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Thursday, 26 September 2013

SSS and the Apo Killings

The Verdict, According To Olusegun Adeniyi. Email: olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

By the time my wife came back from the market last Saturday, I had just finished discussions with a respected family residing within the Apo Legislative Quarters who told me categorically that the “Boko Haram insurgents” the State Security Service (SSS) claimed they engaged in a “shootout” were in fact harmless economic migrants known by people within the area. Unfortunately, before I could even share the distressing story, my wife started her lamentation about a particular cart pusher at Garki market who was among the “Boko Haram” people gunned down in cold blood.
The story began in the early hours of last week Friday when soldiers and SSS operatives stormed an uncompleted building within Apo occupied illegally by some artisans and immediately began shooting sporadically. By the time they were done, no fewer than seven persons were killed on the spot (with another one dying a few days later) while 16 others sustained various degrees of injury. By daybreak, SSS spokesperson, Marilyn Ogar, had issued a statement to the effect that their team had led an operation “to the uncompleted building where arms were purported to have been buried...No sooner had the team commenced digging for the arms than they came under heavy gunfire by other Boko Haram elements within the area.”
Even though the dead cannot speak, virtually all the injured people have disputed Ogar’s claim and their stories remain consistent: they were illegal occupants who were paying a rent of N200 per head to the security guard manning the uncompleted house but the real owner had given them an ultimatum to vacate his premises otherwise he would bring in soldiers to deal with them. That was the threat which was carried out last Thursday night to devastating effects.
Even before stories began to filter within Abuja last Friday about the real identities of the victims of the Apo violence, it was obvious that the SSS statement just did not add up, especially given the patently false claim that nobody died. I watched Ogar’s press conference and noticed how she was hesitant, tentative and edgy about the arms cache that were purportedly (her exact word) buried in the building where the gruesome execution was carried out. The fact that is coming to light, even from official quarters, is that the young men who were brutally gunned down were not Boko Haram members.
For the sake of argument, let us even agree with the SSS that those boys were Boko Haram insurgents who had taken abode within the uncompleted building in a section of Abuja where the Senate President and our lawmakers live. Given the gravity of such penetration, should it not be of interest to a serious security outfit to tail those boys, gather intelligence about them--who they meet with, where they meet and who their sponsors are, if any? The inference from the statement of the SSS is that rather than carry out even a simple operational investigation, they chose to confront these “Boko Haram” guys with some trigger-happy soldiers who mowed them down. The other side to the story, however, is that those who carried out the execution reportedly on behalf of an aggrieved landlord (said to be a relation of a former president) perhaps went beyond their brief with the SSS now inventing stories to justify the extra-judicial execution. That has added a dangerous dimension to the challenge of security in our nation if officials of such a critical agency could operate almost like licensed thugs, or hired assassins.
Last Saturday, the United States Embassy in Abuja issued a terse security warning to American Citizens resident within the Federal Capital Territory that was pregnant with meaning. Barely 24 hours after the SSS claimed that the people killed at Apo were Boko Haram insurgents, the US embassy warned of “the potential for civil disturbances in and around Apo area, Wumba District, Abuja, throughout tonight and over the weekend…a violent incident in the early hours of September 20th involving squatters in Apo may be the trigger for such disturbances.”  It says so much about the credibility of the SSS that the Americans who ordinarily see terrorism in every violent act would believe that the people murdered in Apo were not Boko Haram adherents but innocent squatters.
Here I must state that given the enormity of the Boko Haram challenge to our national security, my sympathy has always been with our security authorities. But it is also obvious that their strategies not only alienate them from the communities they seek to help, they are also becoming part of the problem. For instance, I have it on good authority that one of the reasons people within the Borno/Yobe axis hardly offer information to the security agencies about the activities of Boko Haram is because several families have lost relations to the operations of these same security agencies who kill innocent people and label them Boko Haram. Some of these cases have been documented by the United States-based Human Rights Watch reports, which the federal government was quick to dismiss and disparage early this year.
Perhaps time has come for the security authorities to reexamine their strategies because it is evident that while they may be winning some battles, they are gradually losing the war which would require the trust of the communities where Boko Haram have taken roots. For instance, I understand that those living in Maiduguri and environ have practically been cut off from civilization with serious consequences even for security. This was the import of a distressing mail sent out last Monday from his United States base by one of Nigeria’s most respected professionals in the Diaspora, Dr Zakari Tata, on an open forum.
According to Dr Tata, many of the people who were killed recently inside some buses by Boko Haram were actually travelling to Damaturu, the Yobe State capital to make telephone calls. Whatever may be the security justification, the absence of wireless lines presents hardships to the people of the state. “The few privileged that have access to telephone cannot help the poor to make calls as they fear the wrath of the army. Some of the people that go to Damaturu to make phone calls from Maiduguri etc send text messages to many of us asking for help”, said Dr Tata, who then went on to highlight the danger posed by the current strategy: “People cannot call if they are sick. They cannot call for money to help their families etc. We are raising a generation of disaffected youth who will develop a deep sense of grievance against the government later. Two or three call centers were allowing the public to make calls and the soldiers closed them down. The government could at least allow the operation of call centers where calls could easily be monitored by the authorities. I know the security challenge we face as a nation is not peculiar to us but it cannot be right that many of our citizens are shut out from the world and living a very primitive pre 1950s experiences with no landlines or cell phones. Yet we have become so numbed to injustice and poor governance that this effective act of making Nigerians aliens and refugees in their own homes by cutting them off from society has become acceptable. How does a citizen report suspicious activity? How does a citizen get simple help? So many questions for which nobody is providing any answers…”
Dr Tata has raised a very fundamental issue about the danger of completely alienating millions of people in the name of fighting terrorism which requires their cooperation and collaboration. I hope the authorities concerned would see the need for a rethink on some of the strategies that could in fact become a breeding ground for young people who could, out of anger or desperation turn against the state. On the specific case of the Apo killings, I believe that President Goodluck Jonathan has to wade in because a society where the lives of innocent citizens could be taken in such a cynical manner, and with official imprimatur, is in serious danger.
There is a critical and frightening underpinning to it all. Official hysteria about Boko Haram has led to a heightened militarization of the national space with active military operations involving the massive use of weapons going on in at least 29 of our 36 states. But on the specific Apo tragedy, if the state insists those killed were indeed Boko Haram members, it should do simple things to prove it: show us their weapons caches, provide reconnaissance tapes of the movements of the group before their execution, indicate how difficult it was to arrest them etc.But if otherwise, not only should the perpetrators of this most heinous crime be brought to book, there should be hefty compensation for the victims and their families. It cannot be the duty of the Nigerian state to mastermind the progressive erosion of the bonds of citizenship by allowing brazen deeds of madness by the very agencies set up to protect the people. 
My Commiseration, Nnia Nwodo
This is a sad season for the former Information Minister, Chief John Nnia Nwodo (Jnr), who recently lost his beloved wife, Justice Regina Obiageli Nwodo: a diligent woman of grace who remained till the end a worthy example in professionalism. I once had the privilege of spending a weekend with the family in Enugu so I know how painful this death is to her husband and the children. May God grant them the fortitude to bear the loss.
Travails of James Ibori
For the former Delta State Governor, Chief James Ibori, it would appear as if when it rains, it pours. Ordinarily, one would imagine that since he is already in prison in the UK, that would be the end of his humiliation. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case, given the revelations coming out of the assets confiscation hearings at the Southwark Crown Court where some people he once wined and dined with are not only denying him but tearing to shreds whatever remains of his reputation.
Notwithstanding the revelations from the London trial, I do not believe that Ibori was more corrupt than many other Nigerian public officials who are still very much in circulation; his problem was that he overreached himself and that should serve as a lesson to other political leaders who act as though above the law. Despite the fact that I had a running battle with him while I served the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua under whose administration the Ibori saga played out (as can be glimpsed from chapter two of my book which I enclose below), I genuinely feel pity for the former Delta State Governor who aside being in jail has had three other close family members and his lawyer serve terms. As I stated earlier, my only hope is that other public officials will learn a lesson from the Ibori tragedy.  It can also happen to them.
Corruption and the Ibori Saga
Buoyed by the unprecedented decision to declare his assets in public, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua came to office with a reputation of personal integrity. But within only a matter of weeks, that image, which had swirled around him like a halo, would be tainted by the perception that he was leading a government that was protecting the corrupt. Unfortunately, the president did not appear to see what most Nigerians, and indeed several of us within the administration, could see very clearly: that the seeming connivance between his attorney general and justice minister, Mr. Michael Kaase Aondoakaa, and the former Delta State governor, Chief James Ibori, was destroying the reputation of the government and also compromising his own personal integrity.
The curtains on this sordid drama did not drop, however, until the very end, so it’s not expected that the image it fostered would be salutary. Both the United States government and the government of the United Kingdom viewed the Yar’Adua administration through negative lens, essentially on account of its apparently indulgent treatment of Ibori. While we may never know how other foreign governments perceived the Yar’Adua administration in relation to its tolerance for corruption, we didn’t really need Wikileaks to ascertain the position of the United States, to which the Ribadu/Ibori saga became a yardstick for measuring the president’s much vaunted commitment to transparency and accountability. The United States’ view was brought home to the president very clearly in August 2008, when the foreign affairs minister, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, recounted for him an encounter between the deputy chief of mission at the Nigerian embassy in Washington, Ambassador B. G. Wakil and the United States’ deputy assistant secretary of state, Mr. Todd Moss.
Wakil, who said he was summoned to the US State Department by Moss, had prepared a detailed report of what transpired at the meeting which, according to him, “turned out to be a reading of a riot act from the US to Nigeria, centred on what the US has called an unfair treatment of former EFCC Chairman, Mr Nuhu Ribadu.”
According to Wakil, Moss expressed the displeasure of the US government at what he described as an obvious witch hunt targeted against Ribadu. “While the US policy recognizes institutions rather than individuals therein, the pattern of the recent treatment of Ribadu leaves much to be desired and, in spite of the camouflaged technical explanations, smacks of political vendetta against the former chairman,” Moss was quoted to have said.
Moss, according to Wakil, claimed that Yar’Adua had, in a previous meeting with President George Bush, given assurances that Ribadu would be restored to his position and that members of his team would also not be affected by any reforms. He said the US was therefore seriously disappointed that not only had Ribadu been demoted, but his working team had been virtually dismantled. This, Moss said, had rendered all the earlier financial and capacity-building investments the US had made in EFCC completely meaningless.
Moss told Wakil that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Justice and other specialized agencies of the US government had trained, equipped and motivated the EFCC, but noted that the action of the Nigerian government had virtually nullified all these US strategies conceived to strengthen the institution. Wakil explained that the session rounded off with a veiled threat from Moss, who instructed him (Wakil) to inform his home government that if Ribadu was arrested, or if there was any evidence of retaliation, vengeance or any form of vindictive action against him from former victims of his anti-corruption activities whilst in office, the US would regard such as “a deliberate attempt to victimize and crucify Ribadu for his successful anti-corruption war while in office” and would react with measures it deemed appropriate. Moss hinted at several options open to the US, some of which were to
• review bilateral engagement with Nigeria in other strategic areas of cooperation such as the Niger Delta, poverty eradication and contributions to the success of the seven-point agenda;
• consult with European allies on further multilateral action against Nigeria;
• resuscitate, in consultation with the Justice Department, the process of denying or revoking visas to certain categories of Nigerian government officials; and
• withhold any official engagements with the incumbent Chairman of EFCC, Mrs. Waziri, until her personal sincerity and the competence of the EFCC under her were proved.
Wakil recalled that the US had made similar representations to voice displeasure over the government’s decision to send Ribadu to NIPSS, and explained that his attempts to offer clarifications on the issue of Ribadu as a career, non-political appointee and the circumstances governing such deployments in Nigeria were brushed aside by Moss. It was very clear that the US government had drawn its own conclusions about events in Nigeria.
Maduekwe’s presentation had disturbed the president, who was equally peeved by the tone of the US intervention on the matter and, quite naturally, believed it was part of the handiwork of Ribadu, given the perception that he was bent on tarnishing the image of his administration. This was the dummy sold consistently by Aondoakaa, who attributed anything negative about the administration both in the local and international media to Ribadu.
There were also security reports about Ribadu, whose value, though doubtful, the president considered credible, perhaps on the strength of just one ‘evidence’ found on a computer of a Ribadu acolyte within EFCC that contained several articles obviously meant for publication with such titles as ‘How Turai is ruling Nigeria’, ‘Yar’Adua surrenders Nigeria to his wife’, and so on. Nonetheless, the message from the United States was clear to the president: they perceived his administration as one shielding the corrupt, even though it was all due to the antics of the AGF who, for all practical purposes, had become no more than a personal attorney to the former Delta State governor. Maduekwe knew he had a job on his hands and hence sought appointment with the US Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, to explain the Nigerian position.
Even though Maduekwe was himself a Ribadu sympathizer who was unhappy about the travails of the former EFCC chairman, he felt that Nigeria was not being treated fairly by the State Department. This was the basis of his intervention in Washington, and it eventually proved beneficial, because it stalled the attempt to make public a diplomatic démarche on the Nigerian situation. The statement, which would have been very damaging had it been released, reads:
The United States Government [USG] is strongly concerned for the independence and integrity of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in terms of perception and of the institution’s continued credible performance.
The United States is concerned that the momentum behind the EFCC’s robust investigation and prosecution of high profile cases involving corruption and fraud issues has been curbed significantly this year. Other than one recent arrest, we have not seen any progress on EFCC prosecutions of over a dozen former governors and senior officials, some of whom seem to retain sizeable Government of Nigeria influence.
Consequently, we believe these trends jeopardize not only President Yar’Adua’s Seven-point agenda for reform but also lead to questions regarding the credibility of the Government of Nigeria itself. The most recent massive redeployments of EFCC staff have left a shell of inexperienced replacements at best in most areas, wasting considerable United States Government and international training, threatening the EFCC’s institutional integrity, jeopardizing cooperation efforts. Additionally, with the EFCC leadership having been completely reassigned, it will take considerable time to build new relationships and trust with the new EFCC leadership.
Given this situation, the United States is reviewing all of its interactions and assistance with the EFCC. We are therefore extremely reluctant to consider additional requests for resources or training until the EFCC can demonstrate genuine effort or high-profile prosecutions (including prominent ex-governors), extraditions and the establishment of criminal procedures through credible timelines and benchmarks. Similarly, we do not believe high-level meetings between EFCC leadership and USG officials will be constructive until it is clear that the EFCC is moving in a positive direction and taking deliberate actions critical to rebuilding the EFCC’s reputation.
The USG and its allies are watching the situation closely, and as appropriate will consider measures to underscore the seriousness with which we view recent events. This might include revoking visas of, or imposing travel bans on, corrupt Nigerian officials, including those from the Niger Delta as legally available.
Despite the temporary truce struck by both governments, the administration’s handling of the Ibori matter would become a sore issue throughout Yar’Adua’s tenure, as it became the yardstick for measuring Nigeria’s commitment to the fight against corruption. At home too, the president was viewed negatively because of his relationship with Ibori, whose activities created the impression that he was above the law. We may never know if there was indeed any deal between the duo, but I suspected that the president must have made some commitment to the former Delta State governor that he would protect him. I recall the day Ibori came to my office to warn me, he said something very instructive: “Look, Segun, there is nowhere in the world where you help somebody to power and his reward for you is that you go to jail. It doesn’t happen anywhere, and it won’t begin with me.”
Given that Obasanjo practically made Yar’Adua president of Nigeria—from foisting him on the party to running the campaign almost all by himself—I still cannot put my finger on exactly what role Ibori played in Yar’Adua’s ascension to power, but he must have done something for him to have enjoyed the access he had. Nevertheless, given the albatross that the former Delta State governor had become to the administration’s image, some other leader would have been a little bit ruthless in handling whatever deal might have been struck, even if it meant his friend had to pay some price for his infraction. After all, the president still had the power of prerogative of mercy which could have been invoked—but only after justice had been served in the court of law.
The whole saga began one week after Aondoakaa assumed office as AGF, whereupon he wrote a memo to remind the president of the relevant sections of the constitution and Section 43 of the EFCC Act 2004, which he argued empowered him to regulate the operations of the EFCC. He requested that all agencies involved in criminal prosecution should be made to report and initiate proceedings only with his consent and approval as the attorney general of the federation. He said his request was impelled by the need to ensure better coordination among the country’s law enforcement agencies and avoid situations where multiple criminal prosecutions were undertaken by the EFCC, ICPC and the Code of Conduct Tribunal in respect of the same alleged offences.
However, the memo was already in the media even before the president had seen it. The leak was attributed to Ribadu, who had indeed called to intimate me of a telephone call to him by Ibori, who bragged that he would soon humble him (Ribadu). He also claimed that Ibori was working hand-in-glove with the AGF; this was not a charge I could take lightly. When I met the president on the issue, he dismissed the allegations. He said he had read the media report in question and showed me the memo from the AGF, which he had yet to treat. “If your friend (meaning Ribadu) thinks he can intimidate me, he must be joking,” he said, his tone a mix of anger and jest. But I got the message.
The president told me that he wanted a professional EFCC that would do its job diligently without pandering to the media or the civil society. He believed Ribadu was too political and that his actions helped ruin the 2007 general elections. He argued that only a court of law could pronounce anybody as corrupt, noting that the EFCC chairman’s actions were antithetical to the rule of law. To buttress his position, he said he had received several petitions from the judiciary of several court orders that were flouted by Ribadu. I had already told him Ribadu and I were very close, so we both knew where we stood on the issue, though he made me understand that he had nothing personal against the EFCC chairman but that he simply deplored his methods. He would later tell me other things that ultimately convinced me that he actually had personal scores to settle with Ribadu. Yet, I could see the point in some of the issues raised with regard to the EFCC’s methods.
Even though only a few days in office, the AGF had made no pretensions about the fact that he wanted to curtail the EFCC’s powers to prosecute. But many of his colleagues in the bar thought his position was not tenable and that he was acting above his powers. Since the EFCC had presented this memo as targeted at the commission, it was a battle Aondoakaa could not, conceivably, win. With many lawyers wading into the controversy, the president requested a copy of a Supreme Court ruling said to have addressed the issue. The State House counsel, Jalal Arabi, a brilliant lawyer with unquestionable integrity, had informed the president that whereas the AGF indeed had powers of oversight over EFCC, ICPC and other such bodies, he did not have exclusive powers to initiate prosecution. It was the Supreme Court ruling Jalal cited that the president wanted to see.
When the president realized he had indeed taken the wrong decision on the issue, he invited Ribadu; ICPC Chairman, Justice Emmanuel Ayoola; Honourary Adviser on Legal Matters, Dr. Wale Babalakin and Arabi for a meeting, where he rescinded the decision. He also told Ribadu and others that they could initiate criminal proceedings without recourse to the office of the AGF. That was the first reversal of policy in what the media would later describe as a ‘flip-flop’, but it was the right thing for the president to do. With that, however, Ribadu had only just won the battle; he began a war of attrition against Aondoakaa, who eventually succeeded in hounding him out—with the connivance of other people, of course.
Incidentally, at Yar’Adua’s accession to power in May 2007, the British government had concluded that Ibori would stand trial in the United Kingdom. From the representations made to the office of the AGF and the Foreign Ministry, there was no mincing word about the fact that they wanted Ibori extradited to face criminal charges. The complication, however, was that all the alleged infractions for which they wanted to nail Ibori were committed in Nigeria with the evidence obtained from the EFCC. On August 30, 2007, the office of the Director, United Kingdom Fraud Prosecution Service, sent a 31-page letter to the AGF. It was signed by Crown Prosecutor, David M. Williams.
In seeking Aondoakaa’s assistance on what was code-named Operation Tureen on James Onanefe Ibori, Christine Ibori-Ibie, Adebimpe Pogoson and Udoamaka Okoronkwo, the prosecutor thanked the office of the AGF for “the response which they provided in response to my earlier request dated 23rd August 2006.” The implication of this was that Aondoakaa’s predecessor, Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN, had been assisting with regard to the investigation, which the prosecutor said was meant not only for criminal proceedings, but to enforce a confiscation order on the numerous properties of Ibori in the United Kingdom and several other countries across the globe.
The prosecutor explained that in his earlier investigation of Ibori, code-named Operation Heimdal, he had been given the assets declaration form with the Nigerian Code of Conduct Bureau where the former Delta State governor claimed he had no foreign bank account. Yet, only a few weeks in office in 1999, the prosecutor observed, he had opened two sterling accounts and one dollar account in the United Kingdom. Ibori, according to the prosecutor, had also been actively diverting “funds from his state’s funding allocation and laundered the proceeds through the United Kingdom banking system using other suspects to assist him.”
The UK investigator claimed also that sundry transactions running into billions of naira and several millions of British pound sterling involving his special assistant, Adebimpe Pogoson; his sister, Ibori-Ibie; and friend, Okoronkwo were carried out on behalf of Ibori. The prosecutor, in his deposition to the AGF, listed some of the properties already identified in the United Kingdom as belonging to Ibori. They are Flat 23, 20 Abbey Road, London NW8 9BJ; 7 Westover Hill, London, NW3 7VH, and 42 Great Grand Shaftsbury, Dorset SP 7 8FF. Ibori was also named as the beneficial owner of Haleway Properties and Boyd Properties, both in Gibraltar as well as Teleton Quays (BVI). Also listed was Julia Foundation in Panama, a financial investment company that was allegedly used to launder money across the globe. Ibori’s sister, Christine, was also said to own three properties in the UK: 58 Uphill Drive, London NW9 OBX; 76 Woodhill Crescent, Kenton, Harrow, Middlesex HA OLZ; and 139 Kingfisher Way, London NW10.
Detailing how Ibori allegedly diverted Delta State’s funds using several fronts (including prominent Nigerians whose names were mentioned) and 32 banks in Nigeria,1the prosecutor said the former governor also purchased a Mayback 62 car in May 2005 from London, which was then delivered to him in South Africa at a cost of 406,598.84 euro. The vehicle was air-freighted via Frankfurt, Germany, to Johannesburg, South Africa. With an account in Switzerland, Ibori also allegedly made a deposit of $4,700,000 for a Challenger 300 aircraft believed to cost $20 million.
To indicate that they had extensive information at their disposal (all evidently supplied by Ribadu), the investigators even attached several intercepted e-mails between some bankers and Adebimpe Pogoson, Ibori’s assistant. In one dated Wednesday, July 13, 2005, and sent at 10:36 p.m., the banker, a Yoruba lady, wrote that she had discussed the EFCC issue with Ibori and three other persons (confidants of the former governor) whose names she mentioned. These people, she said, had given some tips on dealing with the situation. “At this point, we have concluded that there is no point trying to hide a connection between the companies as these people already have most of the information. Some people seem to be of the impression that we were simply too careless (strange how people shift the blame when the push comes to shove).”
The lady banker then listed what she considered “the major problems we have in my opinion fromoga [Ibori]/EFCC perspective…,” one of which was that “perhaps we should have restricted ourselves to paying just cash” rather than cheques for “places like Oghara and our other private locations. We don’t know how these people will fare under pressure and I don’t want to complicate things by briefing everyone.”
The prosecutor meticulously detailed several overseas accounts and companies said to belong to Ibori, the names of the people allegedly fronting for him and sundry other allegations of how he diverted Delta State money to commit economic crimes, especially in the United Kingdom. With appendices totaling more than 500 pages of evidence, the documents attached were overwhelming in content and volume, and it was easy to see that most of them emanated from the EFCC. At the end of the letter, the prosecutor sought the assistance of the AGF to ensure that Detective Constable Peter Clark and Detective John McDonald of the Metropolitan Police at Wellington House, Buckingham Palace Road SW1, be permitted to liaise with the competent Nigerian authorities with regard to the investigation of Ibori.
Aondoakaa neither replied this letter nor acted on it. Not even when there was a follow-up delegation from the British High Commission in Abuja to remind him of his obligation. His plan would soon unfold; he seemed to have already set in motion the machinery to frustrate the trial in London. It started with an apparently contrived letter dated August 4, 2007, from one Mr. Speechly Bircham, LP, which was aimed at eliciting a response that would aid the defeat of the prosecution’s case. Within 48 hours after the letter was written in London, a reply was already back to the United Kingdom from the office of the AGF. In a carefully worded letter, Aondoakaa admitted that Ibori was indeed investigated in connection with his acts while in office as Delta State governor but that there was no record that he had been charged to court in Nigeria in respect of any offence. Invariably, the AGF exonerated Ibori of complicity in any criminal proceedings in Nigeria.
When the letter became public knowledge, the AGF vehemently denied such correspondence ever emanated from his office. The letter was published afterwards in the media, but his explanation was just as intriguing: it was an innocent clarification in response to a request from Ibori’s lawyers, he said. Instructively, in arguing his case, Ibori’s lawyer relied on the AGF letter and on that basis the Southwark Crown Court lifted the restraining order against his assets in October 2007, a verdict that Aondoakaa would celebrate at the time as ‘vindication’ of his position. This made the UK Director of Public Prosecution, Mr. Ken Macdonald, QC, to write Aondoakaa a strongly worded letter, part of which read:
The Crown Prosecution Service has conduct of restraint proceedings against Mr. Ibori ancillary to a criminal investigation being conducted by officers of the Metropolitan Police in London.
On 2 August 2007, we obtained a restraint order that prohibits Mr. Ibori from dealing with all his realizable property worldwide so that the property can be utilized to satisfy any confiscation order that may be made at the end of proceedings in the event of conviction. The assets referred to in the restraint order include US$20,075,274 held in escrow by the aircraft manufacturer Bombadier of Canada.
On 1 October 2007, on the application of Mr. Ibori, a judge at the Southwark Crown Court in London discharged the restraint order. The main factor behind the judge’s decision was the length of time the investigation has taken and the lack of progress towards a decision whether or not to charge Mr. Ibori. I am disappointed to learn we were not in a position to assure the judge that we had the full cooperation of the Nigerian authorities and indeed to concede that there are practical difficulties about getting unimpeded access to evidence obtained by the EFCC in Nigeria.
We have today given notice to the Crown Court of our intention to appeal the decision to discharge the restraint order, and we will be making an application to stay the decision pending determination of the appeal. I understand that on 10 October 2007, the officers of the Metropolitan Police are travelling to Nigeria to continue their enquiries and collect evidence the EFCC has obtained of offences committed by Mr. Ibori in Nigeria. The purpose of writing is to seek your assurances that the requested evidence will be made available for transmission back to the United Kingdom…as you know, my department has also obtained restraint orders against Mr. Ibori’s three co-suspects, and we have proceedings extant and pending against other former governors. The difficulty and lack of progress in obtaining hard evidence from Nigeria is causing major difficulties in relation to the court proceedings in the United Kingdom and putting these other cases in jeopardy.
The Crown Prosecution Service is both committed and determined to work closely with the international community and Nigeria to combat corruption, and I look forward to your assurances that we will have Nigeria’s continued cooperation in this matter.
The AGF did not reply this letter, but fortuitously for Ibori, it was at this point that Aondoakaa ‘stumbled’ on the fact that Ribadu had not been confirmed for a second term. Like Mrs. Ifueko Okauru, Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Ribadu had been reappointed for a second term of four years by Obasanjo, but while Okauru’s name was sent to the Senate for confirmation, as required by Section 11 of the FIRS (Establishment) Act 2007, Ribadu’s name was not sent to comply with Section 2 of the EFCC (Establishment) Act 2004. Given that Ribadu, like everyone in his position, needed to be confirmed by the Senate, this was an omission that would be his Achilles’ heel. But first, the inspector general of police, Mr. Mike Okiro, came into the picture by including Ribadu’s name on the list of officers the police was sending for a course at NIPSS in Kuru, Jos.
I was in Ilorin on Christmas holiday with my family when Ribadu called to inform me of the directive, which he said he would disregard. As he fumed, I pleaded with him to calm down. I had to cut short my holiday and return to Abuja. I believed that such a move would have a serious backlash and make my job very difficult. I met the president, and he confirmed that he had the memo but had yet to decide on what he would do, though I could see that he didn’t pay much attention to my advice on the issue, perhaps because he knew that on Ribadu, my intervention could not possibly be impartial. He needed to see Okiro to know why he wanted Ribadu sent to NIPSS, he explained. That, in effect, meant he had not taken a decision on the issue. I took this message back to Ribadu, pleading with him not to say anything publicly on the matter as the chief of staff, Major General Abdullahi Mohammed (rtd.), had also waded in.
This dragged on for another week, giving General Mohammed and me some more time to try and ensure that the president did not sanction the idea of NIPSS. But, unknown to us, it was already a done deal. What gave the game away was the January 7, 2008, memo to the president from Okiro, which confirmed that the president had indeed given his approval earlier. Okiro’s memo to the president had begun by saying: “Consequent upon Your Excellency’s approval of my letter dated 24th December, 2007, on the nomination of senior police officers as participants for the Senior Executives Course 30/2008, the affected officers will be warned to hand over to their next in command by 11th January, 2008. This is to enable them [to] prepare adequately for the course which commences on 4th February, 2008.”
This directive, according to Okiro, affected the EFCC chairman. He wrote:
Since AIG Nuhu Ribadu was appointed from the Nigeria Police by virtue of Part 1 Section 2 (11) of the EFCC Act, and a vacancy now exists as a result of his going on course for a period of one year…, there is the dire need for him to hand over to a successor. In line with the provision of Part 1, Section 4 of the EFCC Act, which stipulates that “where a vacancy occurs in the membership of the Commission it shall be filled by the appointment of a successor to hold office for the remainder of the term for the office of his predecessor so that the successor shall represent the same interest as his predecessor’, I recommend that AIG Nuhu Ribadu hands (sic) over to Assistant Commissioner of Police Ibrahim Lamorde who is the next in command at the Commission meanwhile.
My salvage mission also took me to the IGP to convince him to drop the decision to send Ribadu to NIPSS, but it was a futile effort. Okiro, like many in the top hierarchy of the police, had his grouses against Ribadu, who was said to have been very disrespectful, indeed contemptuous, of him when Mr. Sunday Ehindero (to whom Ribadu was close) was the inspector general of police. Many senior police officers were also unhappy about Ribadu’s ‘irregular promotion’ and the way he seemed to disparage the institution of which he was a member just because he was heading the EFCC. Even those who did not like the disgraced IGP, Mr. Tafa Balogun, felt that the humiliation he was made to suffer at the hands of the EFCC was not good for the image of the police. So, invariably, Ribadu had several powerful foes to contend with, and some of them were baying for blood.
I believed also that the president was not altogether ignorant about the unfolding intrigues and that he may have given his tacit approval in the bid to get rid of Ribadu. While I could not put my finger on a particular reason, a conversation I once had with him on the former EFCC chairman and the recollections of two close associates of his convinced me he was not quite comfortable with the idea of working with Ribadu from the outset.
One day during lunch break during a FEC session, I sat with the president, and we began to chat. I will never forget that day, because even ministers who never regarded me began to court my friendship afterwards. Looking back, it is difficult to explain what happened that day; we must have chatted for close to an hour and actually delayed resumption of the FEC meeting for about 15 minutes, still enjoying our conversation, while all the ministers were already back to the council chambers. It took the intervention of other aides, particularly the presidential liaison officer (PLO) and the chief security officer (CSO), who felt irritated that I was taking too much liberty with the president, to put an end to our informal session.
In the course of our discussion, the president told me of how he was endorsed by Obasanjo before asking, “Do you know that your friend Nuhu singlehandedly stopped Dr. Peter Odili from being my running mate?” he asked rhetorically. “Such was the power he had over baba (Obasanjo) that whatever he said was law!”
I knew a little bit about the event recounted by the president because I was an outsider witness. But he presented it in a way that suggested Ribadu probably had a power of blackmail over Obasanjo. This issue had indeed come up early in the life of the administration, when one of the governors suggested that Ribadu was fast becoming another ‘John Edgar Hoover’, the founding director of the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), believed to have wielded enormous power through amassing secret files on political leaders by using illegal methods. From the way the president talked, it was evident he would heave a big sigh of relief if Ribadu could be removed from EFCC, especially if there was a legal way to do it, before Ribadu could become too powerful to be touched. Not a few people in government felt that way.
The president also complained to me about how the EFCC was acting like it was above the law, recalling an incident where their operatives came to Katsina to arrest local government chairmen in what he described as a Gestapo-like operation. The other details, later supplied by close associates, were that once it became obvious that he (Yar’Adua) had been anointed by Obasanjo as successor, an incensed Ribadu, who had been rooting for the then FCT minister, Mr. Nasir el-Rufai, reacted badly. Aside from meeting Obasanjo to express his disappointment, Ribadu badly managed a later session he had with Yar’Adua, to put the account mildly. I have heard different versions of the encounter from several insiders, but the constant factor is that Ribadu dismissed Yar’Adua to his face, saying that he was unqualified for the office of president. It was an insult Yar’Adua apparently never forgot. Nor forgave!
So the NIPSS idea was very convenient. Even while Lamorde, EFCC director of operations, was asked to act, a replacement was soon foisted on the commission in a manner that made nonsense of the president’s avowed commitment to the rule of law. But the AGF would rationalize it. Almost as soon as he sent the name of Farida Waziri to the Senate, and without waiting for her clearance, she was announced as acting chairman and made to resume. This irked the Senate members, who ordinarily should have confirmed her appointment. Some feeble protests were made, but the president got away with it. Nonetheless, the EFCC’s tragic saga continued.
While still at NIPSS, Ribadu and 139 other senior officers were demoted by the Police Service Commission on August 5, 2008. Ribadu, particularly, was demoted two ranks: from Assistant Inspector General of Police to Deputy Commissioner of Police. Even though 140 officials were involved in what the Police Service Commission (PSC) described as an exercise meant to restore the integrity of the force, a barrage of condemnations followed the announcement, which was seen as being targeted at Ribadu, as most people echoed the sentiment of the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi2, who described the demotion of the former EFCC chairman as ‘absolutely bizarre’ and a punishment for honesty.
The public thought that the presidency was behind the exercise, and even when the president told me he had nothing to do with it, I also had my doubts. What I knew at the time, though, was that several officers within the Villa, including Hamza Nafada, the president’s ADC as Katsina governor, who had become the special assistant on domestic affairs, were also affected in the exercise.
I spoke to Comfort Obi, respected journalist and member of the Police Service Commission (PSC), and she explained that reversing the promotion of Ribadu, and 139 other police officers, was the proper thing to do and that it was done to correct the illegalities of the past. She assured me that they were not in any way guided by any quarters. This was the position canvassed by the PSC chairman, Mr. Parry Osayande, when he appeared before the Senate. A retired deputy inspector general of police, Osayande argued that they acted properly and in accordance with the law. “The truth of the matter is that due process was not followed, a situation where you, a junior officer, would jump over 2,000 superior officers and be promoted above your seniors is dangerous for the system,” he said.
The secretary to the Commission, Alhaji Garba Buwai, gave a detailed background of the events leading to the demotion of the 140 officers: “On 16th and 30th October 2006, the former IGP submitted memorandum to the Commission for consideration of: five DCP to CP; seven ACP to DCP; four CSP to SP and one ASP to CSP. The former Commission during its 48th Ordinary Meeting of 16th November 2006, following submission from Appointment and Promotion Committee, deliberated on the Special Promotion and rejected the recommendation.” Buwai alleged that Ehindero, in his capacity as inspector general of police, then subsequently took advantage of the vacuum created by the expiration of the tenure of the preceding members of the PSC to carry out the promotion of the officers ‘through the back door’, a decision that he said contravened provisions of the 1999 Constitution. He added that when Ehindero’s tenure was coming to an end, he also announced the promotion of officers through signals that he sent to their various formations.
According to the PSC Secretary, “on 18th December, 2006 after the tenure of the Commission expired, the former IGP sent a signal conveying the President’s (Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s) approval of the promotion of the officers earlier rejected by the Commission to the rank of Commissioner of Police. The request by the Commission to get a copy of Mr. President’s approval was not submitted to the Commission.”
Defending the demotion of Ribadu and others, Osayande, who was accompanied to the Senate by five members of the Commission, said that even if it had been the president who had approved the elevations, it would still have been reversed because the establishing act vested the powers of promotion of police officers on the PSC only. Mr. Ogbonnaya Onovo (then a DIG), who represented the IGP Okiro (whom he would later succeed), said that the Commission reversed the illegality in order not to destroy the entire police force: “The tenets of democracy are all about transparency and openness in governance. In my over 30 years of service in the police—since I joined the police as a cadet officer (ASP)—promotion has always been a matter of seniority and merit. The moment you join, you know your mates and your seniors. Every officer knows when he is due for promotion and his seniors.”
Onovo said arbitrary promotion, as was done in the Ribadu case,3 could only breed indiscipline and bad blood within the system because “once an officer is skipped in promotion, he becomes demoralized. It is a very painful thing to watch your junior become your boss. It must be noted that the role of the PSC is well defined, and the Commission has done the right thing by correcting some of the illegalities carried out in order not to destroy the police force.”
Onovo’s position was supported by the Commissioner of Police (Administration), Mr. Felix Ogbaudu, in the course of a deposition before the House of Representatives. Stating that Ribadu was promoted first from the post of Deputy Commissioner to Commissioner of Police and then Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) all within one year, Ogbaudu explained that such unprecedented career progression was unhelpful for morale in the police. Ogbaudu particularly wondered why Ribadu, who had joined the Nigeria Police about 10 years after he (Ogbaudu) was enlisted, should now become his boss. This same Ribadu, he argued, had served under him (Ogbaudu) as Chief Superintendent at a time when he (Ogbaudu) had already become a Commissioner of Police.
Whereas it could be conceded that the PSC had sufficiently credible grounds for the action they took on the 140 officers, most observers believed there was absence of good faith with regard to the travails of Ribadu—a view that would be given credence on graduation day at NIPSS. Security agents, acting on the orders of the AGF, who was at the graduation without invitation, attempted to drag the former EFCC boss out of the venue of an event where the VP was present as the head of the institution.
Once alerted by journalists about what was going on at Kuru, I called a senior NIPSS official, who explained how Aondoakaa was threatening him on Ribadu, using the name of the president. The official told me that the issue of Ribadu had given NIPSS problems, as they were subjected to pressure not to address Ribadu as AIG but DCP. The NIPSS authorities, however, argued that the letter from the police, who had sent Ribadu for the course, addressed him as AIG, and they had not been informed of any change in his official title. However, following pressure from the AGF, the institute had to print another set of brochures that listed Ribadu as a ‘Deputy Commissioner of Police’. All these efforts still did not satisfy Aondoakaa, who argued that Ribadu should not graduate, since his rank fell short of the minimum cadre for a course meant for Commissioners of Police and above.
I narrated all these to the president, who later met with the VP under whose purview NIPSS was and a face-saving decision was reached for Ribadu to be given his certificate. But the damage had already been done: a rash of lawsuits to challenge his demotion ensued before Ribadu eventually fled the country for the United States. He also began to collaborate with the British authorities on how to bring Ibori to justice as he filed a personal deposition against the former Delta State governor. The interesting point to note is that being always one step ahead of his foes, Ribadu anticipated every move Ibori and the AGF were making and always reached the media first with his version of events. Sadly, it was the president who suffered all the collateral damage.
Back at home, Aondoakaa also continued to defend Ibori. On September 10, 2009, he addressed the media and said the EFCC had already cleared Ibori over the sale of the state’s shares to V-Mobile4 around 2007, but he was silent on the allegation that the Delta State government offered its 820 million units of shares in Oceanic International Plc to Ascot Offshore Nigeria Limited to secure a N44 billion loan from Intercontinental Bank Plc in 2007. Aondoakaa, who spoke with newsmen in his office in Abuja, deliberately muddled up different issues to achieve a predetermined end. He also attacked Ribadu, whom he alleged was working against Yar’Adua’s administration from abroad by giving false information to the British government about the situation in Nigeria. He added that the revelation about the clearance of Ibori emerged following a request from the British government for more information about the deal.
Not more than an hour after this curious press briefing, where the AGF exonerated Ibori, I got a call from a senior official at the presidency who informed me that at the time Aondoakaa was briefing the media, Ibori was actually in his office and must have instigated the statement. When I asked if I could quote him before the president, the official gave his go-ahead. My conversation with the president was rather unpleasant because I didn’t mince words about my feeling and frustrations on the whole sordid drama, especially the influence Ibori had on the AGF, and by implication, on the administration.
Later that evening, I got another call that the VP wanted to see me, so I went to meet him at his residence. I was surprised when Jonathan asked me whether I was giving the right advice to the president on the Ibori matter since the image of my boss was involved. He said the matter was bringing the government to ridicule both at home and abroad, especially the way the AGF was handling it. He particularly mentioned the case of the ministers of health who were removed from office for charges that were not as serious as the ones being perpetrated by the AGF. I told the VP all that I had done on the issue but asked why he himself had not intervened. He merely shrugged his shoulders, an indication that he had probably done so and no action was taken or that he considered his intervention unnecessary. I nevertheless pleaded with him to also speak to the president about it.
I felt disturbed by my discussion with the VP, especially because many people in government felt the way he did: they could not understand why the AGF was allowed to act as Ibori’s lawyer and defender. I knew I could not go back to the president on the same issue I had discussed with him earlier and on which I was now sounding almost like a broken gramophone, so I decided it was better I write him an informal note, which I then enclosed with the newspaper summary the next morning. Dated September 12, 2009, the note read:
I hesitate to send Your Excellency this note, but my conscience will not allow me to stay silent since I made a commitment to serve you in all honesty. Last week, I inaugurated the Information Management Committee comprising the Information Directors/Press Secretaries in all ministries and MDAs as we chart the way forward on managing the public perception for the government.
One unfortunate issue that came up from most members was how the office of the Attorney General has become Mr. James Ibori’s public relations outfit. The AGF media intervention on the case in London is now the focus of attention globally with many people, including our own government officials, worried about how the fate of one man has become the sole responsibility of the Justice Minister.
Yesterday evening, the VP invited me to ask whether I have advised you on the implications of the London matter with regards to the negative image it would bring to the administration, home and abroad, and I said he should discuss the matter with you himself. He even cited the case of the two Health Ministers who were removed from office for a matter he considered less embarrassing than this for the government.
While the president never discussed the issue with me, it was also becoming very clear that he might have decided to put some distance between himself and his controversial AGF. There were also hints that Aondoakaa could be moved to another ministry in a minor cabinet reshuffle. What gave credibility to this speculation was that two weeks before the president travelled to Saudi Arabia in November 2009, he asked the labour minister, Mr. Tokunbo Kayode, to deliver his paper at the Judges Conference although Aondoakaa was in the country. It was also evident that Aondoakaa, who felt very agitated that he was bypassed by the president, was also losing his grip over the EFCC, whose chairperson, Mrs. Farida Waziri, denounced him by stating that contrary to what he said, Ibori had not been exonerated and that the letter that the AGF had read to the media had no bearing on the V-Mobile case.
The embattled former governor of Delta State would, however, also fight back.5 In a public statement on his travails, Ibori said it was because he didn’t facilitate the elevation of Ribadu to the position of the IGP; he further claimed that the former EFCC chairman also sought his support in the bid to oust Yar’Adua from power:
Nuhu Ribadu must be a serial liar to attempt to deny that he approached me to help unseat the present President. This is one of his numerous on-going attempts to recruit both local and international friends to undermine President Yar’Adua’s administration. The persons he approached, including me, are still alive, and they have given testimonies to security agencies. Ribadu even contacted a high-ranking member of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with complaints that a ‘sick Yar’Adua’ should not be allowed to remain in office and also wanted a serving judge and member of the electoral panel to convince the team of INEC officials to concur with his evil plot that the ballot papers were not serially numbered—to damage Yar’Adua’s defence. And he did this with some of his foreign friends who, to date, still wish President Yar’Adua dead.
Ribadu, according to Ibori, “should wait for the persecution by him and his London Metropolitan Police friends of my associates to break open in a full trial. Then I will enclose copious documentary evidence to substantiate every claim I have made. The opportunistic and brazen-faced Ribadu is nothing but a fraudulent ‘anti-corruption Czar’ who operated with instruments of blackmail…he should shut up and stop boasting about having been Nigeria’s anti-corruption Czar. He compromised himself, politicizing his office, and teamed up with politicians to distribute funds to influence National Assembly members in the failed third-term tenure elongation gambit. He was a politician, not anti-corruption fighter.”
The former EFCC boss is, however, not a man who would allow such allegations to go unchallenged, wondering how he could have sought “the assistance of a convicted felon for the highest police position in the country? If I wanted to be IG, he would be the last person I would consider to help me.” He added that it was the past of the former Delta State governor that was haunting him and that while Ibori could bribe his way in Nigeria to secure public appointment for people of questionable character who would make it their pre-occupation to shield him from prosecution, his nemesis would ultimately catch up with him in the United Kingdom.
With the movement of the Ibori saga from Nigeria to Dubai and now to the United Kingdom, it will be interesting to see the exchange between Ribadu and the former Delta State governor when the duo finally meet in a London court. But the saga very much tainted the image of the Yar’Adua administration, which inherited, but never quite got involved in, high profile international cases of corruption such as the Halliburton scam; the Willbros bribery saga and the Siemens scandal.6 But there is nobody to blame but the late president himself.
I cannot forget the experience of December 30, 2007, when I walked into the president’s residence, where I met him at the dining table with a few of his friends. I was carrying the draft of a statement that I wanted him to approve to enable me to douse the outrage generated by the controversy over the attempt to send Ribadu to NIPSS that was still raging.
Knowing why I had come, since he was already aware of my concerns, he asked me to sit down and eat. As we ate, he said, “Look, Segun, let me tell you a story. Four days ago, I was sitting on this same table when CNN came with the breaking news of the assassination of the prime minister of Pakistan, Mrs. Benazir Bhutto. Throughout that day, that was the only story they relayed. By the next day, they had started reporting other news, even though the Bhutto story remained the most prominent. By yesterday, the intensity of the reportage of the Bhutto affair had decreased and now if you watch the screen you will see that CNN is gradually moving on to other issues. I am sure that very soon, your friends in the media will forget about this Ribadu matter that is worrying you so much. It doesn’t bother me because I know it will soon blow over.”
Unfortunately, the Ribadu saga never really blew over, as it inflicted devastating damage to the reputation of President Yar’Adua, whose personal inclination was against the corrupt. I have read the allegations contained in the US cables published by Wikileaks against certain individuals, including his wife. But despite that, Yar’Adua was a simple man with rather simple needs, and I still believe he was not a man to be involved in crooked deals. A few examples will validate my conviction.
I recall the pressure put on him not to declare his assets publicly on the grounds that doing that would compel others to do so against the letter and spirit of the law. Yet, he did. I also knew about his ambivalence towards wealth and his disdain for all forms of materialism. As president, he lived a Spartan lifestyle devoid of any form of personal pleasure, and one got the impression that he knew, or perhaps feared, that he might not live long. That probably accounted for why he was very spiritual. But given that corruption has over the years been Nigeria’s elite vice, passion is easily inflamed when the people are led to believe that a government’s anti-corruption campaign is no more than a ruse. With the way the Ibori matter was handled, it was easy to come to that conclusion, yet here was a president who went public to declare his unwavering support for the removal of the immunity clause from our constitution.
With emphasis on laying out regulations and procedures that encourage due process and respect for the institutions that deal with anti-corruption, Yar’Adua’s motivation was to nudge Nigeria into an era of preventive anti-corruption. “We now have a situation in which people award contracts without caring whether they have enough money to complete the project, and because of this, there are lots of abandoned projects all over the country, in fact some going into billions of dollars. This is the kind of disrespect for established regulations and procedures that feeds corruption,” he said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, while speaking to a group of investors.
Yar’Adua, it must be noted, stopped the practice of ‘warehousing money’ at the end of the year, which was the practice before he assumed office. Rather, he insisted that all unspent money at the end of a budget cycle should be returned to the treasury. It was the attempt to flout this directive that led to the ouster of two ministers and 11 senior officials in the Ministry of Health, as well as the arrest of some members of the National Assembly Committee on Health. It was also his insistence on due process that led to the exposure of the fraud at the Rural Electrification Agency, which culminated in the arrest of senior officials and some lawmakers.
Cognizant of the fact that the resources in the hands of the federal government far outweigh those of the entire 36 states and the 774 local governments put together, the president believed that it was charitable to begin the fight against corruption at that level, so that by plugging the requisite loopholes at the federal level, it would be easier to lead by example. For him, plugging loopholes meant allowing officials of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) to be rigorous in their oversight functions, all in the bid to enthrone a regime of transparency and accountability. That accounted for the enormous powers wielded by the director general of the bureau, Engineer Emeka Eze; any project that did not secure his certification was as good as dead.
It is on record that Yar’Adua instituted the policy of e-payment, which became effective January 1, 2009, for the settlement of all federal government obligations. There has been some resistance, but with faithful implementation, it will drastically reduce corruption in a nation where politicians’ preferred method of payment for under-the-table deals is cash. With e-payment, banks are now instructed to make direct payments to the accounts of employees, consultants and other service providers so that these payments can be easily tracked. With e-payment, contractors now get their payments directly into their accounts, and banks are under obligation not to open corporate accounts for companies not registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission or companies without a tax identification number. This not only enhances the audit trail, it eliminates cash for online transactions and reduces interactions between officers responsible for payments and the beneficiaries. At the federal level, corruption is now so much easier to track, if the anti-corruption agencies are alive to their responsibilities.
Of course, it’s also worth noting that Yar’Adua helped to sanitize the banks by putting the weight of his office behind the Central Bank reform, which saw to the removal and subsequent trial of some chief executives of banks, even when his family had substantial interest in one of the affected banks. Perhaps in years to come, the enduring legacy of Yar’Adua will be in the legislation he superintended in the fight against graft with the bill that he sent to the National Assembly in his last few months in office.
On April 8, 2009, he brought an executive memo to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for the approval of a draft bill for the introduction of a non conviction-based asset forfeiture system in Nigeria, as well as the establishment of a regulatory framework for the control and management of assets both before and after confiscation. This initiative is aimed at strengthening the capacity of the government to recover assets that are proceeds of corruption and to assist in putting pressure on countries where stolen assets are located to return such assets to the state of origin. It is also the mechanism by which, in the absence of criminal proceedings, the proceeds of criminal activity could be confiscated so as to deprive a person of ill-gotten wealth.
Once passed, asset forfeiture would not be thwarted by immunities or inability to extradite a suspect who is beyond reach, while also allowing asset recovery where, in the event of the death or absence of the suspect(s), confiscation and return of property involved would not otherwise be possible. It will also allow for confiscation where an individual has been tried before a criminal court but acquitted, perhaps through a questionable verdict or because the evidence, although probative, fell short of the criminal standard of proof.
Yar’Adua envisaged a comprehensive and institutional approach to fighting corruption, but, unfortunately, this was exploited by some unscrupulous officials who had scant regard for the law. However, as the man at whose desk the buck stopped, he must accept responsibility—and Nigerians indeed hold him accountable—for everything that happened on his watch.
Endnotes
1 There were 85 banks in Nigeria before the 2004 consolidation policy which ultimately reduced them to 25.
2 Chief Fawehinmi, SAN, Nigeria’s respected human rights crusader and lawyer, was one of the staunchest supporters of Ribadu. Chief Fawehinmi died of cancer in 2009 at age 71.
3 Ribadu was promoted first from the post of Deputy Commissioner to Commissioner of Police and then Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) within one year by former President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
4 The alleged illegal trading in V-Mobile shares involved three former governors, Chief James Ibori of Delta State, Senator Bola Tinubu of Lagos State and Obong Victor Attah of Akwa Ibom State.
5 At a press conference in Lagos in September 2009, the former governor of Delta State accused Ribadu of acting as a tool to former President Obasanjo because he (Ibori) refused to support the failed third term bid and for championing the move to get the federal government to pay oil producing states 13 per cent derivation fund which he argued dated back to 1999.
6 Siemens and Wilbros were alleged to have bribed some Nigerian officials in order to secure telecommunications and oil service contracts in Nigeria while Halliburton officials confessed that they paid about $180m in bribe to top public officials, also to secure a juicy oil contract; all before Yar’Adua came to power.
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