By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
I present my esteemed readers this essay whose exceptional length I am guilty bound to acknowledge at its debut, but whose importance I will leave the impartial mind to acknowledge. I implore my readers to endure the length and carefully consider the logic of its arguments with an open mind.
The presidential primaries are over and the candidates are now known. On the one hand is the PDP and its candidate, President Goodluck Jonathan. On the other are three main opposition parties' candidate of ANPP, CPC, ACN, SDMP, NCP and NTP, Ibrahim Shekarau, Muhammadu Buhari and Nuhu Ribadu, Pat Utomi, Dele Momudu and John Dava respectively.
It can hardly be denied that the PDP and its candidate represent the unfortunate status quo. There is no need to argue on this. Whoever wants to squander his hope can argue otherwise. He can join the PDP train and I wish him a safe journey.
The opposition candidates are expected to offer change. But they are many, at least. They do not stand the least chance of defeating the notorious PDP behemoth unless they join hands and support one person. This is what informed the failed attempt of the opposition to merge into one party. The option of alliance, however, remains open and it seems that its main focus is between the ACN, which has the support and understanding of other parties like APGA and Labour Party on the one hand, and CPC on the other. One of their candidates, Buhari or Ribadu, is expected to step-down for the other.
The choice of who should step down for the other has remained a contentious matter. The general perception of the result is seen in exclusive terms: He that steps down has lost to the other who is seen as more superior, more popular, more favorably disposed to the electorate, more honest, and so on. He is the winner; the other loser. In this writing, I would like to deviate from this pedestrian thinking and suggest something that is different, where there will be no loser but winners on terms of both the candidates and the future prosperity of this country. I will try in the following paragraphs to put forward the premises of the argument that is inevitably lengthy.
First, perception is important. I will start with how I view the two candidates, Buhari and Ribadu. I see them as having similar orientation and record. They are like two brothers; one senior, the other junior. What puts both on the same pedestal before me is their records. Both are among the four people who have fought corruption in this country, the other two being the late Murtala and Idiagbon. I do not think any objective person will disagree with this. The record of my mentor Buhari on corruption is known and does not require any elaboration here. That of Ribadu, however, needs some clarification and emphasis. And to this I will now turn my attention for some moments.
Ribadu has fought corruption as EFCC Chairman, in addition to his less known similar roles as a police prosecutor. The gap which his absence created is acknowledged even beyond the shores of Nigeria. To appreciate his success, we need to factor in the circumstance in which he operates, especially if we relate him with Buhari. While Buhari fought against corruption as a military head of state with full powers of state during a period that had no existing constitution, Ribadu served under a constitutional government that accorded citizens freedoms of various kinds. Many criminals exploited those provisions through the courts whose judges were ready to grant orders that would frustrate their prosecution. We were witness to issuance of such orders and now the anti-corruption prince, as I called him in those days, had to navigate his way to success in spite of them.
More importantly, however, is the civilian dictator under whom he served and to whom he must refer cases for approval by law before he prosecute them. Despite this handicap, Ribadu prosecuted hundreds of cases starting with the then rampant '419' that earned a very bad reputation for Nigeria until he reached the high and mighty like governors and his very boss, former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun. We have seen thousands of police officers, army generals and jurists. Yet, few have surpassed Ribadu in his feat against corruption. If we are sincere, we will not find it difficult to place him in the league of those who fought corruption in this country.
One can just imagine what the fate of most of our governors would have been had Ribadu served as a head of state in a regime that is not encumbered with constitutional impediments like immunity and citizen's right. With an eye into the future one can as well imagine what he can achieve as a President in whose hand is entrusted not only the power of prosecution but also the command of the state apparatus of coercion. No objective mind can down play the manifestation of his courage and the determination of his pursuit in confronting the difficulties he went through, the risks he took and the dangers he faced.
Of course Ribadu did not prosecute every corrupt person for the simple fact that only God would have done so. Some say, why did not he prosecute Obasanjo in particular? How could he do so when he needed the approval of Obasanjo to prosecute any case? He was smart enough to realize the limitations of his office and the almost infinite power of the dictatorial President. He left that task to those that would come after him or perhaps, when time would be more auspicious. Unfortunately, that time was not offered him by Obasanjo's successor. Had he tried to be foolish during Obasanjo, he would have earned our applause, but the dictator would have crushed him and his EFCC, making the nation lose everything. We still have not stopped lamenting the fall of Buhari in 1984, a fact attested by our now decade long fight for his return.
Like Buhari, This record is all Ribadu has. Fortunately it has been acknowledged by many people in this country. It explains his popularity among civil society groups, the local intelligentsia and the international community."
The second property which he shares with Buhari is that he restrained himself from becoming a do-as-I-say preacher. There are of course the normal baseless accusations, which we expect to be propagated by those he fought against. The most popular one is that he has property in Dubai, just as I still come across writers who say that Buhari being accused of stolen $2.7 billion when he was the federal commissioner for petroleum in 1977! I laugh because I can claim that I know how dry the pocket of my mentor is. Buhari went to the primaries of 2003 with only N40,000 in his pocket.
The same thing with Ribadu. Can we compare him with any of Obasanjo's ministers though he has occupied a position that would have accorded him billions. One would need to meet him, see him and speak to him in order to appreciate this. But as the late Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman would say, anyone who sets out to fight corruption must be ready to face corruption because it will fight back. If Ribadu had anything like that, the Yaradua administration would have exposed him because it had the means to prove it and the power to prosecute him. It is in the absence of such evidence that it went for his persecution, including the despicable act of removing him and his family from the convocation hall of National Institite for Policy and Strategic Studies.
I will stop here and insert an email which reached me as I was editing this article and which I consider appropriate. It was written and sent to a friend by one Mr. Favour Afolabi, a lawyer from Lagos:
"While reviewing Ribadu, please remember that no one has ever accused the gentleman of collecting bribe! That is amazing in a country like Nigeria. While I was on a case at EFCC, one of his staff who was in the room the day he called his team to see the $15m cash that Ibori brought to him. The staff told me how till he dies it would be difficult to find someone else that he respects more than Ribadu. He described how the whole room were looking at Ribadu like he was a mad man. How could he be returning such monies meant for him as a person to the government coffers?
"It's IMPOSSIBLE for anyone to sell me that story of selective justice. What about no justice at all? EFCC despite all its flaws remains one of the things that generations to come would come to "fear" whenever they intend to behave funny; it has come to stay as an institution that has global acclaim; one that many third world countries dealing with corruption have not been able to rival; one that was built by Ribadu."
All I have attempted so far is to argue that Nuhu Ribadu too has a record of gallantly fighting corruption like Buhari though the circumstance and capacity under which each of them served are different. I have no doubt that Buhari himself, as a fair person, even in the competitive setting of this moment, would anytime anywhere attest to the anti-corruption record of Ribadu, something which, pitifully, many who support him cannot.
The next thing is to dismiss the accusation that I am equating Ribadu with Buhari, an accusation which some have labelled against me when I wrote my piece titled 2011: Jonathan, Buhari and Ribadu. Equality often does not lead to justice. In this case it is irrelevant. Though Ribadu is known, his goodwill does not match that of Buhari. He will be ready to confess this anywhere, I believe. But that does not mean that his record is any lesser. There are three reasons for this.
One, Buhari has the advantage of being a bigger celebrity by virtue of the higher office he occupied. Two, his memory has fossilized in our psyche given that his record has remained in our brains for almost twenty years before the arrival of Ribadu. Thirdly, Buhari joined politics before Ribadu and he did so especially at a time when the nation was under one of our most corrupt dictators. In contrast, Ribadu until recently was a public servant. It is not surprising therefore that Buhari has more goodwill especially among the masses than Ribadu.
So if we cannot base our argument on differentiating the two in terms of popularity, on what then can we successively persuade Buhari to concede the ticket to Nuhu? The answer, ironically, lies mainly in the goodwill argument we mentioned above.
Buhari has built a goodwill in this country which few, if any, can match. This goodwill is purely the product of his personality, not his handsome face or tall figure. Around this very rare personality have for many years rallied people whose dream of fighting corruption is not beclouded by mundane primordial considerations. What will be required to build a similar goodwill will be enormous in time, chance and effort. If we miss him today, I am afraid to say, we will miss that goodwill because, to my knowledge, he has not so far made any plan to share it or transfer it to someone. All avenues for doing so proved abortive or blocked in the past.
Tunde Idiagbon would have been one person who would have easily shared it with him today, undoubtedly. But Tunde died in 1999, just as the civilian administration was taking off. Even if he were alive, Tunde, the mentor of Ribadu, would not have been interested in politics. But he would have been in a better position to broker a deal between the two.
Buhari would have also transferred it to the governors of his former party, the ANPP, had any of them proved to be equally interested in transparency. Unfortunately, none of them could live to his expectations. Shekarau would have been one in his own right, but the unfortunate differences that developed between the two leaves no love lost between them.
Now, we have the golden opportunity for him to do so in a manner that will immortalize his name. Here is someone with the same traits like his, twenty years younger than him but matured enough by all Nigerian standards to lead, given the age records of most previous leaders. He is older and has served the nation longer than most of them as at when they came to office. The condition for the transfer is also as ripe as the circumstance is suitable. Ordinarily, Buhari would have invited Ribadu to join politics even without the latter indicating any interest. That is why I am not surprised to learn that when he heard Ribadu was aspiring for the presidency, he encouraged him after acknowledging his record in fighting corruption. When this is considered in addition to their previous linkages, we will happily realize that there seems to be more ground in the minds of the two for concession than there is for the desire of their parties to align.
The logical question that would be asked here is: why would not the junior come and follow the senior, deputizing for him or serving under him as he served under Obasanjo? This is where it is necessary to bring in other elements of the argument.
If Ribadu and his party will concede the ticket to Buhari and CPC, the benefit is just that Buhari again is running as a candidate and there is every chance of their opponents hoodwinking the south into believing that this is a northern affair. This may lead the south to rally around Jonathan.
Two, Buhari would then be vying to only occupy a seat which he occupied more than twenty five years ago with nothing new but new challenges; it is the same goal he has unsuccessfully attempted twice before. The possible outcomes here are three.
One, in line of the past two attempts, he loses the elections, especially when the south rallies behind Jonathan and the election is rigged as expected. This will be one sad outcome because hardly would the alliance opportunity present itself again in future between southern parties and a northern one; and even if it does, I doubt if Buhari, given his then age of 74, will be interested in contesting for the fourth time or able to convince Nigerians of possessing the strength to withstand the exacting rigor of transforming Nigeria into a transparent nation.
Two, if he wins the elections, the risk is even higher to him personally and to the aspirations of the nation generally. He may succeed or fail in his attempt to transform the country. If he succeeds in transforming Nigeria, it will be difficult for anyone to step into his shoes because the goodwill differential will just be too big. But many would readily argue with plausible reason that success in transforming the country by Buhari cannot be guaranteed. So it is important that we do not become blinded by our wish. So let us consider also the third possibility, that of failure.
The failure of Buhari to transform Nigeria meaningfully will be one of the most disastrous things that would happen to this country. It will wipe out any sign of hope and destroy any lingering aspiration. We have fired our last shot, the looters would gladly say. You see Nigeria cannot be salvaged, they will argue. Depending on the magnitude of that failure, as it is with the nature of man, Nigerians will start to develop a nostalgia for PDP days just as the Children of Israel longed for Egypt after their rescue from Pharaoh. Buhari himself would then not live any longer as a happy person. His failure will smash all his past record. God forbid.
I am compelled by two things to entertain the fear of his failure should he win the Presidency. One, age is not on his side, right now. Few people in history were able to transform their countries from the precipice at the advanced age of 70 and beyond. None of us can repeat at 70 somethings he did at 42. We see it even in the manner we manage our homes. We saw our parents become less and less thorough with age such that hardly did our distant juniors attain the home training we received. This is not a shortcoming on their side, may God shower his mercy on them, but an outcome of natural law. With advanced age, the ability of the body to replace aging cells with new ones of equal vigor declines; organs become weaker; and the body would require rest more than it will tolerate rigour. The result is a decline in achievement which means reduced efficiency and poor performance.
The heart, which philosophers describe as ever young, defies this reality and continue to exact the body with onerous responsibilities. It is left to the prudent mind to disobey it by realizing the declining potential of the body and behaving accordingly. The famous Shata at around 70, just about five years before his death, confessed to his friend Wada Nas the effect of aging on his output. He said: "Wada, cikin nan akwai waka, amma tsufa ta zo", meaning, "I have many unsung songs but for old age." This is the epitome of both wisdom and valour. Thus the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was reported saying, "God bless his servant who knows his capacity and operated within it."
So the Buhari we know today is certainly not the same as the youth who came to power in 1984. The latter exists only in our memory and wishes. Nobody could be physiologically and psychologically the same person after thirty years; and both are important ingredients of leadership especially at 70. This is the plain truth. This brings us to the second reason for my pessimism. It explains why as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the CPC he is finding it difficult to make the party live to our expectation. Some people say the same problems exist in other parties. But I would contend that if that is the case, why form the CPC then because Buhari would have as well joined the PDP if he cannot found a party that is different from others. If he were the Buhari of 42, he would have had the required strength to checkmate so many things and make the party really different from other parties. Those who are dissatisfied with him should be fair enough to ascribe to this factor any shortcoming they might have noticed in the conduct of the CPC. He has to rely on others who, unfortunately, are widely accused of not living to his principle.
I have heard many people foresee that if Buhari becomes the President the same CPC trend will manifest itself in the manner he will manage the affairs of the nation. I am not in a position to dispute them since I cannot guarantee the nature of the people that will work with him as ministers, advisers and heads of government agencies. I do not see many around him now and I doubt if there are some out there waiting to be called to service if they cannot offer their services to him during this hour of need. What I can assure Nigerians is that if he succeeds many would rush to him in a Tsunami that will not allow him the time to separate the chaff from the grain. The result of that situation will be disastrous.
The argument of age here is of the scientific genre, very different from the opportunistic "new breed" concept that has helped to destroy this country in the past two decades. I am not advocating Ribadu simply because he is younger but because he is young, matured, sufficiently experienced and similar to Buhari in character. Otherwise, I would have simply advocated the position to be given to Dr. Tilde!
But even if Buhari has remained as he was in 1984, the factor of time would create some problems for him. Our big brother may not be used to the sophistication of today as he was used to that of the seventies and eighties. The crooks he knew in 1984 have been supplanted by more sophisticated and merciless ones of the 21st century. This is not to mention the difference of the two systems - military administration and democracy - a line along which many have argued before me.
We are now in a better position to present the advantages of Buhari conceding the opposition ticket to Ribadu. One, the nation will not lose anything if he does so. In fact, it stands to benefit more because of the synergy that will allow the younger Ribadu to tap from the experience of his elder. The elderly advisory role is what would fit Buhari more than the exacting role of the President. The experience of the two will thus be organically fused, improved upon and handed over to future leaders thereby ensuring continuity, that is hoping that my friend Ribadu will open up opportunities to many young ones from various parts of the country among whom he will identify and elevate the promising. Nothing could be more beautiful than this.
Also, the failure of Ribadu during the election would have less consequences than that of Buhari because he will have more opportunities to attempt later than would Buhari. The damage of demystification as well as the chances of regime failure due to age or suitability would also be much lesser since Ribadu's experience in fighting corruption is almost up to date.
However, notwithstanding the importance of the above advantages, I am more fascinated with the beauty of the goodwill argument. Endorsing Ribadu would transfer the enormous goodwill of Buhari to someone who would keep it alive for many more years to come, thus saving the nation the energy of cultivating someone separately. Buhari must not die with his goodwill, in short. Even if we do not succeed this time ousting the corrupt regime at the centre and Buhari is not around to compete in the next elections, Ribadu can continue with the blessings he accords him now through the endorsement. The talakawa who now shout his slogans would be assured of a trustworthy successor.
More important than my fascination with the goodwill doctrine is the contribution that a Buhari concession will make to the political stability of this country. It will be the first time the northern masses would vote for a party with roots in the southwest because the southwest has also fielded a northern candidate also for the first time. And if a government is formed, it will be a government headed by a northerner under a ruling party that is largely southwestern. The two most contentious opposites in Nigerian politics would finally merge. The benefits in terms of political stability are obvious.
Finally there comes the humorous cultural argument of an elder with his junior brother who were presented with a food ration of one person, which in the case of an office is not a cake that could be shared. The elder is expected in all cultures to concede the meal to the younger one. And if they were to eat from the same plate, he would not scramble with the younger brother over the last morsel; he would concede it to him. Only then can he proudly walk with his shoulders high because of the altruism he exhibited. But if the elder brother would appropriate the only available ration to himself or squabble with the junior over the last portion of the meal then his estimation as a fair person will be greatly severed. What if it were a task to be undertaken? The able young is naturally expected to come forward and carry it out on behalf and to the delight of his elder.
These are the reasons why I strongly feel that Buhari should concede the ticket to Ribadu. I will not be surprised if the man on the street finds these reasons complex for his understanding, just as I will not be surprised if people with his mindset among the elite attack me for advancing them. I will leave such minds with the lazy stereotype arguments that Ribadu has served under Obasanjo (just as Buhari served under Abacha) or he is now sent by the former dictator and Jonathan to divide northern votes. The North can disprove Obasanjo by rallying around Ribadu with the approval of Buhari and pulling the votes of the progresssive south to an electoral success. Let Obasanjo attempt to test the resolve of a Ribadu president.
This campaign of smearing Ribadu among gullible Northerners which some elders are sponsoring is self-destructive to the country and to the North in particular. These youths may be destroying an asset that would be handy tomorrow. How many Ribadus do we have among the Nigerian elite? Those behind these campaigns do not possess half the record of Ribadu in transparency when they were in public service. After all, they were the architects of PDP, of its zoning principle, of shoving Obasanjo to power, etc. Why would they now use us, whom they oppressed, against Ribadu? They should focus on mediating talks between him and Buhari, not making one their scapegoat.
As a defense, I must say that the mettle of a writer does not lie with the popular but with the courage to differ from it whenever the need arises, for writing will be of no use if it will only parrot street views that it is supposed to guide and moderate. And no nation will advance beyond its present if its elite cannot think beyond the common regardless of the condemnation that might visit them.
I therefore intended my argument for the refined mind that would put reason before sentiment and has the courage to abandon the conventional for the novel that would preserve the good in the present, guarantee better opportunities in the future and lessen the chances of susceptibility to damage or exposure to risk. It is this refined mind that I hereby task with the burden of understanding my thesis and, thereafter, convincing the common minds within his reach using the simpler language for which I readily concede that I am not sufficiently gifted to display.
17 January, 2011