Here, Ribadu reminded me of two aphorisms. One came out of folktales in pre-colonial Yoruba society and the other was a famous quip to remind those who left what ought to have been done to gather moss, belatedly running a race to fill in the gap. The first wise-saying is, “Igba yi laaro, t’arugbo nko’gba.” Literally translated, it scolds the old man who allowed his prime age to fallow without making use of his brawns and who now began to dig mounds and heaps at his senescence. At that old age, virulent damage had been done to his strength.
The second aphorism, as said earlier, came from the pre-colony. After eating their supper, sleeping time a couple of hours away, Yoruba of this period passed idle evenings by killing boredom with storytelling as a form of entertainment. The Osupa – moonlight – radiating brightness, enough to see nature’s hieroglyphics on the palm, the people filled this void by engaging in mental exercises of solving riddles called aalo and telling folktales. The most notorious subgenre in folktales they told were trickster tales. Animal tricksters were usually clothed in human form by the storytellers. The animals possessed strikingly human habits, weaknesses and dispositions. Most prominent among the tricksters was the tortoise – Ijapa. He share this trickery with his wife, Yannibo and on a few occasions, Okete, the big rat, also called the pouched rat. If you call it the bush rat, you are equally right. Yoruba believe that the Okete possesses supernatural powers and can transform into human (and vice versa) in the course of carrying out its trickster and nefarious activities at nocturne. In the book, Yoruba trickster tales (1997) written by Oyekan Owomoyela, the author said these trickster animals, as created by their folktale creators, were often “unburdened by scruples” and “often concoct vicious disasters for their would-be tormentors…reward their benefactors’ generosity with sometimes deadly betrayals” and “dupe friends, acquaintances and adversaries alike in pursuing their own selfish ends.”
As I intend to argue in this piece, NSA Ribadu’s cry is a lamentation over spilt milk. Before his belated revelations, Nigerians had already made up their minds about Muhammadu Buhari and his government. Ribadu’s cry can therefore be likened to a knock-kneed’s who belatedly realized that his limitation to speedy walk was a wonky foundation. The most fitting analogy that can describe the Ribadu Abuja cry is that of the Okete which, in one of those trickster folktales, was complicit in his own calamity. The story was that, while assailants were frenetically digging his hole, preparatory to arresting him for supper, Okete refused to raise alarm. He was subsequently arrested, defanged, entrails brought out and roasted on the wire-gauze of a hot furnace. It was at this time that Mr. Okete raised his hands up above the head in alarm. Disgusted by this belated activism, Yoruba mockingly berate the bush rat thus: “Okete gbagbe ibosi, o de’gba alate, o ka’wo le’ri.” It translates into, the bush rat, deaf to the noise of those stalking him as they dug his hole, only belatedly raised his hands in a Save Our Soul alarm when he had become a roasted venison advertised for sale.
There is no doubt that Ribadu was saying the gospel truth. As if in a choreographed encore, Ribadu again flew to Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State for the 2023 Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE) conference where he again doubled down on these destructive bequeathals of Buhari. “We will open up and to be honest and sincere… By 1st June after we took over the country, we inherited four active security challenges and each one of them has the potential to undermine Nigeria and the continuous management of the country. We have the Boko Haram and Islamic insurgency for about 15 years now, we have the Niger Delta militants for over 30 years. We have banditry and kidnapping in the areas of Northern Nigeria, North West and North Central and the IPOB problem in the south east; four massive problems, each one with the potential to get Nigeria to its knees, all of them very active,” he said.
In far away Mecca, Saudi Arabia last Monday, it was as if Ribadu and President Bola Tinubu had orchestrated this Okete SOS simultaneously. As he advanced negotiations for a multi-billion dollar infrastructure finance facility from the Islamic Development Bank for the purpose of funding a multi-sectoral portfolio of projects at the federal and sub-national levels, the president also became an Okete. While speaking, he said that, though he would not make excuses, his government inherited serious liabilities from his predecessors, serious deficits in port and power infrastructure, as well as agro-allied facilities.
As I said earlier, no one needed a diviner to tell them that the Tinubu government inherited bad times. The signs were ominous, even before the May 29 handover. Way back in June, a few days after the current government took over, human rights activist and lawyer, Femi Falana, had meticulously itemized the 20 ways in which the Buhari government pillaged the Nigerian economy. Among others, he listed them as diversion of N40 billion from the Federation Account, listing the companies involved and how much they sucked from the Nigerian nectar; an additional revenue of $1.5 billion payable to Federation Account; outstanding royalties of $62 billion; denial of FG’s revenue of $500 million by a group of corrupt public officers; $7 billion fixed in 14 banks; sale of Polaris Bank by Heritage Bank, Keystone Bank, Union Bank and Polaris Bank by CBN; heft of Crude oil, gold and other mineral resources; N5.4 trillion owed AMCON among many others. It was even said that the Buhari government had collected monies from crude oil months in advance and thus, why the Tinubu government is in a financial mess. No one said a thing. The current government was busy wrapped in a shawl of cover-up at the time, silently bellyaching on the dross that Buhari handed over to it, in the name of cultic partyism and perhaps, espirit de corps, a quid pro quo of mutual looting among the governmental elite.
The Falana revelations are just a tip of the iceberg. Insider sources alleged that if Nigerians are ever privy to the details of the scandalous transactions under Buhari’s Godwin Emefiele and the people who benefitted millions of foreign currencies of Nigerian money, the ears of this country would tingle. Now, Nigeria is in a limbo and it is obvious that, as they say, the meal being cooked that led to the inferno which consumed the house will have to be laid bare. Yet, except for few details that fly into privileged individual ears, the government has generally kept quiet, like that senescent old man who left what ought to have been done undone and is now exhibiting brawns and grits of hyper-work at old age.
Since May, efforts being made by government to reflate the economy are noticeable but they have remained what they are – efforts – because the Buhari rats have filched every fish in the treasury. However, there is no doubting the fact that the burdens inherited by the government and the heavy yoke it is vicariously liable for putting on its own head, are militating against its progress. Since its inception, this government has proven to be one of hedonism, even when economic indices are overwhelmingly bleak. Its policies are rich-centric and very lean with regards to liberating the mass of the people from their economic and existential woes.
Now, let us get back to this government’s complicity in the current woes it, like the Okete, was fatally deaf to and is now floundering its arms up in an SOS. To the best of my knowledge, none of the current runners of this government was on exile when the Buhari debacle was getting to its fatal denouement. Newspaper columnists and other Nigerians shouted at the top of their voices. Economists who had the guts to dare the lion in its lair shouted themselves hoarse that Buhari’s cavalier attitude to governance, his apparent lack of understanding of how to run a modern state, would shipwreck Nigeria. We were called names and haters of the ruling APC. God bless his soul, some of us, like the great Obadiah Mailafia, lost their lives in the process. When Nigerians needed those who are now crying over spilt milk to talk about the damage being inflicted on Nigeria by Buhari, they suddenly went into somnolence like Baal, the effete god of the Sidonians (reference the biblical Prophet Elijah).
In their public talks and actions, they openly fraternized with and were in a competition of endorsements of Buhari’s innumerable financial, administrative and governmental missteps. On many occasions, their indulgence in complicit silence was deafening. They were either asking where the cows were – a euphemism for defence of Fulani banditry in the Southwest – or abetted Buhari to inflict more damage on our national psyche. Now, apologies to the indomitable Sam Mbakwe, “the come has come to become,” they are now in government and have begun to wail against Buhari like us, doing what they accused us of doing, for which we were called wailers as they clapped rhythmically. The online people who lamented this set of people’s complicity in the Buhari debacle, they labeled as children of anger. Now, they expected us to join them in these lyrical wails, in the autumn of their realization of the evil that was the Buhari government. As the Igbo man will say, Tufiakwa!
The question to ask is, was Ribadu on exile when we spoke about the security challenges Nigeria went through, many of which were self-inflicted by the Buhari government itself? Where was he when the southwest quaked under attacks of herdsmen? Where were Yoruba sons and daughters in this government when Buhari was deaf to the cries of the southwest on insecurity? Were they not complicitly and conspiratorially silent, all in the name of not rocking the APC boat? Ribadu himself was busy junketing from one party to another, from the PDP to the ACN where he ran, first as president and later, joining the ruling APC to contest the governorship of Adamawa state in 2019 and 2023. I imagine that while on the campaign podium, Ribadu must have beatified this same man he now wanted us to join in his orchestra of lamentation on his allegation of bankrupting Nigeria. Before now, as Buhari treated the whole of the country as dot in a circle, the veil was so thick in Ribadu’s eyes that he could not see the Buhari we saw and the rein on his mouth was so thick that he could not speak out about the colossal fraud and mis-governance the sole patent of which the government seemed to have.
Having identified the humongous looting that went on under the Buhari government, this government would be grossly and vicariously liable for all the ills in Nigeria today if it continually to paper over them. This is the time of disclosure and only disclosure can grant it armistice in the hearts of the people. For instance, we expected that by now, Ribadu must have audited the trillions of Naira allegedly spent on procuring armaments and fighting insurgencies and banditry in the eight years under Buhari. It was believed that fat-epaulettes military Generals, in cahoots with civilian accomplices, filched tremendous sums of money from those deals, becoming, in the words of Eddie Iroh, toads of those wars. Rather than lamenting what was, we expected Ribadu to put a wedge to such premeditated looting by revealing who and who creamed off the Nigerian patrimony in the guise of fighting wars.
It will appear that we are in a season of barren governmental recriminations and allegations which, at the end of the day, from national experience, amount to absolutely nothing. When Buhari came, his singsong was a 16-year looting of the Nigerian treasury by the PDP. After a few months of haranguing the then NSA, Ibrahim Dasuki and hoisting some political adversaries up for public ridicule, today, no one knows what happened thereafter. Now, it is being alleged that the looting and stealing under the Jonathan government, if Tinubu opens their lids, are a child’s play compared to the ones that happened under Muhammadu Buhari.
All these, added together, confirm Shakespearean Brutus’ famous quote about the greed for power and evil he claimed will be on the ascendancy once Caesar became the Emperor. Brutus had said, “It is the bright day that brings forth the adder and that craves wary walking.” The adder, in this scenario, the venomous snake that is being compared to Caesar, is the corruption roulette that has made the Nigerian federal government its place of domicile. The bright day represents the presidential office. In Shakespeare’s Caesar, Brutus feared that Caesar’s true self, evil and greed for power, would come out of its sheathe the moment he was crowned emperor. The “and that craves wary walking,” refers to the need to put a stop to this seasonal ballad of lamentations by successive government which has become Nigerian governments’ rhapsody. Like Brutus implored his other conspirators to be careful due to Caesar’s closeness to being made the emperor, we should be wary of the Okete who was fatally deaf to the noise of those stalking him and which is now belatedly raising his hands up in a Save Our Soul alarm.
To break this roulette of allegations of looting of the treasury at every beginning of a new administration, the Tinubu government has to make public those who Ribadu claimed had “taken” and bankrupted the country. He must be ready to step on the adder. Of course, moving against those who are behind the unmitigated plundering of Nigeria’s resources under Buhari would be akin to committing class suicide. This is because the culprits of this mindless clean-up of the treasury are both Tinubu’s capitalist class buddies and his presidential Hallelujah crew. Tinubu didn’t get this far by harbouring suicidal traits, did he? Otherwise, the felons who Ribadu has been laboring to demonize will be content with swallowing our national patrimony, suffering only the Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s “big fat stomach” and living happily ever after, while the people suffer the unmitigated disaster of their greed and governmental larceny. And the madness will linger till the next exchange of presidential baton.