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Dele Momodu: The dilemma of anti-corruption crusaders

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Dele Momodu: The dilemma of anti-corruption crusaders

By Dele Momodu

“So when they continued asking Him, He stood up and said to them, ‘The one without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
– King James Bible, John 8: 7

Fellow Nigerians, anyone familiar with the Holy Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ of Nazareth would have come across one of his most famous quotes above. Jesus was not trying to promote, defend and encourage prostitution or fornication but he tried to show that none of mankind is without blemish. I’m yet to find any other quote more poignant than this. It sums up the hypocrisy of man and why we should be careful about judging others so violently without removing the speck in our own eyes.

I love reading those verses in the Bible for saying it as it is. Everywhere you turn in Nigeria today, the hottest topic is corruption. Even lawyers who should know better are saying the magnitude of corruption in our nation makes it imperative to employ extra-judicial means to try and convict alleged looters. The situation is so grave that corruption cases have become sensational thrillers on the front pages of newspapers. And it is obvious that we are all enjoying the melodrama despite its tragic nature. Some of the tales are stranger than fiction. They depict the wickedness of man and our incredible propensity for primitive acquisition of wealth. The greed factor has become so worrisome. Naturally, looters should be pilloried, denounced and convicted for looting their own people and country.

That is the expectation of most Nigerians but I have not too pleasant news for those that desire that they should be executed for this kind of crime. That is simply not possible under our laws. Even the spectre of conviction has its myriad of problems.

The battle ahead is not going to be simple and straight forward. I will explain why and advise the Buhari government on the way forward. History is all about reminding us of the past, where we are coming from, as a veritable guide to our collective future. Nigeria missed its best chance at curbing corruption during the successive military coups and rulership. As a matter of fact our military institutionalised corruption through the use of brute force to steal the common wealth of the people. We were never fortunate to have a military intervention that came ostensibly to clean the Augean stable. Rather ours came to odorise it offensively.

Say what you will, Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings came prepared like a man with a clear vision and mission. Though he trampled on human rights and wasted human lives, Ghana was lucky to start her journey towards economic emancipation and infrastructural development. Rawlings was able to set the tone and tempo for subsequent governments. Today, Ghanaian leaders are more disciplined than their counterparts elsewhere. They have imbibed the spirit of crime and punishment. Ministers can be dismissed for merely dreaming to use privileged positions to make big money in advance. The money has not even been stolen yet but punishment is swift and sure. The culture was deliberately and meticulously put in place and it has been sustained.

The purpose of my sermon today is that it is going to be tough for a civilian government to achieve what military regimes failed to put in place. Nigeria is at point zero when it comes to issues of corruption. It is foolhardy to limit corruption strictly to those in government and power. It is much worse. Those political leaders we love to deride can’t pilfer exclusively without the active connivance of members of the private sector. The war against corruption therefore has to be systemic and practically thought out. It cannot and should not be fought in a manner to suggest a lack of understanding of the critical factors that have oiled corruption and would continue to sustain its attractiveness. My concern for the Buhari government is about not making the same mistakes made in the past with concomitant results. All stakeholders in this change movement should not abandon the administration to commit perfidious acts because some people are bloodthirsty.

I offered the same advice in the past to the then Chairman of EFCC, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, at the peak of his highly celebrated reign. He had erroneously mistaken me for an enemy when I was indeed a true and concerned friend. I see myself as a good student of Nigerian history and political science and had tapped into that experience and exposure to warn Ribadu of the danger ahead. But two days after I wrote my open letter of admonition to him on this very page, in this same Thisday newspaper, he unleashed his agents on me in a most ferocious manner. I was called unprintable names and libelled for no reason. What was my offence?

The year was 2007 and President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was in power. The EFCC under Ribadu felt President Yar’Adua was somehow lukewarm to investigating and prosecuting James Ibori and others. It was also believed that the former Delta State Governor Ibori had nominated some of his cronies into that government and Ribadu was miffed. The media was used to harass and blackmail the President and I felt obliged to set the records straight.

My position was simple. I saw President Yar’Adua as a man of honour who knew and remembered how he came to power. He realised how he came to power through the networks, platforms and stupendous resources of the bad gangs as many would have described them. It must have been a horrific dilemma for the simple and unassuming President. President Yar’Adua was under no illusion that nations were governed by saints and he decided to give the devil its due but under close supervision. His determination was to block the profligacy of government and ensure that all drain-pipes were closed. But pressure was mounted on him to continue a vengeful vendetta against a selection of former Governors who were in the bad books of the omnipresent godfathers.

I wrote my epistle to Ribadu at that stage and stated the following facts. Where was EFCC when the Yar’Adua campaign was being openly funded from government coffers? Why should the President bite the fingers that fed him? Why the selective investigation and not a widespread and full examination of all public holders?

As normal in our clime, it was alleged that I must have been sent on this errand by some people. But such conspiracy theories never bother me. My freedom of expression is always sacrosanct to me. I was happy to state what my mind felt was right. The attack on my person was blistering and vicious but I could not be cowed. Thisday gave the response from Ribadu a front page treatment. I could not believe the extent Ribadu’s acolytes went to vilify me. I was livid. Within a few hours, I prepared a response with my brilliant lawyers and mailed it to the then Editor of Thisday, Simon Kolawole. We waited for the publication the following day but it was not published. I headed straight to the home of Thisday Publisher, Prince Nduka Obaigbena, who thought I was coming to join him for our occasional breakfast and jaw-jaw.

As soon as he saw my face, he knew something was terribly wrong. He asked why I was frowning and I told him how his publication, of which I was pioneer Editor, was being used to attack me. He requested for details and he told me to calm down. I said I was ready to sue him and his paper and he said that was not necessary and called Simon Kolawole. He told him to publish my own rejoinder and end the controversy right there. This was done the day after.

I took time to tell Mallam Ribadu why the rule of law must be respected at all times. That was when I coined the phrase that “we must never set fire to an entire village because we want to catch a few rats.” It was obvious that some personalities had been targeted for obliteration of their businesses or even physical personal annihilation. Homes were being invaded, windows shattered to gain access to those wanted dead or alive. Alleged criminals were tried and convicted on the pages of newspapers. They were pronounced guilty and treated as felons ahead of any judicial process. No one ever thought that pursuing one man and killing his business could ruin the lives of thousands of his staff and dependants. Finally, I prophesied that Ribadu himself may be haunted and hunted some day through our vindictive system.

President Yar’Adua read my piece and told Segun Adeniyi, his Special Adviser on Media, to call me. Segun informed me of how the President enjoyed reading my rebuttal and how proud he was about the way I marshalled my points. Like President Yar’Adua, President Muhammadu Buhari is a compulsive and voracious reader of newspapers. That is why I write these articles to keep him abreast of the reality on the streets.

No matter how angry and disappointed President Buhari is, he must constantly remember that he is a civilian President now. He must work closely with all arms and tiers of government and do nothing to suggest his deliberate disdain for orders and others. He should lay a solid foundation for the rule of law and accountability. He should employ the instrumentality of law to achieve his aim. In a situation where we over-dramatise the war against corruption and advertise to the world that we are the most corrupt people on earth, we can be sure that investors will run away.

Nobody wants to live in a society where no man is innocent and every alleged is guilty. The hoopla is getting out of hand and it is difficult not to see a pattern that indicates a witch-hunt the sort of which we saw in the past. We must seek a true change that protects the human rights of saints and sinners. We must do nothing to prolong the regime of fear and over-concentration of the power of life and death in the hands of privileged agents of government who would use coercion rather than persuasion.

When tomorrow comes, the rat race may be turned full circle to avenge the past. Recent history tells us this is likely to happen. Ribadu had to run out of Nigeria. Mrs Farida Waziri who took over was summarily dismissed. Today it is the turn of his former deputy, Ibrahim Larmode, who is now under investigation. I’m certain he will soon scream victimisation. Who knows tomorrow? If they had all worked for the establishment and rigorous enforcement of the rule of law, it would have become a due process too difficult to alter. We should not allow this trend to persist. We can penetrate homes through the normal doors instead of crashing through the roofs.

When we learn to trust our judges more and give them the true respect they deserve, many of them will reciprocate. When they are being insulted recklessly and endlessly, they may get hardened and respond in kind to a thankless society. After-all, the masquerade is a human being and not a deity from above. The system is bad but it can be made better. Even in America, an appointment to the Supreme Court is being politicised despite over 200 years of constitutional government…

Ribadu and I have since become friends. He now knows I was never his enemy. He ended up in the same party with those he considered villainous once upon a time. We both contested the Presidential race in 2011 and he visited me a day after he got nominated as ACN Presidential flag-bearer. We dined together and spent hours discussing how to make Nigeria better. Neither of us won the race because of the Nigerian factor. The Ribadu I see today now knows Nigeria better. I’m sure that given another chance, he would handle his job with maximum respect for fellow citizens no matter the prejudices he may harbour against some.

It is what we must all learn in the school of life; that no condition is permanent.

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