By Wole Soyinka
Thursday, December 11, 2008.
The news reached me in Canada where I was participating in a conference whose theme, with a humiliating appropriateness was - Understanding Nigeria. I do not recollect when last I focused all my psychic energies so intensely on one objective only: that the news would not spread among our hosts, and local participants.
There comes a saturation point when one's last wish, even under imminent execution, is to be spared having to answer one more question about yet another negative development from homeland, no matter whether one's response would be defensive, or in condemnatory agreement.
Sooner or later, repetition numbs the mind, renders it incapable of absorbing even the shock of the familiar. The escalation of a known tendency in its operations produces only a slightly different effect, one of delay - a brief moment of disbelief, bewilderment, and then - mind seizure. It was a deed of empathy that the weather in Toronto was freezing the body into near immobility - it helped to establish a state of equilibrium between body and soul - for once, I was grateful for inclement weather!
There were other Nigerian participants, flown in especially for the conference, prominently faculty from the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, among them, the Vice-Chancellor himself. It was, after all, collaboration on health and developmental projects with the University of Toronto and Massey College. The Nigerian embassy was fully involved, the ambassador making use of the opportunity to clean up the image of Nigeria in his foreign constituency. He should consider himself very lucky.
If the news had percolated through the conference, and I had been approached for a comment, I would have denied all knowledge and directed my questioner to him, as the government representative. Not for the first time, I felt genuine pity for Nigeria's diplomats abroad, obliged to explain the reasoning behind official, high-handed assaults on the simplest demands of natural justice, a disdain for plain, common decency towards individual deserving, such as that which took place at the NIPSS (The Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies) graduation ceremony, Kuru, on Saturday, November 22.
Frankly, when I received the first phone call, I refused at first to believe it. Not until I had spoken to an eye-witness, who fleshed out the details of this latest public obscenity, would I accept that, once again, the persecution of a faithful servant of the nation had plunged beyond prior depths, turning Nuhu Ribadu, former arrowhead of the battle against corruption, into a pincushion for the sadistic games of reprobates and recidivists latched to the ear of power.
Criminal impunity has scaled the peaks of public glory; It basks in the rays of official endorsement, confident in the collaboration of executive agencies. Its message is transparent, and comprehensive. Just one example, an institutional sabotage, no less: there was a great deal of controversy over the choice of Nuhu Ribadu's replacement at the head of the Anti-corruption agency, the EFCC.
In the end however, to cushion public resignation, there remained the hope that Madam Farida Waziri might actually feel challenged by the record of her predecessor and proceed to prove herself. But now, after the Kuru act of malevolent triumphalism against Nuhu, the efforts of that replacement, however genuine and dedicated, are permanently compromised, since this message is also for her = tread on any powerful toes, and see what will also happen to you.
National looting is now consecrated. So far, what we have largely witnessed and, for some, personally endured, has been the phenomenon of exposed criminals brazenly and confidently turning on their accusers with slanderous fabrications, a frenzied muddying of the waters to obscure clear vision and sap the resolve of witnesses of truth with assassination tactics, directed either at their pursuers' character and reputation or indeed, towards their physical elimination. So many unexplained murders, especially in the past decade are traceable to efforts to nail the miscreants and cleanse institutions of cabals of impunity.
The resolve to silence and block channels of exposure is as old as the nation itself - remorseless, crude, unscrupulous and lavishly funded. With the latest assault on Nuhu Ribadu however, the nation has been invited to understand that such responses are indeed the formal manifestation of the culture of power, transmitted in all its mottled panoply and in circumstances where no ambiguity is involved, no alternative interpretation possible.
We learn that Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, who was present at the scene, has since requested that Nuhu Ribadu's certificate be handed over to him. Until this moment however - five days after the event and despite public outcry - there has been no official repudiation of the actual incident - the expulsion of Nuhu ribadu and his family from the graduation hall. Evidently such conduct is considered the norm within the Presidency, and the nation must prepare to witness recurrences, dedicated to the same end, no matter the variations.
Nuhu Ribadu: The popular former anti-corruption Czar now hounded by the Yar'Adua Government.
Understanding Nigeria? The Canadian conference organizers should have saved themselves the energy and expense by substituting the theme - UNDERMINING Nigeria. A single session would suffice, consisting of a report from an eye-witness directly from the scene, and a government respondent, ideally the Inspector-General of Police, or the Director of the Institute for Strategic Studies under whose watch this affront was perpetrated.
Then the world would be left to form its own judgement, without the interventions of experts, analysts and other 'busybodies'. It would identify, once for all, just who consistently undermine the nation - the hidden forces, or those who openly bear witness.
The Kuru episode is not merely symptomatic or symbolic, it is summative. The last word has been spoken, and it is nothing less than an ideological pronouncement. The instigators of this event, and the silent complicity of governance, have set the seal of doom on all efforts for moral sanitization. The anti-419 labour has been rendered meaningless and hypocritical. Not that this is new knowledge, but this latest act of indecent self-expsosure identifies its perpetrators - by act or silent connivance - as the Supreme 419 Godfathers.
It is possible of course that Nuhu Ribadu has committed some unspeakable crime, and with his family as accessories, that they should all be subjected to such public indignity on a day when all this man required, as of right, was to collect his hard earned certificate. Like a loyal officer, he had accepted his posting on a 'refresher course', completed that course and was owed his diploma by the institution.
For whatever else he felt were his dues, he had appropriately consigned his fate, as a law enforcement citizen, to the judiciary. However, his very presence was seen to besmirch the police escutcheon, and he was expelled from a public gathering, while his family underwent the same humiliation. Surely, their crime must have been one that makes decent citizens hold their noses.
Well then, if the crime that earned such treatment is not revealed, perhaps the public should take a hand. The public trial of his former boss, Olusegun Obasanjo may have to be shelved for a while - that is a long-term, protracted project in any case - while we tackle this public menace, Nuhu Ribadu, and place him in the dock.
The government, the police and all other aggrieved citizens should be invited to appear in their own persons or send representatives so that we know, once for all, and reveal to the entire world just what 'evil genius' has lorded it over the EFCC these past years until the nation was rescued from his wiles.
So far, all we have encountered have been persistent, all-engrossing efforts to protect the nation from this silent contagion. I invite civil organizations to commence preceedings to reinforce the patriotic efforts of Nuhu Ribadu's persecutors, with a civil exercise in public enlightenment.
Let us put this menace on trial!
Wole Soyinka is a Nobel Laureate in Literature.
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