By JIDE AJANI
Did you know that the Police Force Headquarters once had a closed door meeting amongst its lawyers and the conclusion that was meant to be reached was that Nuhu Ribaduâ€™s case with the establishment must be seen to its end?
Did you know of a certain Ibrahim Magu, one of Ribaduâ€™s officers in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, was detained for some weeks after Ribadu had fled the country.Â His offence was never made known; but some incriminating documents were found in apartment and they included newspaper cuttings and print outs from Sahara Reporters â€“ some incrimination!
Did you know that Ribadu went about his job searching for lawyers who would work for the EFCC, at a price that was so low just because he wanted to save money for his nation, Nigeria and, in the process, got an individual like Tayo Oyetibo, to work for the commission and even defend Ribaduâ€™s case in a manner you could describe as gratis?
Would it have ever occurred to you that the EFCC, which became popular under Ribadu started out with just Ribadu, Lamode and just three others?
Probably you may never know how Ribadu smuggled himself out of Nigeria when he began reading the handwriting on the wall that there was imminent danger ahead!
But this self-same Nuhu Ribadu, former Executive Chairman of the EFCC, who returned to Nigeria penultimate Friday, small in size but mighty in aspiration and activities, could only have granted this interview to Vanguard because he voted with his feet in the face of clear and imminent danger.
Even Ribadu himself admitted this much during the interview when asked where his problem started from:
â€œIn my own case, it happened as a result of a leadership that, probably did not understand, or did not have the capacity to understand, or a leadership that was, one can say, almost ill-prepared; or as I said earlier, inappropriate, and a leadership that collected, probably, some of our worst and put them together into one administration or one group, and with enormous powers, all at their own disposal.
You can imagine all these at the disposal of such a group of people:Â The powers of the state, the authority of the state; the resources of the state, in pursuit of anything but the common good or the interest of then people.Â And if such people will identify you and think that youâ€™re an enemy, then that is a very terrible, critical, critical danger for such an individual.
We have seen in history how individuals have lost their lives in the process by forces of evil.Â In this country weâ€™ve seen it before.Â We saw a government that hanged Ken Saro-Wiwa, for Godâ€™s sake.
You can just imagine that.Â We witnessed a government that locked up an individual who won an election.Â He eventually lost his life in the process.Â For Godâ€™s sake, for winning an election, a free and fair election, somebody lost his life.
We have seen many more like that in this country. So, if you look at it in my own case, to answer your question directly, it started just like a joke.â€
In this interview, Ribadu spoke about the role of the EFCC during the electioneering period of 2007, he gave his views on the controversial case of James Onanefe Ibori – which were both emotional and explosive.
He spoke at length about the handcuffing of his former boss, Tafa Balogun, former Inspector General of Police; the bastardisation of the EFCC since his departure, his regrets in exile and the pain he feels for Nigeria.
In Balogunâ€™s case, Ribadu charged: â€œWhich one is bigger?Â Is it the handcuff or the conviction which we got?Â Why do we have difficulties for Godâ€™s sake in understanding basic universal things or as if we are not normal human beings?Â Does Tafa Balogun have four hands? Does Tafa Balogun have two heads?Â Does Tafa have more rights than the ordinary Nigerian?Â Does Tafa have more lives than the ordinary Nigerian?Â You see, this is the irony of the whole thingâ€.
WEÂ just had dinner and from the comments of your friends in that room, itâ€™s quite very obvious that the goodwill is enormous?
I didnâ€™t know that I was going to feel this good, to be honest. I actually underestimated it because if you know the raw emotions running through my system now.
You know it is gratifying; itâ€™s amazing that, people can show this type of love and appreciation, especially after coming out of a very difficult situation or period and suddenly you could feel real expression of love and appreciation by people across, not just like one part of the country, not just like a group of people, not just like a gender thing â€“ from everybody.
It was a very ad-hoc kind of arrangement, something that we didnâ€™t actually plan for; we thought it would be just for about three, four or five people and we ended up with that crowd, so much so that there were not enough seats for people to even sit down.
And when you listen to what the people were saying, not just for the sake of talking but comments by people from the depth of their hearts, you could understand if I tell you that I am very delighted.
When people talk about exile, there is always this nostalgic feeling you perceive when they talk.Â For you, which experience would you say you had which made you feel really very bad?
Many! Very many!!Â A lot of times â€“ you know exile is a very tough thing. The difference between exile and imprisonment or being locked up is very little. Atimes, I tell you, it is even more tortuous when you are in exile. Let me tell you, honestly, you live a totally different life. You live in a totally different environment which is not by choice; basically you are forced to.
You will not be on the same routine youâ€™ve been used to all the while you were in your own country.
You will not be able to eat the food you are used to so you have to eat what is available there. In my own case, I was not even with my family and that made it very tortuous for me. My little kids were not with me. These were little kids.
There is one of them whom I left behind and who was still in the cradle when I was leaving only for you to come back now and see the same kid running up and down and you begin to wonder again.
One of the most harrowing experiences, very difficult moment is when people come around and you are seeing them off to the airport on their way back to Nigeria â€“ either Lagos or Abuja.
The problem and agitation in your mind at such moments is that you cannot; you know you cannot. You know that going back would almost be like committing suicide.
That feeling can never be right and it is not right.
Added to that is the worse feeling that you know that you did not do anything wrong.
Actually you did right and that particular feeling makes you feel so, so terrible. You did right and you are being punished for doing what is right.
That feeling is not a nice one, absolutely.
People see you as a symbol and when all these problems started some people were taken aback while some people simply felt that well, while he was there, he was more like a god.Â Then suddenly, you became a target.Â At what point did that trajectory occur, between you hunting corrupt Nigerians and you becoming the hunted?
You see, this is the sad part of our own story and this is how developing countries usually go through difficult moments of, atimes, retrogressing.
When you end up with a very inappropriate leadership for a country like Nigeria; when you end up with people who do not have the interest of the country at heart; when you end up with a leadership that sees things in a very narrow way, you will end up with the type of situation that happened and you have all types of troubles on your hands.Â It happens usually in developing countries.
Iâ€™m asking about your own case and particularly, Nigeria as a developing nation?
In my own case, it happened as a result of a leadership that, probably did not understand, or did not have the capacity to understand, or a leadership that was, one can say, almost ill-prepared; or as I said earlier, inappropriate, and a leadership that collected, probably, some of our worst and put them together into one administration or one group, and with enormous powers, all at their own disposal.
You can imagine all these at the disposal of such a group of people:Â The powers of the state, the authority of the state; the resources of the state, in pursuit of anything but the common good or the interest of then people.
And if such people will identify you and think that youâ€™re an enemy, then that is very terrible, critical and dangerous for such an individual.
We have seen in history how individuals have lost their lives in the process by forces of evil.
In this country weâ€™ve seen it before. We saw a government that hanged Ken Saro-Wiwa, for Godâ€™s sake.
You can just imagine that.
We witnessed a government that locked up an individual who won an election.
He eventually lost his life in the process.
For Godâ€™s sake, for winning an election, a free and fair election, somebody lost his life.
We have seen many more like that in this country.
So, if you look at it in my own case, to answer your question directly, it started just like a joke.
Yes!Â I was going to say that.Â People in the country could not believe when it started and indeed, it started like a joke?
Yes!Â It started like a joke.
The good thing is that ultimately, justice will always prevail in such circumstances.
You know in every journey, you must have to go through the darkness of the night for you to come out into the light of day break.
Looking at the war on corruption from outside, how did it feel for someone like you, having been there before, fighting corruption head-on, and seeing what it had turned into, how was it like?
Very painful! It was very painful you know because after working so hard to build something that you thought could deliver and that thing involves human beings and also structures, and it was meant to deliver on certain objectives; and it got to a point where it was already beginning to deliver on some of the goals for which it was set up and thenÂ suddenly people from nowhere got in and then vigourously, deliberately, systematically, worked hard to undo that and in a most destructive manner, reversed the whole process, in the course of what you said.
It is painful because it involves human beings whom you have trained, spent tax payersâ€™ money, training.Â We trained people, young Nigerians and we supported everything that would bring out the best out of them.
But then people will come with a sort of vengeance and destroy everything and throw them out in the course of all these, some even lost their lives.
You work hard to, for example, build a name and legacy for an organization, especially at the international level, we did work also internally to make Nigerians appreciate it and support it because there is no way you can begin to fight corruption anywhere in the world except you get the people of that country on your side â€“ that was what we did, we got Nigerians on our side to assist.
I can also tell you that you can not fool people anywhere in the world always.
You will not; there is a limitation to what you can do; you can never fool the people and succeed.Â But having gotten the people on our side, you see that also being systematically destroyed and damaged where you will end up with a situation where that agency no longer has the respect of the international community, a respect which is very difficult to earn â€“ hard earned respect.
Iâ€™m sure there are instances?
Look, let me tell you, there was a time when the Attorney General of the United States of America sat with EFCC and did a press conference in Washington DC, to praise EFCC and to thank the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on its efforts against corruption; the same thing with the United Kingdom authorities, they came out strongly in our support, worked with us, encouraged us, the same thing with BKA of Germany, the same thing with the Dutch Police, the same thing with the Scorpion in South Africa, they worked with us, they encouraged us.
All those things that I have mentioned to you now are gone and it is so painful because it takes such a long time to build these types of relationships.
Itâ€™s so easy to damage but to build is so difficult.
So, weâ€™ve lost these relationships?
Terribly! Very badly!!Â Very, very badly!!!
These things helped to reshape the image of Nigeria at some point and it also helped in the repatriation of funds into the country.
Most of the funds taken out of the country were being recovered and we were on the track to recovering much more; that was the annoying thing.
We would have done so much recovery because it is a process but then, these guys scuttled everything that we laboured to build.Â They worked so hard to destroy it.
Those who took over from you?
Yes! But we shouldnâ€™t trivialize it.
You know what happened in the case of the Attorney General when the British authorities were trying to get the co-operation and approval of the Nigerian government.
They were writing letters upon letters that we as a nation was not interested in the case â€“ that thing has done a whole lot of damage because it reversed the flow of money.
At the time when we were working, around 2006/2007, we got so much money back into the country, both visible and invisible.
I can tell you that the EFCC was directly responsible for the flow of capital into Nigeria that funded the capital market where we had the boom.
But what happened thereafter?
After that the capital market collapsed because the money started going out again.
This is simple arithmetic.
It is our work that led to that confidence-building which brought capital into Nigeria and boosted the capital market â€“ no doubt about it.
It was our work that brought back money that recapitalised the banking sector at the time when we were doing the recapitalization of the banking sector â€“ it was the work we did.
It was our work that enabled a lot of private sector investments and also allowed a lot of direct foreign investments into Nigeria.
All these things were reversed from 2008/2009 up till now as a result of this interference or a reversal of the things that we had done and put on ground.
All these things are annoying and are not things that if you played a role, you will not feel happy about it in any way.
People on the sidelines said due process was not being followed in the pursuit of the anti-corruption war, that laws were being broken one way or another in the pursuit of that cause.Â So, why did you pursue your anti-corruption war in a manner that pissed some people off?
You know that is the point and that is the problem.
Ask them which due process was not followed in all that we did.
They should come out and tell us one single instance where due process was not followed.
Iâ€™ve been asking this question myself over and over and I am yet to be given an answer.
I am still waiting for somebody to come out and tell us that we did not go by the rules of the land or by the law; and I am still asking this question, one single case that we did not do the right thing or that we did not go by the rules and the procedures.
There was never a single court order that said that we did not do the right thing.
There was always this argument too:Â Some people in attempting to defend you come up with this paradigm about anybody who was prosecuted by the EFCC that did not have a case to answer?
Letâ€™s even leave the issue of prosecution out of it for now and let us look at the process.
You see, at the time when we were doing what we were doing, we knew that we had to go by the rule of law.
We knew we had to do things by the rule otherwise we would not succeed â€“ we knew that from the outset.
And it was simple. It was because the courts were there.
Success of EFCC
If you were not doing the right thing you will never succeed. EFCC succeeded when we were there because we followed the rules of the game.
We would never allow those issues of law and processes to destroy our activities and mess up our efforts so we had no option but to follow the rules and the laws.
EFCC is the only organisation, up till now, at least when we were in charge, that never tortured any single individual â€“ or is there any individual that we were said to have physically tortured while we were prosecuting our cases â€“ one single person that would say he was abused or that he was maltreated during our time at the EFCC; not one single case.
If you go to the EFCC detention centre, it is the best you can get in this country, may be even in the whole of Africa.Â We respected the rights of individuals. Whenever any person is taken in or brought into custody, we go by the rules and we even go to the extent of taking court orders to keep people in custody.
The reason for that is because if we do not get such an order, the courts would be there to frown at our activities and it would affect the quality of our case.
Okay, what happened in the case of Tafa Balogun, the former Inspector General of Police, IGP!Â What would you have to say about that?
In the case of Tafa Balogun, we did not do anything that was against the laws of the land.
From the beginning to the end, we did not do one thing that was against our rules of engagement or the laws of the land. Our regulations were clear and our criminal procedure laws too are very clear.
But though not illegal, you handcuffed Balogun?
Yes!Â That was the controversial part of it.Â That was true.
But handcuffing an individual is normal.
In any case, what is the big deal in handcuffing an individual who, at the end of the day was convicted?
Which one is bigger?Â Is it the handcuff or the conviction which we got?
Why do we have difficulties for Godâ€™s sake in understanding basic universal things or as if we are not normal human beings?
So, you mean it is okay for you as an ordinary Nigerian to be handcuffed and people will not say anything.
But the problem is that even you, you will say it yourself that it is wrong to handcuffed a person like Tafa Balogun.
Even ordinary poor Nigerians, too, would say the same thing or ask why handcuff Tafa Balogun.
Does Tafa Balogun have four hands?
Does Tafa Balogun have two heads?
Does Tafa have more rights than the ordinary Nigerian?
Does Tafa have more lives than the ordinary Nigerian?
You see, this is the irony of the whole thing.
I once heard this story that you entered the elevator at the Police Force Headquarters in Abuja and the thing did not work and you became so enraged that while Tafa Balogun made good with so much money, his office was lacking in basic facilities?Â How much of that played a role in your prosecution of Tafa Balogun because the source who told me said you were very livid with anger that day?
It is true that something like that happened but let me tell you what actually happened that day.
It was the week that we spoke to Tafa.Â It happened.Â I went to the Force Headquarters and I attempted to enter the elevator and I found out that it was not working.
So, I spoke to the chap who was like, manning the lift, there was no light and there was no generator to power the place.
At the Force Headquarters!
Yes!Â At the Force Headquarters!Â There was no light and they said there was no diesel to power their generator.
Mind you, as at that time, we had in our records that Tafa Balogun had billions of naira stashed away.Â That building did not have money to buy diesel and power its generator, that was not good and that was not right; it was not right.
I also learnt that you got so infuriated that you sworeâ€¦.?
Yeah!Â It happened and that is a fact.Â It actually happened itâ€™s true.
Just going back to the issue of the handcuffs; we respected the reactions of the people; the reaction to that handcuff matter was extremely negative and we had to respect it to be honest and I also learnt from it.
What did you learn?
I didnâ€™t do it again.
I realized that Nigeria was not ready yet for that type of thing.
But even Madoff, the American involved in swindling people of their billions was handcuffed, too?
I never handcuffed anybody after that.
The reaction was such that I didnâ€™t have the arrogance to insist that I was right and that the rest of the country was wrong.
If all others said that they didnâ€™t like it, who was I to say I would continue with it.Â I had the humility to admit that I would not continue with it.
We saw in August last year when Sanusiâ€™s banking reforms led to the arrest of some bank chief executives and some of the things they were accused of doing dates back to part of your time at EFCC.Â So, what happened that it had to take Sanusiâ€™s reforms?
Who did the banking reforms?Â Was it not us?Â The first day I arrested Bulama, the former Managing director of the Bank of the North, I got him convicted.Â Heâ€™s the only bank conviction case that we handled at that time.
We recovered over N16billion from him.
16 billion what?
N16 billion from him.
It was not just that; we also arrested close to forty-something bank officials.Â Not this type of thing that people are doing or talking about now.
We recovered over N200 billion for the banking sector.
That was to form part of what was used to recapitalize the banking sector.
I met with then President Obasanjo and pleaded with him that we should come out with a new policy that would make it impossible for the banks to go back to those dark days how they used to be before.
I was also the one, or it was during our time at the EFCC that we also pursued some other cases of bank chief executives, like Wabara of Hallmark Bank, Darlington of Bond Bank, and so many of them.
It is not about this noise that is going on and you can compare yourself. The entire banking sector thing was done by us in terms of the sanitization and after that when things started working very well, that was from 2006/2007, people became so successful as a result of that re-organisation but then suddenly, we started noticing laxity on the part of the regulators, Central Bank and some others and we almost got back to that state that we said we were trying to avoid.
Therefore, another action had to be taken to sanitise the banking sector but during that time I mentioned to you no bank failed.
When we got in there, banks that were failing, we stopped it by cleaning it up and we went about it quietly.
But had Lamido Sanusi Lamido not come it may have beenâ€¦?
Well, as for Sanusi, he is doing a good job.Â He has done extremely well but the job is not just going to be just for the CBN.
While you were at the EFCC, which one case would you say was the most challenging?
There were so many case that were so challenging.
We took up very powerful individuals and there were many of them but for me, we were just doing a job in the service of our nation.
To me cases were cases; all our cases involved challenges; and it is the ability to just do your job very well that matters.Â We treated the cases as they came.
Okay, before the elections, some people like Atiku Abubakar, were said to have been unduly pursued, with President Obasanjo, your boss, insisting on what to do and who to hound, especially without due process?Â The role EFCC played during the 2007 elections?
A lot of things happened at that time my brother. It wasnâ€™t just about the 2007 elections alone. You see, we thought we could change the attitude of our people in the way we went about doing our job and Iâ€™ve said earlier, there was never a time when we refused to follow the law.
We took some very difficult decisions and steps that resulted in people misunderstanding what we were doing and you can imagine because these involved the powerful and the rich in the society. You do not expect them to just sit down and allow you to do things that would make them disadvantaged or allow you deprive them of the resources that they already had in their hands; they would not allow that and all that noise was just about that.
They would fight back and in the course of fighting back, they would confuse members of the public and they would give an impression as if what you were doing was not the right thing, or that you were being used, or that what you were doing was not for the common good of the people of this country.Â That is the truth.
In fighting back, we were in this country when somebody said he would see to it that you are demoted, suspended and sacked- we heard it and we saw all that happen to you and I know you know the person Iâ€™m talking about.
Now, with the conviction of James Iboriâ€™s sister and his associate in London, what does that say about the justification of your case against him?
Justice is being done daily.
We are seeing Godâ€™s hands every day in the delivery of Justice and I donâ€™t think we should see all that as the end.Â We will see more and more of Justice being delivered and done.
As for James Ibori, I feel sorry for James, I feel really sorry for James Ibori.
I feel sorry for him because it is a sad case, really, it is a sad case.
Do you really feel sorry for him or youâ€™re just saying this for showmanship?
No!Â I feel really sorry for James Ibori.
I know James did many things and I know he did some bad things but I am still a human being; he was very arrogant in the way he went about doing some of the things he did but I am a human being and I feel sorry for him.
You feel sorry for him because he has come to this sorry pass or you are saying it sarcastically?
I am like that by nature.Â I really feel the pain of people to be honest.
As much as I can do what is right, I can also courageously feel the pain of others and I know what is right to be done.
Now that youâ€™re back, so much expectations; what next?
My brother you know what, Walahi I am just myself; I want to serve.Â I have no life other than that.Â I just want to serve all my life and I decided this very long time ago and not just now.Â I still want to serve.Â I remain so and Iâ€™m always going to be myself.
But very sadly, they terminated my public service career, it is not something that I like and I would have loved to continue serving as a public officer, I swear to God, but it was short-lived, it was damaged, it was destroyed beyond repairs, unfairly, but my life is intact and it also doesnâ€™t mean that that is the end of the world and if there are opportunities for one to serve, I will like to continue.
Iâ€™m happy to be back in the country. I will continue to do what I believe in.Â I am not looking for a job; no one has offered me a job and it is a country that is very wide and large enough that you can get a job or express your abilities to the fullest.Â But Iâ€™m yet to decide exactly what to do but God will give me the direction that I will take and that I will continue to take because God Almighty is there.
In terms of service, you were said to have assisted a bank crack a fraud case and a reward system was being put in place but you were said to have turned it down?
System of rewardSeverally and so many times!
Unfortunately we have almost ended up with a system of reward that even when you do your job, ordinarily, people expect to be rewarded.Â For just doing what you are paid for, people will be talking of reward and it becomes a comfortable thing and people have now seen it as normal so much so that even when you then donâ€™t take, people feel uncomfortable with you.
It is a sad thing, it is a bad culture.
If for example you want to help an institution, go ahead and do it and not reward me as an individual.Â We expect that every action should be rewarded, that is part of the problems we have in this country and that has led us to a negative thinking about public office and public responsibility.
I did not do it; I discouraged it; I fought it; and I the same time, I was not arrogant about it.Â I would not like to pretend to create an impression that you are a very honest person.
Nobody would claim that he is a 100% honest, only God Almighty is 100% honest.
I have never done anything consciously wrong or that is not right and I also believe that you do not have to be arrogant about it.Â That is the point Iâ€™m trying to make and it also relates to the issue of thanking people but I also look at it from the point of the intention of the person doing it.