Nuhu Ribadu: The Giovanni Falcone of our times

Nuhu Ribadu; The Giovanno Falcone Of Our Times. (PART 11) Print E-mail
Saturday, 09 September 2006

In view of the recent face off between President Olusegun Obasanjo and his deputy, Vice-President Atiku
Abubakar, I was tempted to swap PART 2 of this article for PART 3 that dwelt on the accusation that the EFCC is a mere political tool in the hands of the president for a political vendetta against his political enemies. I had promised readers however in the PART 1, that this topic would be the PART 2, I would

 not dance to the gallery of media expediency.

For those who missed PART 1, we are trying to draw an analogy between Giovanno Falcone the Italian hero who fought the Mafia to a standstill and our own Nuhu Ribadu currently fighting the Nigerian equivalent of the Italian Mafia – Corruption!

From every perspective, corruption or corrupt practices involving fraudulent activity especially the siphoning of funds that are meant for the general populace for one’s aggrandizement has been a vermin
that has been killing and discouraging Nigeria from moving up among the comity of Nations. It has eaten too deep into the polity that it is said that, “In Nigeria, not only are officials corrupt, Corruption is official”

How do you fight corruption in a country where it is a habit, accepted as a standard tool for getting by in
business, politics and everyday life? Where public officials misappropriate funds with impunity. Where a
councilor earning 800, 000 naira annually would have 200,000,000 naira in his bank account; Where a governor earning about a million naira annually would have assets in London worth £150 million; Where the law enforcement officer including an EFCC official sent to investigate acts of corruption would himself be compromised and made to issue a clean bill of health! And the person who raised the alarm be dubbed a rumormonger, sacked and prosecuted! A nation where Political 419ers are role models!

The EFCC under Nuhu Ribadu have an unenviable task in his hands. Can he perform this task in a democratic setting while observing the tenets of the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights? Where our judicial system works at snail speed and legal procedure even in highly developed democracies is weighted in favor of the accused. Where the onus is on the accuser to prove elements of corruption beyond all reasonable doubt. Pray, how do you prove corruption where the Banks hide behind the veil of secrecy to cover illicit money laundering? Do you issue receipt where money has illegally changed hands? Where political assassinations are the order of the day, where is the fool that would stick out his neck to testify against the accused especially where documentary evidence is lacking?

Our hero Giovanno Falcone was fighting the mafia in a society that did not regard these men as criminals but as role models and protectors, given that the state appeared to offer no protection for the poor and the weak. As late as the 1950s, the funeral epitaph of the legendary boss of Villalba, Calogero Vizzini, stated: “this ‘mafia’ was not criminal, but stood for respect of the law, defence of all rights, and greatness of character”. And yet this mafia are notorious for murders, drug running, prostitution, loan sharking, gun running and sundry petty crimes. They infiltrated and corrupted the law enforcement agencies, the government, the judiciary, and almost all the public institutions. In a judiciary that was as corrupt if not worse than the Nigerian judiciary.

How could Falcone fight the hydra headed monster and win? The Italian law enforcement gained the upper hand over the Mafia organisations, through stronger tactics and the breaking down of the “code of silence” or “Omertà”. A huge help in fighting the military side of the Mafia has been provided by many so-called pentiti like Tommaso Buscetta. But who was Tommaso Buscetta? He was an Italian Mafioso that later repented (a pentiti). He was the first informant in the Italian pentiti witness protection program. He became a full-fledged member of the Mafia in 1948 at the age of eighteen and worked as a hit man, and in trafficking cigarettes and heroin. In 1968, Buscetta was convicted of double murder.

In Italy he helped Giovanno Falcone to achieve significant successes in the fight against organised crime. He was the star witness in the Maxi Trial that lead to almost 350 Mafia members being sent to prison. His testimony in the New York Pizza Connection trial in the mid-1980s allowed the conviction of hundreds of mobsters in Italy and the United States.

As a reward for his help, Buscetta was allowed to live in the USA under a new identity in the Witness Protection Program. He was reported to have undergone plastic surgery to conceal his identity. Buscetta died of natural causes in 2000, aged 71, having lived out his final years peacefully somewhere in the US.

The point is this. This man proved invaluable in Giovanni Falcone’s fight against the mafia despite his past. Falcone employed a novel tactics to achieve his aim. The government passed a new law – Unknown to the Italian legal system until then – that enabled Falcone use a man who in proper perspective should be one of his victims. Not a few Italians – especially relatives of those Buscetta murdered – would have been aghast at the idea of using a convicted murderer (setting him free!) to nail his former colleagues. But then, an unusual problem requires an unusual solution.

Let us look at another successful use of extra legal means to succeed in a climate of crippled institutions and a cowed populace- Serbia.

Serbia Zoran Djindjic was elected Prime minister of Serbia in 2001. Djindjic was a leading force behind the progress Serbia later made in respect for human rights and the rule of law since the October 2000 fall of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. He introduced widespread reforms to abolish the old order in Serbia. Why was he successful? He remained pragmatic, never doctrinaire. As a result of Serbia’s predicament, he accumulated more power than prime ministers typically wield. Milosevic’s regime left behind crippled institutions, with large sections of the police and judiciary and many state-owned companies remaining under the control of Milosevic’s clique. With little trust in existing institutions to implement reforms, Djindjic often took shortcuts, using extra-legal means and improvised parliamentary majorities to push through legislation. Only prosperity and a “European Serbia” mattered. These short cuts certainly did little to build respect for the rule of law.

But Djindjic could not rely on the Serb state to carry out his policies. Many policemen and intelligence officers are on the crime bosses’ payrolls. The fact that a former president of Serbia, Ivan Stambolic, could disappear without a trace in 1999 is grim testimony to the power of Serbia’s criminal underworld

Zoran Djindjic, aged 50, was fatally shot twice in front of the main government building in central Belgrade. When he was assassinated Djindjic was not popular, but only extreme nationalists and die-hard Milosevic supporters are cheering. They regarded his murder as just punishment for the “traitor” Djindjic’s decision to extradite Milosevic–and other Serbian “heroes”–to The Hague. The more dangerous outcome is that the assassination reinforced the belief in Serbia that only authoritarian rule is possible.

When Djindjic was assassinated, the extreme nationalists and Milosevic supporters felt triumphant. But the one certain success of Djindjic’s era is that they will never return to power. Their vision of a chauvinistic, inward-looking Serbia has been discredited, while Djindjic’s stance became more popular due to his martyrdom.

The EFCC has been variously accused of using Gestapo method to achieve their aim. Are we not hypocritical here? The impeachment of the former Bayelsa State Governor was as a result of this “Gestapo” method. But Alameseigha’s antics were so reprehensible that nobody protested. Would you have relied on the Bayelsa State House of Assembly to impeach Alameseigha and wipe out the evil stain on their face?

Those that argue for Fundamental human rights should also think about the fundamental right of Nigerian masses to share in the enjoyment of their God given wealth? They could be compared to those that condemn America on Guantanamo bay and rendition flights, where are the fundamental right to life of the victims of terrorism. Obasanjo’s last attempt to give EFCC more powers legally was largely pooh-poohed by the Nigerian elites. Relying on strictly legal processes to fight corruption in Nigeria would simply leave us at the mercies of these evil men that hold the nation down. They would use their ill-gotten wealth and financial and political connections to go scot-free.

Nuhu Ribadu, the Giovanni Falcone of our times is their nemesis!