Nuhu Ribadu and the call to serve By Ayisha Osori
“Oronto Douglas in support of Ribadu’s decision quoted Roosevelt who said “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause”. But is chairing the PRSTF a worthy cause and even if it were, the true question is ‘can it be a worthy cause in terms of the value to Nigerians under the current circumstances?”
When news broke that Nuhu Ribadu was going to chair the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force (PRSTF) it was like hearing that a black swan had been sighted. Many were skeptical, convinced Ribadu was a victim of appointment by media blackmail and others were worried about the position – why would a former presidential aspirant agree to report to a controversial minister in the cabinet of a man he ran against? CPC wished him luck along with those who thought it was noble of him to serve his country in whatever capacity he could and ACN disowned him and aligned with those who think he has made a big mistake.
It could not have been an easy decision for Ribadu to make and his press statment means he is not oblivious of public opinion. However, the statement provides no clues about how he resolved the dilemma he must have faced; a dilemma which many who want to contribute positively to governance must face. “Must I be inside to make a difference?” “Will the good I want to contribute outweigh the problems and compromises I will face in the system?” And, “how far will I go down a dark road in pursuit of bringing light?” For Max Weber this dilemma is rooted in the conflict between the ethics of moral commitment and the ethics of social responsibility. In other words, will your personal convictions (moral commitments) outweigh your responsibility to your community? If a Minister of youth and social development was intent on getting a bill passed to make it easier to prosecute rapists and sexual predators on campuses and the legislators refused to pass the law until they had been adequately incentivized– would such a minister be justified in persuading them in order to achieve the ‘greater’ good (social responsibility) or should the minister refuse to be compromised and let the bill die (moral commitment)? We might never know the arguments which played out in Ribadu’s head before he made his decision but we know which arguments won.
According to him, he answered a national call which his upbringing taught him to honour – because ‘honest public service is the greatest asset a person can offer his community’. It is difficult to argue with this but it is hard to shake the feeling that if he still harbours any presidential ambition – he will regret this decision.
To be fair, there are several considerations in favour of his decision. The first is obvious – our country needs good people at the helm of affairs and in every orifice of government. The catalogue of what is wrong in Nigeria does not need repeating – and while the current government is not the originator of our problems, they are a continuation of the bad governance we have been inflicted with and are working furiously to exacerbate the problems. So there is no better time than now for people who care about Nigeria and want to see a positive change to get involved.
The second consideration is the belief that you can’t create change from the outside, you have to be inside. This seems counter intuitive for Nigeria because anything with government involvement usually fails e.g., if Nollywood had been the brainchild of government, it would not have gone this far.
As an insider, who has been on the outside recently, Ribadu should have an interesting perspective on what is possible from the inside, at the driver’s seat and from the outside as a consultant.
The third consideration is one that we can only guess at – the personal motivation – the inner part of decision making that he might never admit to – not even to himself. Presidential ambition means he wants to remain relevant in the minds of Nigerians and probably needs the funds and the local presence to build his political machinery for 2015.
On the flip side, there are also factors which should have kept him in Afghanistan.
The first is the nature of the government in which he will serve. As unwilling as many would be to accept the statement made by ACN – who betrayed their own presidential candidate – this government is indeed fundamentally untrustworthy and chronically inept. Whatever social capital President Jonathan had when he took the oath of office has plummeted and there is an element of window dressing attached to the committees he has created. The list of members is a roll call of Nigerians who have been part of the system and are clinging on to the faded vestiges of patriotism. This government has presided over the worst abuses in fuel subsidy management and is bungling the management of everything from national security and power generation to economic management and constitutional amendments. It is hard to see how the PRSTF is going to succeed in this environment.
The second issue is the office Ribadu’s PRSTF will report to. The many allegations against the Minister of Petroleum Affairs Diezani Allison-Madueke make it especially desirable but highly unlikely that we can expect any meaningful oil sector reform under her administration. So far no less than 4 different committees have been set up around her in the last month–along with the NNPC, DPR, NAPIMS, PPRA which all report to her. If there is going to be any pretense at reforming the oil sector, then these committees and the PRSTF should not be reporting to the same Minister who cannot explain the increased cost of fuel subsidy in 2011.
The terms of reference for the PRSTF are also a problem – for one, they allegedly mirror the responsibilities of the Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) – a constitutionally created agency funded by Nigerians. There is also the sense that the terms are forward looking meaning that the job of the PRSTF is not to focus on what has happened in the past but to focus on the future – in other words to let sleeping dogs lie.
The fourth consideration goes to back to Ribadu’s presidential ambition. If Atiku and Buhari are examples of doggedness in the determination to serve, we can presume that Ribadu still nurses his ambitions. In which case: how does he think this position will further this ambition? There are several scenarios – he will be allowed to do his job successfully and share the accolade with the President and the Minister of Petroleum or his independence and integrity will be compromised- more or less like it was during President Obasanjo’s tenure and he might have a few watery successes and he join President Jonathan at the ‘who-can-lose-social-capital-faster’ race. Unfortunately, while the President will have the power of incumbency at his disposal, Ribadu will have little.
The fifth consideration is also personal – what kind of man is Ribadu to be allowed to “put his hand on the wheel of history again”? He did not impress many during the 2011 presidential campaigns and some say his contribution as chairperson of EFCC was limited because his investigations were restricted to those who President Obasanjo fingered. Others point to his rhetoric…because there isn’t much more to point at – Dariye and Alamieyeseigha are all free and playing the role of venerable men of society. If indeed Ribadu wants to serve Nigeria – is being in this particular government the only way to serve? What value does he see the PRSTF adding which makes it worth his moral commitment to partner with them?
Here is an alternative scenario: what if the people asked to join these committees all refused to answer the call? What if this government could not find a single Nigerian to agree to work with it until a few minimum conditions were put in place such as the resignation of certain people and the ‘outsourcing’ of the oil sector reform to a team comprised of local and international experts who have no ties to the Nigerian oil industry? Maybe the government would be forced to get serious about reform – or maybe it would just go on rampage and arrest and teargas all the people who declined to join them.
In the end, there is no real problem in deciding to contribute to society by joining forces with those you do not agree with on policy issues if your goals are similar. If we believe that the end justifies the means then sometimes it will be right to do what is ordinarily wrong. As Machiavelli points out, ‘sometimes a little evil is necessary to achieve your ends’. But what if the ends don’t match? Oronto Douglas in support of Ribadu’s decision quoted Roosevelt
who said “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause”. But is chairing the PRSTF a worthy cause and even if it were, the true question is ‘can it be a worthy cause in terms of the value to Nigerians under the current circumstances?’
It is hard to see that the goals of this present administration are aligned with the majority of Nigerians who just want a functioning government which uses its resources for the benefit of the majority. In which case, the odds are against Ribadu that his good will outweigh the bad that he has chosen to become involved in.