By Professor Wole Soyinka
I can only hope that Benazir Bhutto’s followers will forgive me for saying this, but the news of Nuhu Ribadu’s removal from the anti-corruption Nigerian organization known as the EFCC will have, in all likelihood, a far more devastating impact on the psyche of the Nigerian nation than the deadly event that now threatens to further destabilize the tortured nation known as Pakistan, through the assassination of her democratic front runner, Benazir Bhutto. Let me pause here to express my sincere condolences to the people of Pakistan.
What is at stake for us in Nigeria is not much different however: the restoration and consolidation of democracy, not in any sentimental or rhetorical sense, but as a lived reality that restores dignity to the people of any nation and guarantees their day to day security. The precarious socio-political condition into which the Pakistani people have been thrown echoes, in both parallel and divergent directions, the blow dealt to the Nigerian nation by the ‘assassination’ of the head of an organization that commenced the process of restoring dignity to a people whose nation has become a byword for the most breath-taking scam in high-places, for endemic corruption, a contempt for accountability and transparency and the abuse of national resources in the pursuit of personal and party power consolidation.
At every opportunity, we have stressed the obvious but ignored fact that the liberalization of political space is contingent upon the moral cleansing of such space. Thus the need to identify and contain – including by punitive means – individuals and organizations that operate on the open nexus easily summed up as: power derives from corruption which in turn fuels and guarantees power. The battle against corruption therefore goes beyond the walling out of illegal economic advantages. Corruption is the very bedrock of political illegitimacy. The tree of democracy cannot thrive on the compost of corruption.
This obvious attempt at crippling one of the two anti-corruption crusade agencies of the nation, unarguably aggressive and result oriented on an unprecedented scale must therefore be read as an assault on the very bastion of democracy. Again, I refer to my earlier indications: that the riddle of most of the political murders in the nation will be solved when the anti-corruption project has attained its ultimate goal of unearthing the hidden. Let me refer yet again to the notorious case where a presiding judge on a politically motivated murder case threatened early to withdraw from the case. Soon after, he withdrew from the case altogether – the pressure, he openly announced, coming from the most unexpected quarters, had made his task impossible. That judge noted down details of monetary inducements that were offered to make him grant bail to a high-profile suspect. The upward spiral of that political suspect since his ‘acquittal’ says much about the umbilical cord that trails from material to political corruption.
The ruling party of Nigeria, the PDP has proved yet again that there is no reformist agenda possible within its ranks. The presidential incumbent bears the primary and ultimate responsibility for this grotesque reversal of the nation’s frustrated push towards possible redemption, but it is the ruling party itself, the PDP, that continues to suffocate the nation in its folds of corruption, negating every attempt to rid her of this incubus, since that party has exhibited itself, again and again, as the very quagmire of corruption, nurtured on corruption, sustained by corruption and dependent on corruption for its very survival.
Let all sophistry be abandoned – the removal of Nuhu Ribadu is not about the removal of one individual. We are talking about signals, portents for future conduct, about the erosion of credibility, abandonment of principle, all of which of course transcends any individual. The timing, when viewed with the recent call to re-open the case-files of unsolved political murders, will be regarded as a coincidence only by starry-eyed innocents from space – good luck to them. Those of us who have the slightest knowledge of behind-the-scenes manipulations since the trail of detection moved ever closer to the very apex of governance under the past regime, know that the nation was being brought closer and closer to the dismantling of one of the most sinister and corrupt governance machines that this nation has ever confronted – including even the incontinent reign of Sanni Abacha.
Ribadu’s removal is therefore not an individual predicament. The situation here does not permit of the familiar cliche of any one individual being less than an institution or agency – no, that is not the issue! The issue is that an effective agency has been tampered with, unnecessarily, but with transparent motivations that constitute an assault on the corporate integrity of the nation. The trust of the nation has been abused – that is the issue. Instead of reinforcing the autonomy of an organization that is clearly dedicated to probity and political integrity, notice has been sent to all four corners of the nation, and to the international community that, at the slightest threat to the hegemony of corrupt rule, the credibility of even the most laudable institutions will be eroded.
Is this the last word? Is Nuhu Ribadu yet another sacrificial lamb on the altar of success and promise of more and more success? If so, the nation has indeed been brought to an abysmal low. Confusion has been deliberately and liberally sown. The reign of vanishing files, denied directives and ambiguous legal advices has begun where dubious Attorney-Generals fill the vacuum created by high level movements of personnel in multiple directions where those in the most sensitive and knowledgable places vanish into the bureaucratic maze, with hardly a trace of the rewards of their long dedicated industry. Technical extensions of cut-and-dried prosecutions will now lengthen into eternity and of course – oblivion.
What a dismal, contemptuous New Year gift to the nation! Again, I lament with the democratic people of Pakistan but, even in the midst of your grief, spare a moment of pity for that land of eternal missed opportunities and blighted hopes, that clay-footed giant sibling on a continent to your West, known as – Nigeria.