Musing on Ribadu's return

THE PUNCH Newspaper

Nigerians should watch out for a familiar trend in the affairs of their country. Whenever the President wants to contest an election, all he has to do is send a bloodhound after his perceived opponents.

Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo was believed to have done this so successfully that it got to a point that anytime the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, then headed by Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, started going after someone, Nigerians easily concluded that such a person was already crossing the path of Obasanjo and his ambition.

The times we live in are not different. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan‘s Presidency might not be all that different either in that sense. Late President Umaru Musa Yar‘Adua‘s main backer, Chief James Ibori, is currently being hounded in the creeks. But if Ibori‘s case does not prove to be a justifiable instance, because of the many glaring allegations against him, there are others that show that ”a new kind ‘ariseth‘ that knew not Joseph.”

Now, the previously hardly heard Independent Corrupt Practice and Allied Offences Commission has woken up to suddenly discover that the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, is corrupt and should be charged to court. Ogbulafor‘s trial has reminded some Nigerians of the Obasanjo era when the PDP chairman then, Chief Audu Ogbeh, wrote a letter to Obasanjo, telling him that the country was disintegrating under his watch.

The EFCC hounded him and he lost his position. The same tape is believed to be playing for Ogbulafor and that might be his lot for a long time unless, in the estimation of keen watchers, the PDP chairman sings Hosanna for the President.

Ogbulafor, by the way, prior to his arraignment was saying that the PDP zoning arrangement, which would have forestalled Jonathan‘s 2011 ambition, must stand. Those who can read between the lines are saying that Jonathan has started demolishing all vocal and other potential threats on his way to the Presidency.

Now, Jonathan has reached out to the former EFCC chairman and there are signals in the air that anti-Jonathan elements within the polity will have to change their songs on Jonathan‘s 2011 ambition or come under the hammer. And there are fears that the man to do the job may not be any other than Ribadu, who is said to be under consideration for a higher position in the anti-corruption crusade.

To some, it is either Jonathan is taking the anti-graft issue seriously and needs a reliable hand to chase those who have fleeced Nigeria of her fortunes, or, he simply wants a tested hand to help him mow down opposition.

Currently, Ribadu is winding up a fellowship at the Centre for Global Development in Washington D.C., a centre dedicated to issues of international development.

Ribadu did not find favour with Yar‘Adua‘s government and indications of this were evident with his demotion, redeployment and later, as Ribadu alleged, attempted assassination. Part of his troubles with Yar‘Adua was that he failed to properly declare his assets during his tenure as the EFCC chairman.

Ribadu was tried before the tribunal over the allegation. There was an allegation that he bought houses in London, Dubai and Abuja worth N200m.

Ribadu stoutly denied this and said that his asset declaration forms were submitted on his assumption of office in March 2003 and on his exit from office in December 2008.

Right now, the Federal Government has withdrawn its case against Ribadu at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, saying it was no longer willing to pursue a case against the former EFCC boss.

Lawyer and activist, Mr. Festus Keyamo, is one of those who think that the decision to let Ribadu go free is an ill-advised one.

He said, ”The reported decision of the Federal Government to withdraw criminal charges against Mallam Nuhu Ribadu bordering on failure to declare assets as a public officer is totally wrong, very insensitive, entirely unwise, ill-advised and amounts to an abuse of office and power by the Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan.

”On what moral or legal basis was the decision taken? In the last 10 years in this country, corruption charges have never been withdrawn against any public officer except the court decides the public officer has no case to answer.

”So, why treat Nuhu Ribadu as a sacred cow when that was the very tendency he was reported to have fought against?

”Why should Ribadu not be held accountable by the same standards by which he also held others accountable?

”It would appear that the Federal Government has simply bowed to certain sectional interests in this case, as there appears to be no legal or moral basis for such withdrawal of charges. It is important that Nigerians should not operate two sets of laws and different standards for the citizens and for public officers.

”It is shocking that Ribadu, who arrested and detained many public officers for similar offences, can be left off the hook without letting him have his day in court.”

In the interview he granted Christian Amanpour while in the United States recently, Jonathan hinted that the battle against corruption in Nigeria has gone cold and there might be a need to pep it up. Bringing back Ribadu might be a way of trying to make the anti-corruption battle as vibrant as it used to be when Nigeria‘s ratings as the most corrupt country drastically improved.

During the last few days of Obasanjo‘s administration, Ribadu alleged that about 31 out of the 36 state governors in office were corrupt and he had a dossier on them. Before he was redeployed from the EFCC office in 2007, he had arraigned about eight former governors in court over alleged money laundering, stealing and misappropriation of public funds.

Not much has happened on the cases since then. Perhaps, Jonathan had to quickly let Ribadu off the hook so that his services could be procured in the battles ahead against either corruption or political opponents. Only time will tell.


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