When the Ministry of Petroleum Resources announced, with so much pride, on Tuesday, February 7, 2012 that former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Malam Nuhu Ribadu, had been appointed chairman of the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force (PRSTF), the first question that came to my mind was, what would the man he calls mentor, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, have said?
Knowing Gani for who he was, he most probably would have told Ribadu that the offer was a Greek gift and a sure road to infamy.
That exactly is the sentiment of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) on whose platform the retired police officer contested the 2011 presidential election.
ACN has been unsparing in its criticism of the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, even when many believe the party stabbed Ribadu in the back during the April election to add to the President’s basket of votes.
According to ACN, Jonathan’s offer, made through the office of the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, was a desperate attempt by a government deficient in credibility to shore up its image.
A statement from the party’s conveyor belt of press releases told Ribadu that he was on his own if he accepted to serve the Jonathan administration as chairman of PRSTF.
According to ACN’s National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, as members of the party, we “wish to reiterate our position barring any member of our party from taking any appointment whatsoever from the PDP-led Federal Government. Any member of our party who takes such an appointment does so in his personal capacity.”
For ACN, the best it can do as the leading opposition party is continue to “play its role in ensuring good governance and contributing to nation building through its regular constructive criticisms which, hitherto and unfortunately so, have fallen on deaf ears.”
It justified its decision with the argument that “despite its efforts, as well as those of other parties, individuals and organisations, in offering well-meaning suggestions to the inept Jonathan administration, the administration has not demonstrated good faith in this respect.”
For those who may have forgotten, Mohammed recounted how Jonathan invited stakeholders from different sectors in the country to jaw-jaw on the downstream sector of the oil industry only for them to wake up on January 1, 2012, “to learn that the government has unilaterally removed subsidy from petrol.”
His questions: “How then can we, in good conscience, work with such an administration? How can we be sure that these slew of appointments are not being used by the administration to shore up its sagging – or totally sagged – credibility?”
But Ribadu had an answer, in case the party was in doubt about his desire to accept the offer.
Speaking from Afghanistan were he was on a United Nations assignment, Ribadu said: “Regardless of our affiliations, our differences, and our engagements, it is at least safe to say that we have a national consensus on the deadly impact of corruption on our march to greatness, and on the capacity of our people, particularly the youth, to earn a decent, promising, life. If we would effectively isolate and defeat this scourge, therefore, we must all see it as a pre-eminent national security threat.
“We must see it as a war within our borders, a war that has assumed a systemic and endemic character, but to which all must now urgently enlist with our different capacities, or accept to all go down with the ship. At this point in my life, it is also easy to answer the honest question if it is inappropriate to invest my modest talents and capabilities to my country what I have readily offered many foreign communities, from sister nations in Africa to far-flung places like Afghanistan.
“This, if nothing, makes my decision very personal, freeing all affiliations (social and political) of complicity, but investing the decision also with the unique character that when people reach evaluations in favour of their larger communities, it doesn’t necessarily blemish their moral identity.
“This, therefore, is a national call. In answering it, I go back to the template of my own parents, who taught me that honest public service is the greatest asset a person can offer his community. It was the same lesson I learnt from his biographical example when my own father returned home as a federal legislator in Lagos to take job as a local council official in Yola – it is all about the community, and it is sometimes bigger than our personal egos”.
Lawyer and activist, Femi Falana, confirmed during the week that Ribadu knew of the offer before the announcement was made, and that he was going to take a decision after consulting with some trusted political allies.
By declaring that his decision is “very personal, freeing all affiliations of complicity”, the 51-year-old from Adamawa has responded to ACN’s declaration that he is on his own.
Many people, including yours truly, have expressed fears over the obvious lack of capacity, or will, at the federal level to tackle some of the fundamental problems facing this country. The responsibility of sanitising the oil industry for which Ribadu’s task force has been saddled is the statutory responsibility of some agencies and department already on Abuja’s heavy payroll. By asking Ribadu and co to come on board, President Jonathan has indirectly admitted that some offices, as presently constituted, are not doing their job. The appointment of Ribadu to lead a group of wise men and women to clean the Augean Stables that the nation’s oil sector has become looks good on paper, but a little scratch will reveal it is another episode in our drama of duplication or triplication. It may as well end up another waste of the resources it is expected to manage.
While I do not completely subscribe to ACN’s position that “rushing to poach credible personalities from the opposition without first accepting that it is overwhelmed by the problems facing it (PDP-led Federal Government) smacks of underhand tactics aimed at decimating the opposition”, one is tempted to reason that it could end up “tarnishing the well-earned credibility of such personalities”.
Members, credible or not, of the task force must learn from the history books, which are replete with tales of how prominent people had their goodwill questioned because of the actions of the governments they served, especially at the centre. Names like Wole Soyinka, Tai Solarin and Humphrey Nwosu are mentioned under the evil genius, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida; while Alhaji Lateef Jakande and the late Prof. Sam Aluko got some sticks for working with the late Gen. Sani Abacha. The tradition continued under former President Olusegun Obasanjo when Chief Bola Ige, contrary to the desire of many opposition figures, elected to serve first as Minister of Power, then as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation. Ige did not finish his tour of duty in Abuja alive and his killers are yet to be found 10 years after. It is under the same Obasanjo that Ribadu served as EFCC chairman. Jonathan, who has now offered him his first national appointment since he left that position, also has his own way of doing something to people’s credibility. Everything Mr. President touches seems to turns to dust. Look at what working for him has done to our dear Reuben Abati!
Like ACN said, Jonathan desperately needs people who are seen as credible to launder the government’s badly damaged image and credibility. But Abuja is not the only one guilty of name-dropping. Ribadu looked good as the presidential candidate of the country’s leading opposition party during the 2011 general elections. Just like Jonathan hopes to do now, ACN adopted the former EFCC boss as its flag-bearer not necessarily because it believed he would win the election, but to add gloss to its resume.
The man at the centre of all the attention must enjoy buzz around him. Even with all the odds stacked against him, he took the broom given to him by former Lagos Governor and ACN National Leader, Bola Tinubu, and others to sweep PDP out of Aso Rock in April. I remember his speech at a parley with journalists at Protea Hotel, GRA, Lagos shortly before he publicly declared his intention to run for the presidency. He told his guests at the breakfast meeting that he could not think of contesting under any other party except ACN because that was the only political platform that suited his principles. Describing PDP as incapable of leading Nigeria to the future, he said Jonathan was not the best man for the job of Nigeria’s President. That, according to Ribadu, was why he was challenging him for the nation’s number one seat.
It soon turned out that ACN was working behind the scene for Jonathan’s presidency. I do not know if Ribadu was used or he was using the party, the truth is that his ambition died even before he started a nationwide campaign tour. Former Governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa, saw the writing on the wall at the last minute and pulled out of the party’s presidential race. He has since returned to the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). With the scenario that played out before, during and after the election, neither ACN nor Ribadu owes the other any explanation for their actions. Their contract seems to have expired after the election.
No matter its protestation, ACN did not, and may never, offer Ribadu a better deal than PDP. It was a PDP administration that made him EFCC boss and the superstar he is today. He became Gani’s godson because of his exploits under Obasanjo. The jury is, however, still out on how committed Obasanjo was to the anti-corruption crusade and what he really did with the EFCC under Ribadu. Besides, the former has not criticised Obasanjo in the manner his friend and former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, has done.
For those who believe Ribadu was an Obasanjo boy, even while he was contesting the April presidential election, this might be a confirmation of the suspicion that his body was with ACN but his heart was with PDP.
The decision to once again serve a government led by the party with low credibility quotient is his. So
will be dealing with the consequences.