Ribadu and the spectre of political vagrancy

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In Nigeria
Aug 23rd, 2014
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But then, if there is no real difference between the two major parties, should Ribadu not more logically have refused to cast his lot with either? Now that he has cast his lot with the PDP, those he has fought vigorously all his life will do everything to abort his ambition. Are we likely to witness the premature eclipse of an otherwise promising political career? Time will tell 

In his classic essay titled “Case For Ideological Orientation”, Chief Obafemi Awolowo declared that “In any theatre of life with which he is identified, every one of us has an orientation…If you meet a politician who is unwilling or unable, to declare and, as precisely as possible, describe his position in relation to the cardinal points of political compass, you will feel strongly tempted to denounce him as a fraud, a total misfit or a hopeless drifter”. Affirming his own commitment to the ideology of democratic socialism, the sage contended further that “…the aim of any progressive government must include social justice, equal opportunity for all, respect for human dignity and the welfare and happiness of all, regardless of creed, parentage and station in life”. Thus, in concrete policy terms, the parties led by Awolowo in the first and second republics – the Action Group (AG) and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), respectively, were committed to the provision of free education, free health care, full employment, rural integration and development as well as massive development of infrastructure. The more conservative inclined parties such as the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) of the first and second republics were less inclined to utilise state resources for the provision of social welfare services for the vast majority of the people. They rather preferred policies that would help cultivate a viable business class and thriving private sector capable of spurring economic growth believing that the masses would ultimately benefit from the ‘trickle down’ effects of such policies.

Despite the existence of a multiplicity of political parties, there has always been the tendency towards a broad-based two-party system in Nigeria. Thus, in the first republic, the party system was systematically coalescing into two broad alliances, the conservative Nigerian National Alliance (NNA) comprising the NPC and its allies and the more progressive United Peoples Grand Alliance (UPGA) made up of the AG, NCNC and smaller parties from the Middle Belt and Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers (COR) provinces. This tendency was replicated in the second republic when two broad party alliances emerged – the NPN and its allies as well as the Progressive Parties Alliance (PPA) comprising the UPN, NPP and the more radical factions of the PRP and the GNPP. It was obviously the manifestation of this two party tendency that informed the formation by the Babangida regime of two state-created parties, the ‘little to the left’ Social Democratic Party  (SDP) and the ‘little to the right’ National Republican Convention (NRC). Of course, IBB’s novel attempt at political engineering crashed as a result of his own vaulting ambition to perpetuate himself in office, which led to his disastrous annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election.

True, the phenomenon of political vagrancy – the tendency for political actors to move opportunistically and arbitrarily from one party to another irrespective of their ideological disposition – has been a feature of Nigerian politics right from the first republic. With each successive dispensation, political parties have become less of vehicles for the articulation and implementation of public policies based on distinct ideological platforms and more of veritable vote-harvesting machines through which political actors acquire power largely for the criminal and primitive accumulation of wealth. The more the role of ideology has been de-emphasised in Nigeria’s politics, the more politicians across board have tended to prostitute themselves moving embarrassingly from one party to the other in their quest for power, devoid of principle. This problem has considerably worsened in contemporary Nigeria where we now have two major parties, the entrenched People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the emergent All Progressives Congress (APC) made up of a merger of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). The rapid movement of political actors from one of these parties to the other and back to their former abode has been quite dizzying and stupefying. As it were, this seems to mark, finally, the ‘end of ideology’ in Nigerian politics.

The latest example of political vagrancy on display is that of the movement of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu from the APC to the PDP. This development has left many disappointed and dismayed. As head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) during the Obasanjo presidency, the fear of Ribadu was the beginning of wisdom. He fought corruption with unprecedented passion and ferocity. His detractors have accused Ribadu of having gone only after Obasanjo’s perceived political foes. But no one has been able to prove that even a single one of the corrupt elements whom Ribadu single-mindedly prosecuted and got convicted was innocent of the crime of corrupt enrichment. Ribadu won national and international acclaim for his anti-graft offensive. It was this solid character and anti-corruption record of Ribadu that the defunct ACN sought to profit from when it fielded Ribadu as its presidential candidate in the 2011 presidential election. While most knowledgeable Nigerians readily admit that corruption is the greatest menace threatening Nigeria’s progress and very existence, they were reluctant to give Ribadu their votes at the polls. Most of those who voted for General Muhammadu Buhari, the CPC candidate, who also has an impeccable anti-corruption record, did so more for religious and ethno-regional rather than ethical reasons. There is no reason to believe that even now, corruption is a serious issue with the average Nigerian voter.

Indeed, the ACN saw that a bloc- vote for Ribadu in the South-West in the 2011 election, could lead to a stalemate with no candidate being able to secure the necessary constitutional requirement to emerge as winner in the first ballot. The result would be a likely run-off between President Jonathan and Buhari. The ACN leadership, given the perceived contempt with which it was treated by the CPC did not feel inclined to give the CPC such a helping hand. This resulted in the voting pattern in the South-West that aided Jonathan’s victory on the first ballot. Against this background, can anyone really blame Ribadu if he sees the PDP as offering him a more viable and feasible platform to emerge as governor of Adamawa State given the current socio-economic and political realities of Nigeria? Can anyone fault Ribadu if he has become tired of battering his head in futility against a rock solid wall of the corrupt Nigerian establishment? If he is able to hold a prominent political office on the platform of any party, will Ribadu not be in a vantage position to demonstrate practically the anti-corruption values he has consistently and vigorously espoused? Of course, the downside is that once he is helped to power by the very forces of corruption he has so fiercely and viciously denounced, he may no longer have the moral authority to lead any battle against corruption. For, those who helped him up the power ladder can also readily engineer his downfall if he attempts to play any game of self-righteousness.

Justifying his defection to the PDP and obtaining the party’s nomination form for the Adamawa state governorship election, Ribadu reportedly contended that there is little or no difference ideologically and morally between the PDP and APC. This may be true to some extent. However, most APC governors have undoubtedly provided more inspirational, visionary and productive governance in their respective states than the PDP has done at the centre since 1999. Yet, it is difficult to distinguish between the bankrupt neo-liberal economic policies of the PDP at the centre and those of the state governments including those controlled by the APC. This is why reactionary elements of the PDP particularly in the South-West have been able to mischievously position themselves as champions of the common man without articulating any coherent programme for the liberation of the latter from misery and poverty? But then, if there is no real difference between the two major parties, should Ribadu not more logically have refused to cast his lot with either? Now that he has cast his lot with the PDP, those he has fought vigorously all his life will do everything to abort his ambition. Are we likely to witness the premature eclipse of an otherwise promising political career? Time will tell.

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