This is a guest post by Charlotte Renfield-Miller; a master of arts in law and diplomacy candidate at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy specializing in development economics and human security. She is currently completing a graduate internship with the Africa Studies program at Council on Foreign Relations.
Nuhu Ribadu is a former presidential candidate who opposed Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan in the 2011 elections. As the former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, he campaigned against official corruption and was well-respected within the donor community. Many outside of Nigeria were chagrined when he was dismissed from his post without credible explanation, seeing it as the federal government stepping away from the anti-corruption struggle.
Subsequently, Ribadu has been an articulate critic of Nigerian governance. Speaking at Ahmadu Bello University on June 8, he called the current state of Nigerian politics a “sinking ship,” and criticized it for “perpetuat[ing] a tyranny of interests.” He said that politicians have taken advantage of ethnic, religious, and regional divides to keep Nigeria fragmented and preserve the status quo. Ribadu encouraged Nigerian youth to combat the “exclusionists” by identifying themselves primarily as “Nigerian” rather than as belonging to a particular ethnic or religious group.
The government’s response to the speech consisted of personal attacks on Ribadu, accusing him, inter alia, of disseminating “falsehood,” and for insulting his own country’s government. Reuben Abati, the presidential press spokesman, accused Ribadu of bitterness over losing the presidential election of 2011 and of a “selfish” desire to stay relevant.
Ribadu’s emphasis on national unity across dividing lines has precedent. As he mentioned in his speech, the January 2012 protests against the end of the fuel subsidy represented a unique moment in which Nigerians came together despite their differences. They demonstrated a new possibility for Nigerians to bridge ethnic and religious differences by focusing on governance issues. Ribadu’s message likely resonated with his university audience. The Ahmadu Bello University Student Representative Council responded to Abati’s attack on Ribadu, calling his “outburst…an embarrassment to Nigerians and the academic community.” It remains to be seen whether that resonance will translate into political action as the next electoral season approaches.