Mallam. Nuhu Ribadu is the founding Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Ribadu was a keynote speaker at a recent workshop on assets forfeiture and recovery which was organised by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Anti-Corruption (PACAC) in Abuja. He spoke with AMEH EJEKWONYILO of Authority Newspaper on his experience at the EFCC and the government’s current anti-graft efforts.
What do you make of this workshop on assets forfeiture and recovery being organised by the PACAC?
This is a home coming for me. Since I got here I have seen people I had not seen in the last ten years; colleagues, senior brothers, wonderful people that I had the privilege and honour to work with.
This is the company I always look forward to; not where I am coming from (politics).
I’m happy to be part of this epoch-making workshop that is most timely and appropriate given the atmosphere in the country. As far as the fight against corruption is concerned, it is very thoughtful for the organizers of this event to bring experts together to brainstorm on important aspect of the war against corruption with a view to streamlining whatever is in existence and strengthening what needs to be strengthened.
For me, this period is an important episode for the anti-graft war being a time that we have the most vital tool needed in the war, the political will. I see in the current leadership in our country today, particularly the President has the will to allow the war to be fought without interference and the eagerness to support it in whatever way possible. These two points are pre-requisites in winning the anti-corruption war.
We have to seize this opportunity by setting up a very serious strategic and focused direction to secure the future of this work and address the major impediments once and for all.
What is your assessment of the anti-corruption in terms of assets forfeiture and recovery struggle when you were the EFCC and now?
The situation today is almost similar to the condition that existed when I chaired the EFCC which enabled us to modestly set a very good foundation that is still serving the country very well. The decision by PACAC to create a platform for discussion on assets forfeiture proceedings and management is very commendable, and assets forfeiture is an integral component of the anti-corruption war as it serves many purposes within the anti-graft framework.
First, it serves as restitution in the sense that what was ill-gotten is returned to the rightful owners. It also functions as a deterrent to others as those who illegally enriched themselves get stripped of that wealth overnight and shamed as accomplice. By the time you take it out, there is nothing else you can do that will help send a massive message that corruption does not pay.
Similarly, through proceeds of final assets forfeiture, government can make extra money that can be channelled to projects that can enable growth and development of the state.
As a specialized element of the anti-corruption process, assets recovery requires professionals and dedicated people comprising investigators, prosecutors, managers to handle it jointly for effectiveness and to drive the maximum benefit. A point therefore has to be made on the importance of diligent investigation for a successful and fruitful assets recovery management.
Whatever success that is made of forfeiture or recovery depends on the thoroughness of the investigation and diligence of the prosecution and the ability of investigators to trace whatever is traceable and recoverable. The success of assets recovery begins with the investigation.
Did you have any previous experience in public service before been enlisted into the Nigerian Police Force and then to the EFCC?
My first experience in public service was in 1985 in the attempt to address the problem of corruption. As a young prosecutor; we participated in the General Buhari/Idiagbon military government’s anti-corruption fight. And after I joined the police force, we reviewed it and I saw what happened. I saw how what we recovered then were returned through decrees to the cronies of the government that ousted Buhari then.
What were some of the obstacles to the successful repatriation of stolen assets to Nigeria during your stay at the EFCC?
The federal government hired foreign lawyers notably to assist in the identification and return of stolen public monies in different parts of the world. This foreign aspect of it was largely handled by the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA). However, I was partly involved in many other directions especially with the Swiss authorities which presented us with some very unique experience at the time. And Nigeria had to negotiate with the Swiss government on getting our money back; there condition was that they would want to see the returned money used for some specific social intervention projects.
However, our dilemma then was the constitutional requirement that all recovered monies must be first paid in the federation account. And of course all spending from the federation account must be budgeted for.
We therefore involved the United Nations, the World Bank as intercessors to satisfy this requirement. Eventually, significant amounts were returned into the country.
I remember when we started, we got to the United Kingdom; we had some couple of stolen public funds there. We met with the Prime Minister of UK then, and he insisted that the only way they would give us the money was that if the Nigerian government would allow EFCC to make use of the money. Of course, it was something that I would have loved to have; I was looking for money. But there was no way because it had to go to the federation account.
Tony Blair wrote a personal letter to President Obasanjo then, that the only way they would give back the money to Nigeria was if the money was going to go to the EFCC, he (Obasanjo) refused.
So, unless you go out of your way to fight corruption, it will not be defeated. Most of the things we did and got results were because we did them by ourselves. We followed those who stole our money and indeed we won. I have been to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the US 26 times to solicit for cooperation in the fight against corruption.
Law enforcement is the most critical aspect of the anti-graft war; the operators and linkages helped greatly in handling several cases that had foreign connections, especially the successful tracing and recovering of assets of former governors Plateau, Bayelsa, Delta States and couple of others.
Serious cases like the Halliburton case was a case that I insisted and went to the French authorities (they said they couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak French, but insisted that we have to understand each other) and we ended up taking the case to the US authorities because there was nothing I could do in Nigeria; a case of powerful foreign companies coming to Nigeria and bribing government officials and then getting away with it. It is tragic because from our end, nothing happened. It was a tragedy that we were kicked out of the EFCC in 2007.
You were so passionate about the Halliburton case; do you think it can still be salvaged?
Yes it can; a lot has been done already and I believe this government will be able to take it forward. I gave the example of the Halliburton so that investigators and people who do the real work would work and others would make money out of it. And sadly, the public would turn around and vilify the real people who suffered without anything.
I believe that even now something can be done so that hopefully justice will be served.
You mentioned about your foray into politics, and now you have moved from the Peoples Democratice Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC). Why could be responsible for that decision?
I a founding member of the APC; maybe you can say I am going back to my home.