Corruption: President Jonathan Must Wake Up

•Malam Nuhu Ribadu

•Malam Nuhu Ribadu

Malam Nuhu Ribadu, former chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, tells AYORINDE  OLUOKUN and FEMI IPAYE that President Goodluck Jonathan has put the anti-graft war in reverse gear

•Malam Nuhu Ribadu
•Malam Nuhu Ribadu

You contested the presidency on the Action Congress of Nigeria platform. What would you say you’ve learnt from the way politics is played in Nigeria?

First and foremost, I think this is an opportunity to thank the about three million Nigerians that voted for me in that election in the hope that I can help change the direction of our country. I will also like to thank the Action Congress of Nigeria. I am a very proud member of the party. Of course, you cannot run away from the reality of Nigeria – the ACN is considered a South-west party and I am from the North, a pure Hausa-Fulani person. It could have been normal for one to go and join a party considered to have wide support in the North, but I didn’t. But I am happy that I joined ACN because it is a party devoted to reform, progress. It is the party of Fashola, one of the best performing governors in our country today; the party of Adams Oshiomhole; of the dynamic government of State of Osun and all the other progressive governors. I am proud of leaders of the party–Bisi Akande, and Bola Tinubu. I especially am proud of what Tinubu has done for democracy, for transformation of Lagos State. He is a true Nigerian, a very selfless individual. Of course, when I got in, it was like a case of Johnny Just Come. I came back to Nigeria in June 2010 when I was honoured by Babcock University with an honorary degree and by July, I was already a member of a political party. By August/September, I was already a presidential aspirant and by the beginning of 2011, I was a candidate of the leading opposition party in Nigeria. In less than one year from the date I returned to Nigeria, I faced a presidential election. I don’t think there is any other person in the world with my background of fighting corruption that has joined politics and recorded the kind of achievements I made in so short a time. I can tell you that I am a better person, a complete and more fulfilled person as a reason of my joining politics. It gave me also an amazing opportunity to know Nigeria and appreciate the problems the country is facing.

 But many believe that you could have earned more than the three million votes that you got if your party had remained faithful to you to the end?

Politics is more complicated than what people think, especially at the state and the local levels than at the presidential level. But I did not believe that I was betrayed; I did not believe that I was abandoned like some people will want to say. Things that happened before and during the election are things that will be analysed in the future. But I can assure you both the party and its leadership stood by me till the end; they never betrayed me.

So, you don’t want to believe speculations that the leadership of ACN went to do deals behind your back and that was why PDP was able to win all the states in the South-west, except Osun?

It’s not true. I totally disagree with that assertion and I want to tell Nigerians now that it is not true because I was there and I know what happened. At the time I became a presidential candidate, especially at the time of opposition coming together, there was just this position that, ‘Nuhu, this is not your time, your time is coming.’ It was not that anybody has problem with me, or rejected me, or betrayed me, or that anybody was bought. But the positive side of it is that even with all that, close to three million Nigerians still invested their confidence in me even though it was like everybody knew at that time that it was a two-way contest. But take it from me, nobody abandoned me. And that’s why we are still together and I have not for a day contemplated changing my position with ACN.

So, who are the people saying it is not your time if you say your party and its leaders were solidly behind you?  

The North was almost an ‘occupied place’ by the time I got into politics. I got in as I told you, less than one year and faced presidential election. There are people who have been there for a very long time, there are Nigerians from the North who have spent over 10 years doing that

Contesting the presidency?

Absolutely. And therefore, there was no time and it was more or less like an occupied place at the time I got in.

Talking about the North being an occupied place, I know you are talking about General Muhammadu Buhari, who is also one of the people you have said publicly that you admire. What is your relationship with him now?

Absolutely, no. You may be surprised to know that General Buhari was one of the first people I consulted at the time I decided to go into politics and he gave me his blessings. He totally agreed with my decision to join politics and even to contest against him. He is alive and maybe anyone who is interested may ask him. I still take him as one of the outstanding leaders that we have in our country. I even followed his footsteps and we have a lot of things in common. But as much as I agree with him, I am a younger person and that should mean a lot for our country and for our future.

With your experience in Afghanistan, to what would you attribute the insurgency Nigeria is currently confronted with?

What is happening in our country now is a new thing and when you are confronted with a problem that you are not prepared for, people will have different reasons why it is happening. The government of Nigeria suffered terribly from corruption and corruption has reduced the ability of institutions to work to the barest minimum. Our law enforcement agencies are at the worst state because of corruption at the time we have this insurgency. For three decades, we were busy trying to destroy the Police establishment. We neglected it, we refused to invest in it and we ended up with the poorest quality law enforcement agency. And that is a direct effect of corruption. Also, our leaders, politicians from the level of the President downwards, were doing what they liked, converting the resources that ought to be invested in addressing poverty, promote education and enlightenment, reduce the tension in the society and provide jobs to personal use. So, the root cause of the problems is that we failed to do the right thing at the right time and the reason we failed is because of corruption.

Corruption is a terrible thing; it breeds all sorts of problems, destroys democracy and it is the reason you have abuse of rights and leaders do what they like. From the part of the country where I come from, half of the children of school age are roaming the streets and are not in school. How do you explain that? At the end of the day, what do you expect them to do? And those who went to school will end up with no jobs. So, the extremist will have a pool to draw from. It is not a difficult thing for you to even relate with each other. But at the same time, I will also agree that extremism is at the root of the insurgency and therefore, some people may disconnect it with the problems of corruption because extremism can occur even in societies that are doing fairly well. Our ability to control it is what matters. But corruption has not allowed us to build a system that we can use to tackle it. You see, 9/11 took place and from that moment, America was spending close to about 30 per cent of its capital resources on fighting terrorism. Look at what is happening in Nigeria today. Even if you allocate huge sums of money to the Police in the budget, people will shout. If you know what is happening in countries that have been faced with the problems of extremism, you will understand what it takes to confront it. Saudi Arabia is there, Malaysia, even India and to some extent, Indonesia. But wherever there is weak governance, wherever institutions are so weak, with corrupt law enforcement agencies, extremism will take over and more or less bring the country to its knees. It happened in Somalia, in Afghanistan and recently happened in Mali. But for me, this is a moment we should come together to confront the problem.

It is essential for all Nigerians to unite now more than any other time in our history and I will not be prepared to play any divisive role now. I will want us to give the law enforcement agencies opportunity to confront and solve these problems and I want every Nigerian to participate in bringing solution to it. I also think it is right for people to even call for amnesty or whatever. When government and law enforcement agencies have failed totally, there is no way people will not call for dialogue as a way out. Government’s failure to address the problems forced Nigerians to call for this dialogue with the extremists and Nigerians are desperate for a solution to the problems. But my own take is that you do not discount one for another. You can do the dialogue, whether you want to call it pardon, amnesty or whatever, but at the same time, you can also work for justice. You can balance the two, I have seen it happen in many countries. You don’t have to trade one for the other.

When you returned from Afghanistan, you were saddled with the task of leading a committee mandated to carry out an audit of the petroleum sector. Why did you accept the job against the wishes of members of your party and other well wishers?

I saw it as an opportunity to work for accountability and transparency in the most important sector in our country today because that sector is responsible for almost all the revenue we use in running our government and solving our other problems. And even though I contested against the presidential candidate of the ruling party, I  believe that politics aside, people must work for their country and that whatever it takes, if you have the opportunity of doing what is right, don’t say no. Two, I have regard and respect for all Nigerians and if Goodluck Jonathan is today the President of Nigeria and he says: ‘Nuhu, please come and do this,’ I will respect him. I accepted the job even against the wishes of some members of my political party and so many other Nigerians were also not comfortable with my acceptance of the job. These are people who love me, believe in me and think accepting the job will change the type of person I am. I appreciated that. But I know myself. I have spent all my life in an institution like the Nigeria Police Force and I have been outstanding. I tried to explain to them that this is service to our country and it will be for the benefit of our people. I particularly appreciated Chief Bisi Akande because when the call came, I called to inform him as well as other people in the party. What Chief Akande told me still reverberates in my mind. He said: ‘Nuhu, I am with you 100 per cent, go ahead and take this job. In fact, the way I look at it, it is like an auditor’s job, so they will need somebody outside their group to come and tell them the truth.’ That was what he told me and I totally agreed with that. But I also accepted the job in the belief that those who gave me the assignment meant well and wanted to see a change in that industry. I got in there, did the work for about seven months and I refused to take any allowance doing so. I did not take one penny or one kobo from the federal government or NNPC for the entire period that I did the job.

How much was the allowance?

I was to be paid N150,000 daily. I did the work. But it was a big sacrifice because I lost thousands of dollars in the job I abandoned in Afghanistan, but I am not in any way regretting it.

Not even with the ugly event during the presentation of the report and the fact that the report is now virtually abandoned?

No, I think it is a good thing that I accepted to do the job because Nigerians are aware now. The report was made public and if the government will have the courage to implement it, it is capable of changing that industry. It is far, far more important even than the PIB because it is about transparency and accountability, it is about immediately stopping the leakage and wastages that are going on. And it will not require the passage of any law; it is just for the President to be courageous and it will change the industry for good and forever. I did the work with other amazing Nigerians. I just happened to be the head. Nigerians should also appreciate them; they gave their time and energy. The report is about improving our revenue, about transparency and accountability; it is about knowing what we are producing. It is about not using contractors to continue to steal what rightly belongs to Nigerians.

Some of the criticisms against your report is that your committee failed to reconcile certain figures to bring them up to date and that some of the oil companies you indicted for one infraction or the other in the report were not given the opportunity of defending themselves. What is your reaction to this ?

Related News

That is not true. There is nobody we should have invited that we did not invite. We have their letters of invitation. We interacted with all of them and whatever decisions we reached was based on very meticulous work. We also worked with PWC, an accounting firm, from the beginning to the end and got the best support you can ever imagine from these professionals. We even wrote the few people that did not turn up at least, three times. We also got records from authentic institutions. We never took one document outside NNPC, Ministry of Finance, Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, Central Bank of Nigeria and Federal Inland Revenue Board. And when I talk of NNPC, I am also talking about the subsidiaries – DPR, PPPRA, PPMC, Crude Oil Marketing Department, all of them, We sat with some of them more than ten times. We also sat with all the oil companies without exception. We requested to sit with NLNG, but they disrespected us. They didn’t even have the respect to come and answer some of the things we were talking about. Meanwhile, we got records from the NNPC about the NLNG because they are the one supervising them; we got records from CBN in respect of payments for NLNG and we got records from the Ministry of Finance. We wrote several letters to NLNG, but they see themselves as if they are not part of the Nigerian establishment and they went around writing some stupid things after we submitted the report.

Do you think the appointment of some members of your committee, like Steve Oronsaye, into different positions in the oil industry in the course of the work of your committee was a deliberate ploy to sabotage the assignment?

I considered it very unethical, but I didn’t get to the point of becoming too worried because I knew we were going to do the right thing. We kept quiet and never said a word until when they challenged us at the time we were submitting the report.

Your former boss, former President Olusegun Obasanjo has severally accused the President Jonathan administration of lacking the will to fight corruption. Do you think the present administration is doing enough to fight corruption?

I have supported the present administration severally, but I am getting terribly disappointed with the developments in recent times. I will only advise Dr. Jonathan that he needs to wake up. This country needs leadership that can fight corruption, not the one that will put the war against corruption in a reverse gear. People are complaining, let him listen. Nigerians want something to be done about corruption and if he is doing it, people will acknowledge it. But today, Nigerians are extremely unhappy with the way he is fighting corruption. I will be the person he must listen to because I have supported him, openly and otherwise, at the highest risk to my image and reputation and at a high cost to me politically. But I did it out of genuine love for my country and respect for him.

How did you feel when you heard about the pardon for the former managing director of Bank of the North, Shettima Bulama, and former Bayelsa State governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha?

Disbelief was what hit me. I initially thought it was a joke, the normal stories that you hear around. I feel disappointed and I also feel sad because it is not a healthy development for our country. We take decisions daily, but they have serious repercussions. Nigeria is suffering the negative impact of corruption and anything done to lessen this fight is a negative development for our country. We need to do ten times what we are doing now for us to even begin to get results. The decision was a very wrong one based on a very poor advice and poorly executed. And you can see this from the reactions of Nigerians and from all over the world – from Transparency International to different foreign governments. My advice to President Jonathan is to please listen to the voice of the people and not disregard it arrogantly. The EFCC under me initiated those cases and investigated them. It was a team work we did with even those who are still in EFCC today. And they were very significant cases. They were the first two cases that we successfully brought to conclusion. Take for example the case of Bulama. At the time we started this work in 2003, our aim was to tackle corruption in the general society. But I came to the conclusion that without sanitising the finance sector, the banking sector in particular, we would not go anywhere. In preparation for the work, I visited the Financial Services Authority in the UK, I went to the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US, the World Bank and so on.

When we came back, we felt the need to take out people in the banking sector who were fiddling with depositors’ money and Bulama, who happened to be a friend, was one of the worst culprits. As at that time, Bank of the North had a debt profile of about N54 billion. I said I’d do what was right to sanitise that industry. The entire reform of the banking sector was anchored on it. I am sure Nigerians will remember the day they woke up to see the Chief Executive of a bank in handcuffs. Subsequently, we arrested about 49 of the chief executives and we recovered over N200 billion. And that was the time that I personally went to President Olusegun Obasanjo, a man who I will credit for much of what happened. We sat down and I told him we needed to clean up the sector. We told him our plans and programmes, especially our desire to set up the Financial Intelligence Unit as a piece of architecture to control and understand what is happening in our financial system. I sat down with the FSA in the UK and we perfected some of these things.

Part of the reforms was that we are able to clean up the financial sector and by the time Soludo came, it was so easy to raise the capital profile of the banks, force the banks to merge and stop individuals from being sole owners of banks. For you to bring one single case to conclusion, you had to go through all the difficulties you can imagine in the world. It was when we started those cases that the international community started respecting our financial sector. Even their banks started doing business with our banks in Nigeria and Nigerian banks started getting quoted on international stock exchanges. It was through those reforms that we brought Visa and MasterCard to Nigeria. And I will sit down here and somebody will say he has pardoned those people as if we made a mistake. You must understand that  people will feel sad. And it is the same thing with the case of DSP (Alamieyeseigha). I have nothing personal against these people.

The defence some people are putting up for the pardon for the former Bayelsa State governor, in particular, is that his arrest and prosecution was politically motivated in the first instance.

If that is the case, let them return the N43 billion or so that we recovered from him. Tell them that and also tell them to also go and meet the judge or the High Court that convicted them that it was a politically motivated conviction. Is it just because we are keeping quiet that some people keep saying all sorts of things? How can you say somebody who was brought to justice – conviction secured, money recovered, including even from outside the country – had a politically motivated trial. It is so unfair. It is very painful to hear these arguments, especially for Nigerians that participated in getting these convictions.

Let’s talk about EFCC. Many people believe that the kind of courage that you displayed when you were in charge is lacking in the leadership of the Commission today…

No, please give them benefit of doubt. I know that they are professionals; I know that the present leadership of EFCC is not corrupt because these are the people that we worked with. But you must also appreciate what happened to EFCC from 2007 to 2010, when there was a deliberate effort to destroy that institution. It is easy to destroy things, but to rebuild is difficult. But the people in EFCC today are working hard to go back to the EFCC that everybody knew; give them time. And even now, I wouldn’t want to say they are not working. They are working.

  Are you also concerned that even some of the cases you initiated as EFCC Chairman, especially against some former governors, are still at the plea stages over five years after? And do you share the opinion that the fault is from the judiciary?

The issue of corruption is one that affects everywhere and everybody. It affects the police, lawyers and the judiciary. One of the reasons we succeeded at EFCC was because we closed our doors to corruption. It is the same lawyers and judges who were there when we recorded over 300 convictions that are still there. So, what happened? When you are fighting corruption, you must do it at all levels. You must ensure that lawyers do not take advantage of your cases and scuttle them. It is also your responsibility to ensure that the courts are also going to deliver justice. And my own experience with the courts is that if you are doing the work properly and they know that you are serious, they will come along. And that was why we got the convictions and asset recoveries that we made. That’s why the international community believed us; that’s why law enforcement agencies at the international level came along and supported us and that’s why the Nigerian judiciary believed us and worked along with us. But the lady who took over from me was busy going round the world abusing judges. I had prosecuted before, even being asked to set up the EFCC. I secured convictions when I was in the Police. Most of them, of course, were in the military tribunals. So, it depends on who you are and what you are. I am not saying that there is no corruption in the judiciary, but it is your job to stand up and fight it because that is even your job in the first instance.

What about the option of Special Court that some people are talking about?

No. I didn’t advocate for it when I was in EFCC. At the time I was there, we got convictions from the regular courts.

The argument is that it will quicken the trial of cases of corruption.

It is not true. There is nothing wrong with the regular courts. You cannot continue to create ad-hoc institutions to tackle problems each time. If you create a special court, it is going to be inferior to the Federal High Court of Nigeria. And even the High Court can stop that court from doing the job. What are you going to do with close to about 1,000 high court judges in Nigeria today? You are not using them and you want to create a new court. Are you going to bring angels to man them? Is it not the same Nigerian judges that will man them?

Now that you are a politician, what is your opinion on the ongoing move by major opposition parties in the country to merge?

The important thing is that all the parties have agreed to come together. And thanks to PDP, it has even helped us to achieve that because everybody knows the problems our country is facing today and we understood clearly that without coming together, we’d be helping PDP. Nigerians are desperate for change. People are coming together, putting their interests, selfish or otherwise, aside to work together. I think that is the most important thing. We tried it with CPC before the 2011 elections, it did not work. But one thing is that it prepared grounds for us to come and do it this time around.

What are your own political plans for the future?

I am a very active member of ACN, which is trying to mesh into APC. We are a national party today and I am happy with the people that I am working with. I am very much around and active and will participate fully in politics and will continue to work for my country whenever there is a chance to do so. But I believe it is very early and it will not help matters for anybody to be talking about positions now.

Load more