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Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Malam Nuhu Ribadu, says he is worried about the widespread allegations of fraud that have trailed general elections of last month, saying his commission would have loved to dig into the issue if his brief were to go beyond economic and financial crimes.
* Says election rigging is part of corruption
Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Malam Nuhu Ribadu, says he is worried about the widespread allegations of fraud that have trailed general elections of last month, saying his commission would have loved to dig into the issue if his brief were to go beyond economic and financial crimes. He said he would however leave the issue of rigging to be addressed by the election tribunals, even as he insists rigging is another form of corruption.
Ribadu who spoke to editors and senior management staff of THE SUN in Abuja, also insists that the decision of the EFCC to investigate politicians seeking office in the elections had actually changed the tone of the polls for the better. He equally expressed happiness that the election was not as bloody and chaotic as cynics had predicted. Excerpts:
Letís start by congratulating you on your recent elevation to Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG).
(Laughs) Well, for me, the most important thing is if you have worked, and people acknowledge it, and say continue. So, we are very grateful for that. It shows that what we have done is acceptable.
Talking about promotion, itís a huge responsibility. The work we are doing is a very difficult one. Itís not a job that you make friends. Itís a job where you turn friends to enemies. Itís a very, very difficult job. So if youíre promoted in that job, people should say sorry, instead of congratulations. (laughs).
Some people must have been rejoicing, thinking your term was nearly over. But you now have another term of four years. Are you happy you disappointed them?
I dey kampe (General laughter). As I told you earlier, Iím grateful to God, grateful to those who somehow agree that what weíre doing is the right thing, those who are responsible for giving us the opportunity and chance to do our own bit. For that, Iím very happy. And for those who will not be too pleased, I urge them to take heart. This is what life is all about. Some times, you just have to take what comes the way it comes.
EFCC set out to rid the nation of corruption. And to a large extent, you have succeeded. But some people also say you created so much ripples in the political scene to the extent that the result of the controversial elections we now have is counter productive.
To me, if you are confronting corruption, itís not going to be easy. That is the reason we have this overheated polity today. If youíre fighting corruption, mostly the targets are those who have been in control of important segments of the society. If you go to finance sector, they are there. Go to the media, they are in control of it, if you go to public life, they are there. And you are here, challenging them, confronting them.
You are threatening the very special positions they occupy. You are literally forcing a change, and there will definitely be controversy. And itís not going to be easy. It will be very tough. It could even be bloody, confusing and chaotic, particularly when most of them are in the opposition. Iíve never seen a system where the government is its own opposition. The president is there, the vice president is in opposition. I donít know where you want to place the National Assembly. Itís for you to choose. Even within the parties, you need to define who is where. This is the cause of it.
For the first time in our country, weíve been able to stand up and confront corruption, and the battleground turned out to be the 2007 elections. And when you do something like that, you will not have it smooth. It will not be easy, it will not be business as usual. When you are going into election, president is not a candidate, vice president is in the opposition, National Assembly is somewhere, and the Judiciary taking a position, that is the effect of fighting corruption. I think we are lucky that it is not even bloody, in the sense that they are not fighting one another with guns. We are still using the legal and civilised way of confrontation. But it is tough and very fierce.
But election rigging is part of corruption, and weíve had elections that are not free and fair.
I agree with you, corruption covers not just monetary or financial, it also involves misuse of office, authority and power. But fundamentally, what weíre talking about is rule of law. Doing things properly and correctly, according to the law.
And those who are assigned responsibility of doing things must do it properly and correctly. EFCC was asked to fight economic and financial crimes, and that is what weíve done. There are those who are assigned responsibilities of fighting electoral malpractices, and if there is rigging, there are avenues in which it can be addressed.
And that is why, for example, you have tribunals to address some of these things. This is law and order, rule of law. That is how a society can change itself. Any other way will not work. And itís even a good development. We can put to test our legal system, our justice process. Today, if you are a corrupt person, EFCC will go after you. If you still escape, and you go into public office, and you rig election, the INEC will go after you, and the tribunal will be there to reverse it. This is justice process, it is a chain, it is a process. It is very important we even go through it because thatís how weíll develop ourselves. Itís important you make a mistake and you are corrected and punished for it. Thatís why Iím very much looking forward to what the tribunals will do in respect of elections.
Do you accept there was rigging!
No, I cannot say that. I donít think you can even expect me to say so. Because, even if that is the case, there is a system which has its way of checking such things. If you are aggrieved, you have avenue to seek redress.
What about those who corrupted the system with money?
There are certain things you can also understand. Itís like saying if a drug baron has money, and you know heís a drug baron, he should be dealt with as one. And there is a way to do it. If you rig election with money, you are an election rigger, and the process must be employed to deal with you. If you go to our Electoral Act, an offence has been created for those who use money to rig elections. And thatís what Iím talking about.
Before the elections, you made it obvious that you would not allow corrupt people to run. And it is now believed your interventions created a fertile atmosphere for what we have on our hands now.
No, I donít agree. We tried to do what is right, and I donít think it has anything to do with violence during elections. I donít think it has anything to do with not being able to produce basic things for the election in time. And that is fundamentally the question people do have about these elections. It has no relation whatsoever with some of the things we are doing.
Will EFCC investigate election rigging?
You see, election rigging per se is not the responsibility of EFCC. I have said it. If it is, I will. No doubt about it. I will never shy away from it. I remember about two or three years ago, I was challenged by Senator Arthur Nzeribe when they visited EFCC. He said what about those who rig elections, I said go and make a law and give me power to go after election riggers, and see what I will do with it.
You wish you had such power?
No doubt about it
Talking about the EFCC Act, which the Senate amended recently, a senator said you were okay with it before it was passed, but after, you began to sing a new tune.
What I submitted to them is in written form, and I could never have said I agreed. They called me, and the reason was that they wanted to know the names of indicted persons. That was why they called me. And I explained to them. They asked me to put it in writing, and I did. My position is extremely very clear. Iím not the type of person who talks from both sides of the mouth. Whatever I tell you is like that, and I donít change.
I canít condemn the National Assembly, I will never do it. I know myself, I know my responsibilities, I cannot do something like that. What I did was to explain my own understanding of the law. The controversy was basically over the independence of EFCC. I said we were never dependent. If anybody said our work was directed by any other person, that is not correct. I have done this work honestly to the best of my ability. Nobody in the executive teleguided me. Therefore, for anybody to come and say I was being controlled and, therefore, need independence, the person must have gotten it wrong. That was the clear position I took.
Then, of course, I said whether EFCC can be independent of the Executive or not, that may not be practically feasible in the sense that it is an Executive responsibility. The job weíre doing is not different from the Nigeria Police Force or Customs, or Immigration. Are you going to make them all independent of the Executive? What are you going to do about the office of the Attorney-General that is constitutionally responsible for all criminal matters. Every work that we do, every work that EFCC, ICPC, Nigeria Police is doing, is subject to the control of the Attorney-General of Nigeria. He is the one who has power to initiate, continue or discontinue criminal trial in Nigeria today. He has that power. The constitution gave him that power.
The Attorney-General is an appointee of the president. He is in the cabinet of the president. So where is the independence? The whole work we do everyday is just a chain in the justice process. We investigate with a view to take people before the court of law for prosecution. That is all we are involved in. The power to prosecute is with the Attorney-General, and it is a constitutional power, which means the National Assembly cannot legislate it out. They cannot remove that power unless you change the constitution of Nigeria.
So the fact that you come and say you are taking an investigative agency or commission out of the control of the president is almost an exercise in futility, because thereís no way for you to take that power to prosecute unless you change the constitution. That is the point I made. It is a clear position. I can never condemn the National Assembly. They created this commission, they gave it all the powers, and they have been 100% supportive of it. And throughout their deliberations, they have not said one bad thing about us. Never.
What they said was that the Executive was bringing undue pressure on us, and I disagreed because Iím the operator. You cannot tell me that someone is teleguiding me, and I will agree with you because itís not so. You cannot say you agree with the work Iím doing, and at the same time say Iím being teleguided.
Have you had any confrontational exchange with the president?
Haba! What do you mean by confrontational? All of us in public office do. Heís a very tough president (General laughter).
Talking of interference. Gov Bafarawa of Sokoto State believes it was to destabilise him that made EFCC ďinvadeĒ his state a week to the election.
I disagree. There was never any invasion by the EFCC. Not at all. Heís being unfair to us. The person heís talking about had been under investigation for over a year. We have followed his activities. If others will use it for political advantage, that is their own business. We did not invade Sokoto. We did not invade Bafarawaís house to distract or destabilize him. That is not true. I think people are just playing politics with us, and it is not fair.
Itís ironical that you and the VP come from the same place, and you were so passionate about his not standing for election. And some people are saying itís even getting personal.
No, not at all. Do you know surprisingly I even like the VP as a person. I like him, heís a good person. Iíve had a wonderful relationship with him, no doubt about it. Ask several other people that our work has affected or touched, itís not just him. But you have to separate personal relationship from official in this business. The work we are doing makes it impossible to mix the two. If you do it, youíll not be able to carry out your responsibilities.
When it comes to official, you must put personalities aside. And that is exactly what happened between me and the VP. I did not go to look for this case. I wasnít there when it happened. In fact, I probably was even in the best of relations with him. No doubt about it. I was sitting here when the United States government sent a request. Other governments of the world do send requests, do I turn it down because it involves the VP who comes from my own place? What sort of person would I be if I have this selective way of doing things?
For Godís sake, I must close my eyes and do the work, painful as it is. There is nothing personal. And he knows itís nothing personal. I know he knows the facts I said are true.
We have never concocted or manufactured anything. And that I did not initiate the investigations. I did not go out of my way to go after him. Not at all! It came as a request from the U.S, and should I keep quiet when I see something patently not proper? How do I handle it? That is why I say you should feel sorry for us on this job.
An aide of the president was also indicted for carrying dollars in the presidential jet, and nothing was done about it
Who is the person?
Itís not true. That is not the truth. I never got a request in respect of Andy Uba. And for your information, when the issue came up, we investigated. We followed it. We appointed private prosecutors, private lawyers in the US to follow it for us in the U.S, and get back to us. That was after we contacted the U.S government. We went out of our way to do that. We asked if there was any case of that nature, and they said no. What we found out was a case involving a woman who had issues with American authorities.
There, they do things properly and correctly. She had tax issues, and some money she should have declared. They asked for the source of the money, and she said it was given her by Andy Uba. That she was to buy certain things and send to Nigeria. She bought a car and some other equipment. That was why the name of Andy Uba appeared. He was never called by U.S authorities, never questioned, not to talk of indictment. How many Nigerians are buying cars daily in the U.S. should I then investigate every person buying cars? For Godís sake! Be fair! Just because heís Andy Uba, and because heís working with the president, if he buys a car, I must investigate him?
Usually, if we have issues to do with investigation, we check and see if it involves public officers. Assuming Andy Uba was a public officer in charge of money, or heís running a state, weíll have been interested. Andy Uba didnít even have an office, for your information. There was nowhere he was signing any document involving money. None. He does not run a state, a ministry, or a local government. He was an assistant to the president.
What the U.S people told us was that it was an issue between a lady and the revenue department. And that it was a failure to comply with certain regulations on tax issues. She was investigated, but did not even go through any criminal trial. And the matter was settled through a civil process. Even she herself was not even indicted or prosecuted not to talk of Andy Uba. If assuming we got a request like that of the VP, Iím telling you, we would have investigated him. No doubt about it.
After May 29, it appears your hands will be full as you have promised to prosecute governors who shed their immunity. Are we to expect a massive war?
No, weíre just going to continue the way weíve been operating. Those we investigated, if we are able to establish cases, they will be prosecuted. But we try as much as possible to be open and accountable. Some of the cases, we have investigated, and it is always in the public domain. Some of the people involved enjoy political immunity today, and they canít be brought to justice. So if that immunity is gone, youíll naturally expect us to bring them to justice. Such cases are very open and clear, nothing hidden, sir.
How many of such governors do you have established cases against?
I donít want to give numbers. But we have a couple we have already charged to court. Maybe 10 or thereabout.
What difficulties do you have establishing cases against public office holders really, because there is a perception that almost all of them are corrupt.
Itís not so. I donít think itís fair to say that. And the degree and level differs sometimes. You find a very bad situation at times, others are on the borderline. Of course, weíll go for the very bad cases. This will send a message to the rest. That is what weíre trying to achieve. But there are several governors who are okay, and there are some who have problems, just like in the rest of the society.
What is corruption?
Misuse of office, abuse of office, embezzlement, influence peddling. They are all corruption.
Influence peddling? Why didnít the EFCC investigate President Obasanjo on the presidential library donations, which is a clear case of influence peddling?
Usually, corruption happens in secrecy, behind the scene. The president would have taken all the money for the library without anybodyís knowledge. He could easily have asked all those who made the donations to come quietly and give him the money in the comfort of his own house. And no one would talk about it. I think we should celebrate the fact that people could come out publicly to do things in a way that if you have questions, you can ask. Nothing to hide. And this library is not for him as an individual, and he himself made contribution as a person. His farm also made contribution. It was done publicly, and very highly placed Nigerians are in charge of this library as trustees. I donít know how this can translate to a corrupt act.
There must be people you have investigated that you feel pained about
So many. Walahi, they are many.
There must be corrupt people within the EFCC itself. Whatís the extent and what do you do to them?
We are very careful in the choice of people who join EFCC. We try as much as possible to make good choices. We vet them thoroughly, but when it comes to human beings, you canít be 100% sure. We also have internal mechanisms with which we check ourselves, and we do it continuously. Weíve sent away so many people that we found unfit. We tell them to quietly leave before they become problem to us. We do it on continuous basis. We have special unit within the EFCC itself that checks each and everyone of us. That does not mean we are 100% percent free, no. But we work hard to first make sure it does not happen, and if it happens, we detect it and act accordingly.
Some people feel you have been over promoted in the past four years. From Assistant Commissioner of Police to AIG. And there is talk of your even being prepared for I-G position.
People will say what they like. But I also have my classmates who are now judges in the Court of Appeal. I have my colleagues who will be Supreme Court judges. My younger brother is a vice chancellor in a university in Nigeria. I have colleagues who are governors. Is it because I joined the police, thatís why I should not be promoted? Itís so unfair. What is AIG. Look at me and compare me with the rest of the AIGS, and judge whether Iím fit or competent enough.
I have colleagues who dropped out also in primary school, and they are labourers. Compare me with them, not my colleagues who are still Chief Superintendents of Police. That is what life is all about. People move on, others donít.
If you find yourself in the I.G position, what kind of reforms do you want to see in the police?
Iíll rather keep quiet (General laughter)
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