Monday, February 19, 2007

"The Politics of Nigerian Corruption" by Alex Last

This article talks about the EFCC and its fight against corruption. I'm sure most of you heard about the Graft List that was released a few weeks ago with the names of about 135 politicians considered too corrupt to be allowed to run in any elections.

Here was our (Lagosians that is) Governor Tinubu's response to his name's appearance on the list: "I don't know when I was investigated.
Nobody has questioned me. It is part of the political calculation of Mr President to fight, and intimidate his political enemies. He wants to create confusion. He does not want the election to hold. How can EFCC indict somebody who was never contacted, formally accused and formally investigated?... EFCC cannot be the investigator, the prosecutor and the court at the same time. It is full-blown dictatorship that we are having in the country...We know the president is putting pressure on INEC to disqualify the VP, the power INEC does not have. The President is after Atiku. EFCC put other people's names just to make the whole thing credible. We know our lives are in danger because of Atiku."

As I heard someone phrase it the other day: If person A is arrested for corruption while similarly-corrupt person B will never get arrested, does that make A any less guilty? Or is the problem here the hypocrisy (too strong a word?) of it all: that a body in charge of eliminating corruption appears to be not so void of "tampering" itself? Pray tell...


Nigeria is ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Daily, low-level corruption is visible on the street; policeman extorting money from motorists to supplement their meagre wages.

But it is in the world of politics and government, where corruption has been most damaging. For decades the government has accrued huge oil revenues, yet the country suffers from a lack of basic infrastructure, and tens of millions live in poverty.
At the same time, some politicians and their business associates have amassed personal fortunes. Although accusations of graft have long been a feature of Nigerian politics, as elections approach early next year, the politics of corruption have taken on a new powerful role.


For the past four years, the fight against corruption in Nigeria has been embodied in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) and its Chairman Nuhu Ribadu - a 46-year-old senior police officer.

The agency has had some successes, and Mr Ribadu has been praised both at home and abroad. The EFCC says in the past two years it has recovered more than $5bn and has successfully prosecuted 82 people. It has taken on internet crime and fraudsters. It has gone after a former chief of police, a government minister and an impeached state governor.

But despite highly publicised raids and investigations, when it comes to prosecutions, it is usually the lower level officials, businessmen and fraudsters who end up being convicted. In part that is because some political offices, such as state governors and the president, carry immunity from prosecution. But as election campaigns get under way, President Olusegun Obasanjo has declared that he will use all legal means to stop "criminals and crooks" from taking the reigns of power in Nigeria.

In a recent interview, Mr Ribadu pledged to stop corrupt politicians running for office. "Things are improving marginally now. But if you bring somebody who is a thief, they will feast on this money and take Nigeria to what it was before."


But the anti-corruption agency is persistently accused of only going after opponents of President Obasanjo, a charge Mr Ribadu denies.

As elections approach, new EFCC investigations and the accusations of political bias, are coming thick and fast. Perhaps in response, the agency recently raided the offices of the new Nigerian corporation, Transcorp, which has close links to the president. But one raid is unlikely to satisfy the critics.


Privately, supporters of Mr Ribadu say he is going after those he is allowed to, while building up dossiers on others who, for now, are "protected".

...More generally, a lot will depend on the government-appointed electoral commission, which has the responsibility of screening candidates and deciding if they are technically allowed to stand. If they decide to bar any of the big candidates from the race, either at the state or national level, there is the risk it would provoke violence. This would be particularly dangerous in a country, which after decades of military rule, is struggling to keep ethnic and religious divisions in check.


Talking to people on the street in Lagos, many are supportive, and wryly amused by the idea that the top politicians would disqualify themselves by accusing each other of corruption.

People are desperate to see Nigerian politics cleaned up and very few politicians are considered to be clean. Ultimately that is the real dilemma. In a country where corruption is seen as endemic, an anti-corruption campaign used selectively as a political weapon is likely to provoke a bitter fight amongst the political elite.
And that in turn, could impact on Nigeria's pre-election stability.

Alex Last is a BBC News correspondent for Lagos. Lagos


Olamide said...

I want to believe that Ribadu is biding his time and that he is only going after those he can as opposed to those he's been asked to go after. Naturally, one would assume that if this were the case then once power changes his hands (I pray about this every morning) that he'll go after the rest. Therein lies the problem though. In a country where incumbency is such a huge advantage in politics, one cannot be sure that power will change hands. We know that a new face does not necessarily mean new politics, new agendas and new implementation.
Will Ribadu honestly be able to go after all the 'protected' people if PDP wins the elections? Seems highly unlikely to me.
Hypocrisy is a strong word but it's the right word. In politics, where there's much more gray than black or white, it might be too much to ask that either the EFCC is a 100 percent clean and efficient or non-existent. It's usually a discussion of the lesser of two evils. Which is worse, person A AND B not being investigated at all or person A being investigated while B is ignored? Of course it's the push towards 'perfect' that is supposed to keep us voting, keep us involved, keeps government relevant.

Misan said...

I hope he is biding his time like you say. Definitely giving credit where it's due- the guy has achieved a lot through the EFCC, and of course, Rome wasn't built in a day, but it would be nice to know what criteria they have for starting up investigations...orders from Baba, or tip-offs from other do they prioritize whom they go after (resources must be limited)...where does their funding come from, etc.

I certainly agree that it's better to have A prosecuted than neither. And where does EFCC stop and INEC jurisdiction begin?

Kome said...

FYI, I read in the papers a couple of days ago that Senator Nnamani (senate president) is working on a bill or rather working towards separating the duties of EFCC from the presidnet/ execuitve arm of government.

It's nice to see that there are proactive steps being taken towards ensuring that OBJ or any president for that matter doesn't have the power to selectively choose who is investigated.

Here is a link to the article:

Misan said...

thanks kome! it's ecouraging as you say. hopefully, if the efcc lives to see the next regime, they'll become more transparent about their methodology...or maybe not, maybe they're meant to be an arm of the Nigerian Secret Service (sth i didn't know existed till earlier this year).