The question has always arisen whether “good people”, to put it in that simple way, should serve under “bad governments”. The latest of such occasions in Nigeria is the appointment of Malam Nuhu Ribadu, the founding Chairman of the Economic and
Financial Crimes Commission and a Presidential candidate under the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria, as the head of Petroleum Revenue Special Taskforce (PRST). The body was recently constituted by the federal government to ensure transparency in the stinkingly corrupt Nigerian Petroleum industry. A giant tank, given the interests at stake and the powerful people behind it.
Quite a good number of Nigerians, particularly among his political associates and personal friends, have objected to the appointment on different grounds. Some believe that ethically, the good should shun the bad, irrespective of the situation. Such people believe that this government is corrupt and it is merely looking for a means to launder its image which was terribly battered by election rigging, incompetence and, recently, the removal of fuel subsidy. They argue that it is bringing in Ribadu not to allow him perform but to give the public a semblance of response to its agitation for probity in the industry. “The appointments”, the government confessed in a statement issued by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum Resources, “were consistent with the policies and promises of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration and underpinned by yearnings of the people for transparency in the petroleum industry.”
Their skepticism is not baseless. In his search for support when he came to power, Jonathan promised Nigerians that he will conduct a free and fair election. We believed him, then. To show that he was honest in his promise, he appointed one of the most respected academics in the country, Professor Attahiru Jega, to head the Independent National Electoral Commission. We hailed the appointment, en masse, to the extent that even the opposition believed that come April 2011, it will give the ruling PDP a good run for its money. It will occupy the Presidential Villa.The elections came and PDP had their way, though, to be honest, the opposition was misguided by its overconfidence and naivety. Rightly or wrongly, the opposition bitterly placed the blame at the doorstep of the professor. Ribadu, it is feared, will be greeted by the same fate. Though his record and zeal in fighting corruption are hardly contestable, he may end up frustrated and the PDP government will, as usual, have its way.
Some think the appointment is morally reprehensible, since Ribadu was the presidential candidate of the largest opposition party during the last election. Once you pitch your camp with the opposition, the idealists would argue, you must remain there, as a matter of principle. Ribadu has rightly criticized the ruling PDP during the last election using some of the most uncomplimentary remarks in the English dictionary. To accept a position in such a government, less than a year after the elections poses what could be described as a political contradiction. Such opponents to the appointment are supported by the general belief that one of the reasons behind the failure of democracy in most African states is the incoherence and backsliding of the opposition parties.
Supporters of the appointment will easily and quickly rebut the political argument by arguing that in contemporary Nigeria the opposition parties do not stand on a higher moral ground than the PDP. They commit the same excesses. Their governments are equally as corrupt and hardly have a the people at heart. Governors of opposition parties, for example, supported removal of subsidy with no less vehemence than their PDP counterparts. In the case of Ribadu and the ACN, many of his supporters know that he does not owe the party as much as it owes him, given the manner it handled his campaign and its woeful failure to secure votes for him in its domain. Would he decide to shun it any day, such supporters believe it would be a good riddance.
From another angle, many have opined that accepting the appointment is like nailing the coffin of his political future. How could Ribadu later resign and fight against the PDP government he has accepted to serve? Added to these are the cynics who would, as they have done already, interpret the appointment as a pay back from the ruling party, in line with the argument that both he and Shekarau were hired to divide opposition votes, especially in the North.
Finally, there are few who look at it from the point of view of ego. Accepting to serve in a taskforce set up by a minister – Diezani Alison-Madueke for that matter – falls well below his ambition to be the President of Nigeria. And even when seen from the angle of fighting corruption, this task would only be a fraction of the wider brief of EFCC, a department to which Ribadu was a celebrated founding father.
It seems from his response that Ribadu was not unaware of these criticisms when he finally decided to accept the appointment. His reasons:
“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.
“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 capacities 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 even people reach evaluations in favour of their larger communities, it doesn’t necessarily blemish their moral identity.
“This is therefore 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 a job as a local official in Yola – it is all about community, and it is sometimes bigger than our personal ego.”
Those who support his acceptance do so on grounds similar to those that informed Buhari to accept the Chairmanship of Petroleum Task Force (PTF) in 1995 under the late President Sani Abacha. Buhari’s friends then, like Ribadu’s today, were divided on whether to accept the position or not. Those who oppose it brought the strong ego argument. “Look”, they argued, “you were once a Head of State like Abacha. Abacha was the person who announced the coup against you in 1985. The regime, to which Abacha was second in command, incarcerated you for four years without any charges and even prevented you from visiting your dying mother. They put an end to your good intentions for a disciplined and corrupt free Nigeria. They ruined government and the economy. How would you accept to serve under one of those people?”
But those who favoured Buhari’s acceptance put forward an equally strong argument, from the point of view of public service, as Ribadu did above: “It is either you accept it and Nigerians benefit from your honesty or the opportunity will be given to a corrupt person that will misuse it to the detriment of Nigerians. Is your ego better than Nigeria? It is not you or Abacha. It is Nigeria. So accept it and, in so doing, use the opportunity to prove that those who turned against you were wrong, that good things are still possible in Nigeria. That is the best way to pay them back.” Buhari, painstaking as usual, took some time to make up his mind. In the end, he went for the job, but under conditions that he will be allowed a free hand. “Granted”, said Abacha, a promise which he faithfully kept until his death. He never sent a single name to Buhari for contract award, Buhari would later attest. Allah jikan maza sun fadi!
The rest is now history. The PTF that Buhari headed is remembered today as one of the most efficient departments of government in our recent history. In the end, Buhari proved that honesty combined with competence could translate into good services to his country. And when he joined politics, his days at PTF were extremely helpful in canvassing the enviable support he today enjoys among the commoners.
The same fate awaits Ribadu when he succeeds, say those who support his acceptance. His success, in spite of PDP and under ministers like Diezani, will be a good investment for his future in politics.
There is no doubt that the petroleum sector is among the most corrupt sectors in our public service, perhaps second only to the Presidency. Nobody really knows how much petrol is drilled from Nigerian wells daily. Not the President, not the Petroleum Minister, not the GMD of NNPC. Just nobody. Figures are just given to NNPC by different oil companies and NNPC itself is for obvious reasons reluctant to know the exact quantities. Then NNPC would in its turn hide some and present some to the federal government. When it was challenged recently by the National Assembly, NNPC literally said its enabling law gives it the status of an independent commercial venture with the freedom to use its revenue without recourse to any government institution, that it is the profit it declares which it forwards to government. I doubt if there is any decent Nigerian who will not support any measure that will end this impunity.
So If Ribadu succeeds to bring probity to the sector, in spite of the circumstances, I am sure Nigerians will be large-hearted to acknowledge his achievements, as they did to his brother earlier.
However, it is failure that Nigerians, including me, fear most for Ribadu because even his past record at EFCC will be washed away in the drain of criticisms that will ensue. This would reincarnate the Hausa parody called kamun gafiyar ‘Baidu.
Baidu was one day hunting for rodents. He was happy to have caught one. Just as he was enjoying the pleasure of his success, another rodent appeared. But ‘Baidu did not know what to do: Would he content himself with his first catch and let the second go, maybe he catches up with it another day, or would he try his luck by throwing the first rodent at the second, perchance both get injured by impact and collapse? With only a fraction of a second to think, ‘Baidu opted to attack the second with the first and, behold, both rodents escaped, leaving him empty handed. Poor ‘Baidu!
I wished I had a wind of the deal of the appointment was sealed. This essay would not have come at a better time. Now, we can only pray that Ribadu succeeds in the task and comes out of it unblemished. Yet, one thing remains. Many people have requested me to advise him that he resigns any moment he realizes that the government is not serious. Not only that, he should come out to categorically state the reason behind his resignation. I have used that strategy to threaten my former governor, Muazu, and it worked. I enjoyed a free hand under him. I hope it works too for Nuhu if he decides to use it.
Goodluck, Allah rene.
9 February, 2012