The New EFCC: Ribadu and El Rufai

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Danny Elombah

The recent travails of Ribadu and El Rufai provide a powerful tutorial to all students of power politics in Nigeria. In his book, Dreams of my Father, Barack Obama said, “power is unyielding and principles unstable”, and then “strong men exploit other men’s weaknesses”. In the words of Nuhu Ribadu, ‘when you fight corruption, corruption fights back’.

The fight against corruption is not new in Nigeria, we had General Muhammadu Buharis War Against Indiscipline and the mass sacks and imprisonment by Murtalla Mohammed before that. but since 2004, it has been taken to an entirely new dimension by those that understands power and its uses in the highly sophisticated power politcs in Nigeria. It is a war, total war that takes no prisoners, ruthless men who understands that ‘life was too hard and too messy to live to according some abstract ideals. As in all wars, the ordinary citizen is often a hapless victim. According to Chinua Achebe, when two elephants fight, it is often the grass that suffers. It is therefore our responsibility to sound this dire wraning and also important, very important that all public commentators pay particular attention to this particular war so as to discharge their moral responsibilities to inform and educate. This warning becomes more urgent in the light of comments by otherwise well intentioned commentators, particularly in the Nigerian blogosphere and the print media, people who appears ignorant of the power permutations.

EFCC today and Farida Waziri

The Chairman of the EFCC, Mrs Farida Waziri recently declared that Nigerian politicians are taking advantage of the global crisis to buy houses all over the world. The EFCC has the duty to fight corruption in the country so if some Nigerians are buying houses overseas with corrupt funds, they should be arrested and prosecuted and not just make political statements about it. But if you go to the website of the EFCC today, Mrs Farida Waziris’ brave accomplishment in the war against corruption is boldly proclaimed: EFCC DECLARES EX-FCT MINISTER El-RUFAI WANTED! MONEY LAUNDERING: EFCC SLAMS 47 COUNT CHARGE ON FANI- KAYODE; And for a distraction, it is mentioned that EFCC have secured a conviction against Lucky Igbinedion. The EFCC today are no longer bothered to curb the evil but all efforts are concentrated in fighting El Rufai and Nuhu Ribadu. A thinly disguised war against Obasanjo’s henchmen is on. Why? Is today’s anti-corruption war another cudgel in the selfish and rapacious pursuit of power by the Nigerian political power blocks?

The establishment of the EFCC and ICPC in 2004 was a development that excited Nigerians, both at home and abroad. Several faces of the new governemnts reformist credentials quickly emerged, but the ones that impacted most on the lives of Nigerians was Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and Mallam El Rufai; capable hands and well intentioned individuals, who saw in their respective positions an opportunity to correct some evils: for EL Rufai, A new Federal capital territory was sought, found, planned, designed, and Nigerian greedy officials refused to abide by the master plan to make Abuja one of the best modern cities in the world. The Federal Capital Territory officials ought to have followed the Abuja master plan and stayed away from the ‘Green Areas’, Rail, Sewage, Water, and Underground Power Lines. Unfortunately, the ravenousness in Nigerian Public officials and the rot in the Federal services blocked their good senses of reasoning and sold-out their conscience. El Rufai had to restore the Abuja master plan, to restore the dream behind the Federal Capital Territory he angered the ruling elites by demolishing their illegal structures; former heads of state, Ministers, senators and governors who used their position to amass landed property in Abuja in violation of laws and laid down regulations.

As for Ribadu, his case needs not be recited. Nigerians got giddy when they saw tangible results from Nuhu Ribadu in his self righteous zeal to rid Nigeria of corrupt practices. The international community was equally impressed and before long accolades started raining down both on him and the Nigerian government. Nigerians corruption rating shows steady improvement and the name of Nigeria was removed by the FATF from its blacklist of countries not cooperating in the fight against money laundering.  I termed him ‘the Giovanni Falcone of our times’, in memory of the Italian mafia busting anti-corruption crisader.

With the passing of time, however, the president Olusegun Obasanjo hijacked this battle against corruption. He was their mentor and he gave both men the necessary leverage, but like a wily general, he also understands quite well that while anti-corruption and war against indiscipline strikes a cord with Nigerians it could also be manipulated to political ends. Like a double edged sword, he used one stone to kill two birds; yes, gather international and national aplomb and at the same time wield the cudgel of anti-corruption to battle his political opponents to submission. He exploited the selfish and rapacious pursuit of power of the Nigerian political power block represented by Alhaji Abubakar Atiku and General Ibrahim Babangida and the state governors. Obasanjo allowed Nuhu Ribadu to battle his corrupt IG of police, Governors, ministers, senate Presidents, state commissioners, governors, Local Government chairmen, Yahoo boys, swindlers as diversion. We all hailed these as epochal events, but to president Obasanjo, a political battle was won. While General Sani Abacha used the threat of phantom coups to keep randy politicians and soldiers in check, Obasanjo’s’ preferred weapon was Ribadu.

Just before the PDP Convention when President was still searching for a successor, the leading reformers in the Obasanjo administration held an earnest meeting in Abuja. The then leading reformers were all in attendance: Mr Chukwuma Soludo, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iwealla, Mrs Dora Akunyili, Mallam El Rufai, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and a few others were in attendance; the agenda- to make sure they influenced the choice of Obasanjo’s successor, ostensibly to protect the reforms but more practically to protect themselves. As the foot soldiers of Obasanjo’s inauguration day declaration to step on toes, they knew what they faced if they loses influence post-Obasanjo. They fought so hard to push one of them as a vice president seeing that the political reality of the day was inclined towards having a governor as the presidential candidate. But power is a prostitute; it is irresistibly drawn to the prospective locus of strength. Compared to the governors, these ministers have no real power base and the PDP governors had their way. These governors are more familiar with power and what it can do, they were also afraid of the powers of these reformers; their own backs also needed protection.

President Yar’ Adua has confounded both his critics and admirers by the ease with which his administration have been hacked out of his control, and unfortunately for Ribadu and El Rufai, while they supported the emergence of Yar’Adua, their opponents are more heartless and ruthless. The same people that argued that Obasanjo used the anti-corruption war for his political battles also castigated Ribadu for his initial inaction against the corrupt governors when Obasanjo got out of the way. Ribadu’s weakness is to believe that the battle is fought according to some abstract ideals. He believed that he and his former colleagues ‘marched for a higher purpose, for rights and for principles and for all God’s children’. Left to the poor fellow, with time, under relentless pressure of public opinion, he would have moved against Obasanjo himself.

Nigerians open your eyes! Almost every member of The Senate Committee, upon whose findings EL Rufai was declared wanted are the individuals that owned the illegal plots lands confiscated by El Rufai. They simply wanted back their properties. They called on the previous heads of state for information on their lands confiscated by El Rufai. The Senate Committee Chairman that conducted the public hearing on Abuja land allocations, Senator Abubakar Danso Sodangi, was also involved in the Abuja land grab. Sodangi stopped the Acting General Manager of Abuja Geographic Information System (AGIS), Mr. Yahaya Yusuf, from revealing Sodangi and members of his family ownership of 14 residential and six commercial fastidious plots in Abuja to prevent further embarrassment on him.  

The same governors indicted by Ribadu: Chimaraoke Nnamani, Sani Yerima, Turaki, George Akume etc are senators today. Sam Egwu and Achike Udenwa are ministers in the Yar’Adua administration. Ibrahim Babangida and his cohorts- the opponents of Obasanjo in the Nigerians power game are the new power brokers. Their real target is the Obasanjo that completely emasculated them to enthrone himself as the ultimate god-father, but he did not reckon with the instability of power. The unwritten power code in my country forbids generals going after fellow army generals, so the foot soldiers must bear the brunt. Unfortunately for El Rufai and Ribadu, they have no protectors for in their zeal they spared none- IGP, Mohammed Babangida, governors Alameseigha and Joshua Dariye, senator Wabara, other senators, generals and ministers, all suffered.

A sceptic would argue that Akunyili, Soludo and Okonjo Iwealla were also professionals, equally well recommended reformers but were not under attack. Yes, these fought their causes but their victims were neither the big gun power brokers nor the northern elites whose interests were in the petroleum and political sector but wealthy Igbo traders, influential bankers and other sundry corporate goons with no real power base. Their actions constituted no real threat to those powerful vested interests. If they had, Ngozi and Akunyili would be in El Rufai or Ribadu shoes today. These hawks went after Soludo. Their man-Friday, the attorney General of the federation, Michael Aaondoakaa had well drawn plans to humiliate Soludo out of office the way he handled Ribadu until they realised that the price of Soludos’ demise on the Nigerians economy would be so high and therefore they backed down. Remember Soludos’ ill-fated attempt to redenominate the naira and the ADB affair, which the hawks saw as a golden opportunity to strike, but the reaction of the international investment community was so scary and the price so great that Yar’Adua was persuaded to back off.

The Nigerian masses

What is frighteningly sickening about this whole episode is the extent to which we are willing to accommodate these shenanigans in power. From the public comments of some so-called knowledgeable Nigerians including some journalists; you come away with the impression that they are happy to pay the penance for the corrupt. One is baffled by comments like, “is Ribadu the only one out 140 million Nigerians to head the EFCC”? “If Ribadu and El Rufai have no case to answer, why do they not answer EFCC summonses”? I scream; where is the outrage!

Compare this with the Americans reaction to the allegation against the US governor of Illinois. Rod Blagojevich is accused of trying to use his authority as governor to appoint Obama’s Senate replacement to get cash or a lucrative job for himself. The governor has denied any criminal wrongdoing and has resisted multiple calls for his resignation. But no American public commentator so far have had the guts to point out and say, ‘look, this man have not been found guilty of anything, what you have are merely phone conversations, so what you have at least in this particular case are mere intentions to commit felony and no substantive corrupt practice have been confirmed’. The fear that you could remotely be seen to align yourself with corruption would make everyone; politician, journalist or ‘the ordinary masses’ to cut all links with the accused governor and not make any favourable comment at all. But in Nigeria; the fool is our fool!

We should henceforth stop dancing to the tunes of these rapacious power seekers and their diversionary tactics. Whether we realize it or not, what is at stake goes beyond Ribadu and El Rufai. This is a battle for the soul of Nigeria, the battle to control the leverages of power, to assert dominance and strike fear into your political opponents. It is a battle between Obasanjo and the northern ruling elites and entrenched interests; a battle by proxy. Obasanjo saw the threats to his political power as coming from the governors, the northern oligarchs or Atiku, while Yar’Adua and his present masters saw their enemy as Obasanjo. This selfish and rapacious pursuit of power of the Nigerian elite as being manifested in the feud between Obasanjo, Orji Uzor Kalu, James Ibori, Atiku Abubakar and Babangida are at the root of the problem with Nigeria today. Unlike Obasanjo, who was content to let Ribadu’s EFCC create diversions in the form of hapless, Local Government chairmen, swindlers and Yahoo boys, the present power brokers have no such compunction, they behave with impunity. 

The El Rufai and Ribadu travails should teach us that the battle to tackle corruption and abuse of power and reclaim Nigeria from these predators will never come from government. It is left for Nigerian activists to arise and fight the war against corruption themselves. We should look up to France. French activists sued three African leaders for graft. Anti-corruption campaigners in France filed a suit against three African heads of state, accusing them of buying properties in France that could not be financed with their official earnings. Presidents Omar Bongo of Gabon, Dennis Sasso Nguesso of Congo Republic and Theodore Obong Nguema Mbasogo of Equatotial Guinea, whose countries export crude oil.

The campaigners, according to Reuters said they wanted to force the French justice system to look into how the three presidents were able to buy huge real estate portfolios. “There is no doubt that these assets could not be bought using only the official salaries and benefits of these heads of state.” The campaigners referred to a 2007 French police probe, details of which were leaked to media revealing their vast assets in France. Obiang’s son has faced a court case in South Africa over two luxury villas he owns there. Teodoro Nguema Obiang also came under fire from anti-graft campaigners in the United States in 2006 after he acquired a $35 million California beach house.

Mrs Farida Waziri, have merely confirmed what Nuhu Ribadu and Sahara Reporters have cried about to high heavens, that Nigerian politicians have corruptly amassed investments in the western countries where we all live. It is our responsibilities to sniff out and use the legal structures in place here to fight these corrupt and heartless politicians. If we do this, we would be truly helping our potentially great country instead of wasting our time in a fruitless debate on whether Ribadu should have resigned from the Police Service before being sacked and whether El Rufai should obey the EFCC summons – fighting our politician’s proxy war for them.

Nigeria ronu!

Daniel Elombah