The lynching of Nuhu Ribadu

The Ribadu defection scandal, which has dominated our public discourse over the past two weeks, has generated heated debate, bitter and patronising, among Nigerians. Today, I yield this space to the commentary of one of my favourite public intellectuals and social entrepreneurs and author of “Revolution By Other Means: Challenges of Nigeria’s Emerging Generation”, Mr Chris Ngwodo:

Nuhu Ribadu’s defection from the All Progressive Congress to the ruling People’s Democratic Party has been greeted with savage personal attacks that have condemned him as a perfidious and opportunistic turncoat. By joining the PDP, the former anti-corruption czar is said to have betrayed his principles. Ribadu, it appears, is being held to a very rigorous standard of consistency – one that could only possibly be met by a political clairvoyant.
The absurdity and unfairness of the moral standard being applied to Ribadu become apparent when applied to the broader political landscape. Take Muhammadu Buhari who is widely lionized by his supporters as an incorruptible paragon. In 1998, he had told the BBC that he believed politics was “full of fraudulent acts.” “I cannot join people who will go and loot the treasury,” he insisted, “I have no plans to participate in politics” (Tell, March 16, 1998). In October 2000, Buhari stridently denied any interest in politics saying, “I have no desire to take part in partisan politics.” He was adamant that he would “not take part in partisan politics” despite being approached to do so (The Guardian, October 6, 2000). Within a few years, Buhari was seeking the grandest prize in Nigerian politics.
After his failed 2007 presidential bid, Buhari told the BBC, “I have been deceived by politicians, by the people who drafted me into politics. I have discovered that the people who drafted me into politics were not sincere after all; they only wanted to use me to get appointments or for their personal aggrandizement and not to serve the nation or the masses” (The News, September 24, 2007). Buhari was referring to, among other people, the All Nigeria People’s Party chairman Edwin Ume-Ezeoke and the then Kano State Governor Ibrahim Shekarau.
By the rigorous standards of political morality applied to Ribadu, it would be impossible for the APC itself (or indeed any of our political parties) to have come into existence. It would be unethical for veterans of the 1990 pro-democracy movement like Bola Tinubu and Kayode Fayemi to countenance making common cause with Tom Ikimi, who served as General Sani Abacha’s foreign minister, and Buhari who also served in that junta and persistently claims that Abacha was not the thieving despot that he undeniably was.
In late 2009, Ume-Ezeoke paid a solidarity visit to Shekarau, then governor of Kano State and lauded him for resolutely refusing to jump ship like other ANPP governors that had defected to the PDP – a strange remark since Ume-Ezeoke himself had championed his party’s alliance with the PDP in a so-called government of national unity two years earlier. Shekarau replied that Nigerians were in dire need of redemption from what he derisively called the “property development party” – a party which he said was suffering from a “cancerous ego and political jaundice” (The News, December 7, 2009).  Shekarau is now a PDP chieftain.
The APC chieftain, Nasir El-Rufai, who came to fame while serving in a PDP government, evinces little discomfort at being in the same party with Atiku Abubakar, the former vice-president whom he criticized for corruption in his memoirs. Abubakar’s trajectory in the last seven years has seen him migrate from the PDP to the Action Congress back to the PDP and now to the APC.
It is still unclear why PDP’s poaching of Jimi Agbaje or Ribadu provokes diatribes against these gentlemen while the APC’s recruitment of PDP stalwarts like Rabiu Kwankwaso, Rotimi Amaechi and Bukola Saraki is hailed as a victory for progressives. What exactly makes Ali Modu Sherriff or the catastrophically inept Murtala Nyako progressives? We may now await the defection to the APC of Aminu Tambuwal, a leader of one of the most avaricious legislatures in parliamentary history and his consequent baptism as a “progressive.”  It is worth noting that some of the elements now castigating Ribadu were involved in the ACN’s betrayal of his presidential candidacy in 2011 in favour enabling the PDP’s victory in the southwest.
It would take people who have never changed their views and never will; people who are either incapable of learning or unwilling to do so, to insist on the exacting standards of consistency with which Ribadu is being bludgeoned. Inflexibility and infallibility are dangerous.
Political nomadism is to be expected in an environment where ideological distinctions are still ill-defined and where self-interest, patriotism, idealism and Faustian pragmatism must necessarily co-exist.  We must also grasp the distinction between political expediency and administrative acumen. The fact that Kwankwaso and Amaechi were once in the PDP does not detract from their administrative accomplishments. Similarly, in or out of the APC, Ribadu remains a superior alternative to Nyako.
Our addiction to cartoonish heroes and villains warps our electoral choices. Democratic politics is not about canonizing saints. At worst, it is a calculus of greater and lesser evils. At best, it offers a choice between competence and incompetence. The important thing is to choose, on balance, the best man or woman for the job.