Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, although you are a Moslem, your cosmopolitanism is such that you surely are familiar with one of the most famous biblical aphorisms about the truth. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free,” declares our Galilean friend and apostle of Jesus Christ, John Zebedee, in the biblical book which bears his first name. Freedom, that which is actuated by the truth, came, for me, in the form of a reluctant admission of one grim, sobering, and solemn fact about the destiny of my generation (40 – 60 years-old) in the Nigerian equation.
I was set free the day I decided to accept a friend’s Facebook advice that some countries are not meant to be good, fair, and just in the lifetime of particular generations of their citizenry. I was set free the day I decided to live with the fact that, as that friend of mine put it, some countries are meant to serve a higher and nobler purpose by being bad, corrupt, unfair, unjust, self-destructive, and permanently dysfunctional as a lesson to others who may point at them and learn how not to be a country. Another bosom friend of mine, one of Cameroon’s most prolific novelists, recently told me, also on Facebook, that Paul Biya’s favourite refrain is: “tout, sauf le Nigeria!” Anything but Nigeria! And that from the mouth of one of Africa’s open sores! Paul Biya can tolerate the idea of Cameroon being as bad as anything except Nigeria! When you serve as an example of how not to be a country for a buffoon serving as life president of one of Africa’s most wretched banana republics, you can hardly sink lower but I don’t trust Nigeria.
I was set free the day I decided to accept the fact that I am unlikely to see in my lifetime the Nigeria that my pen and intellect have been fighting relentlessly for all these years. I was set free the day I decided to accept the fact that, although many of the intellectual warriors fighting for and envisioning a new Nigeria, and rejecting Nigeria as defined by Goodluck Jonathan and the corrupt brood of vipers he leads in the political class, are members of my generation, ours is a generation that should look in the mirror and see Moses starring back at us. I am talking about that lonely, forlorn figure on the heights of Mount Nebo, the location from whence his eyes beheld the Promised Land whose earth his feet would never kiss. I was set free the day I accepted the fate of Moses: I may be capable of deploying the power of my imagination to “see” the Nigeria that I am fighting for, it is highly unlikely that the real thing will happen in my lifetime. Given Nigeria’s life expectancy, I’m in fact already in the ranks of lucky citizens functioning in injury time.
So, why I am still fighting, having accepted these liberating truths about my fate as a Nigerian? The answer is simple. I have to die fighting to ensure that the generation after me will not hand over the Mosaic fate to those coming after them. I have to die fighting to ensure that the Nigerian babies we are making as write will not hit their forties, fifties, and sixties writing Mosaic epitaphs for posterity. I have to die fighting to ensure that those coming after me will fight a much shorter battle and stand a much brighter chance of seeing a Nigeria that is fair, just, humane, functional, and developed in their own lifetime. This battle is, of course, in the long run, to be fought in the domain of the bigger picture.
Today, we have to contend with the short run and the smaller picture of the everyday mess that is Nigeria. That is where the problem lies. The everyday mess of Nigeria comes with certain realities that you and I had better wake up to, Mallam Ribadu. The smell of the coffee is so strong that I’m surprised you’re not choking on it. I have watched with considerable admiration this past week your continued efforts to rid our land of corruption. You took the battle to James Ibori in a London court room. And we were reminded of that unbelievable episode of the $15 million bribe you rejected from the Homo Corruptus of Oghara. That, alone, makes you the Nigerian of the century. It may take another century before we encounter a Nigerian who would throw $15 million back in the face of a corrupt bribe giver.
You have, of course, been very talkative. You have said a lot of things about James Ibori. You have said a lot of things about Mike Okiro. Ibori and Okiro are of course two corrupt jackasses and there is nothing you are saying about both men that Nigerians don’t already know. What you seem to have forgotten is that Nigeria is the political paradise of corrupt jackasses. Nigeria is where a jackass Presidency makes it a point of duty to rehabilitate, recycle, and reward corrupt jackasses; where the system awards nine lives of political relevance to corrupt jackasses and they are recycled back into the system as kingmakers, elder statesmen, and shapers of public opinion. Think of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. Think of Bode George, the ex-convict now running his filthy mouth all over our newspapers.
Going to 2015 and even 2019, this is the Nigeria that we’ve got. I am saying in essence that 2015 and 2019 are part of the short run and smaller picture of Nigeria’s everyday mess that we must deal with. With the kind of money they have in a place like Nigeria, we could very well wake up tomorrow and see a political landscape with Mike Okiro and James Ibori featuring as Godfathers and shapers of political destinies. Nobody with the amount of money that Ibori and Okiro have stolen is ever irrelevant in Nigeria. We are hearing stories of companies still making remittances to Ibori. He is still in charge of the treasury of Delta state via his cousin, Emmanuel Uduaghuan. That is a lot of corrupt money, the sort of corrupt money that the jackass Nigerian state and the jackass Nigerian system reward with political relevance, prison or no prison.
Perhaps you are running your mouth against these two corrupt jackasses because, unlike me, you are yet to make your peace with the possibility that ours is such a hopeless system that both men could become political players in 2015 and 2019 irrespective of their current stations in life. This is why I must ask you a question I want you to think about very seriously: if things happened the Nigerian way and Okiro and Ibori (from prison) suddenly became very serious players in the 2015 and 2019 chess game, would you stand your ground and maintain everything you have said about both men this past week? We’ve been down this road before with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Patience Jonathan. I don’t want to awaken the ghosts of recantation. I don’t want to relive the sordid spectacle of a man of honour and integrity suddenly swallowing previously uttered words like balls of pounded yam red carpeted through the throat by egusi soup with orisirisi.
I was part of the Nigerian Village Square (www.nigeriavillagesquare.com) editorial board team that interviewed you in the build up to 2011. We had some very interesting interview sessions with a good number of presidential aspirants. We interviewed General Buhari, Dele Momodu, and Governor Bukola Saraki. Then came your turn. We in the panel had all your statements about Patience Jonathan and Tinubu in google printouts right there in front of us. It was very painful listening to you as you tried to heehaw your way out of statements you made to the nation. You screamed and swore and denied and denied and denied again. No, you never said any such thing about Tinubu’s corruption. Patience Jonathan is corrupt ke? E gba mi o. When and where did I say it? You attributed everything to the handiwork of mischievous and disgruntled elements.
Now you are back in the public square screaming that two seriously moneyed figures who, thanks to our jackass political system, could be back as serious players and makers of political destinies, are corrupt thieves. Yes, Okiro and Ibori are corrupt jackasses and irredeemable thieves – two essential requirements for political relevance and leadership in Nigeria. But you do understand that you have considerable followership in Nigeria and many look up to you as an essential player in the Nigeria of our dreams.
Personally, I do not see a path to Nigeria’s future that would exclude somebody like you. However, whether you will be in the position to play the role I believe destiny wants you to play in the life and future of Nigeria depends on you and your mouth. If you can keep that mouth consistent on the track of denunciation of corruption without shameful recantation at the first smell of political opportunity, I think you will last long in the business of working for Nigeria’s future and fulfilling the hopes and aspirations of your teeming followers and admirers. If, however, the political destinies of Okiro and Ibori changed in 2015 or 2019 and you hit the airwaves heehawing that you never said the things you are saying about them today, the two men may yet stand on their mountains of corrupt money and point at the ashes of your reputation as warning to those who attempt to rubbish corrupt jackasses in Nigeria, the political paradise of corrupt jackasses.