Eased out of office under questionable circumstances only to be vindicated and honoured on a global stage almost a decade after, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu’s impactful anti-corruption efforts have not gone to waste, writes Olaseni Durojaiye
Last week, as part of activities to mark the United Nations Convention on Anti-Corruption (UNCAC), pioneer Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu stood tall on the global stage as he was honoured for his contributions towards the global fight against corruption.
As EFCC Chair between 2003 and 2008, Ribadu changed the narratives bordering on the country’s image and her corruption perception, with the toughness required to changing the Nigerian story.
The event, which held in Putrajaya, Malaysia was indeed a classic case of a prophet without honour in his homeland even if it took so long in coming. The amiable super cop had emerged the joint winner of the Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani International Anti-Corruption Excellence Award in the Lifetime/Outstanding Achievement category alongside Leonard McCarthy, a former Vice President of Institutional Integrity at the World Bank Group.
Even though it took long in coming, a decade after powerful political forces manipulated his ouster from office; it still didn’t reduce the towering status of the honour. Rather, it underscored the magnitude of his contributions to the battle against corruption in the sub-regional, continental and global stage.
According to the organisers, Ribadu’s “nomination was carefully reviewed by the Assessment Advisory Board and the High-Level Award Committee and was considered to contain and exemplify the values and virtues that this Award stands for.”
The honour presented annually, every 9th of December, is in “recognition and appreciation to those who have contributed to the global campaign against corruption. The Award recognizes individuals and organisations, who have dedicated themselves to combat corruption in some capacity.’
The prestigious award was an offshoot of the United Nations Convention on corruption, which came into being in October 31 2003. The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) is a multilateral treaty negotiated by member states of the United Nations (UN) and promoted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
It is one of several legally binding international anti-corruption agreements. UNCAC requires state parties to the treaty to implement several anti-corruption measures that focus on five main areas: prevention, law enforcement, international cooperation, asset recovery, and technical assistance and information exchange.
According to Wikipedia, the objective of UNCAC is to reduce various types of corruption that could occur across country borders. Among the target are trading in influence and abuse of power, corruption in the private sector, such as embezzlement and money laundering.
Another goal of UNCAC is to strengthen international law enforcement and judicial cooperation between countries by providing effective legal mechanisms for international asset recovery.
“The greater purpose of the Award is to serve as a tool that highlights exemplary and noteworthy actions as and good practices on a global scale, to recognise, promote, collect and disseminate anti-corruption models from around the world; to raise awareness, support and solidarity to the fight against corruption; as well as to encourage and inspire similar and new initiatives towards a corruption-free society.
“The Award hopes that through its public image, the visibility of those who are fighting corruption it is not only enhanced but also celebrated across the world and hopes to motivate governments, academic institutions, the media and civil society to adopt and understand the principles of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and collaborate towards its implementation.”
Putting it mildly, the task before him upon assumption of office was gargantuan. Corruption was the norm when he took office and it transcended both the public and private sectors. Besides, just as the ability to lie is viewed by some school of thought as a mark of intelligence, many had come to see corrupt practices as a norm in the country so much that society tacitly encouraged it.
Internationally, the country was very low on reputation capital. The country had practically become the world capital of financial crimes including money laundering and Advanced Fee Fraud popularly referred to as 419 – a coinage derived from the section of the country’s penal code that deals with obtaining money under false pretence.
The 419 menace was so rife at the time and compounded by lack of will by the nation’s law enforcement agencies to deal with cases of money laundering and other financial crimes.
It goes without saying that the nefarious activities greatly hurt the nation’s economy as legitimate investors feared being fleeced of their hard earned funds and shied away from investing in the country, thus depriving Nigeria of the much needed foreign investment that could have catalysed the nation’s economic growth and development.
Ribadu’s accomplishment as the nation’s anti-corruption Czar was no mean feat. The way he threw himself into the task of combating corruption demonstrated uncommon fearlessness, thus the honour proved to be a testimony of integrity, hard work and dedication to duty.
Upon assumption of office, Ribadu set about clearing the Augean stable. Under his watch, the EFCC dealt with the 419 cartel, politically exposed persons, multinationals and operatives in the nation’s financial sector. The agency investigated proven cases, prosecuted the suspects and in spite of the snail speed of the nation’s justice system, eventually secured sanctions for culprits within the ambit of the Rule of Law.
Of particular note was the case that involved a team of fraudsters believed to have been led by one Emmanuel Nwude. Alongside his accomplices, he defrauded Nelson Sakaguchi, a Director at Brazil’s Banco Noroeste, based in São Paulo, of $242 million, $191 million in cash and the remainder in the form of outstanding interest, between 1995 and 1998.
His accomplices were Emmanuel Ofolue, Nzeribe Okoli, and Obum Osakwe, along with the husband and wife duo, Christian Ikechukwu Anajemba and Amaka Anajemba.
After a long winding court process, which started in 2004 at an Abuja High Court, Nwude and Okoli were eventually convicted in 2005 at a Lagos High Court. Nwude, the believed ring leader and Nzeribe Okoli, eventually pleaded guilty after testimony from Sakaguchi and were sentenced to prison.
The entire Nwude assets were confiscated and returned to the victim and a $10 million fine to be paid to the federal government was also imposed. This was beside other cases of convictions secured in cases that involved other equally popular fraudsters.
Not done, Ribadu and his team moved against highly placed politically exposed persons (PEP). Moving against PEP proved an even more daunting task, given that some of the culprits were highly connected politically and familiar faces in the highest corridors of power at the time.
Nevertheless, he moved against them and commenced prosecution of state governors, ministers and legislators. While some of them were convicted in the period he was still in office, others were convicted after he had left office.
Interestingly, his accomplishment in office transcended securing convictions and asset recovery. He recognised relevance of capacity building and cooperation among law enforcement agencies across different jurisdictions to the success of anti-corruption pursuits.
Against this background, he established capacity scale up institution and formed cooperation with sister agencies across different jurisdictions.
According to Chido Onumah, Coordinator of the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), who is very familiar with Ribadu’s duty tour as EFCC Chair, he “established the EFCC Academy and brought in experts from around the world to train staff on all aspects of financial crime investigations.
“He also placed premium on establishing working relationship with sister organisations around the world and enrolled Nigeria into the Egmont Group through the creation of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFUI). He established fruitful relationship with the FBI, the Metropolitan Police, UK; the BKA and the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany, among others.
“Within the sub region, the EFCC supported the activities of West African Inter-government Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa or (GIABA) – a specialised institution of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) responsible for facilitating the adoption and implementation of Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Counter-Financing of Terrorism (CFT) in West Africa – and seconded staff from the commission to the institution.”
The EFCC under Ribadu’s watch also investigated operations of multinationals in the country. In this regard, he superintended the Halliburton investigation. The investigation saw to Halliburton being brought to justice in the United States of America and the company paying $579 million in penalties. The agency also investigated Siemens and Bilfinger among others.
He was not perfect, but his approach to fighting corruption was not only methodical, it conformed to the dictates of Rule of Law. The approach spelt out in the UNCAC principles and by far many notches above what has obtained since he left office.
It was indeed a well-deserved garland for the shining beacon of anti-corruption as he took his pride of place among global beacons of anti-corruption.