence and Ribadu can swear a zillion times that he was not the instrument of Obasanjo’s political vendetta; but when all is said and done, a patient and honest dissection of events of the time will reveal that the fight against corruption was less so. The real fight was and still is one for control of the post-Obasanjo political machinery of state. In Nigeria, the vile system holds a president prisoner to power caucuses who fight amongst themselves to have greater share and control of state resources through prebendal relations that connect a vast network of bloodsuckers and nation-destroyers from the national to the ward level. In such a system, the battle for the ear of the man at the top becomes one of life and death.
Naturally, it is to be expected that during the dying days of the Obasanjo administration and the inception of the Yar’Adua presidency, political forces would align and realign in line with their expectations under the incoming dispensation. People like Nasir el-Rufai and Ribadu had a lot of hope in the continued potency of Obasanjo’s power within the system even after office. After all, Obasanjo had stage-managed a change of the PDP constitution declaring him as leader once out of office. As Richard Dowden, Director, Royal African Society put it in the Time Magazine of April 11, 2007: “Obasanjo makes no secret of his plans to retain power in a different guise. He has become chairman of the board of trustees of the PDP, and from that position he could control nominations for government positions and even policy and strategy”. Mr Dowden even quoted a Western diplomat who said Obasanjo "intends to sit in the passenger seat giving advice and ready to grab the wheel if Nigeria goes off course." It was therefore obvious that Obasanjo and his supporters within the establishment still believed the hype at the time that he is the “Father of Modern Nigeria”. They believed his force of personality and wide contacts gained in almost 12 years of ruling the nation in a period spanning over three decades would make him the most powerful party man even outside government, especially as he had beaten off challenges from people like Orji Kalu to get the freehand to solely choose who would be his successor (and the successor’s running mate), having failed in his Third Term bid. Indeed, the ease with which he beat off the challenge of the formidable Tony Anenih for the position of Chairman, PDP Board of Trustees only added to the myth of his transcendental power.
Though, Nasir el-Rufai and some of today’s disgruntled folks would say they have known Yar’Adua for donkey years, the truth of the matter is that their support for Yar’Adua was based not on the fact that they were capable of truly vouching for him as they mouthed in pre-election interviews nor on any notion that they were privy to some brilliant ideas the man is capable of implementing as leader. It certainly wasn’t because Yar’Adua deceived them as to what he is capable of as Nasir el-Rufai would want us believe, because any averagely keen follower of Nigerian politics can see that Yar’Adua has nothing to offer. His much-touted wholesome non-corrupt image is a fabrication, his supposed achievements as governor in Katsina is exceedingly overstated, his speeches are particularly uninspiring and his mystery illness played out on national television only adds to a sense of continued diminution of authority.
Therefore, people like Nasir el-Rufai and Ribadu didn’t look up to him as a person with the belief, even if slightly, that he is the answer to our national yearning for good leadership. They supported him solely to serve their own self-interest and that of their boss, Obasanjo. They supported him only because he was Obasanjo’s choice and they had thought he would be the perfect Obasanjo puppet. Nasir el-Rufai and Ribadu had thought that people like them, being the apples of Obasanjo’s eyes, would not only keep their influence within a Yar’Adua government, but that they would grow it even more as the seemingly vegetable president would depend on them even more. So, when they seemingly took it upon themselves to go in tandem to sell Umaru Yar’Adua to Nigerians, even as their godfather campaigned ceaselessly for him all over the place, it was actually part of a well-orchestrated plan to re-emphasise that they were still in the driving seat, whether Baba sits in Aso Rock or Ota.
For Ribadu, what all this meant was that he would still be the EFCC helmsman and that he would still take orders from Obasanjo without feeling any challenge, because the Yar’Adua arrangement is simply to serve Obasanjo’s interest. After all, Yar’Adua had been made to understand that Baba was only doing him a favour as a family friend – a favour to repay the loyalty of his senior brother, Major-General Shehu Yar’Adua. Ribadu had played his own role by removing Yar’Adua’s name from the corrupt list; so, it was never in doubt in the minds of Obasanjo’s supporters that Umaru Yar’Adua knew that he was not the best qualified for the position. He was only put there to do Baba’s bidding and having agreed to do Baba’s bidding, Baba’s favourite boys airbrushed him for reintroduction to the unwary Nigerian and international publics. But just as the Obasanjo boys were about to pop the Champagne to celebrate the fact that they had encountered no opposition in shaping the incoming Yar’Adua presidency, out popped Ibori like a Jack-in-the-box!
One source said Ibori played the vintage cool guy, assuring Baba and his boys that he wasn’t there to spoil the show. He said he was there to do his bit to help Baba achieve his objective of putting Yar’Adua in Aso Rock, considering the stiff opposition they were facing from the courts (with Atiku’s strings of legal victories), the very cynical public and the harrumphing international community. Ibori was said to have pointed out that it was crucial that the Obasanjo project of installing Yar’Adua succeeds by whatever means necessary considering the disgrace that emanated from the failed Third Term bid which he purportedly supported. He warned that if Yar’Adua loses, it would not be Obasanjo’s loss, but PDP’s. He said while the PDP burns, none of them, not even Obasanjo, would be sure what fate would befall them. He told them of the silent rumblings within the PDP governors’ circle, but assured them he would swiftly act to get everyone on board the Yar’Adua train in support of ‘Baba’s Project’.
But, no matter how it happened that Ibori came into the picture, for Yar’Adua, his coming was godsend. According to persons close to the events at the time, Yar’Adua had spent the preceding weeks suffocating under the weight of the overbearing Obasanjo and his vain boys. They had dragged him out kicking and screaming from his provincial Katsina, installed him in Abuja, planned his diary, told him who to see and who not to see, what to say and what not to say and virtually made him feel like a prisoner. He couldn’t even properly manage his health condition to the extent that one aide said he once wondered aloud if they’d brought him to Abuja to finish him off, just as they took his brother to Abakaliki to kill him. Thus, Ibori coming in with other ideas about the campaign logistics, including organising the campaign flights and providing the planes, ‘oiling’ the party machinery and generally flushing the place with cash and foot soldiers, prominent amongst whom were David Edevbie and Mike Oghiadomhe, helped immensely in relieving Yar’Adua and his wife, Turai.
Obasanjo was said to have become apoplectic with rage at the way and manner Ibori suddenly took over his project. He grew madder when he learnt that several key party men and women supposedly loyal to him were beginning to see Ibori to help them with access to Yar’Adua. Obasanjo was said to have tried to handle this via a direct confrontation with Ibori, questioning his true motive and accusing him of secretly working for his friend, Atiku. Ibori was said to have responded with the same bland answer he’d given all along, which was that he’s only in it to ensure that the PDP candidate wins the election. Of course, Obasanjo didn’t believe him; but there was nothing he could do before the election. Ibori meanwhile was busy staffing the Yar’Adua campaign with trusted aides and making money and resources available for Yar’Adua’s use paradoxically under the guise of providing him independence.
After the election, as Ibori’s influence continued to grow within the Yar’Adua circle, Obasanjo and his boys began to pinpoint him, not Tony Anenih, as the leader of the anti-Obasanjo elements within the party and the main threat to their well-laid plan to rule from behind the scenes via Baba’s influence over Yar’Adua and the PDP. Though Obasanjo perfected his plan to strike Ibori with Ribadu’s EFCC early, he could not activate this immediately for three main reasons. The first was that the extent of Ibori’s influence on Yar’Adua needed to first be ascertained to a credible extent and actions taken to cut it out. Attempt by the Obasanjo people to get Major-General Mohammed Abdullahi, who served as Obasanjo’s Chief of Staff and who was at the time serving Yar’Adua in that capacity to join the plot met with a firm no. In fact, General Abdullahi shocked them by saying he was leaving his post in a few weeks! This sent more panic around Obasanjo’s camp as it became obvious that Ibori would now be advantageously positioned to put his people into Aso Rock as key staffers.
The second reason was that Ibori is genuinely popular amongst the party power brokers as well as a vast section of the base as he is known as “the gift that keeps on giving”. His candidate, Vincent Ogbulafor was going to be a shoe-in for the Chairmanship of the party against Obasanjo’s candidate, Sam Egwu and he had also taken it upon himself to rehabilitate Tony Anenih after the latter got bullied out of the position of Chairman, PDP Board of Trustees by Obasanjo. Indeed, Ibori began to organize and sponsor party events that had Anenih as the face of the party as opposed to Obasanjo, alternately projecting him as the leader of the South-South, including having him preside over his welcome party at Oghara after he handed over to his cousin as governor in Asaba.
As a corollary to the above, the third reason Obasanjo couldn’t immediately move against Ibori was that there was still a substantial number of ex-PDP governors who were powerful enough to collectively turn the tables within the party and the presidency against the Obasanjo crowd once he makes any move against Ibori. They wouldn’t necessarily do this because of support for Ibori, but basically as a self-protection measure considering how much the EFCC had been used as a threat against them in the past in a bid to get them to do Obasanjo’s bidding.
But for Obasanjo, time was of the essence. He knew he couldn’t wait forever, because the more he waited, the more Ibori’s power base would grow. Thus, less than two months after the inauguration of the Yar’Adua government, the decision was taken by the Obasanjo camp to strike using Ribadu and the EFCC. The plan was to first arrest, detain and arraign a number of ex-governors who had been mostly loyal to Atiku, including one loyal to Obasanjo in order to give the impression that it wasn’t all directed against the ex-president’s enemies. This move was expected to give these governors enough on their own plates to worry about and remove them from circulation when eventually they move for Ibori. This was the idea behind the EFCC move for Orji Kalu, Saminu Turaki, Boni Haruna, Joshua Dariye, Buka Abba Ibrahim, George Akume, Rev Jolly Nyame – all Atiku supporters and Chimaroke Nnamani, an Obasanjo loyalist. What was distinctly clear immediately was that Yar’Adua was not informed neither did he know of EFCC’s intention beforehand. While Ribadu insisted that he acted independently, sources within the presidency were convinced that he could only have acted with Obasanjo’s instigation or approval.
The dilemma for the presidency was now how to react. If they denounced it, it would give ammunition to the administration’s opponents who would readily read into this an attempt to hobble the EFCC at a time they were doing exactly what Ribadu said they would do, which is arrest and arraign these ex-governors after office when they no longer have immunity. If the presidency supports this, it would confirm that Ribadu was now either a law unto himself or was only answerable to Ota, not Aso Rock. The danger was you never know where it would lead him. The presidency saw this as blackmail, but made a choice of what it considered the lesser of two evils. Yar’Adua and his handlers came out to publicly support the EFCC and the governors’ arrests, but insisted that from then on everything should be handled under the rule of law in line with the administration’s new mantra. After an initial hitch, Ribadu and the AG were made to publicly proclaim that they were working from the same page on the cases; but, of course, that lie couldn’t be sustained for long as events proved later.
In the meantime, having cleared the obstacle on the way for Ibori’s arrest and arraignment, another problem was what to charge him with. Of course, Ibori was and still is as corrupt as sin, but under Obasanjo, he had been a sacred cow, despite his occasional face-off with the man. Ribadu very much understood this relationship and had done everything to protect Ibori until it was now clear that he had to be taken out in this new scheme. In fact, when on September 27 2006 Ribadu appeared before the Senate to make that declaration that 31 state governors had been linked to corruption, he actually did not say anything negative about Ibori, except to inform the Senate that he and 13 Local Government Chairmen were being investigated.
Without a doubt, at this point of the intra-establishment battle over control of Aso Rock and the PDP, Ibori had clearly become the most high profile of the ex-governors. However, while the public was beginning to worry about the new role he was beginning to play in the new dispensation, they also know from experience that the EFCC could be used as a weapon by one group against the other for control of the party and the government under the guise of fighting anti-corruption. Obasanjo therefore needed something extra, something from the outside to give the Ibori charge authenticity. He hit upon the ‘Alamieyeseigha formula’, which is to get Ribadu and the EFCC to covertly take information about Ibori and his associates to the Metropolitan Police in London and to get the Metropolitan Police to deal with Aso Rock and the Attorney-General under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, while the EFCC would only be seen as helping the Metropolitan Police in the investigation of crime. This way, Ibori would have nowhere to hide as his corruption would be internationalised and all the information put out publicly via the Metropolitan Police and the UK courts can then be repackaged by the EFCC as a basis to arrest and charge him in Nigeria. The irony of this was that the British authorities had actually began investigating Ibori since early 2005, but they never got enough cooperation from the EFCC and Bayo Ojo (Obasanjo’s Attorney-General at the time) until now that Obasanjo found it politically useful to crank things up.
Obviously, at this stage, Aso Rock had cottoned on to the game being played by Ribadu and the EFCC. Michael Aondoakaa’s initial response was to attempt to seize EFCC’s prosecutorial powers. He and Ribadu bickered over this for months as the Metropolitan police began to make demands on the Ibori case from his office as expected. Yet, just as the Obasanjo people had projected, the revelations about Ibori’s evidently stolen wealth in British courts were sending shockwaves around the nation. On August 2 2007, the Southwark Crown Court ordered the freezing of $35 million of Ibori’s assets pre-trial under the provisions of United Kingdom’s Proceeds of Crime Act (2002). And this is just what is known to be held in his name, not the money or assets held for him by dubious proxies or numerous fronts! In other words, the Restraint Order applies only to his realisable property, which is property not jointly held with another or others and/or not directly the subject of an existing Court Order.
On August 7, 2007 Aondoakaa wrote a letter to Ibori’s lawyers in the UK, Speechly Bircham in which he denied that there was any request for a freezing order against Ibori pursuant to the exercise of his power under Article 3 of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty because the former governor was only being investigated and not charged or on trial. This was of course true; but observers quickly read into it an attempt to protect Ibori as the letter was supposedly used to aid Ibori when the court considered it in unfreezing his assets on October 1, 2007 (even though the assets were refrozen later on October 9, 2007). It didn’t help Aondoakaa’s case that he initially denied writing any such letter.
With such bad press, with the Metropolitan Police on his back and with Aondoakaa and Aso Rock on the defensive, the Obasanjo section of the ruling establishment felt Ibori was now ripe for the plucking. On Wednesday, 12 December 2007, EFCC operatives moved and arrested Ibori in Abuja. What gave the Obasanjo angle away is the fact that President Umaru Yar’Adua was away in the United States when the arrest was carried out and the unconvincing attempt to also go after Iyabo Obasanjo at exactly the same time was evidently an attempt to camouflage Obasanjo’s role. Hitherto, Ribadu had fobbed off questions regarding the N3.5 billion contract row involving Iyabo Obasanjo and M. Schneider, an Austrian company and another N27 billion contract awarded to Vamed Engineering Ltd for the supposed refurbishment of 17 teaching hospitals involving her and one Albert Awofisayo. But suddenly, just a few days after arresting Ibori, he was now supposedly investigating Iyabo Obasanjo as well. The game, as far as any discerning person could see, was to create the impression that the arrest of Ibori and the other ex-governors had no political undertones or selective impulses. From all indications, Ribadu was trying too hard to prove that he was not doing Obasanjo’s bidding. The reasoning was that if he was, he wouldn’t be expected to go after the ex-president’s daughter. At any rate, the shenanigans that followed the so-called Iyabo investigation testify enough to the fact that Ribadu and his EFCC at the time were not sincere in pursuing her.
After Ibori’s arrest, Aso Rock knew it had a big headache. Ribadu and Obasanjo had rightly calculated that Yar’Adua wouldn’t dare criticize the work of EFCC or claim ignorance of the arrest or say he doesn’t support it while he was in the United States, which was why Ibori’s arrest was quickly carried out while he was there. Again, Aso Rock gritted its teeth and declared support for what Ribadu had done along the same lines as before. Meanwhile, from EFCC custody, Ibori had been remanded in Kaduna prison. His first visitor was Tony Anenih and over the next two months while he was held there and being wrongfully denied bail, he held court with the great and the good trooping in daily to see him. Meanwhile, his minions were up and about eating at Yar’Adua’s ears and scouring for something to keep Obasanjo busy. With regard to the latter, they came up with the House of Representatives Power Probe which basically was to embarrass Obasanjo and give him something to worry about as well.
Leading the pro-Ibori charge in Aso rock were Michael Aondoakaa, the Attorney-General and Turai Yar’Adua. Ibori’s support for Vincent Ogbulafor and Tony Anenih in the new power struggle that beset the PDP as Obasanjo left office ensured that Yar’Adua felt more pro-Ibori pressure from the national party sector and further cemented Ibori’s growing reputation as a powerful force within the party that Yar’Adua needs to keep close. Indeed, sources confirmed that it was Yar’Adua’s personal intervention that eventually saw him granted bail. He came out of detention stronger and effectively became Yar’Adua’s Mr Fix It. From then on, Ribadu’s days at EFCC were numbered. For Yar’Adua, the danger was clear. The suspicion that Ribadu was taking orders from Ota meant he could one day take on Aso Rock on the orders of his master while presenting this to the public as taking the anti-corruption fight to the very top. The fear was real that Ribadu and the EFCC could be used by the Obasanjo group to carry out a ‘democratic coup’, once they begin to feel that Yar’Adua was no longer acting according to their script. Yar’Adua knew he needed to act fast, but he knew also that he couldn’t sack Ribadu outright or directly, not only because Obasanjo would see this as a direct affront, but the public would read into it an attempt to protect the corrupt people that Ribadu was now going after. It was decided that Ribadu would be sent to the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPPS) in Kuru on a course and that the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mike Okiro would be used to make the announcement in order to present it as a strictly police service affair.
The Kuru gambit was perfect because Ribadu himself had looked forward to going for the course as part of his ambition to be Inspector-General of Police (as the qualification is a prerequisite); but he had thought he would be going there still as EFCC Chairman. While the decision was taken to send him on the course, it was also agreed that nothing directly would be said about his status with the EFCC, except to appoint an Acting Chairman in Ibrahim Larmode. The Larmode appointment was deliberately to send mixed signals to Ribadu. On one hand, he was expected to see it as a confirmation of the fact that he, Ribadu was still the substantive Chairman (since Lamorde, the EFCC Director of Operations is known to be close to him and could therefore be seen as only holding forth or ‘acting’ for him until he completes his course at Kuru) and on the other hand, a lack of some definitive statement about his own status from Aso Rock and the use of the police high command to make public statements about his position were meant to create doubts inside him. His immediate attempt to see Yar’Adua to clarify the position was effectively frustrated by Aso Rock operatives and though Olusegun Adeniyi, the presidential spokesperson was later to come out to say Ribadu remains EFCC Chairman, it was stated as part of a strong criticism of what they considered to be Ribadu’s attempt to stigmatize Aso Rock in the media in the immediate aftermath of the announcement that he should proceed to Kuru. Once they’ve sent him to Kuru, away from the EFCC seat, they then left him to be picked off by the police hierarchy which reversed his evidently irregular promotion from Assistant Inspector-General of Police to a Deputy Commissioner of Police and then posted him off to Benin! And with Ribadu rejecting this and resorting to legal action, it was clear that his return to the EFCC was foreclosed.
Ribadu may not want to admit it, but his biggest shock throughout his travails is the fact that Obasanjo did not raise a finger to help him nor did he make any public statement supporting him. Though his old mentor, Kanu Agabi did write Yar’Adua urging him not to sack Ribadu, but the letter was as poorly conceived as it was obsequious. In any case, it definitely didn’t have the same effect as an Obasanjo public intervention would have had. Also, when the second Yar’Adua ministerial list came out and Nasir el-Rufai did not get nominated as Energy Minister as he Ribadu had predicted, he must have felt shocked as well. And he and Nasir el-Rufai must have felt more so when Obasanjo their godfather didn’t move a bone.
Clearly, even working so long with Obasanjo has not initiated them into the very mean side of the man which dictated that he can use and dump anyone anytime without blinking. Ribadu and Nasir el-Rufai in their blind service to the old man failed to count the bodies that littered the way. Even up till now, listening to them, especially Nasir el-Rufai railing against Yar’Adua, you get the feeling that they still nurse the hope that the Obasanjo section of the establishment will soon return to power and they would go back home, as heroes, triumphant! What they don’t know is that Obasanjo has since secretly made up with his PDP friends and that they have been hung out to dry with his full support.
In fact, when we analyse what we may consider to be Ribadu’s fundamental failings while at the EFCC, we can classify them as those that relate to his personalization of the office of the Chairman of the EFCC (which negatively affected the effort to institutionalize the EFCC and some of his own otherwise positive legacies) and those that relate to his perception of Obasanjo as the moral symbol of his responsibility as an anti-corruption fighter. Perhaps, one thing that added to the latter handicap is his perception as a policeman used to receiving orders. He possibly felt he had no choice but to obey every order from Obasanjo even if it evidently goes against the principles of anti-corruption or conceived purely as a political vendetta. Whether we consider this naivety or convenient blindness, the fact remains that it diminished Ribadu’s own moral and legal standing.
Indeed, it is painful watching him still try to sell Obasanjo as a true standard-bearer of the anti-corruption effort despite all we have seen and all we know about the man now. For instance, when asked recently whether he would do anything differently or what he had learnt since leaving office, Ribadu said he would not personally do anything differently (which again must strike any discerning observer as vain and dishonest), but then claimed that he now realises that the man at the very top must sincerely support the fight against corruption and give those he has appointed to the job a free hand for it to be successful. If only he had ended it there, but no. He added that Obasanjo was sincere and gave him and his team a free hand, which is why they were successful.
Obviously, the above perception reveals the core reason for the failure of the institutionalization of the anti-corruption effort, because at its conception at the highest level of enforcement, it is personal. It is made dependent on the whims and caprices of the president, rather than the dictates of the laws and the Constitution of the land. Even when the Ken Nnamani Senate belatedly began to have a second look at the EFCC Act with a view to making it much more independent of the presidency and the Attorney-General, Ribadu gave them no encouragement, because he believed in a man! Instead of using the opportunity to let the lawmakers know that they needed to insulate the EFCC from political pressures by striking a blow for its independence through appointments, removal from office, funding and even bringing in civil society groups and professional organizations to play oversight roles, Ribadu was looking at the man, rather than the law. He was looking at his own relationship with Obasanjo, rather than the relationship of both of them to the laws of Nigeria.
Undoubtedly, Obasanjo could not have used the EFCC the way he did if the organization had been properly institutionalized. He made sure it wasn’t by giving so much power to Ribadu and the latter in turn began to look up to him as a father figure and benefactor he has to protect at all cost. He became Obasanjo’s Man Friday and did everything he asked of him while looking the other way as the old thief, his friends and family stole the nation blind, even as he was sending Ribadu after his political enemies. It was precisely because the kind of work Obasanjo wanted Ribadu to do for him would not have been possible under an institutionalized EFCC, that was why he showered him with illegal promotions and power, encouraged him to personalize the EFCC, refused to set up or inaugurate the civil society oversight group that needed to watch over the EFCC and ICPC, bought over the press under some bogus propaganda of fighting corruption and then even succeeded in deceiving a lot of Nigerians into believing that the fight against corruption was for real!
But, of course, as in most things, it is common sense. If the head of the fish can be as evidently rotten as Obasanjo, how can anyone continue to believe that Ribadu was doing a good job with fighting corruption just because we hear him rail against some people we think are thieves or go after some minions who’d fallen out with Baba or were not his friends? Those who are shouting about Ibori being behind Ribadu’s travail today fail to admit that the same EFCC had looked the other way when he was doing abracadabra with Delta money and when he was chummy with Obasanjo. Of course, as far as he remained in the good books of Obasanjo (after abandoning Atiku), it was fine with Ribadu. But when he began to flex his own muscles by refusing Baba’s imposition of Godswill Obielum as his successor, by fighting with the Oracle of Ota for control of Delta PDP and by even taking it a notch higher by going for control of Aso Rock, Ribadu suddenly sprang to life! Where were the EFCC and Ribadu from 2003 to 2007 when Ibori was stealing with impunity?
Listening to and reading the parties these past few weeks has helped to throw more light on the issues even as both parties are doing their best to hide the truth or manipulate it in their battle to win over Nigerians to their side. For instance, on the $15 million bribe allegation, while I admit that it makes a strong case for truth that Ribadu is able to claim that the money is actually with the Central Bank and the apex bank has somewhat acknowledged this, I find it hard to believe that Ribadu and the operatives involved severally contradicted themselves on how they came about the money. The link to Andy Ubah’s house makes it all the more terrible! If Ribadu actually got this money as bribe and had hoped to use it to prosecute the giver, then it is obvious that the money was not well secured for the purposes it was/is meant as the evidence was not properly collated. And for this to happen when everyone involved were top police officers says a lot. Even up till now, there is nothing, no paper trail, no evidence linking Ibori with the money. It remains Ribadu’s word against his!
Another thing that caught my attention during the exchange was Ibori’s claim that Nuhu Ribadu had wanted the election of Yar’Adua annulled or overturned by the courts. The most disappointing thing there was actually Ribadu denying this! I would have thought that after the ignominious role his friend, Nasir el-Rufai has publicly admitted he played in installing Yar’Adua, culminating in the worst and most morally bankrupt election in our nation’s history, he should be jumping at any opportunity for redemption! The fact that Ribadu could not admit to a change of heart or simply keep silent about the charge is telling, and more telling was the way the denial was couched. Advertently or inadvertently, his denial gave the impression that it is a case of two favourite sons of the Nigerian establishment jostling for the attention of the president and that the Nigerian public actually have no dog in the fight. In other words, Ribadu’s strenuous denial that he called for or worked for the annulment or cancellation of the accursed election that brought Yar’Adua to power only helps to alienate him from the ordinary Nigerian. Indeed, his denial gave the impression that if he were to be called today by these same people to come work with them he would jump at the opportunity without blinking!
Also, listening to Ribadu, you can’t help but notice how petulant he gets when he’s asked about Andy Ubah and why his EFCC never hauled him in for questioning. His responses have varied from accusing the questioner of trivialising the fight against corruption and a claim that Andy Ubah never held a public office in which he was in control of a budget. These are curious responses to say the least. If we were to accept his reasoning, how does he then explain his endless hounding of Otunba Oyewole Fasawe? Of course, this conveniently magisterial selectivity of application is a function of Ribadu’s lack of understanding of the huge limitations of his small success.
Again, at this juncture, I would like to summarise my view on the issue here before concluding this piece. This is because I do not want to be misunderstood as my position on the matter is strictly governed by how I read the subjects’ relationship and how that relationship impacts on the nation. Of course, I’m quite aware that my not-so-pretty profiling of the two gentlemen would rile their unctuous and boney-tongued supporters on both sides. But I honestly believe that anyone who has followed Nigeria’s history closely, especially within the last ten years, anybody who understands where the rain began to beat us, any true patriot who strives to get to the root of things to understand why we are where we are, will not hesitate to acknowledge that the above is the uncomfortable truth. I know Nigerians love the sight of a big man’s dirty linen being washed in public. I know they gobble up stories of scandals thirstily as the parched earth guzzles water; but I also know that it’s all for the gist value, for the second-hand to the zillionth-hand gossipy reproduction. The stories hardly challenge them to ask hard questions or act collectively or decisively to stop the rot. That, they’ll tell you, is the remit of the “activists”, not little-law-abiding-Mr-and-Mrs-So-and-So, merrily committed to their daily grind in the rat race! Yet, they are the first to ordain heroes of any hue! Yeah, they are so starved of heroes that they accept anyone that saunters forward and squeaks just a little louder than the last. And if he fails them, well, he fails them; there’s always the vicious cycle to occupy them and their children and their children’s children!
So, I am not moved by the crowd or the popularity ratings of combatants. I am moved by facts, reason and genuinely patriotic instincts that I can honestly defend anywhere, even at the point of death. As anyone who has taken the pains to read me up to this point can attest, I am saying neither Ibori nor Ribadu is a witness to truth in this affair, none of them are telling us the whole truth about what has gone on between them, but for different reasons.
With regard to Ibori, it is obvious that he is incapable of speaking truth, because like most of the folks that make up the top echelon of political leadership in Nigeria today, lies, corruption, subornation and crookedness are coded into his DNA. Forget what they come out to say in public and the constant deodorization that goes on in the cash-and-carry press, fact is amongst his tribe of nation-looters and generation destroyers, what he is doing is normal. Their idea of leadership is to enrich themselves and their little cliques while pauperising the commonwealth. We don’t need a court to pronounce Ibori’s guilt before we do because he flaunts his loot in front of us and dares us to do our worst. For eight years, Ibori stripped Deltans bare while they shivered in the cold of his greed. We know that even if he is the best business brain or the best money-doubler in the world, he still would need to do far much more to be in a position to genuinely earn what is factually associated with him so far. Really, he should stop deceiving himself by claiming people are after him because of his rising political profile or because they think he wants to go for an elective or public office. People are after him because he’s a heartless thief, irrespective of his political aggro with Ribadu or Obasanjo.
For Ribadu, his inability or momentary unwillingness to tell the whole truth is not as insidious as Ibori’s. It is borne out of a little stubbornness and a little fear - the fear that if he does he would lose his halo as a great anti-corruption fighter. Perhaps he’s right; but he could also be wrong, because, believe it or not, people are more likely to accept you genuinely if you accept your own flaws honestly, especially in matters of public service. I do not think the truth Ribadu hides is one of events or circumstances; it is one of motive. Coming clean about this is easier, especially where the motive of those you are opposed to is evidently worse. Sonala Olumhense captured it well in his essay titled, “A Metaphor Called Nuhu Ribadu” when he opined that the problem is that Nuhu Ribadu “failed to define his own side of the conflict, which was supposed to be the people of Nigeria”, but that instead, “he defined it in terms of the government, alias Obasanjo”. You can either serve one or the other, not both. To do both would require a bifurcated personality, a Jekyll and Hyde composition, a forked tongue and an ability to speak from both sides of the mouth, running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. Not pretty.
While Ribadu was in government, I publicly expressed my misgivings about his motive, style and touted achievements. When I had an opportunity to comment or ask a question from the floor after his speech at the May 29 Nigeria Liberty Forum (NLF) State of the Nation conference in London, I told him as much and on the following day when he appeared as our guest at the Respect Nigerians Coalition (RNC) dinner and reception for the conference delegates, I repeated this as well. My position is based on the fact that I honestly do not believe he did the job as he ought to have done it because the singular indisputable theme encapsulating his actions was that he made himself available to be used by General Olusegun Obasanjo for his political ends while protecting and defending the latter and his family and friends (those who didn’t fall out with him), even as the evidence was overwhelming that he himself was the arrowhead of corruption in the government he led. However, having lost out in the intra-establishment power struggle that followed his benefactor’s exit from power, I found it abhorrent that Ribadu is being treated the way he is now by those same people he helped put in power. Yeah, there are many who would say it’s just desserts; but even then, just as some of us opposed Ribadu when he was going personal in performing his duties at the EFCC, so we must oppose those who are hounding him out of the country today because of his political differences with them.
Despite what I consider to be Ribadu’s faults, two things are decisive in my present conditional support for him. First, he left Nigeria on self-exile and took up a position at Oxford University where he continued his anti-corruption work on the academic level. I have always believed that a lack of intellectual grounding hampered the way he did the work while in government. So, coming to Oxford and living in the West where he would see firsthand how the rule of law operates and how such efforts are institutionalised, rather than personalised, was bound to help him improve his perception and actions in the future, if and when given the opportunity again. Besides, I always have sympathy for any man who seeks to intellectually better himself.
The second thing he did that appealed to me was that he began to seek out and associate with progressive forces abroad, speaking of his disgust with what is happening at home in the name of governance and expressing his willingness to join the change brigade. Some people might say he has no choice since he has declared the government or those at the very top of it today his enemies and therefore needs people who ideologically disagree with them as supporters of his own private or selfish cause. That could be true; but if so, it is a most dangerous game to play, because if you turn out not to be genuine, it could be a very lonely life. And he’s still a young man.
As I said, I have now declared my support for Ribadu in this whole affair, but only conditionally. For me to accept him fully as a Nigerian fighting for the true cause of the people (and not just one with a personal grouse to settle with people feeding fat on the national trough now), he needs to further do two main things. He needs to publicly accept the well-founded criticisms of those who opposed the way he did his job without regard to the rule of law, rather than continue to defend himself by making such vacuous claims, like saying his actions were exigent, that he did his best and did it honestly or that only those who were benefiting from the system he fought against had issues with him and his style, etc. I say this because listening to him preach and rave now, I get the feeling that he’s yet to snap out of the hype surrounding him – a hype thrown around him by some Nigerians who have uncritically declared him the best thing to happen to Nigeria since sliced bread.
But there are many Nigerians who are not buying that and as we go along, many more will join in not buying that, because it is evidently unsustainable through the rigours of time, reason and constant analyses and reassessments, especially as more facts are revealed. I therefore expect him to come out soberly and openly to say he was wrong, not merely declaring that as a human being he made some mistakes only as an addendum to what he considers his stellar achievements. That way, he will not lose those who believe in him today and would more likely gain others who will believe in him tomorrow, because whether he and his today’s uncritical supporters accept it or not, fact is he is as much a huge part of the reason we are where we are today and accepting his role openly and honestly would go a long way to removing the doubts in the minds of some of us that he is merely riding a populist, but essentially empty wave – a puff of smoke.
Further, for me, a critical part of that honest self-appraisal would also be to totally distance himself from General Obasanjo and some of the not-so-clean characters he still moves around with today – characters like the insufferable Nasir el-Rufai who thinks he’s the smartest dude to come out of Nigeria, a delusional fellow who considers himself a prince in exile marshalling forces of opposition against the usurper of his throne! Ribadu needs to rid himself of this hypocrite and his equally slimy sidekick, Jimi Lawal. To put it simply, they and Ibori are one of a kind and discerning and informed Nigerians are not deceived in the least by the latest rants and fantasist’s tales of Nasir el-Rufai. Gbenga Obasanjo may be anything, but he’s right on the money when he exposed the corrupt underbelly of these people. He should know, but I personally don’t need anyone to tell me about them. I know and I know that Ribadu knows. Ribadu has to fully understand that this is a critical time for him as a Nigerian and as a human being. Of the almost one hundred and fifty million Nigerians that walk the earth, he’s possibly the only one with that unique but sacred burden, thrust upon him at this very moment by the forces of our history. He simply has to pick up the gauntlet or join the waste or unfulfilled-promises statistics! It is time for him to choose between his loyalty to his wayward friends and loyalty to Nigeria; he can’t do both, because these guys’ history of lies and filth is there for all to see. Nasir el-Rufai can continue to enjoy his newfound fame as a freedom fighter, but he can only deceive those who don’t know.
Ribadu needs to know that one huge advantage he has over every other person that served Obasanjo so intimately is that Nigerians are prepared to give him a second chance. They would wholeheartedly trust him if he is honest with them about his own failings. They know that he is infinitely better than all those thieves populating the political arena at the very top, because if they really have anything on him, they would have gone to town with it by now. All they have is the story of the N44 million-house acquired for him by his father-in-law, Prof Iya Abubakar. That didn’t look nice when it was revealed, but I am prepared to overlook that, even as I personally find it worrying that he admits that his father-in-law actually bought it with a Fidelity Bank loan for him.
Also, some of the latest Ibori charges smack of desperate mudslinging. For instance, he claims that Ribadu pocketed publicly-raised funds supposedly meant for the establishment of EFCC Football Club. If this is indeed true, Ibori and his friends at the EFCC should go ahead and produce the evidence. Also, the charge that Ribadu bought shares in some friends’ companies using proxies doesn’t sound credible, because just like the EFCC Football Club charge, all Ibori did was to make suggestive rather than simple definitive and verifiable statements. It’s all indicative of someone who doesn’t have the facts about the claims they are making, but who nonetheless is throwing it out in the public space to sow doubts in people’s minds about the character of the person he’s accusing, the principle being if you throw as much mud as possible, some may just stick. Cheap, very cheap.
Of course, it is a huge risk for any genuinely progressive Nigerian to support Ribadu, considering his antecedents. Yet, I will do so not because I believe in him right now, but because I believe in what he represents in the bigger fight for the soul of our nation. Okay, he did not do a stellar job at the EFCC, but in spite of his massive flaws, he represents, by design or fluke, an attempt at cracking the age-old problem nationally, while those fighting against him roundly represent an insistence on perpetuating the evil. There is no contradiction in my stance because in the cold light of reality, you can only play the cards you are dealt. Right now, Ribadu and what he represents is useful for the struggle. It is left for him to prove to what extent he would be useful going forward.
So, if Ribadu is prepared to be a progressive, let him begin to truly share and bear the ideological burden, not just talk about change without substance. He should be able to bear the scars and the emotional and material costs, no matter what. He should be proud to walk in the shadow of great Nigerians who lived and died for the people. He should know that his journey on this side has just started and it’s still a long, long way before dawn. Would he last the night? We’ll see in the morning. Is he truly now a progressive? That’s for him to prove through words and real action. In the meantime, he should simply forget about James Ibori and look at the larger picture. It’s no use going back and forth with the crook in public space because the man’s recent blabbering in the press is actually a cry of deep pain – pain at the sight of his cooked goose about to be shoved down his greedy throat! Oh yes, his goose is cooked and Nigerians would ensure he eats it, no matter how bitter, no matter long it takes! And, as for Mr Ribadu, he should just keep that trumpet away, the time to blow it will come. But first, he has to do the needful thing.