by Susan Enuogbope Majekodunmi
Being Nigerian and having many relatives still living there, I keep abreast of political and economic events. Nigeria is blessed with many natural resources and brilliant, hardworking citizens, but corruption over decades is draining her resources.
This oil rich, corruption challenged country lacks both basic amenities and economic opportunities for the masses. Most businesses are laced with bribery and greed, sending citizens seeking greener pastures into self imposed exile in the West. So a Nigerian attempting to eradicate corruption is notable.
I learned of Nuhu Ribadu because his anti-corruption activities - not sparing rich and politically powerful people - make him a Nigerian media fixture. Trained as a lawyer he spent 18 years as a police officer fighting corruption. From 2003-2007, as Executive Chairman of the Economics and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), he investigated financial crimes and led anti-corruption public sector reforms. In 2007, at the height of his success, he left Nigeria for safety reasons.
Nuhu Ribadu is currently a Senior Fellow at St. Anthony’s College at Oxford and a visiting fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington, DC.
When I met him at the Howard University event “Addressing Corruption in Africa, A Lecture with Nuhu Ribadu,” I seized the opportunity to hear his thoughts. Below are excerpts from our conversation on anti-corruption, the role of the West, and leadership in Africa.
Does corruption have an African face?
Corruption isn’t peculiar to Africa. Each country struggles with it, even the U.S. North Korea’s one family dictatorship, Burma, and Haiti, all have corruption. But the effects of corruption in Africa, particularly Nigeria is significant. Yes, the west often focuses on negative perspectives of Africa but corruption overwhelmingly exists and can’t be overlooked.
Who is corrupt?
Leaders of Somalia, Kenya, Burundi and Congo display corrupt and poor leadership. Many African nations are where they are because they produce despotic leaders like Mobutu Sésé Seko, Idi Amin, Jean-Bédel Bokassa, Samuel Doe, Charles Taylor, Robert Mugabe, Sani Abacha and Juvénal Habyarimana.
Define corruption and its effects in Nigeria?
Corruption occurs when leaders, through abuse of office, convert and divert national funds and resources to their personal use while promoting injustice and causing division. Corruption has kept many African nations weak despite vast natural resources. Nigeria has lost over $600 billion in four decades. There’s little security, order, and basic necessities people take for granted in western nations. We are unable to manage our resources to improve our lives and solve our problems.
How did you become the anti-corruption crusader?
Law and order were absent. I believe creating change was my responsibility and the solution was law enforcement. I was angry enough to do something because someone like Sani Abacha stole $6 billion and Nigeria was ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. My vision was to make and enforce laws so I joined the police force.
How did you effect change and retrieve missing funds?
The EFCC was created. I brought in allies and the media and we began sensitizing people against corruption. In four years we got 300 convictions and recovered $5 billion. Nigeria was redefined and ranked better on world corruption charts.
I worked with Interpol, DOJ, FBI and the UK and US metropolitan police because of their broad reach. I convinced them that Nigeria’s stolen money being spent in their countries was irrelevant to their economies. In 2006 $15 billion was returned to Nigeria. The UN convention against corruption and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) also helps countries fight corruption and repatriate money.
Have people attempted to sway you?
Yes. An armed robber, turned internet fraudster who defrauded a Brazilian bank of $200 million attempted to, but I recovered and returned the $180 million he hadn’t spent. Former governor of Delta state, James Ibori, who bankrolled many present Nigerian leaders tried. He personally had $700 million in unaccountable funds while his state had only $1.1 billion. He offered me $15 million promising to pay another $15 million, but I declined.
Have there been repercussions?
I have survived several assassination attempts because of my bulletproof car. At work they demoted and sent me to the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies in Plateau State where I had previously taught. At my graduation I was chased out, and I was dismissed from my job. I left Nigeria in 2007 for safety reasons.
What part does the West play in African corruption?
As you can read in my address to Congress, “Capital Loss and Corruption: The Example of Nigeria,” what is occurring in the oil rich Delta region is caused by greed. The FCPA states that it is unlawful for people to make payments to foreign government officials to assist in obtaining or retaining business, but they play a major part. For example, Halliburton’s KBR subsidiary paid $2.4 million in bribes to a Nigerian tax official to obtain favorable tax treatments and $185 million bribe to secure a $6 billion liquefied natural gas plant building contract…There are numerous cases.
What do you see as the solution?
If the FCPA is violated, all parties including foreign leaders should be prosecuted in the U.S. Some may say we are exporting our problems and giving the U.S. control of our politics but we can’t do it ourselves. These people are untouchables in Nigeria. [Congressman William] Jefferson was sentenced to 13 years in jail but Atiku, who was implicated and is also alleged to have stolen millions from Nigeria’s coffers, is still a free man attempting to become president. Stopping corruption must be by any means necessary. By only punishing the Americans involved, the US is indirectly promoting it. Atiku sometimes resides at his mansion in exclusive Potomac, Maryland, Equatorial Guinea and Somalia’s presidents are also living lavishly because foreign corrupt practices act doesn’t apply to them. Corruption should be like terrorism where if you’re even a sympathizer you are in trouble. Also the U.S. government received violation fines from FCPA violating companies but the Nigerian government received nothing. The money should be shared.
What does good leadership mean to you?
It means fighting for justice and making sacrifices. Mandela and his comrades had no money, but they converged against the South African army - the fifth strongest in the world - to fight apartheid. Kigame was a U.S. army sergeant who returned to change Rwanda. He didn’t have money and lived in the forest eating lizards and stolen food, but his conviction sustained him. He’s now the president of Rwanda. I believe when you have morals and fighting for a good cause you will be victorious.
How can anti-corruption and good governance be promoted in Africa?
First appreciate the problem and strategically place educated, hardworking and ethical people with a world view in law enforcement, political and government positions - because the private sector relies heavily on the state, federal and local governments. I brought people from IBM and U.S. universities to staff the EFCC, Customs, and the police force. Also democracy should be a requirement for international assistance to countries.
What are your thoughts on African leadership?
Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Senegal have autocratic presidents. Paul Biya of Cameroon’s presidency is senile after 28 years. He doesn’t know modalities, and the economy is so bad they finance their bills. Old leaders should leave for new ones to come. Sierra Leone has only one political party. Opposition has no voice.
Post-war Rwanda is a model for other developing nations. Tanzania under Nyerere did well. He created progress enabling structures. There’s unity, stability, peace and justice; and with over 175 tribes debunked the multi-tribe disunity myth. Jerry Rawlings created amenities now enjoyed in Ghana. There is combatable corruption; but the rule of law, good governance, and honest politics exists as seen in the ruling party’s double defeat.
What are your thoughts on women in leadership?
Educating women is the key because the impact women make is broader than men’s. In Nigeria, female education and career development has not been harnessed effectively. Nigerian women are often abused and exploited; we are probably second to the Arabs in how [badly] women are treated. But things are changing with leaders like Kagame decreeing 53% of parliamentarians must be women. Africa should invest heavily in female education and empowerment and bring intelligent and brave women into leadership positions to reduce corruption.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf defeated war lords to become president in Liberia, Africa, where women are often deemed inferior. She’s an intelligent woman who preaches modern economics and speaks the language of Washington. She has placed many female U.S. transplants, such as chief of police Beatrice Seah, in strategic positions to utilize their world experience. Liberia’s corruption addressing mechanisms are excellent and their General Services Agency (GSA) based on the US model is admirable. Liberia is on the right track but needs support and assistance.
What is your legacy?
I’m proud of the anti-corruption sensitization, structures, and systems I established which strengthened the Nigerian judiciary and law enforcement. I am on my way back to continue as I have been reinstated as Assistant Inspector General. It’ll be difficult, like it was for the independence and anti-apartheid fighters, but Nigeria’s future depends on the efforts of good Nigerians. We must do it for our future and children.
About the Author:
Susan Enuogbope Majekodunmi is a freelance journalist and writer. She is a contributor to The WIP and Examiner.com. She also has an online blog, Sociable Susan Magazine. Originally from Nigeria, Susan has worked in various fields and is currently exploring her creative interests. She is an avid reader and songwriter and currently lives in Ellicott City, Maryland.