It was perhaps the biggest news item of the past week. I am referring, of course, to the report that a new coalition of political groups to be known as Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) was contemplating picking Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the pioneer chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), as its presidential candidate in the 2011 presidential election. Considering Ribadu’s response twenty-four hours later in an interview with the redoubtable Saharareporters.com, my feeling is that the action of the ACN was a hasty but bold attempt to “grab” Ribadu before others beat them to the plot. Ribadu told Saharareporters he had not reached the point where he could make a definitive declaration about running for the office of president, while admitting that he had been approached by several political groups and non-political party actors, including youth, women and elders who are clamoring for change in Nigeria.
Whatever the reason for the position of the ACN, the news is generating a lot of buzz, understandably so. The prospects of a Ribadu presidency sound tantalizing. Not since M.KO. Abiola and the famous June 12, 1993, historic elections has a candidate excited Nigerians the way the news of Ribadu joining the 2011 presidential race has; and in both scenarios, we can draw some parallels: Ribadu, like Abiola, has charisma, international respect, as well as nation-wide acceptance; like Abiola, Ribadu is not provincial.
Ribadu has many other things going for him. He is young and energetic (will be 50 years in November). He understands and appreciates the issue of corruption in Nigeria which is perhaps the greatest reason we are still mired in poverty 50 years after independence. Being in public service for about half his life, he may not have spoken openly about politics, economics, religion, and many other problems confronting us as a nation, but he has a thorough grasp of the issues. The next few months, if he decides to run for the presidency, will afford him an opportunity to lay before Nigerians, his ideas and policies to for a new Nigeria.
Ribadu is well travelled and is more than capable of the representing Nigeria at the international level. As one editor put it, the world is now electing younger presidents, with broader foreign policy perspectives, with notions and ideas of integrity, and above all with models of the future. Who better to articulate our problems and represent our interest before a global audience than one who has had a first had experience as Ribadu has had in the last two years.
Is Ribadu the messiah? Certainly, not! But again, is Nigeria in search of a messiah? Nigeria is a nation in search of greatness; one in dire need of inspiration and leadership. Just like M.K.O Abiola before him, the emergence of Ribadu and the huge interest it is generating has a lot to do with our national experience and, to some extent, the character of the leaders that are thrown up by circumstance.
Of course, in a democracy, the majority are permitted the right to their fantasy. The belief that this is our candidate and the shared responsibility of propelling him to victory is the reason for this almost cult followership. Unfortunately, there is no experience to learn from. Abiola didn’t make it. Perhaps, Ribadu would, and it is for Nigerians – those who will make his presidency possible — to hold him accountable every minute of his time in office.
There are those who may argue that Ribadu has little or no political experience. I counter that by saying it is the least of our problems as a nation. We are living in exceptional circumstances and the ability to confront the challenges we face has nothing to do with having decades of experience in our brand of politics. Some people have also argued that it is too soon for Ribadu to run for president. I say now is the time. By 2015, he will be 55 years, and considerably young. But then his appeal will not be anything close to what it is now. There certainly will be new faces, and perhaps new icons. If he loses, it can only make him a stronger candidate in 2015.
Ribadu joining the presidential race will spur a lot of interest in politics and revive politicking. Imagine a presidential election that pitches him against incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan (if he decides to run now that his party has sacrificed zoning on the altar of expediency). It will be a throwback to 1993 minus the incumbency factor. This dream race will be a true test for democracy in Nigeria and an assessment of the ability of the new leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct credible election.
It is easy to see why some people may be a bit sceptical about the desire of political parties gravitating towards Ribadu. It is the nature of politics in Nigeria. This is the season of realpolitik and politicians of all shades and colours need something or someone to make them relevant. But where to pitch his tent, is a decision Ribadu has to make, not just based on the clamour, but also on his conviction, analysis, and understanding of the interests at stake.
Finally, whether on the platform of ACN or some other platform, Ribadu must seriously consider joining the race for 2011. Too many Nigerians, and even foreigners, have invested emotionally on the possibility of Ribadu running for president in 2011. I don’t think Ribadu wants to be tagged a heartbreaker!
Author: Chido Onumah