“When You Fight Corruption, It Fights Back” – Ribadu

To understand the grossness of the injustice currently being perpetrated against former EFCC Chairman Nuhu Ribadu, one has to appreciate the depth of his achievements. Ribadu’s grievances are well known and do not need repetition.


Nuhu Ribadu was born on November 11, 1960 in Yola, Adamawa State. Prior to being appointed Chairman of the EFCC Ribadu served in the Nigerian police force. He obtained a law degree from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in Zaria in 1983 and was called to the Nigerian bar in 1984. After that he also obtained a Masters degree in law from ABU. Ribadu headed the legal and prosecution department of the Nigeria police before moving to the EFCC.


When Nigeria emerged from decades of corrupt, brutal military rule and returned to civilian democratic governance in 1999, it was saddled with a huge external debt of over $35 billion to foreign creditors. Foreign creditors resisted several attempts by Nigeria to have this debt forgiven or rescheduled. They eventually relented if Nigeria agreed to mount a genuine and serious fight against corruption. Enter Ribadu. When as head of the EFCC, Ribadu began arresting and prosecuting corrupt government officials, it gave Nigerians and the international community the impression that Nigeria was finally taking the fight against corruption seriously. Under an accelerated and generous debt repayment plan, Nigeria paid off its Paris Club debt (thanks in part to the prestige of Ribadu’s anti-corruption war).


RibaduRibadu made life extremely uncomfortable for corrupt government figures and before long was making enemies with his sustained pursuit and prosecution of them. He even extended the fight to corrupt individuals outside the government and investigated his own boss – the Inspector-General of Police Tafa Balogun. Ribadu’s investigations revealed that Balogun had corruptly amassed over $150 million. The scandal led to Balogun’s arrest, conviction on six charges of corruption, dismissal from his post, and jailing in 2005. The sight of the head of the police force being led into court in handcuffs was one of the anti-corruption war’s most iconic images.

Ribadu’s also had success against Nigeria’s notoriously corrupt state Governors. The genesis of Ribadu’s ordeal can be traced back to his concerted campaign against corruption and dogged efforts to prosecute corrupt state Governors. Being a state Governor in Nigeria is big business and a very convenient avenue for amassing wealth. Some state Governors have budgets that are larger than the entire national budgets of other countries. The Governors have shamelessly exploited their immunity from prosecution to loot their state treasuries. However the Governors found a stubborn enemy in Ribadu. Ribadu revealed that Nigeria had lost over $400 billion to corruption and looting by corrupt politicians. Ribadu became a symbol of accountability when he began to expose the shady dealings of the politicians and prosecuting them, and circumvented the Governors’ immunity in Nigeria by having some of them arrested in foreign countries when they travelled abroad. It seemed that the Governors were not safe anywhere.

If allowed to continue, Ribadu’s campaign could have drawn a line in the sand and been a watershed for Nigerian corruption. He was hailed internationally for his brave fight against corruption and became the darling of the local and international press who feted him. His anti-corruption campaign spurred investor confidence and gave Nigeria’s anti-corruption fight legitimacy. A popular street phrase in Nigeria was that “the fear of Ribadu is the beginning of wisdom”.

Inspired by Ribadu the EFCC investigated and arrested state Governors including Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha (Bayelsa state), Joshua Dariye (Plateau state), Orji Kalu (Abia state), Ayo Fayose (Ekiti state) and Reverend Jolly Nyame (Taraba State). Despite being a Reverend, Nyame was alleged to have illegally amassed over one billion Naira, and faced over 40 charges of stealing, illegal diversion of public funds, misappropriation of public funds, inflation of contract sums, criminal breach of trust and bribery. Nyame was so overwhelmed that he offered to repay the sums he stole. Ribadu took to his job with messianic zeal, working up to 18 hours a day to the detriment of his family life. His efforts against corruption led to over $5 billion in looted Nigerian funds being returned to Nigeria. He did not seem afraid of the powerful enemies he was amassing and simply replied “You are either dead or living” when asked whether the powerful men he investigated might seek to eliminate him.


However despite his successes Ribadu was accused by his detractors of prosecuting a “selective” war against corruption aimed only at former President Obasanjo’s opponents. This is a shallow argument which does not recognise that many of those prosecuted by the EFCC under Ribadu were members of Obasanjo’s PDP, and the Yoruba Inspector-General of Police (Tafa Balogun) appointed by Obasanjo can hardly be deemed an Obasanjo opponent. It also ignores the fact that it is utterly impossible for the EFCC to investigate EVERY corrupt Nigerian. If the EFCC undertook such a mammoth task, millions of the Nigerian adult population would end up in prison. Even western law enforcement and intelligence agencies with the combined efforts of the CIA, FBI, Secret Service, Mossad, Interpol, and MI5 have not been able to apprehend all culprits in their own respective campaigns against corruption, terrorism and money laundering. Yet nobody suggests that they are mounting “selective” wars against those vices.

Despite the protestations of “selective” prosecution, no one has ever alleged that any of those prosecuted by Ribadu was innocent or victim to a miscarriage of justice. So long as those prosecuted were genuinely guilty of the offences for which they were accused, does it matter whether or not they were political enemies of Obasanjo? The questions that need to be answered in respect of Ribadu are:

  • Did he actually prosecute anyone that was NOT corrupt?
  • Did he arrest or jail any innocent persons?

The answer to both of the above questions is “no”. So what has Ribadu done to merit the vitriol currently being directed at him by the Nigerian public? Nigerian societal values have been utterly destroyed to the point that the public pathetically cheered and defended corrupt government officials who stole from them (Ibori, Dariye, Alamieyeseigha, Kalu) and accuse the man who seeks to bring corrupt officials to justice and the return of the public’s stolen funds, of deserving mistreatment and humiliation.


However the tide turned against Ribadu in 2007. When several of the Governors’ term of office expired in 2007, their immunity from prosecution also expired. Ribadu then struck. He compiled a dossier on several corrupt Governors, had them arrested and began steps to prosecute them. Those arrested included the powerful Governors of Abia and Delta States respectively, Orji Kalu and James Ibori. He also had the powerful telecommunications tycoon Mike Adenuga, and Mohammed Babangida (son of former head of state Ibrahim Babangida) arrested and questioned. Ribadu had finally gone too far and stepped on the big powerful toes of those close to the top in Nigeria.

In other countries Kalu and Ibori would be regarded as Mafia dons or gangsters. Even though he earned an official salary of less than $25,000 a year, Ibori somehow managed to amass over $35 million of assets in Nigeria and overseas. Ibori’s case was lurid. Despite the fact that convicted criminals cannot be elected to office in Nigeria Ibori somehow managed to be elected Governor of Delta state. Both Ibori and his wife Theresa had criminal records in the UK after they were convicted of stealing goods from the UK building store Wickes. His wife Theresa was a cashier at the store and she colluded with her then boyfriend Ibori to steal items from the store. Both of them were convicted of theft.

IboriWhen Ibori became Governor of Delta State his small time theft turned into big time looting. In oil rich but impoverished Delta State, Ibori used state funds to acquire a personal fortune and ostentatious wealth. While the people of his state wallowed in poverty, Ibori used state funds to buy a fleet of luxury cars, a private jet, a solid gold mobile phone and luxury houses in opulent neighbourhoods of London. Despite this, Ibori was thought to be untouchable because of his political connections. Ibori is a prominent member of the ruling PDP and was a major financier of Presisent Yar’Adua’s election campaign. When Ribadu dared to have Ibori arrested and mounted a shocking 103 count charge of corruption against him.


In August 2008, the Police Service Commission, (PSC),ordered the demotion of Ribadu and 138 other police officers promoted under the previous administration of President Obasanjo. Ribadu was demoted two ranks from Assistant Inspector General to Deputy Commissioner of Police. The fact that over 100 other officers were demoted with Ribadu shows how utterly petty and determined Ribadu’s enemies were to punish him. They were willing to damage the careers of over 100 other people simply in order to humiliate Ribadu.


So what is Ribadu’s crime? Quite simply, he did his job too well. Ribadu was sent away from the EFCC because he stepped on powerful toes in his anti-corruption campaign, and because he is in the process of prosecuting corrupt former Governors with close links to Nigeria’s current leadership. It is that simple. Ribadu knew he was up a powerful leviathan: “those against whom we have laid charges use the resources they have stolen to fight back. They own radio and television stations and newspapers, and can hire the best lawyers.”

It is no coincidence that Ribadu was deposed the week after his EFCC agents arrested the former Delta State Governor James Ibori. For those who do not know, Ibori has a criminal record (even though Nigerian law bars convicts from holding political office) is a close associate of President Umaru Yar’Adua and financed Yar’Adua’s election campaign. He is also alleged to have embezzled millions of state funds which he used to buy among other things, an aeroplane, lavish cars and houses, and a mobile phone made of solid gold.


A key actor in Ribadu’s travails is the Justice Minister and Attorney-General, Michael Aondoakaa. Aondoakaa took aim at Ribadu within a short space of time after the former was appointed Attorney-General. First Aondoakaa alleged that the EFCC was subordinate to his Justice Ministry and had to seek his approval before arresting suspects. When Ribadu resisted, Aondoakaa resorted to sabotaging planned EFCC prosecutions of corrupt politicians and businessmen. Next, Aondoakaa alleged that the EFCC’s search of Globacom Chairman Mike Adenuga’s residence was improper and not in accordance with “due proces”. Then he sabotaged the London Metropolitan police’s prosecution of James Ibori by refusing to co-operate with British authorities, and by writing a letter which stalled the prosecution and got Ibori off the hook in London. When an attempt was made to prosecute former House of Representatives Speaker Patricia Etteh for corruption, Aondoakaa applied to an Abuja High Court to dismiss the case.

This kind of pathetic shenanigans is the sort of affair that used to trigger military coups in Nigeria during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The fact that the military have not intervened is a testament to how successfully former President Obasanjo managed to defang the army, rid it of its politicised coup plotting elements and finally subordinate it to civilian authority.

The exit of Ribadu is the latest chapter in the attempt to protect Ibori and other powerful corrupt politicians. The man whose integrity is at stake here is not Aondoakaa or even Ribadu. Now is the time for President Yar’Adua to stand up and be counted. Now is the time for him to declare once and for all whether he is for or against the war on corruption. The honourable course of conduct is for Yar’Adua to fire Aondoakaa and order the continuance of the pursuit and investigation of corrupt public officers. However does Yar’Adua have the courage to bite the hand that fed him?

As Ribadu once said: “when you fight corruption, it fights back”.

Written by
Max Siollun
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