Ribadu: Corruption is a Cancer not a Headache

Corruption, I argued, was the reason why there had been a perpetual collapse of infrastructure and institutions; it is the cause of the endemic poverty in Africa; it is the reason for the underdevelopment and the cyclical failure of democracy to take root in Africa. I also observed that corruption is worse than terrorism.


Governance, Ethics, and Anti-Corruption Reforms 
Remarks at the National Assembly of
Southern Sudan

Mr. President Sir,
The First Vice-President of the Republic of Sudan, 
President of the Government of Southern Sudan,
The Vice-President and the cabinet here present,
The Acting Speaker and Members of Parliament here present,
Governors here present,

Mr. President, permit me to say all other protocols observed. And also permit me Mr. President to start by thanking you for giving me this singular honour to address you, address your parliament and address the people of Southern Sudan. Thank you very much Mr. President for this very kind invitation to Juba. After years of civil war, the dire levels of deprivation, and want; plus the challenging and difficult transition currently apace in Southern Sudan, it is easy to visualize the difficult job ahead of you and the people of Southern Sudan. 

Mr. President, I want to thank you for bringing peace to the people of Southern Sudan. Without peace, there is no chance, no way for you to make progress. It is a very important factor. It is not all about the battles you fought but the peace that you are able to achieve and accomplish. I want to congratulate you for that, Mr. President. 

Mr. President, today you have peace. How are you going to translate these successes that you are able to accomplish into something that is meaningful in the lives of your people? When I saw you move in Mr. President, I just visualised a great man at the crossroads of history; somebody with heavy responsibilities imposed on him by fate. Are you going to turn this country into a great country that all of us are going to be proud of? Will you be one of those that we are going to celebrate? Will you join the list of those great Africans that did so well for a continent that is desperately in need? I saw in you that promise, and I pray that you will succeed. May God help you in this responsibility. 

But Mr. President, you are going to face obstacles and formidable difficulties. You have fought a very bitter war, a very difficult one and, therefore, you do have people who will not necessarily be happy to see you succeed. You must be conscious of that. Mr. President, you are also faced with the realities of today’s world. There’s a meltdown in the world today and I’m sure you and the people of Southern Sudan are feeling its impact. It’s a big minus at this stage. But the most important thing Mr. President is the difficulties and obstacles of good governance. Good governance is the key. Chances are, if you have good governance, with all the difficulties, you will be able to overcome them and you will be able to maximise whatever potentials and resources you have for the good use of your own people. Good governance is the most important thing and it is the most difficult thing today to accomplish. That is what the world is saying today. That is the topic; that is the main issue. 

Mr. President, I congratulate you on the milestones you have achieved in the areas of freedom and liberty for the people of
Southern Sudan. Your Excellency, my strongest motivation to be here today is to share with you important lessons from Nigeria, and hope that some of our success stories may be of value as you construct your own medium to long term programs, even as you learn how to omit some of our own mistakes. I warmly salute the inspiring effort you and your wonderful team are putting up here, and it is truly hard to ignore the import and significance of what will come out of this in the future. 

President Barack Obama, that great son of Africa, came to the continent recently and he told us that the most important thing today facing us as a people is good governance. I agree with him completely. Everybody, development agencies and experts included, have come to the conclusion that the solution to problems confronting us as a people is that of good governance. With your great wealth of experience, I am sure you know far better than me that good governance is what will probably bring us out of where we are today as a people. Mr. President, Africa today is at the lowest of the ladder, unfortunately. The world has moved so fast and forward. We are left behind. We have not even started to address the basics that others have already solved for so long. We are still struggling, Mr. President, with poverty. We are still struggling with diseases. We are still struggling with conflicts, Mr. President. There is no solution apart from good governance. And when I talk about good governance Mr. President, I’m talking about all the other things that are there; ethics, anti-corruption, management, doing things properly and correctly, rule of law, order, stability, selfless leadership and ability to get maximum benefit out of your resources, both natural and human. 

Mr. President, fortunate enough, I am a Nigerian and today I can tell you that Nigeria is one good example of a country that got it wrong in managing its resources. We are paying dearly for it, Mr. President. Nigeria is a country of close to about 150 million people; a country that earned over $600 billion within 4 decades. But we are still struggling, Mr. President to provide the basics for our own people. We have yet to produce 40% of the electric power requirement for our own people after almost 50 years of independence. We have yet to meet the basics needs of our people. It is tragic. It is a shame and I feel sad. Mr. President, we have failed ourselves. I was invited here because I was part of those who attempted to do something about it; to change, reform, and have a fresh start. And we did that. 

I was the first Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Nigeria. We worked hard and we saw the benefits, Mr. President. We almost turned the country around. The problem of poor governance is not just in Nigeria. It cuts across the continent. Not far away from you here Mr. President, are some of the tragic examples. Take Zaire (now Congo DR), for example. Zaire failed simply because of mismanagement and incompetence in the way Mobutu handled that country. Mr. President, look at Somalia your eastern neighbour. It is still struggling to define itself. It is a failed state, even with the fact that it is a country that has one language and one religion. So when we talk about diversity, you can see clearly, it is not the problem. The problem, Mr. President, is the way we manage ourselves; the way we handle our own governance issues. Mr. President, there are several of these examples and I can tell you, your brothers and sisters who had the opportunity to lead us, a lot of them failed us and they brought us to the situation where we find ourselves today. 

Your Excellency, this is the point we must never miss, and this was the point that was running through my mind as I drove into this hallowed chambers, envisioning the greatness that lies ahead, and the hurdles that can derail all the dreams, and all the riches that can come out of such dreams. Southern Sudan cannot afford losing its hard earned peace to the enemy called corruption. This is a salient fact, and the very reality of the African condition. From the north to the south of this continent, recent developments illustrate this point so graphically. My country, Nigeria, is a typical example in this regard.

In the second week of May this year, in Washington DC, the United States Congressional House Committee on International Development invited me to speak on the issue of Capital Loss and Corruption in Nigeria. As it turned out, it was a similar lesson that I focused on and I shall share some themes from that presentation with you today, if only to further illustrate the universality of our reality and the need for solidarity and united vision to combat this scourge called corruption. Proceeding from the fact that the history of my country,
Nigeria, reveals that after one civil war, seven military regimes, and three botched attempts at building real democracy, the one connecting factor in the failure of all attempts to govern Nigeria is corruption. I concluded by drawing attention to the grievous harm that corruption has done to Nigeria and Africa over the years. 

Corruption, I argued, was the reason why there had been a perpetual collapse of infrastructure and institutions; it is the cause of the endemic poverty in Africa; it is the reason for the underdevelopment and the cyclical failure of democracy to take root in Africa. I also observed that corruption is worse than terrorism, insisting that public officials who are corrupt should receive worse treatment than that reserved for terrorists. I also called on the region as a whole to refocus and give issues of corruption the attention they rightly deserve. The challenge before us, to my mind, is to set our sights on making corruption, rather than poverty or any other socio-economic malaise, history. For, as soon as we do so, everything else, like a worrisome jigsaw puzzle, will fall in place. Making corruption history is the surest way of making all the problems of Africa history. 

This is not complicated to understand. Indeed the history of countries like Nigeria, Congo, Kenya, and Zimbabwe, offer an adequate illustration of the wrong road to development that Southern Sudan may do well to avoid. As the examples from these countries show, it is the prevalence of widespread corruption in both public and private institutions that has effectively constituted a major impediment to their socio-economic and political development. These countries are still tethering to achieve the basic infrastructure needed to boost the desired economic growth such as electricity, good road networks and efficient transportation system. 

In comparative terms, the provision of these infrastructural facilities by countries which were on equal threshold of development with Nigeria in the early 60’s such as South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil and Singapore, were no more a challenge now because these countries have attained a higher level of development, leaving Nigeria far behind. It is an irony to say that Nigeria with abundant human and natural resources still ranks among the poorest nations in the world. The GDP per capital was US$675 (2005), while poverty is widespread with about 52% of the population living on less than $1 per day (World Bank Report). The moral of the Nigerian development paradox which Southern Sudan must not miss is that corruption and mismanagement of the wealth of a nation are the bane of the developmental efforts of that country. 

Your Excellency, Africa is not all together a basket case. There have been a few examples of countries that have taken bold steps, countries like Botswana and Rwanda, to tackle corruption and advance the principle of good governance. Mr. President, Southern Sudan is at a crossroads. You can decide to follow the examples of Nigeria and Congo DR or those of Botswana and Rwanda.

Since Monday, I have had the opportunity and chance to interact and dialogue with various groups of people of Southern Sudan. I had a very good interaction with your civil servants, with the SPLA, with the civil society, religious organisations, and the anti-corruption commission and we shared a number of things and I may just bring a little to you. I told them about Botswana. Botswana is a small African country that showed that it could be done if we wanted to do the right thing. Botswana gave us the example of a country coming from nowhere that managed itself very well. And today, Botswana is an example that a country can make it if you do it very well. 

Botswana Mr. President is the only African country that has double digit development in the last two decades. You can only compare them with South Korea, probably Singapore, and the more successful states that are coming out of developmental challenges. How did they do it, Mr. President? They did it by simply adopting some specific best governance policies on national issues. At the time when they realized just like you that they did have some God-given natural resources, they took some steps to ensure that they were going to make the maximum use of it. 

Mr. President, when I came, I also brought my own little experience in addressing the problem of corruption. Nigeria is an example of a country that was brought down completely to its knees by corruption. I got that chance and I did it to some extent because within a short period of time we were able to show that it could be done. How did we do it, Mr. President? 

Mr. President, distinguished members of parliament, the number one problem in proposing anti-corruption reforms is to ensure the primamcy of a political will that is transparent and unequivocal. Without it, as experience has demonstrated in Kenya, South Africa, and Nigeria, the anti-corruption war will loose steam and wither off. 

In the case of Nigeria a few years, first and foremost, there was a very strong political will. Government at the highest level took the lead. The person who is going to execute this war is the president himself. We had the strong political backing for us to achieve our objectives. Mr. President you are doing it and I want to encourage you to continue. It is the fair step. Mr. President, we also on our own took it upon ourselves to be honest and just; to do it honestly, transparently and in the most accountable manner. 

Mr. President, we also went after the powerful people; the rich; those who were hitherto above the law. There is no way you can succeed in the fight against corruption if it is selective in the sense that you go after the small fries, the small people and you leave the big people. Some of us here, the privileged ones among us, are the ones who are in charge of the resources. So if you are going to fight corruption, we should be the targets. And I did that. Mr. President, I brought my own boss to justice. I was a Police officer. I got the Inspector-General of Police, the chief law officer of Nigeria, convicted. I recovered close to $150 million from him. Mr. President, I brought governors to justice. I got them convicted. Mr. President, one of the governors in the Niger Delta gave me $15 million cash in bags. I took that money and I used it as evidence to prosecute him. Mr. President, that is the way to fight corruption. That is the way you must fight corruption. You have to be strong, honest and courageous. 

I have met Dr. Pauline Riak. We both belong to an organisation called “Corruption Hunters”. Dr. Riak does have massive support at the international level. People support her and all of us are very eager about her work. I stopped so many things to come here Mr. President to spend five days in Southern Sudan because we are all passionate about Southern Sudan. We want you to succeed. We are desperate for you to succeed. We cannot afford to allow you to fail. When I came, I shared with Dr Riak some of the basic things that need to be done for them to succeed as an anti-corruption commission. 

But it is very very important and critical for them to have the tools for them to be able to achieve that. As a country, as parliamentarians, it is in your interest ladies and gentlemen that this country moves forward; it is in your own interests to put selfish interests aside. You will all be proud of it one day. Twenty years, thirty years, people will start talking and you, if not you, your children will be proud of your names that you were responsible for the foundation that made it possible for you to be a country that succeeded in Africa. 

How do you do that? Some laws are needed. You can’t succeed without those basic laws. I did that in Nigeria. And most of the laws that we got, I lobbied for, I talked to the parliamentarians, I got the support of President Olusegun Obasanjo. Your anti-corruption commission is a constitutional body. You have an establishment law, but you need massive support beyond that. They need some teeth for them to bite. Our experience in Africa is a bit complicated. Most of the laws that have to do with corruption and anti-corruption today are from the international community. The United Nations came up with a strong document, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) which they enjoined the rest of the world to adopt. We brought it to Nigeria and adopted it. We have domesticated that law. 

That law is very comprehensive. It covers A-Z; how you as a country will fight corruption; how you can collaborate with other countries that will help you in fighting corruption. It is there. It is a ready document. Parliamentarians, please look at that law. It is not going to cost you anything as individuals. In that law, you may see for instance, the need for a commission to have powers to investigate and prosecute. Mr. President, I have been a prosecutor all my life. But I was a police officer. I fought to get powers to prosecute taken away from the Attorney-General of Nigeria. Yes! Why did I do that? Because for 40 years, as a country, we never had a single conviction when the office of the Attorney-General was in charge. 

Go to Kenya, it is the same thing. Go to Sierra Leone it is the same thing. Go to Ghana, it is the same thing. Are you going to allow this failure to continue? I hope the Attorney-General is here. It is in his own interests to see that things work well. In Nigeria Mr. President, I got the powers to prosecute. In Nigeria, Mr. President, up till 2003, we never had a single conviction. But from the time I took up the powers to prosecute, by 2007, I recorded 275 convictions. A world record! These little things make the difference. Within three to four years of the work I did, as a result of this encouragement and support, we recovered over $5 billion in months. We would not have done so without those basic things and support that came from the Nigerian parliament. 

Mr. President, you need to go that direction for you to be able to win this war, for your policies to have a chance of success. And that’s what changed the attitude in Nigeria. Because the moment people start getting punished, you will see the magic it will make. The attitude will start changing. Very soon, you will see people lining up and going the direction you want them to go. In no time, we were able to use that war to wipe out completely, the national debt of Nigeria. We got about $18 billion of our national debt wiped out simply because the world knew that there was change taking place in Nigeria. 

By the time we started this job in 2003, Mr. President, Nigeria had less than $5 billion in its foreign reserves. By the time we left in 2007, we had over $67 billion. I am telling you Mr. President, the secret is addressing the problem of corruption and fighting for establishment of good governance. We got Nigeria delisted from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) list of Non-Cooperating Countries and Territories. Nigeria was at the lowest level of the Transparency International rating of corrupt countries. With the three years of the work we did, we raised it close to 40 points from about 180 to 130. And that was what opened the doors to foreign investors in Nigeria. It made it possible for people to start believing in us, for people to start having confidence in the way we manage ourselves. It changed the economy of Nigeria. Mr. President, you are doing that. You will do a lot more by insisting that you must achieve that feat and objective. It will make a difference in your country. Mr. President, fighting corruption changed Nigeria.

You do not have that problem today maybe because you are just starting. The challenge is for you to make it impossible for such things to come to your country. Laying foundations, solid ones can make it impossible. And that is why Mr. President, I have come here to tell you to please look at the models. You know it more than me. But some of you might not know it. Countries like Botswana did very well by laying those solid foundations and making it impossible for wastage in the use of their natural resources. I want to implore you, to encourage you to make best use of this opportunity. Southern Sudan is a natural resource rich country. There are basic things Mr. President that you might do, maybe you are already doing it, I don’t know. 

For example, we have an international charter called EITI – Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. We have adopted it in Nigeria. It came from the Tony Blair government in the UK. It is a charter that encourages natural resource rich countries like Southern Sudan to adopt policies that will open the industries, that will make government, companies, and every participant to play their specific roles that will ensure transparency in the process of extraction, in the process of selling and in the process of use of the money that is realized from that sale. EITI is a vibrant initiative and I hope you already have it. If not Mr. President, it is worthwhile assigning your own people to have a look at it and adopt it. 

Mr. President, as part of the reforms that we carried out in Nigeria, we came out with a very strong public procurement law that sought to insist on openness, transparency and competitive bidding in the process of contract awards. It is very important. It helps you, Mr. President, to be able to save these your hard-earned resources for the good use of your own people. It will reduce wastage. It will enhance your own potentials in terms of money for your government. You need it, Mr. President.

Mr. President, we also have a bill that we are trying to pass. It is the Freedom of Information Bill that will open up the government. There is nothing secret about government. Government is not a private company. All of us are here today; tomorrow we will not be here. You play your own role and you leave. There is no need for it to be secret. That bill will give authority and the backing of the law for government to be open. It helps. It may not be easy for government. Those who are in charge might think how can I just pass a law that will expose me? You have nothing to lose about adopting such a law. You only gain eventually. Mr. President, we have another law called the fiscal responsibility law. This mandates those people who are entrusted with the power to put into use the money given to them and then account for it. If there is a budget, and the budget is for ministries and the state governments to implement, the law requires them to follow it properly and strictly, and if they fail to, they will be punished. The parliament needs it because when you pass bills and ask people to go and spend the money, it is your responsibility to see that the money is spent properly. We call it Fiscal Responsibility Law. That law insists that if you give money for example to the Ministry of Finance, and you have this specific project that you are going to implement, failure to implement them according to the law, according to the budget you passed, is a criminal act. 

You need these laws as a foundation for good governance that will translate into progress and make you to maximise the benefits of both your God-given human and natural resources that is so much abundant in this beautiful country, in this beautiful land, in this beautiful people called Southern Sudan. 

Your Excellency, related to the availability of a robust political will must be the presence of an accountable and highly transparent culture of enforcement. We certainly need good laws to check corruption, but in most African countries the problem is not the availability of laws but the failure of enforcement. This is also related to the earlier point I made above, because an enforcement culture will only blossom where there is the necessary political will that is strong and comes from the very top.

Mr. President, in the operational procedures that will be adopted, I propose that you infuse your enforcement mechanism with a strong intelligence component. The value of this approach is that you can reduce the needless violations of rights that often occur in the arena of law enforcement. 

Your Excellency, international cooperation will continue to be a big boost for anti-corruption reforms. The West in particular has a big role to play in the fight against corruption in Africa, through helping to promote instruments that can institutionalize tangible anti-corruption regimes; sharing crime intelligence; and capacity development.

Importantly, Mr. President, the SSACC can join other credible regional anti-corruption agencies to collaborate with sister agencies in the West with more developed capacity to help promote a Proceeds of Crime law that has treaty status. I particularly implore SSACC under the able leadership of Dr. Riak to help push the boundaries of a law like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) to acquire expanded power and universal jurisdiction. With a law like this, we can develop a mechanism to bite both givers and takers of bribes which is the most prevalent form of corruption in our jurisdiction. It is becoming fashionable to hear from some state officials in the region that the problem of bribery is with the giver. Until those receiving the bribes are punished for their actions, the marketplace for high‐stakes elite bribery will continue to thrive.

But as we all know, Mr. President, anti-corruption reforms will come to naught if we conceive it merely as a professional fight. Civic education that draws all sections of the active community to the fight will be the only basis for a long lasting and sustainable reform. I would also propose that SSACC invests in collaboration with faith-based organizations, youth, women, professional associations, the media, and labour unions. I urge that you invest the reforms also in support of investigative journalism initiatives which can support transparency and anti‐corruption efforts. 

Mr. President, I have said it before, but wish to repeat again that the West must understand that corruption is part of the reason that African nations cannot fight diseases properly, cannot feed their populations, cannot educate their children and use their creativity and energy to open the doorway to the future they deserve. For this reason then, the West must be in the forefront of building a global coalition against corruption; it must make transparency, accountability and the fight against corruption the primary basis for relating with any government. 

Similarly, the West must be forthright and courageously speak out against countries that provide safe havens for proceeds of corruption from Africa, making it the basis for bilateral and multilateral relationships with countries where grand corruption is prevalent and those whose financial institutions provide safe havens for proceeds of crime.

Mr. President, SSACC can collaborate with other agencies in the region to seek genuine support that empowers local agencies on the ground, through capacity building and technical assistance. Such collaboration can also build a tangible force to promote the denial of entrance of persons who have been indicted of graft in Africa to countries of the West.

Mr. President, your constitution guarantees the existence of an anti-corruption agency. The Commission should be empowered to produce results. Your Excellency, I fought corruption in Nigeria and I saw the benefit as well as the effect. I learnt this fact myself by a firsthand example when my four-year effort to build the EFCC into a world class crime-fighting agency was ambushed midway by a sophisticated elite conspiracy. Mr. President, I want you to be successful, but you cannot achieve success unless you show resolve and political will to tackle corruption headlong. Always remember that when you fight corruption, corruption fights back! To produce the kind of result you need to bring about development in Southern Sudan, I urge you to follow the UN recommendations that seek autonomy for anti-corruption agencies so that they can prosecute their own cases.

Once again I thank you, Mr. President, the courageous men and women of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), distinguished members of the Parliament of Southern Sudan and the leadership of the SSACC in particular, the formidable woman of history, Pauline Riak, for the kind invitation. 

From the little I have seen so far, the future of Southern Sudan is assured from an anti-corruption perspective if you draw the right lessons and omit the silly mistakes that other countries and older anti-corruption agencies on the continent have all made. Good luck and Godspeed in your mission. 

Thank you once again. 

Nuhu Ribadu 
Former Chairman, Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), now Fellow, St. Anthony’s College, at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.