Nigeria’s first anti-corruption chief Nuhu Ribadu was so effective he was sacked and fled the country, fearing for his life. Now he’s back and running for president.
When Nuhu Ribadu launched his presidential campaign at the end of last year, he took to the stage clutching a broom. This was a symbol of his pledge to clean up Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and the continent’s biggest oil and gas producer, where vast energy revenues have mostly been diverted into the pockets of the elite. Ribadu says he is the country’s best chance for reform in an election due on 9 April. Yet just one year ago, Ribadu felt unable to set foot in Nigeria, let alone lead it. As the first head of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, set up in 2003, Ribadu had pursued corrupt politicians, civil servants and the country’s “419” internet scammers. But challengers to Nigeria’s “big men” are rarely tolerated for long. He was soon forced to take a year’s leave, suffered death threats and fled to the UK. He only returned home last year after the unexpected death of President Umaru Yar’Adua. He speaks to Monocle about his political ambitions.
Monocle: Nigeria is Africa’s giant, yet it is widely considered to fall short of its potential. What is holding it back? Nuhu Ribadu: Corruption is at the root of everything. If the money that belongs to the state ends up in a few hands and is used for negative purposes, there will certainly be no money for development. Our presidential fleet has more than 10 aircraft, but the country doesn’t have a single good hospital.
M: How would you reform Nigeria?
NR: I would be an honest leader. This is a very top-down place, where corruption happens simply because leaders are doing it. Second, I will open up the oil industry and follow the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Third, I will clean up the justice system and police force and create laws to protect whistleblowers.
M: Nigeria’s ruling People’s Democratic Party has won every poll since army rule ended in 1999. Is there any chance for opposition candidates like you?
NR: The PDP has never won a proper election and this year we are taking steps to ensure that you cannot steal elections easily. This is a real chance for the opposition and the country.
M: How should the international community react if the poll is rigged? After the last polls in 2007, they criticised the widespread fraud but accepted the result.
NR: The time has come for the international community to insist that things are done correctly. If the outcome is not to their standards, they should not recognise the winner.
M: How will you run a clean campaign in a political system that relies on corrupt godfathers and sponsors? Will you probe your own backers?
NR: I’m not a policeman anymore. I’m trying to lead. So I won’t say that, if you donate a car to me, I’ll start probing and checking and saying I must know where you get your money. But that also doesn’t mean that I’ll take big money from anyone who brings it.
M: Do you still fear for your life? What security measures do you take?
NR: It’s not my nature to travel in an armed convoy. I’m not 100 per cent safe but neither is anyone who lives in a country like Nigeria. My situation is only a little worse than that of others.
1960: Born in Yola, capital of Adamawa state, northeastern Nigeria
1983: Graduates from Ahmadu Bello University with a Master’s degree in law
1984: Graduates from Nigerian Law School as a qualified barrister
1985: Joins Nigerian police force, rising to the rank of assistant commissioner
2003: Becomes the first head of Nigeria’s anti-corruption taskforce, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission
2008: Flees overseas and starts fellowships at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and the Center for Global Development, a Washington think-tank
2010: Returns to Nigeria and announces his presidential bid with the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN)