Former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nuhu Ribadu, speaks with JOHN ALECHENU about his recent return to the All Progressives Congress, the anti-graft war, and how Peoples Democratic Party leaders approached him recently to be the party’s national chairman
You recently returned to the All Progressives Congress, a political party you participated in founding. Why did you leave in the first place?
I joined politics during the 2010/ 2011 elections. By 2014, we were actively engaged; we almost succeeded in setting up the All Progressives Congress. At that time, I decided to go back home and start my politics at the local level in Adamawa State. Like they say, ‘all politics is local’ and it makes sense for you to concentrate at the local level for you to see how you will build your political career. I paid more attention to that. In 2014, a lot of people moved into the APC after it was formed. Some of us who formed the party, opened the gates for others to come in. In Adamawa State, PDP members moved into APC and I don’t need to mention names; they were well known then. Even at the time of setting up the party executives at the ward, local government and the state levels, those who were in the PDP in Adamawa, especially members of the state House of Assembly, played significant roles. They were the ones that, more or less, brought (together) all the officials at the ward, local government and state levels. The same set of people turned against the then APC government headed by Governor (Murtala) Nyako who also moved (from PDP to APC). His movement was genuine unlike so many others. They all turned against Nyako. Those who set up the party structure, especially members of the state Assembly and some godfathers, ganged up and removed Nyako. Those of us who were the original members of the APC did not like it and we fought in the best way we could without success. We knew that we were heading for trouble; we knew it was the beginning of crisis for the party in the state. Later, the same people who took over the APC from us divided themselves into two dominant political parties in the state. One group took over the PDP, while another took over the APC. It was funny and sad. At that time, I felt a lot more comfortable running away from those who were in charge because of what they did. It caused a lot of confusion for me as an individual I must admit.
No. If there were to be conditions. I should be the one giving the conditions instead, because I was invited to join the party. As of that time, those who invited me meant well for the state and also meant well for the country. They felt I could help in doing things correctly. As of that time, the decisions I made were in the best interest of my state, my family and my country. There was no other way, especially when a governor was just removed and there was so much confusion. It is not like everybody in PDP is bad just as it is not everybody in the APC that is good. Everywhere you have a combination of good and bad people. If that is the case, sometimes you look at those you can do business with. Nobody gave me conditions.
Are there conditions attached to your return to the APC?
One of the reasons I returned was that things have changed fundamentally. Those things that happened in Adamawa have been reversed. We are going through a healing process and the original people who are the progressives are coming back together and some important steps have been taken. For example, the recent court ruling which declared the removal of Nyako as wrong and illegal, is a good thing for me personally and for all of us who stood against his impeachment then.
The party today has good leadership. There is a change in the way things are being done in our country. We have a Federal Government that is focused and fighting lawlessness. Those are some of the things that have built up now and brought about a conducive environment for us to come back. Nobody gave us conditions neither did we give anyone conditions. After all, this is a party that I was a part of as a foundation member. I played a big role in the formative stage. It will not be difficult for me to reconnect.
You paid a visit to Chief Bisi Akande months before your return to the APC. What was it about?
In respect of people like Baba Akande and the rest, we were never too far away from one another. He is like a father, it is not just him alone; many of them that have always been with me, we have never parted ways. They were aware of what happened then, that’s why nobody said anything. Many of them understood and wished me well. I was always close to all our political fathers who are more or less the fathers of progressive politics in Nigeria. Even when I was a little angry about what happened in Adamawa, I was never far away from them. We were together. It’s just sad that at the time I left, I could have been a little patient and quiet and allow things to calm down but I was vulnerable and a lot of my friends in the PDP, convinced me to come over after all, it’s about serving Nigeria. I was not far away from my people particularly Asiwaju (Ahmed Tinubu), Baba Akande and a lot of those who came together to form the party.
Is your movement from the ACN/APC to PDP and now back to APC not a sign of desperation for power?
No. Whatever my level of desperation, I couldn’t have been given the nomination of the ACN then, I had nothing, I didn’t have money. I don’t even have money now. If it is a matter of money, there is no way I can get anything in Nigeria. The same thing happened when I moved to Adamawa. Both sides were looking at me and said, ‘Please, why don’t you work for Adamawa State first, before anything else? You are not that old. Adamawa is not a bad place for you to start; come and participate.’ I am a human being; I listened and because of this, people were continuously asking for things. Up till now, nothing has changed (about me); it’s about people. I became the governorship candidate of the PDP in Adamawa not because I spent any money but because people agreed that I could do it. They said if APC is in confusion, come over. Not long ago, the PDP wanted me to be their national chairman. I have never been desperate in my life; desperation is far away from my character.
Some have accused you of betrayal… (Cuts in)
That you betrayed your anti-corruption posture by joining a platform with people you prosecuted as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Which party can I belong to that they (people I prosecuted) are not there? Does it mean that I should not play politics because of others? It’s a straightforward thing. I am a Nigerian and I honestly want to contribute. I want to play my own role in the nation’s development and how to bring about peace and unity in my country. Unless you belong to a political party, it will be difficult for you to participate. You must take your own steps towards an opportunity for you to help your own country and a political party is open for all. It is a constitutional right. People are free to join political parties that they like and one cannot say because of someone who is there he will not join the party. I think that will not be fair to oneself, Nigeria and to everybody. In all the parties, we have good and bad people. I think I have no issue belonging to a political party with people, who somehow had been affected by my work while in the EFCC. I did my work honestly to the best of my ability, with no personal interest and vendetta; that’s why most of them are comfortable with me.
The war on corruption has been fought since the 1960s but it seems corruption is getting worse. What is your take?
It is not that we have done badly but Nigerians continue to ask for more. We are impatient people – which is a good thing. We make a lot of noise when we disagree with some things. If you ask me today, there is no country in the world that is fighting corruption like Nigeria. Why? I can tell you from the results of the work done. There is no anti-corruption institution or agency in the world that is handling cases like the EFCC. There is no anti-corruption agency or institution in the world that is doing the recovery that the EFCC is doing today. There is no anti-corruption agency in the world today that is taking cases to court – which is what anti-corruption agencies are supposed to do. I think these are the statistics we must accept and recognise the fact that we are not doing badly. The volume is large; corruption is all over the world; all countries have it. You will be shocked if you know what is happening in other African countries. The difference is that we are doing something about it. There were periods we were a little bit low but later came up. Right from the time President Obasanjo started the war against corruption, I think we started doing very well. We laid a solid foundation and then the EFCC is a good example of an agency that has a good foundation and which will continue to do its work. We have our own low points but we also have results to show for the work.Ibrahim Magu (current EFCC boss) is doing a good job. We have many institutions with modern tools of fighting corruption in Nigeria that are far more than many countries of the world. We have institutions like: NEITI (Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative) promoting transparency and accountability in the extractive industry; it is solid and we have good hands managing it. We have the Bureau of Public Enterprises. We also have the Bureau of Public Procurement. We have the SFU (Nigeria Police Special Fraud Unit) and the NDIC (Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation). But we can do better; we need to have a national strategy to address the problem of corruption. We need to have a consensus (anti-graft system) that the executive, the legislature and the judiciary will buy into and understand what is needed to be done.
Do you subscribe to calls for a special court to handle corruption related issues?
I have always been against doing ad hoc initiatives to address a big problem. Based on my own experience, I discovered that they do not work. I participated in the (Military) tribunals – Miscellaneous Offences Tribunals, Recovery of Public Property Tribunal; all these were special courts and all our works came to nothing because ultimately, they could not fit into the regular court system that we operate in Nigeria. So, and all the cases were thrown out and almost all the recoveries that were done went to waste. If every time you are confronted with a problem you create a court, you are going to have many that you will not be able to manage. We had anti-robbery tribunals; why are our courts not working? Why? They are the same human beings, the same Nigerians, why can’t we make them work? If we want our courts to work, they will work. There is no reason to create another one and abandon what is already in existence. Today, you say, Rent Tribunal, tomorrow you say Industrial Court, and day after tomorrow another one; when are we going to end that? This doesn’t happen in other places where courts are working. Why don’t we concentrate and make our existing courts work? During my days as the chairman of the EFCC, the courts worked. I had more than 90 per cent of success in all the cases I took to the court because in the first instance, we worked hard at the EFCC. By the time we build a case and it went to court, it was a solid case that would stand the test of prosecution. We were also honest and everybody knew that we did not take money and if I didn’t take money and if the case went to court, chances were that no one would take money. We were getting results; I never lost a single case on appeal or at the Supreme Court; not a single case because we worked hard. The courts are there, corruption comes in when there is a lousy work. If they see there is that political, will they will act accordingly; if they see honesty and transparency everybody will come along. But if you don’t do it, even if you create a special court you are going to face the same problem. I think it makes sense for us to invest in our regular courts, courts that can take all cases. For instance, we can say this particular judge can handle these kinds of cases. There is nothing wrong with, for example, say, within the Lagos Division, the Chief Judge knows judges who are good at specific areas and then assign such cases to them. We need to improve on the courts; improve on the quality of our judges through training and re-training, improve accountability and transparency and fight corruption. Let the judiciary cleanse itself by itself, let the Chief Justice lead the reform.
How would you react to those who accuse you of pandering to the whims of former President Olusegun Obasanjo?
You cannot stop people from complaining especially if they were victims of your work but who are those people? Where are they? I need to know them. For over a decade, I have been making the same noise. Let people come and tell me that while I was working, I did this or that to pander to the then President Olusegun Obasanjo and I will reply. As of the time we did the work, even though it was a PDP government, 90 per cent of those we charged to court were PDP members. I don’t think they were all enemies of the president. Most of the works we did were transparent and were open for all to see. We had evidences which we took to court. How, for God’s sake, can anyone say all the works we did were because of this and that? We did not hide anything from the public. People who tried but failed to corrupt or blackmail someone, would always say something; it is left for Nigerians to look at it. There is nowhere in the world that you will fight corruption that people will not complain. They will always look for a reason to say something. In our own case, it was exceptional because most of them were PDP members and they were close to the president.
What about the alleged distribution of the N50m to legislators to alter the Constitution to give Obasanjo a third term?
In the first instance, third term did not work. There was no law that was passed. In dealing with corruption cases, the first thing to look at is what is the motivation? Was the act carried out? Was it successful? From there you build your case. The third term did not work for us to say this or that person was bribed and that’s why they passed the law or allowed third term. When you talk of third term’s money, first and foremost, as a law enforcement agency you have to first look at what is going on: did something happen that warrants you to say a crime has been committed? If something happened behind the scenes under the cover of darkness, how on earth can you build a case on that? How many things are happening right now that you don’t know about? We took steps; we stopped money in our banks when we became suspicious. Some of the former governors that we charged to court, for example, the governor of Jigawa (Saminu Turaki), had something to do with that. There were a couple of other cases that I was building before I was removed from the EFCC. The money was put in preparation for it (third term) but we stopped it. We went after the bankers and blocked accounts even before anything happened. I hope that those who said they were given money will come out and give details so that people will be prosecuted for it. This will help law enforcement agents to do their work; criminal cases don’t have time limits.
What were your experiences when you handled the NNPC probe under the Jonathan administration?
At that time, I was not even in the PDP and they felt I could do a good job. We did a lot of things. We looked at the NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation) accounts, in and out; we went to the ports and presented a quality report that if that government had accepted and implemented it, we would have avoided many of the things that happened subsequently. When we went, we made a presentation to former President Goodluck Jonathan. We told him publicly that it was his government and that he should not allow others to mess him up. Those who challenged us tried to compromise the whole thing; we resisted. It was public knowledge, but after that, it never saw the light of the day.
What was the lowest point of your career?
(Prolonged silence)… When I was forced out (of the EFCC). In fact, the saddest part of it was that it was the day that I was to graduate from the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru and (Micheal) Andooakaa led a bunch of people to come and remove me from the graduation hall, it was terrible.