The sudden removal of Tafa Balogun as the Inspector General of police has naturally captured the centre stage of national discourse for the last two weeks, a huge distraction and welcome relief for the Obasanjo administration that has endured the wrath and scorn of Nigerians over its handling of the economy, the Anambra crises and the general uncertainty in the polity. For many who are disillusioned with the state of affairs in the country today, and who blame corruption for the problems of the country, the downfall of the highly criticized police boss came as confirmation of their suspicions and therefore his fall a good riddance.
While the Nigerian press, whose anger has been courted by the police over the scuffle with its members at the PDP secretariat last month, were naturally excited about this development, a large majority of commentators rather blithely followed the press in the avalanche of scorn poured on Balogun without considering the drama in its entirety. The grotesque details of the finances attributed to the former Inspector General by the EFCC had aroused deep anger in Nigerians who are groaning under the suffocating conditions prevailing in Nigeria today. But the swift response of Tunji Abayomi, Tafa Balogun's lawyer, calling on the EFCC to desist from the malign campaign brought some caution to bear on the case. Otherwise the brusque EFCC chairman had got on a blustering campaign to finish Balogun forever in a lopsided and disadvantaged campaign using the media. With the shots on both sides so far, a few newspapers led by the Guardian had also called for caution and warned that the allegations against Balogun shall remain so until proved by a competent court of law in the country. Only then should he be pronounced guilty and condemned.
For one, since the former IG has been granted terminal leave, and eased out of his powerful position, one would ask if it is expedient anymore to prematurely expose him and scandalize him by releasing information under police investigation to the public with glee. In fairness this approach is unnecessary as full investigations on his tenure can still proceed and all suspected illegal acquisitions could be impounded and retrieved. He can then be placed on trial after all investigations have been completed. The open disgrace of Balogun is useful only for its sensational and publicity value than the promotion of justice.
Reminiscing on this debacle comprehensively, one would invariably conclude that Balogun is a mere scapegoat dumped by a government in deep moral crises. The government badly needs a huge excuse to acquit itself of the moral burden it is carrying on account of the general criticism on its poor management of the economy and the last general elections. It wants to demonstrate that she is serious in fighting corruption. For the President and his hatchet men, perhaps this could be a dress rehearsal in their desperate bid to assert themselves in the polity today, an obsession that has preoccupied Aso Rock in recent times. If the president can sacrifice a highly placed kinsman, then nobody can be beyond reproach. In a wider sense therefore, Balogun's removal could seen as a lesson in flinging out those perceived as frustrating this new found gusto and thrust for brutal onslaught on control of party and polity.
In the last year and half since the creation of the EFCC and the appointment of Ribadu, insiders have revealed the seeming disquite and apprehension in the high command of the security services and the judiciary in the country. The concept of the EFCC is part of the reform programme of the president, but most bureaucrats and seasoned politicians see it along with many organs of the economic reform programme, such as the due process office as duplication and over centralization of authority. In the case of the EFCC, many senior legal luminaries have even argued on legal grounds that the establishment of the commission flouts the constitution.
The appointment of Nuhu Ribadu, a relatively junior officer to run the commission has been a source of great contention, especially since the appointment was done without the input of the nation's police high command even for courtesy, even though the EFCC looks like a specialized police outfit. Ribadu was directly appointed by the president on the recommendations of one of the oligarchs in Obasanjo's circle, Waziri Mohammed the reclusive Chairman of the ubiquitous but powerful Trade Malpractices Committee and Dangote's business partner. Ribadu has been Muhammed's sidekick since their undergraduate days in Zaria in the eighties.
The legal instrument establishing the commission, stipulates the composition of a board with representation of chief executives of all the security and financial regulatory institutions in the country. There has been a simmering tension and anger in this arrangement where a younger junior serving officer presides over his superiors especially within the establishments that are represented on the EFCC board. This has been one of the areas of contention since the creation of the commission. But because Ribadu and other members of the economic team enjoy the president's support, they have more weight and greater political clout than others. They exploit the president's trust and his impulsive proclivities to the maximum.
As if this is not enough, Ribadu's obsession for sensationalism and publicity has also been another source of great attrition. While the police command receives all the blame and gibe for the generally tardy security situation in the country, compounded by the targeted assassinations of prominent persons, increasing cases of armed robbery and its complicity in the Anambra mayhem, as well as massive rigging of the 2003 elections, the EFCC has undertaken an orchestrated media blitz and is reveling in it. The mainstream police command and other established organs of the public service are statute barred from such romance with the media. In sharp contrast, Ribadu has been conducting self promotion campaign and his trials in the media even though practically he has not achieved much in concrete terms apart from some case of vendetta and witch hunting being pursued by the commission. To make matters worse either by default or design, Ribadu's spin doctor, Ujudud Sheriff who is a regular columnist in the Daily Trust newspapers published here in Abuja had in one of his Tuesday columns last year, while commenting on the seeming shortcomings of the police called on the President to specifically replace Balogun with Ribadu. This action is clearly antagonizing to the police high command. While a lot of people may not see the salient points in this effrontery, such may be great source of internal friction in established organizations because the matter borders on crucial issues of loyalty, power and ambition.
The garrulous Chairman of the EFCC has cut the image of a schadenfreude, and a subscriber to the Napoleonic code stating severally in many newspaper interviews that any accused person is guilty until proved innocent, in direct contrast to the provisions of the constitution. It is trite law universally that; an accused is innocent until proved guilty.
The operations of the commission so far amounts to barefaced fascism as detentions, seizures of properties, indiscriminate foray into areas outside the commissions mandate are done with little recourse to the law. Court orders are flagrantly flouted. All these draconian measures and abuse of civil liberties are carried out under a democratic government whose very legitimacy supposedly depends on its adherence to the rule of law. As far as his mind frame is concerned, Ribadu had personally become totally disoriented after he read Jeffrey Robinson's book THE SINK (the book talks on finance, terrorism and crime and the author is a retired CIA staff). Even though the claims in the book, which he copiously quoted in a public lecture in Abuja last year, are based on rumours and speculations, Ribadu has become deeply spiteful of the Nigerian leadership and his thoughts and actions are driven by rage and hatred.
It is therefore within this scenario that the frosty relationship between Balogun and Ribadu can be sited with reports in the media of Ribadu's delayed promotion and allegations of feud and bad blood between the two. The sudden removal of Balogun looks like a carefully crafted premeditated plot exploiting the president's invidious and irascible nature and carried out with the aim of inflicting maximum damage on the hulking man.
On closer examination, at the moment, even though Balogun has been thrown out with ignominy and his image battered, the greater damage indeed has been done to the president, the cohesion between the established institutions of government and Nigeria's image in general. Today the EFCC appears superior and more assertive than the Nigerian Police command in its entirety, its parent body, for the plausible reason that the EFCC enjoys greater consideration in the Presidency and acts with impunity.
While the full drama is yet unfolding, caution and decorum should be exercised and the rule of law respected in the long-term interest of the nation.
Moses K. Gadol
GIMBIYA ST., GARKI