For Ribadu; For Nigeria


Chido Onumah


I tried very hard not to get entangled in the Ribadu fray -- not that it wasn’t worth attention -- simply because Ribadu was my boss at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and there is very little one can say about the man that won’t draw accusations of partisanship. But the more I tried to restrain myself, the harder it was to stay aloof, particularly in light of the tragic incidents in Jos, Plateau State, a few weeks ago.


I have chills each time I read reports of the senseless mayhem in Jos. We will never know how many Nigerians died in that bloody incident, the value of property lost, or the cost in terms of the economy. We do not pay attention to such trivialities; we have become so numb to bloody orgies, so desensitised to the plight of our fellow citizens, including children. It appears while the government was busy pursuing Ribadu in a Gestapo manner, it overlooked its responsibility to protect lives and property of Nigerians.


What happened in Jos was an indictment of the Yar’Adua administration. Considering the history of the city, Inspector-General of Police, Sir (Dr.) Mike Mbata Okiro and his men ought to have prevented the massacre of innocent citizens or contained it as soon as it started. But they probably had better things to do – run Ribadu out of town! Will someone in this administration stand up and take “responsibility” for this carnage? It is unfortunate that the Yar’Adua administration has spent so much time and energy hounding an individual; it is tragic that it has decided to make the humiliation of Ribadu the centre piece of its anti-corruption fight, trading its seven-point development agenda for the infernal “four-point agenda” of venal politicians: The removal of Ribadu as chair of EFCC; his demotion; dismissal from the police force; and imprisonment.


The Ribadu saga has become a national obsession, and rightly so. Corruption remains the greatest challenge of the Nigerian State. You can feel its fangs in everything that has gone wrong in Nigeria, including the bloody incident in Jos. Only recently, the Guardian (10/12/08) reported former Super Eagles coach, Christian Chukwu, as saying that “Nigeria would continue to stumble in international football unless the massive corruption in the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) was tackled”. For Nigeria, corruption, it appears, is a national ethos; it is the norm rather than the exception as is the case in other countries.


So it was a great relief when former President Olusegun Obasanjo set up the EFCC five years ago under the leadership of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. Relief, not because Nigerians trusted Obasanjo, but relief in that many saw it as an opportunity, no matter how limited, to begin the process of addressing the issue of corruption in Nigeria.  The EFCC under Ribadu was a strong organisation. It may have had its shortcomings. But these were problems that would have been corrected as the country “matured” democratically, and as the man who set it up and whom critics accused of interfering with its operations was no longer in charge. Under Ribadu, there were prosecutions, convictions, and recovery of stolen wealth; he ran an efficient and effective organisation, one that had focus, even if occasionally abrasive.


There are those who argue that with the stranglehold corruption has on Nigeria, it is impossible to achieve anything without being highhanded. I leave that argument to the Bamidele Aturus of this world who kept the EFCC under Ribadu on its toes and made a case, quite convincingly I must add, about the tactics of the Commission. The Ribadu I worked with was a man with a mission. He made it clear, at least to those who worked with him, that he did not have all the answers. Perhaps, that was why he was open to bringing in “outsiders” to help shape the anti-corruption campaign. By the time he was scurrilously removed as head of the EFCC, the Commission’s plan for an effective civil society anti-corruption project was in top gear.


What started as a simple desire to get celebrity endorsement for the war against corruption soon transformed into a movement, encompassing students, corps members, youth, the academia, NGOs and CBOs, the religious community, the media, the business community, and organised labour, under the banner of Fix Nigeria Initiative (FNI). It was Ribadu’s idea. He believed the EFCC had to go beyond the “bravado” and “showmanship” of enforcement; he knew that while investigation and prosecution were important, it was crucial, considering how deeply ingrained corruption was in Nigeria, to get the buy-in of Nigerians and make civil society the driving force in the war against corruption.  


Ribadu was dedicated to his job. He was deeply concerned about how he would be judged and he wanted posterity to judge him positively. His office was always open to all and sundry. He would occasionally drive himself to the Fix Nigeria office on weekends, interact with staff and discuss work plans for the weeks ahead.  He was always amenable to new ideas and initiatives that would engage Nigerians, particularly youth, in the anti-corruption campaign.


I was among those who wished Ribadu had resigned both as chair of EFCC and as a police officer the moment Yar’Adua came to power. I remember when these shenanigans began in the early days of the Yar’Adua administration when one blustery publisher of an influential newspaper with a business and showbiz bias sauntered into Ribadu’s office and cajoled him to resign because the government had concluded plans to mess him up. Ribadu’s response was that he was not going to resign and if the government wanted to sack him it should go ahead and do exactly that.


Ribadu stayed on, perhaps as a measure of his passion and desire to continue the fight against corruption and not to link it to any particular regime. Maybe it was the assurance, as it has been speculated, that he would be allowed to continue as head of the Commission after NIPSS. Some critics say it was simply naiveté on his part. That is now history! Today, the war against corruption is all but grounded. All we hear from the current leadership of the EFCC is news of renewed looting spree by government officials and billions of naira in stolen wealth being siphoned out of the country everyday by corrupt politicians and their accomplices. Not quite heart-warming and reassuring, Mrs. Waziri! It sounds more like the rule of fraud than the rule of law.


I must state unequivocally that I do not have issues with the government removing Ribadu as chairman of the EFCC per se; neither is there a problem holding Ribadu to account if the government feels it has a case. That is Yar’Adua’s prerogative as President of Nigeria. But from the subplot of the hunt for Ribadu, starting from the rhetoric of the Attorney General, Michael Aondoaka, about bringing under his office the prosecutorial powers of the EFCC, Ribadu’s demotion and the NIPSS fiasco, it is clear that this is not about impropriety on the part of Ribadu. It is settling of scores in its crudest form; an orchestrated attempt to shield corrupt politicians and make a mockery of the fight against corruption.


We would not have had the Ribadu predicament if the present regime had any clue or was interested in actually fighting corruption. From the moment it was “elected” in April 2007, it would have told Nigerians that it was removing Ribadu and appointing its own arrowhead to lead the anti-corruption process. Obviously it did not because it had no strategy to tackle corruption or as it is becoming obvious daily, the many challenges confronting the country.


I don’t know how the Ribadu crisis will end, but there are enough reasons to be concerned.  The Nigerian State, and the police is no exception, has an uncanny way of consuming its own. Remember Alozie Ogugbuaja?