My salvage mission also took me to the IGP to convince him to drop the decision to send Ribadu to NIPSS, but it was a futile effort. Okiro, like many in the top hierarchy of the police, had his grouses against Ribadu, who was said to have been very disrespectful, indeed contemptuous, of him when Mr. Sunday Ehindero (to whom Ribadu was close) was the inspector general of police.
Many senior police officers were also unhappy about Ribadu‘s irregular promotion and the way he seemed to disparage the institution of which he was a member just because he was heading the EFCC. Even those who did not like the disgraced IGP, Mr. Tafa Balogun, felt that the humiliation he was made to suffer at the hands of the EFCC was not good for the image of the police. So, invariably, Ribadu had several powerful foes to contend with, and some of them were baying for blood.
I believed also that the president was not altogether ignorant about the unfolding intrigues and that he may have given his tacit approval in the bid to get rid of Ribadu. While I could not put my finger on a particular reason, a conversation I once had with him on the former EFCC chairman and the recollections of two close associates of his convinced me he was not quite comfortable with the idea of working with Ribadu from the outset.
One day during lunch break during an FEC session, I sat with the president, and we began to chat. I will never forget that day, because even ministers who never regarded me began to court my friendship afterwards. Looking back, it is difficult to explain what happened that day; we must have chatted for close to an hour and actually delayed resumption of the FEC meeting for about 15 minutes, still enjoying our conversation, while all the ministers were already back to the council chambers. It took the intervention of other aides, particularly the presidential liaison officer (PLO) and the chief security officer (CSO), who felt irritated that I was taking too much liberty with the president, to put an end to our informal session.
In the course of our discussion, the president told me of how he was endorsed by Obasanjo before asking, ― Do you know that your friend Nuhu singlehandedly stopped Dr. Peter Odili from being my running mate? he asked rhetorically. ―Such was the power he had over baba (Obasanjo) that whatever he said was law!‖ I knew a little bit about the event recounted by the president because I was an outsider witness. But he presented it in a way that suggested Ribadu probably had a power of blackmail over Obasanjo. This issue had indeed come up early in the life of the administration, when one of the governors suggested that Ribadu was fast becoming another ‘John Edgar Hoover’, the founding director of the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), believed to have wielded enormous power through amassing secret files on political leaders by using illegal methods.
From the way the president talked, it was evident he would heave a big sigh of relief if Ribadu could be removed from EFCC, especially if there was a legal way to do it, before Ribadu could become too powerful to be touched. Not a few people in government felt that way.
The president also complained to me about how the EFCC was acting like it was above the law, recalling an incident where their operatives came to Katsina to arrest local government chairmen in what he described as a Gestapo-like operation. The other details, later supplied by close associates, were that once it became obvious that he (Yar‘Adua) had been anointed by Obasanjo as successor, an incensed Ribadu, who had been rooting for the then FCT minister, Mr. Nasir el-Rufai, reacted badly.
Aside from meeting Obasanjo to express his disappointment, Ribadu badly managed a later session he had with Yar‘Adua, to put the account mildly. I have heard different versions of the encounter from several insiders, but the constant factor is that Ribadu dismissed Yar‘Adua to his face, saying that he was unqualified for the office of president. It was an insult Yar‘Adua apparently never forgot. Nor forgave! So the NIPSS idea was very convenient. Even while Lamorde, EFCC director of operations, was asked to act, a replacement was soon foisted on the commission in a manner that made nonsense of the president‘s avowed commitment to the rule of law. But the AGF would rationalize it. Almost as soon as he sent the name of Farida Waziri to the Senate, and without waiting for her clearance, she was announced as acting chairman and made to resume. This irked the Senate members, who ordinarily should have confirmed her appointment. Some feeble protests were made, but the president got away with it. Nonetheless, the EFCC‘s tragic saga continued.
While still at NIPSS, Ribadu and 139 other senior officers were demoted by the Police Service Commission on August 5, 2008. Ribadu, particularly, was demoted two ranks: from Assistant Inspector General of Police to Deputy Commissioner of Police. Even though 140 officials were involved in what the Police Service Commission (PSC) described as an exercise meant to restore the integrity of the force, a barrage of condemnations followed the announcement, which was seen as being targeted at Ribadu, as most people echoed the sentiment of the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, who described the demotion of the former EFCC chairman as ‘absolutely bizarre’ and a punishment for honesty.
The public thought that the presidency was behind the exercise, and even when the president told me he had nothing to do with it, I also had my doubts. What I knew at the time, though, was that several officers within the Villa, including Hamza Nafada, the president‘s ADC as Katsina governor, who had become the special assistant on domestic affairs, were also affected in the exercise. I spoke to Comfort Obi, respected journalist and member of the Police Service Commission (PSC), and she explained that reversing the promotion of Ribadu, and 139 other police officers, was the proper thing to do and that it was done to correct the illegalities of the past. She assured me that they were not in any way guided by any quarters.
This was the position canvassed by the PSC chairman, Mr. Parry Osayande, when he appeared before the Senate. A retired deputy inspector general of police, Osayande argued that they acted properly and in accordance with the law. ―The truth of the matter is that due process was not followed, a situation where you, a junior officer, would jump over 2,000 superior officers and be promoted above your seniors is dangerous for the system, he said.
The secretary to the Commission, Alhaji Garba Buwai, gave a detailed background of the events leading to the demotion of the 140 officers: ―On 16th and 30th October 2006, the former IGP submitted memorandum to the Commission for consideration of: five DCP to CP; seven ACP to DCP; four CSP to SP and one ASP to CSP.
The former Commission during its 48th Ordinary Meeting of 16th November 2006, following submission from Appointment and Promotion Committee, deliberated on the Special Promotion and rejected the recommendation. Buwai alleged that Ehindero, in his capacity as inspector general of police, then subsequently took advantage of the vacuum created by the expiration of the tenure of the preceding members of the PSC to carry out the promotion of the officers ‘through the back door‘, a decision that he said contravened provisions of the 1999 Constitution. He added that when Ehindero‘s tenure was coming to an end, he also announced the promotion of officers through signals that he sent to their various formations.
According to the PSC Secretary, ―on 18th December, 2006 after the tenure of the Commission expired, the former IGP sent a signal conveying the President‘s [Chief Olusegun Obasanjo‘s] approval of the promotion of the officers earlier rejected by the Commission to the rank of Commissioner of Police. The request by the Commission to get a copy of Mr. President‘s approval was not submitted to the Commission.
Defending the demotion of Ribadu and others, Osayande, who was accompanied to the Senate by five members of the Commission, said that even if it had been the president who had approved the elevations, it would still have been reversed because the establishing act vested the powers of promotion of police officers on the PSC only.
Mr. Ogbonnaya Onovo (then a DIG), who represented the IGP Okiro (whom he would later succeed), said that the Commission reversed the illegality in order not to destroy the entire police force: ―The tenets of democracy are all about transparency and openness in governance. In my over 30 years of service in the police—since I joined the police as a cadet officer (ASP)—promotion has always been a matter of seniority and merit. The moment you join, you know your mates and your seniors. Every officer knows when he is due for promotion and his seniors.
Onovo said arbitrary promotion, as was done in the Ribadu case,3 could only breed indiscipline and bad blood within the system because ―once an officer is skipped in promotion, he becomes demoralized. It is a very painful thing to watch your junior become your boss. It must be noted that the role of the PSC is well defined, and the Commission has done the right thing by correcting some of the illegalities carried out in order not to destroy the police force.
Onovo‘s position was supported by the Commissioner of Police (Administration), Mr. Felix Ogbaudu, in the course of a deposition before the House of Representatives. Stating that Ribadu was promoted first from the post of Deputy Commissioner to Commissioner of Police and then Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) all within one year, Ogbaudu explained that such unprecedented career progression was unhelpful for morale in the police. Ogbaudu particularly wondered why Ribadu, who had joined the Nigeria Police about 10 years after he (Ogbaudu) was enlisted, should now become his boss.
This same Ribadu, he argued, had served under him (Ogbaudu) as Chief Superintendent at a time when he (Ogbaudu) had already become a Commissioner of Police. Whereas it could be conceded that the PSC had sufficiently credible grounds for the action they took on the 140 officers, most observers believed there was absence of good faith with regard to the travails of Ribadu—a view that would be given credence on graduation day at NIPSS.
Security agents, acting on the orders of the AGF, who was at the graduation without invitation, attempted to drag the former EFCC boss out of the venue of an event where the VP was present as the head of the institution. Once alerted by journalists about what was going on at Kuru, I called a senior NIPSS official, who explained how Aondoakaa was threatening him on Ribadu, using the name of the president. The official told me that the issue of Ribadu had given NIPSS problems, as they were subjected to pressure not to address Ribadu as AIG but DCP.
The NIPSS authorities, however, argued that the letter from the police, who had sent Ribadu for the course, addressed him as AIG, and they had not been informed of any change in his official title. However, following pressure from the AGF, the institute had to print another set of brochures that listed Ribadu as a ‘Deputy Commissioner of Police‘. All these efforts still did not satisfy Aondoakaa, who argued that Ribadu should not graduate, since his rank fell short of the minimum cadre for a course meant for Commissioners of Police and above.
I narrated all these to the president, who later met with the VP under whose purview NIPSS was and a face-saving decision was reached for Ribadu to be given his certificate. But the damage had already been done: a rash of lawsuits to challenge his demotion ensued before Ribadu eventually fled the country for the United States. He also began to collaborate with the British authorities on how to bring Ibori to justice as he filed a personal deposition against the former Delta State governor. The interesting point to note is that being always one step ahead of his foes, Ribadu anticipated every move Ibori and the AGF were making and always reached the media first with his version of events.
Sadly, it was the president who suffered all the collateral damage.
Culled from Olusegun Adeniyi’s “Power, Politics and Death: A front-row account of Nigeria under the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua”