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Why Not Nuhu Ribadu By Sonala Olumhense

A few weeks ago, I declared my support of Muhammadu Buhari’s quest for the presidency.  I have no doubt that if the interest of Nigeria is the issue, his is the best candidate, now. 

A few weeks ago, I declared my support of Muhammadu Buhari’s quest for the presidency.  I have no doubt that if the interest of Nigeria is the issue, his is the best candidate, now. 

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In certain circles, this has raised the question of Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, the former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), who is running on the ticket of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).  One of those circles consists of people who knew I had set out to support Mr. Ribadu’s candidature.

For purposes of full disclosure, I did meet with Mr. Ribadu, at his request, in New York.  At that time, he was yet to declare he was running for Nigeria’s top job, but he solicited my support.  I was glad to offer it, not because I thought he had been without fault during his stint at the EFCC, but because I believed he would be running on an anti-corruption platform. 

I imagined him leading not a party, but a movement; running not a campaign but a crusade; sparking not a fire but a blaze.  I saw in him not just a presidential candidate or even a president, but the anchorman of a new epoch.  That dream was possible because in institutional terms—warts and all—Ribadu had come the closest to confronting corruption in Nigeria.

I have publicly, in this column, dreamt of “A Scream In The Streets:” disaffected Nigerians seizing the nation’s cluttered highways and byways to demonstrate their disgust and their arrival at the end of their tether.  In Ribadu, I imagine I saw some kind of liberator and coordinator of that potent energy. 

I thought his master plan involved deploying that kind of offensive against the past and against our demons.  I thought he planned his assault not on the basis of money or the guidance of sleazy moneybags, but on the crest of the yearnings of the nation’s vast disaffected, the youth, the jobless, the marginalized, the exiled, the PDP-scandalized, and the business-as-usual weary.   I thought the strategy would include grassroots mobilization of frustrated students, hungry farmers and tired parents: Nigerians willing to exchange his inconsistencies as the head of the EFCC for collaboration in the gestation ward.

Did I, in that heady period, think he could win the presidency in 2011?  Actually, I did not think it was about the presidency at all.  That is, I did not think he could possibly lose on what was the most important: awakening political consciousness at the most fundamental levels of our society and empowering layers of political organization to identify their significance and vigour.

But then, clarity soon arrived: in the opposite direction.  Perhaps more correctly, change came, as it became clear Ribadu had convinced himself he could thrive in waters owned by the very sharks.   

In politics, compromise is sometimes necessary in order to ensure that the objective is not mistaken for the method.  But what you compromise are strategies, not principles. 

The moment Ribadu chose to set up shop with the former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu, we arrived at a philosophical Tinubu Square of sorts where it was difficult to reconcile mission and principle, like trying to cure prostitution by marrying a prostitute, or stepping into the lion’s den to persuade the lion to give up cannibalism. 

Mr. Tinubu may not be the ugliest politician out there.  Several times when he was boss of the EFCC, however, Ribadu had reason to mention Tinubu by name as being among our most corrupt.  Those occasions include:

•    The June 2006 Joint Task Force on fighting corruption set up by Obasanjo (comprising the EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), the Department of State Services (DSS), and the Nigerian Police), which Ribadu chaired; it recommended that 15 governors, including one Goodluck Jonathan and Bola Tinubu, be arraigned before the CCB;

•    His famous September 2006 meeting with the Senate in which he presented the annual report of his Commission; and,

•    The list of corrupt and indicted public officials published on February 7, 2007 by his EFCC in an effort to stop them from participating in that year’s elections; Mr. Tinubu, running for the Senate, was conspicuously listed at Number 28.

There is a certain analysis in which Mr. Ribadu’s alliance with Mr. Tinubu may have been justifiable, but the new trend in Ribadu’s emerging convictions was soon highlighted by his announcement that Mrs. Patience Jonathan’s two money-laundering cases in 2006, which the EFCC under his leadership announced and pursued with remarkable energy, were non-events. 
Two weeks ago, on March 24, Mrs. Jonathan took out advertorials in Nigerian newspapers in which she denounced me, threatening to sue me for referring to those cases.  I encourage Mrs. Jonathan to go ahead and sue: she currently owns both the ball and the field of play.  But she must bear in mind that I am not the one who announced—TWICE—that she had tried to launder vast funds through her associates. 

The announcements were made by the EFCC four and a half years ago but were never retracted.  Where the involvement of the courts was necessary, it was the EFCC, not Sonala Olumhense, which initiated it.  I am not the one who, in August 2007 at the Federal High Court in Abuja, filed suit number FHC/ABJ/M/340/06, naming Mrs. Jonathan as an accomplice in the N104 million-money laundering case. It was the EFCC’s prosecuting counsel, Mr. Ofem Uket—not Olumhense—who said, “Mrs. Patience Jonathan, wife of the Governor of Bayelsa State, was the person who instructed one Hanner Offor to launder the said sum of N104,000,000 into the account of Nansolyvan Public Relations Limited with First Bank of Nigeria Plc (FBN), Niger House, Marina, Lagos.”

My concern is with the facts.  I have no personal battle with Mrs. Jonathan, who may well be innocent, but it is extremely curious that Mr. Ribadu kept her “innocence” in the pit of his stomach for four years.
In other words, Mrs. Dame Jonathan’s advertorial ought to have been directed at the former EFCC boss and a “justice” system that would advertise allegations but not “innocence.”  I do not have half a million Naira per advertorial per newspaper, but if anyone attacked my integrity with dates and figures and courts as the EFCC did Mrs. Jonathan’s in 2006 and the commission eventually cleared me, I would make sure they broadcast it worldwide: on land, sea, air and the very bowels of the Internet, and I would hold giant “yanga” parties under some pretty big umblerahs.  As Oga’s wife, I would have instructed Mr. Ribadu to publish the report that cleared me—promptly, not eons later and not discreetly—and to send a copy to every critic.

The final curiousity about Mr. Ribadu concerns his solicitation of the endorsement of Ibrahim Babangida, another man Nigerians hold responsible for the nation’s problems.  At the peak of his powers in 2007, Mr. Ribadu told The NEWS, in reference to IBB, “We will never allow people who have stolen to use the same stolen resources to get into power.”

Last week, in a bewildering turnaround, he went to IBB’s Hilltop Hideaway to obtain his blessing for his stab at the presidency.  IBB gave it, salting away another presidency, were it to emerge, which would never embarrass him or anyone under his protection.  It is to be remembered that Obasanjo never embarrassed IBB.  Would Ribadu, were he to win the presidency, embarrass Obasanjo or Tinubu, for instance, or anyone under their protection?

The point is that there are many hollow gods in Nigeria that ought to be set on fire so that we can set their victims free.  But one of our key problems is that there are far too many people who enjoy monumental levels of political influence at the expense of the nation’s development.  History confirms that a messiah who is burdened with a porous memory, shifting definitions or conflicting agendas is not on the side of change.

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Is a new Nigeria possible?  Absolutely, but it cannot be negotiated with the old.

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