(Wale Adebanwi’s “A Paradise for Maggots: the Story of a Nigerian Anti-Graft Czar”)
By Adeleke Adeeko
Although this tome is about Nuhu Ribadu, the founding chairman and nurturer of one of the world’s most famous anti-graft agencies, the EFCC, and current presidential candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the biographical subject happens not to be the protagonist of the narrative. That position goes to the incurable malfeasance of Nigeria’s leadership. This powerful and unassailable bug lives in the structure of Nigeria’s public service systems and overpowers whoever enters that realm. Adebanwi pictures the bug as a maggot and the environment that cuddles it as paradise.
To this reviewer, the title sounds like an attempt to rename and reorient Nigeria’s--nay Africa’s--commanding manner of misnaming unearned wealth as nourishment: a bribe used to be called kolanut, a stimulant to be shared among friends; then it became hors d’oeuvres or egunje; thereafter, it grew into a full banquet of sumptuous eating in public, adulating glare. By conjuring up the unhealthy ecology of an uncleaned latrine, Adebanwi points his readers towards a clear moral end and urges them to mentally picture graft not as nourishment but as unsanitary self-abnegation.
The subtle campaign continues inside the book. Adebanwi does not beat his readers on the head with accounts of Nuhu Ribadu’s extraordinariness and, thankfully, restrains from making his subject into an epic hero. He portrays instead a dedicated antagonist fighting super-Nigerian difficulties as he conducts unending skirmishes against maggots of Kukuruku Hills proportion coming at him from all corners of the country in its diverse splendors of ethnicity, language, faith, age, profession, ecology, and region. The latrine Nuhu Ribadu sought to disinfect is filled with wastes made by heads of government agencies, judges, policemen, bureaucrats, bankers, simple miscreants, etc. The seepage Adebanwi describes Nuhu Ribadu confronting will humble the greatest municipal engineering wit. It is a miracle that our antagonist does not go under completely.
This review is partly meant to express a citizen’s admiration for Nuhu Ribadu. I admire him because he is fearless (he once gave a dirty slap to an armed robber who seized a car he was riding with his friend; he told the late Umaru Yar’Adua not to run for the presidency; he denied Obasanjo’s wishes for a soft landing for Tafa Balogun, Ribadu’s own immediate boss in the police). Ribadu’s humane approach to his work moves me (he acknowledges James Ibori’s gestures to befriend him). I admire the sterling public spiritedness that motivates Ribadu (this man could have been an NNPC lawyer but chose to join the police). Ribadu’s selfless crusade for the advancement of his country recommends itself to all right thinking patriots. He loves his country passionately--and not just his section of origin as some calumniators insist without proof. I am thrilled by accounts of Ribadu’s stomping on maggots of all regions, states, professions, and religions. I love his willful calculations on how to get the biggest bang for his (anti-graft) buck, as Americans say. This man launched the investigation that nailed Bode George. This man handcuffed Mohammed Bulama of Bank of the North (only to be pardoned by the late president Yar Adua). In Ibadan, Nuhu Ribadu publicly called out the late Lamidi Adedibu as a non-entity within the great scheme of things. At the same forum, he mocked Adebayo Alao-Akala, the sitting state governor. If I may ask: what’s not to love about this man?
Ribadu knows Kanu Agabi very well. He is a friend of Femi Falana. Gani Fawehinmi was an unofficial mentor. Ribadu communicates easily with Oby Ezekwesili. Nassir el-Rufai has been his collaborator. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is comfortable with him. It is also clear in the final chapters that Adebanwi’s love and respect for Nuhu Ribadu are not merely intellectual. I see one patriot hailing another. Ribadu desires greatness for Nigeria and questions thieving authorities with no regard for self-interest. He believes that those who steal and gobble up the nation’s immense patrimony must be force-fed powerful laxatives to make them disgorge their sinful meals. Ribadu has an absolute confidence in his God. In my reading of Adebanwi, that is the only entity he reveres. Again: what is not to like about Ribadu?
All right, another round of reading revealed one flaw: self-doubt is a stranger to him. Once Ribadu convinces himself he is right, he presses on full bore. But that cannot be an undesirable attribute; can it. I found one more flaw: he tethers his agency to no overriding political theory. But can that be a bad trait in our current political climate? Since I am talking about flaws now, I should note that I was surprised that only a few pages are written about Mrs Ribadu, a selfless lawyer who could have made good hay with her spouse’s fame. This is the person we owe a sea of gratitude for letting Nuhu Ribadu be Nuhu Ribadu. Well, this last fault is Adebanwi’s and not Ribadu’s.
We learn from A Paradise for Maggots that Ribadu is the son of a government minister who was never suspected of embezzling public property. Nuhu Ribadu was taught from youth that selfless public service is fulfilling, even if it will not enrich you monetarily. He knew early in life that building a schoolroom is among the best things one could do for a traditional society struggling to manage modernity without discrediting its old ways. Nuhu Ribadu attended the university named for Ahmadu Bello at a time when left leaning thought occupied prime place in Samaru and radical scholars from all over the world found a home there. Nuhu Ribadu finds himself, sometimes willfully inserting himself, in critical spots at which efforts are being made to change the warped state policy that turns on graft. Ribadu was a fledgling lawyer for the Buhari-Idiagbon military tribunals in 1984. He sharpened his skills during the failed banks investigations of the Abacha era. He reached the top when Obasanjo named him to lead EFCC.
Adebanwi’s book is not a typical campaign volume. It sets itself apart from molue hagiography with great details on the genetic fingerprint of the paradise-infesting maggots Ribadu wants to exterminate. We get to know, for instance, that the history of major developments in Nigerian political history is the history of corruption probes. Discovering, documenting, publicizing, and gesturing at eradicating corruption are the most common methods with which regimes have been compromised, and regime changes have been justified, in Nigeria since independence: Coker commission in the old Western region; probes of ACB in the defunct Eastern region; $2.8 billion oil money scandal during the Shagari era; Atiku Abubakar’s documented revelations of tawdry transfers of public funds into private accounts to fund elections during the waning days of Obasanjo’s second coming; the convictions of chieftains of transnational corporations in Europe and the US for bribing Nigerian officials; the removal of Dariye, Alamisiegha, Fayose, Ladoja, etc., from office. And these are only civilians. For the military, Adebanwi reminds us of the Tarka-Daboh affair, and of the Muhammed-Obasanjo mass purge of the civil service.
When Adebanwi concludes that corruption seems to have become a key instrument of state policy in Nigeria, he cannot be faulted. Following Adebanwi, it is easy to theorize that corruption discourse is the main instrument with which Nigerian rulers invent legitimacy, induce consent from the governed, nurture public goodwill, and sustain continuation. Governance in Nigeria thrives on corruption! The choreographed show of shame witnessed last weekend in Lagos on the release of Bode George from prison confirms Adebanwi’s argument in every which way. George’s political party feted him, the Anglican Church opened its massive doors and offered him the possibility of spiritual redemption without urging him to pay restitution, Olusegun Obasanjo, the creator of EFCC, rejoiced with George, and the federal government sent representatives to the prison release party of a man convicted of malicious, self-enriching violations of federal government’s procurement rules! Let there be no misperception here: the assault on morality is meant to smother outrage and numb the mind of the voting public. Here is a brazen attempt to compel the public to agree with Bode George’s amorality and lead all of us to mistrust the judiciary. I am not sure they have not succeeded. These events confirm Adebanwi’s interpretation of Ribadu’s actions that our country could be registered at the Corporate Affairs Commission in Abuja under the trade name Aggravated Corruption, PLC. This corporation has 36 well-stocked depots of mindless engorgement.
We need to thank Adebanwi for showing the country that Ribadu is not alone. The network of powerful friends and collaborators I listed above proves that. But far more significant is how Adebanwi links his interpretation to critical comments in selected cultural and literary artifacts to prove that Nuhu Ribadu’s many wars are not egomaniacal rascalities. Adebanwi interweaves Fela’s lyrics into his narrative, quotes from the poetry of Chris Okigbo and Ogaga Ifowodo, and thereby places Ribadu within a pan-Nigerian community of thoughtful activists. I could not tell whether Ribadu listens to Fela or reads Okigbo and Ifowodo. That is beside the point. The important thing is that the portrayal shows Ribadu as one incarnation in a long line of patriots who have tried at different moments to sweep out maggots so that our paradise can truly form.
Unlike others, however, Ribadu does not believe that the government is by nature corrupt or evil. He therefore works the government from inside. He stays in government to improve it. Yes, he is disgusted with government like most of us. But unlike many of us, he puts himself in positions from which he can do something at the systemic level. Adebanwi’s analysis affirms that Ribadu ends up doing many, many things for the betterment of all.
To indulge in one more cliché, Ribadu knows where the corpses are buried. His exhumation expertise is unrivaled. If corruption has evolved into a core “principle of state policy” and governance in Nigeria, and if this evil principle is largely responsible for how things are today, such that the mind boggling sums of money thrown at electricity generation and distribution have only yielded candlelight illumination, it is beyond doubt that the evolutionary path of this virus must be blocked by all means. At the present time, no living Nigerian is better qualified than Nuhu Ribadu to carry out that task. If we refuse to elect this man of uncommonly strong convictions as the next president of Nigeria, we do so at our own collective peril. With his candidacy, Ribadu is asking for another chance to do something. We cannot afford to deny him (and ourselves) that opportunity.
Adebanwi’s book is professorial, and I mean that in a comradely way. Duh! A professor should write like one. Fortunately, most Nigerians read when some material gain--examination success, for example--is in sight. To my mind, nothing could be more urgent at this time in our country than electing Nuhu Ribadu into office. To help matters, A Paradise for Maggots must be disseminated widely, far more widely than in its present format. We may immediately need an abridged version illustrated lavishly with pictures of the photogenic Ribadu. An e-book version should have been issued three months before now. Elections are less than two months away and Ribadu needs to be re-introduced to voters.
(Adeeko is of The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA)