By Biodun Jeyifo
As I contemplate the shock with which many in Nigeria this week received the news of Ribadu’s defection to the PDP, it is not to the likes of Babatope’s defection from socialism, Pan Africanism and Awoism to Abacha loyalism and PDP militancy that mind turns. There are thousands of such defections going on all the time in the rot and the decadence of the political order in our country. This is why it is to the far more rare instances when a defection – from Saul to Paul or the reverse and imaginary one of from Paul to Saul – is made by one who is generally recognised as an outstanding public figure or a moral and spiritual touchstone that my mind turns. In this regard, the two instances that readily come to my mind are, one, the case of the late Sam Aluko and his loyal service to Sani Abacha which, to the end of his life he vigorously defended absolutely without any apologies and two, the case of Nasir El Rufai who, from being the most articulate defender of the policies and actions of Obasanjo as President and “statesman” became perhaps his most fiery and unrestrained traducer. I suggest, dear reader, that when you think about Ribadu’s defection to the PDP, it is to the rare kind of defection that we see in Aluko and El Rufai that you should think of rather than the far more commonplace kind of defection that we see in the Babatope case. In concluding this piece, let me give a brief explanation on why I make this suggestion.
It is very easy and also very tempting to see Ribadu’s defection as belonging to the Babatope type and from this to proceed directly to strong and emotion-laden condemnation. That is the pattern in much of what I have so far read in the reactions to Ribadu’s announcement of his departure from the APC to the PDP. For some people, this may provide some relief, some salve for deeply thwarted moral, emotional and political investment in Ribadu’s past and future career, but it does nothing by way of explanation or understanding. By contrast, when you think of the Aluko and El Rufai cases, you are immediately struck by the impression that there are no simple explanations and that you have to think hard to know what the defection portends for our country and its present circumstances and future prospects.
Although I think his standing and achievements as an economic thinker were vastly overrated, the late Professor Sam Aluko was without question a towering figure among his generation of Nigerian social scientists. Moreover, he had been highly respected for his application of his intellectualism to public policy by way of advice to many governments. Then came his stint with Abacha which had the added disadvantage of coming near the end of his life. He pronounced Abacha the greatest leader Nigeria had ever had and the man who would finally bring economic development to the country. His reasons for making these assertions were so puerile, so unconvincing that they were an embarrassment to even his supporters. In effect, he became a sadly ridiculous and tragicomic figure, with only the saving grace that he did not seem to have served Abacha for self-enrichment or power lust.
By contrast, El Rufai has given trenchant critiques of Obasanjo and his administration. The big question he faces is why he was silent on all the policies and activities for which he now berates Obasanjo when he was part of Obasanjo’s inner circle. Unlike Aluko and rather fortunately for him, the future still lies ahead of El Rufai and he will or may have the chance to prove to us and the world the worth of his defection from Obasanjo and the PDP. This also holds true for Ribadu, but in the first month of his defection to the PDP, what we have seen is more like the Aluko pattern: absolutely puerile and meaningless justification of his defection.
Like Aluko’s absurd praise for Abacha as the greatest leader that Nigeria ever had, Ribadu this week hailed Jonathan as “a great achiever”. This would have been quite laughable if things were not so dire, so tragic for most of our people under the administration of Jonathan. When Paul becomes Saul, all bets are off, expect the worst but keep hope alive, for the society is yet to be created in human affairs in which the line between right and wrong has been completely wiped out.
Biodun Jeyifo is a professor of comparative literature at the Harvard University in the United State.