A humorist in the Lagos entertainment circuit gave the joke about everyone, men and women in the world, being Hungarians but that the world did not seem to notice it (Don’t we all experience hunger?). The wedding crowd burst into uncontrollable laughter. Now, try to substitute the name Hungarian with a thief and let’s determine whether it makes sense with what is going on in the country today with regard to the USD15 million the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission nicked from former Governor James Ibori of Delta State.
Nigeria is a country of easy money, freely hovering around. And that is how, about five years back, the then Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, announced to the nation that the Governor of Delta State at that time, Chief James Ibori, had brought a bribe of $15 million to him. Ribadu said he had collected and deposited the cash at the Central Bank of Nigeria. Ribadu, the Police or the Attorney-General of the Federation did not initiate a criminal investigation into this. When the governor left office and that, coming with his loss of immunity, no criminal action was instituted against him.
With the recent conviction of Governor James Ibori by a London Court, the Government of Nigeria approached an Abuja Judge who declared that the money would go to federal treasury if no claimant came forward within a given period. As to be expected, the Government of Delta State came forward to ask that the money belongs to their state and therefore should be returned to them. Their lawyer cited precedents in Plateau and Bayelsa where money seized by the United Kingdom and United States of America authorities from their Governors, Chiefs Joshua Dariye and Diepreye Alamieseigha, was returned to the Federal Government, which in turn handed those sums to the respective states. Delta’s Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan asks the question why his state is being treated differently in respect of this USD15 million in question.
This thing is like the neighbours coming together to help you to recover money a thief has removed from your house. Would it be right of them to make a claim on that money? If the African Union helps Uganda to recover their stolen money from Idi Amin, how can the AU say they want to keep the money? My sympathy is with the Delta people.
The true story of this USD15 million as told by many is that it was no bribe at all to Ribadu by Ibori, the convicted ex-governor. Rather, it was a forced recovery by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in a campaign of persecution he launched against about a dozen or so governors who disagreed with his greedy attempt to change the constitution for a third term in office. In the case of Ibori, who then had his back against the wall, he put together a group of Niger Delta elders to beg the President for a reprieve. A witness said Ibori laid flat on his tummy before the imperial President who pressed his foot on the governor’s head as he stated his terms for peace. One of these was that Ibori returned all the money he looted to the EFCC. The USD15 million given to Ribadu was the first tranche.
But when Ibori and Ribadu had a falling out of their own, the EFCC chairman went to town with the bribe story. It was a part of the disinformation campaign Ribadu engaged in to undermine the successful anti-corruption campaign he had begun under Obasanjo. I think Obasanjo had himself realised, rather late in his Presidency, that corruption had infiltrated all walks of life but that if the war continued at the speed Nuhu Ribadu was going, not only would the supply chain for his own library project break, but that the President too might not get away with much of the fortune he had. The anti-corruption war was therefore modified and targeted at perceived opponents of the President and for this reason, Ribadu’s EFCC never booked anyone who enjoyed the backing of the President.
Had Ribadu not been distracted, the job of ensuring transparency and minimising corruption ought to have been done by now. When he derailed, the nation wasted time, energy and resources getting trash in the name of war against corruption. Ribadu spent the next two years branding Obasanjo’s perceived enemies with so many bad words. I am not saying that every one of Obasanjo’s enemies was good. Some of them, to borrow the words of a blogger, deserve to be hanged by the nearest tree. What many failed to accept was that a scam-ridden government without an ounce of remorse was taking the country for a ride by their double standard.
So when Obasanjo’s crony, Andy Uba, and his associate and businessman Chibuike Achigbu, removed their mask and stepped forward to lay a claim to the USD15 million, that single act convinced everyone that all those Nigerians who fought one way or another against corruption back then had merely wasted their own time. In Hausa, we say: “Karya fure take ba ta yaya” (somewhat meaning the lie shines and glitters but it does not prosper). Following popular outrage over this move, Andy Uba and co. shamelessly withdrew their claim over the money.
In the same vein, the Attorney-General of the Federation should have the shame and withdraw any further claims to the Ibori USD15 million. Mr. Ribadu and his associate in office, Ibrahim Lamorde, both need to come clean with Nigerians and declare the whole truth in this saga. As a politician in his own right and certainly not a pimp in the former President’s household, Ribadu owes it to himself and to history to expose the lies in which EFCC thrived.
This incident places a heavy burden on Ribadu’s perceived integrity. As Andy Uba had confirmed in a statement by his aide, Mr. Chike Okeke, his house in the Presidential Villa during Obasanjo’s Presidency was the venue of the meeting between Ibori and Ribadu. It is, therefore, evident that there is more to this drama of shame than Nigerians were told by Ribadu.
If, indeed, it was bribe money from Ibori, didn’t Ribadu have enough prima facie case to have commenced the trial of the former Delta State Governor at once? How can you establish a prima facie case against a corrupt official and then go to sleep? From the emerging details of this $15 million scandal, Ribadu was not altogether upfront about the behind-the-sciences deals that made Ibori to surrender the $15 million to him. A reputation founded on integrity must be nurtured by truth, the whole truth and nothing but the whole truth.