Friday Discourse (233)
Ribadu, the New Anti-Corruption Prince
People who are conversant with the intricacies of government, the complexity of politics and the dictates of law in Nigeria will not find it difficult to discern that the task of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is not an easy one. Since the inception of his commission, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, its Chairman, has distinguished himself as an officer who is not afraid to go after any criminal, regardless of his position in the society, no matter the attendant risk to his life or position, and notwithstanding any foreseeable political furore. For one's peace, Machiavelli once advised his prince, he should avoid tampering with the source of people's wealth and with their women. Ribadu's task is to tamper with the first while he has no business with the second. So his task is naturally a difficult one. It could well be considered as the toughest in the Nigerian Police Force. Yet, he pursues his duty with the commitment of a suicidal instinct. I have never met him, but I, together with millions of Nigerians, admire his courage, commitment and sincerity. We support him.
Government and politics are intertwined, so we will treat them together. In fact, some people will argue that in the context of Nigerian political arena, politics overrides government. We will give two examples of how the two impede our progress towards checking corruption. Two weeks ago the Federal Government came up with a list of politicians it believed are corrupt and are not fit to stand for elections if indicted by an administrative panel as provided by the constitution. The government said the list originated from EFCC. The Commission did not deny that. After all, many times Ribadu has sworn that his Commission will prevent such politicians from running in the next elections. So the Commission, aware of its constitutional limitations, ambushed these politicians after their parties have officially submitted their names as nominees to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). EFCC collected the list and started pencilling down names of people whose dossier are dirty enough for disqualification. Then, aware of the fact that it has no constitutional right to prevent anyone from standing for elections directly, the Commission submitted the names to the President, whom they expected – or advised – to finish the job by constituting an administrative panel of inquiry that will offer the accused politicians the chance to defend themselves.
The politicians affected, as expected, cried foul and accused the government of subverting the chances of its opponents. The opposition described the inclusion of ruling party members on the list as a smokescreen. The real intention, they alleged, was to checkmate political heavyweights like the Vice President. More damaging to the credibility of the list, however, is the fact that, to the disappointment of EFCC, the Presidency has tampered with the list by removing the names of PDP members who are in its good books and, possibly, adding some. Even if Ribadu did not leak this fact, we would have arrived at it from the inconsistency of the list with his previous statements. Ribadu had earlier told Nigerians that majority of their governors are corrupt. He has documents to prove corruption charges against at least thirty out of the thirty-six governors, he continues to claim. And we believed Ribadu for he is in a good position to know and he has never prosecuted any innocent person. He even mentioned names which, surprisingly, by the time his list passed through the political filter of Aso Rock, have mysteriously disappeared. Something is amiss.
Ribadu must be in a dilemma. This is just another case in which his boss, the President, has disappointed him. There have been many other occasions before, some involving the President himself. For example, when the President extorted state governments, federal ministries and parastatals, private companies and individuals for his personal library project, Ribadu approached him and the President had no credible alibi but to say that the library will be put to public use. Ribadu left unconvinced. A bigger scandal was underway. The President was caught fabricating a company called Transcorp to which he auctioned the national telephone company – NITEL, Nicon, and so on. Nigerians screamed at this glaring act of corruption. And all that the President's handlers could come up with is a concept called blind trust, something completely alien to our Company Law. These and many other acts of corruption of the President do constitute enough grounds for Ribadu to charge him and for the National Assembly to impeach him.
These are few examples of how incumbency impedes the progress of this country. If it were in countries where corruption is taken seriously, Obasanjo would have been behind bars by now, if not executed, like Saddam, for crimes against humanity in Odi and Zaki Biam. And Ribadu is not the only one in that shoe. Many people who have answered the call to serve in various capacities at various levels of government are faced with the dilemma of how to handle the influence of politics on government. Not only regarding high profile crimes, even on ordinary administrative matters political considerations often compel governments in this country to knowingly take disastrous decisions. Progress thus becomes very difficult.
Ribadu's position is not helped by the law, especially how it operates in Nigeria . A clear example is that of the immunity which it grants to Governors and their Deputies, and to the President and the Vice-President. These officials have exploited the immunity clause to loot public treasury. Ribadu cannot prosecute them, until they vacate their offices. In some cases, like Bayelsa, Plateau, and Adamawa States , he had to resort to their assemblies, but the assemblies were not forthcoming until their members were also shown their dossiers. Then only after being threatened with their prosecution did some of them yielded. Consider that their new governors will also enjoy the immunity accorded to their predecessors. It leaves us with the possibility that looting will continue and the fight between the EFCC and incumbents will assume a cyclic form.
Now, ordinary minds in the position of Ribadu, particularly those with a populist bent, will choose to quit. They will look at their credibility, as it obtains in advanced countries and abandon the office, accusing the President of corruption and not living by the dictates of the law. Nigeria is not Kenya . I consider this as playing to the gallery. The fight against corruption will be a long one especially in a democracy where the law is paramount. We will have occasions to smile though; and once we remain tenacious the future will be bright. Take the case of our present corrupt governors in EFCC books. Though we could not remove them in office to stop corruption immediately and Obasanjo is retaining them to enable him rig the coming elections, they will nevertheless be prosecuted. Their prosecution after office will never be late.
My strong conviction for the prosecution of those criminals who parade themselves today as governors arises from the fact that neither the next President nor EFCC can shy away from that responsibility. On the one hand, only a fool as President will allow such governors who have amassed so much wealth to walk freely on the streets and constitute a clog to his administration. This was the reason why Obasanjo entirely obliterated the groups and individuals that brought him to power. Their political weight became a burden for his administration, a sin, if you like, for which they must be sent to hell. Machiavelli rightly spelt this as the first responsibility of a prince. In the same way, as the present governors make the mistake of attempting to exercise their political muscle in the Senate and retaining their clout back in their states, the new President is left with no option but to give Ribadu a nod to go ahead with his job. That will be the greatest day for Ribadu. That day, we will rejoice as we never did before, possibly holding parties across the nation. The new governors too will join us because the pebbles in their shoes have been done away with.
Ribadu, on the other hand, cannot turndown the benefit of prosecuting them. He is offered the chance to laugh last. Sending them to jail will, apart from being a punishment they never contemplated, send a strong signal to their successors that for whatever wrong they commit, the long arm of the law will ultimately reach them. The new governors would circumspect, or even recapitulate, on behaving like their predecessors. Corruption will thus decline. More spectacular is the case of Obasanjo who, most likely, will be behind bars by the time the next President spends two years in power for the same reason as would the old governors.
So, I will appeal to Ribadu to continue on his noble path. Let him not be worried about the incumbency which breeds the impunity that tampers with his duties, or the immunity that hinders the prosecution of some corrupt officials, or even the distressing public condemnation from agents of such thieves. He is assured that the day they will be within his reach is close. On our part, the majority of the Nigerian public that are behind him, we do appreciate the limitations of his office under the present dispensation. And because we understand the risk involved in his work, we will continue to pray for his divine protection. The fall of Murtala, Buhari and Idiagbon, the pioneers of the fight against corruption in this country, has left us in sadness for decades now. Today, we celebrate the arrival of their offshoot. In my heart, and surely in the hearts of many Nigerians, Ribadu is our new anti-corruption prince. Allah suure!
21 Feb 2007