It's difficult to say how much money has been
lost to corruption in Nigeria. The late leader
General Sani Abacha and his family alone are
believed to have looted $5 or $6 billion, and
only a fraction of the missing money has been
Nuhu Ribadu is a man all-too-familiar with the
problems of graft, bribery, and corruption that
have plagued Nigeria for decades. Ribadu rose up
through the ranks of the Nigerian Police Force
and in 2003 was appointed to head the newly
formed Economic and Financial Crimes Commission
As head of the EFCC, Ribadu became the public
face of Nigeria's new fight against corruption.
During his tenure, the EFCC brought charges
against numerous high-ranking politicians and
former politicians, governors, party leaders and
reportedly even Ribadu's one-time boss. It also
seized and forfeited billions of dollars worth
of criminal assets.
But in late 2007, Ribadu was suddenly removed
from his EFCC post and subsequently sent to
study for a year. His removal from the EFCC was
widely criticized by many in Nigeria and abroad,
including Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka. Ribadu
has since been stripped of his police rank, and
in December Human Rights Watch reported that he
had survived an apparent assassination attempt.
We say when
you fight corruption, it fights back. So
it's fighting back and kicking me out. I am
now living outside Nigeria, in the U.K.
Ribadu was given a public service award from the
World Bank in 2008.
He has since left Nigeria and is living in
England. We spoke with him following a
discussion he had with Professor Lowell Bergman
at the University of California at Berkeley
Graduate School of Journalism. Below are
excerpts from that conversation.
Q: Many believe that you were forced to
leave Nigeria for doing your job. How did you
decide to take that job and were you worried
that something like that would happen when you
A: Well, yes. I think I was fully prepared for
anything. I got the job in 2003. Before, I had
been a police officer, and within my own limits
I was doing just that — fighting corruption. My
belief is that if you join the police force you
will soon be ridiculed, especially if you intend
to do it properly and correctly and you are
honest about it. There's a responsibility [to
fight corruption], not just in Nigeria but all
over the world, especially where you have
problems...We do have reputation of corruption,
and [Nigeria is] a sad example of everything
that is really wrong that is caused by massive
It's time for us to get to that, to somehow end
all forms of irresponsible behavior in
management and governance. It's a source-rich
country that's made so much money from this very
easy way — cheap money got into the country
through the oil, particularly through the oil
boom and so on. And then we had people who are
running the country who are thoroughly
unprepared, the military particularly. The whole
thing, it was just a perfect storm.
By the time I was kicked out, we recovered
more than $5 billion dollars in properties
By the time I got the job things were extremely
bad — very, very bad. When I got the job, the
Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was not
originally meant to fight corruption; it was to
enforce the anti-money laundering laws and also
the fraud laws. Originally nobody thought it was
going to address the problem of corruption, but
we made it so because others were not doing
their work. And when you are fighting money
laundering it is an umbrella and sort of covers
all sorts of corruption and financial crimes.
And corruption certainly is a predicate of money
laundering. So, we started that. We decided to
fight corruption. We went after the very big
people who were doing it. We set up a system in
which we were able to identify, trace and track
assets. We followed government money. We brought
so many people to justice. And we proved that it
could be done. At the end of the day, by the
time I was kicked out, we recovered more than $5
billion dollars in properties and money.
We say when you fight corruption, it fights
back. So it's fighting back and kicking me out.
I am now living outside Nigeria, in the U.K.
Q: You were sent for retraining for a
year, then demoted after you were finished?
A: Well, I was in the school — the so-called
school. They removed me from the office of
chairman. They then demoted me from my rank.
And finally, they dismissed me from my job,
from the Nigerian police force, where I was
working before the appointment as chairman of
the EFCC. And they also charged me in court on
a very stupid thing, for something that is
very laughable even by Nigerian standards —
that I did not declare my assets.
Q: And you have to declare your assets
for your job?
I did. I have. They couldn't get anything so
the easiest thing is to come up with this
Q: I think it is hard for people in
the West who haven't been to Africa to
understand the effect that corruption or
kleptocracy has on a daily basis on the people
there, in terms of poverty and
underdevelopment. Could you talk about how the
people of Nigeria are suffering?
A: Directly. In Nigeria and indeed Africa, and
most of the places you have underdevelopment,
it is a result of corruption. And when we talk
about corruption we mean the resources that
are to be used positively, for development,
are being converted or diverted. They will be
turned into very suspicious use, very negative
— into few hands and the worst use.
Corruption can be directly linked with all
atrocities and the horrific situations in
Africa. Corruption is the reason why, for
example, you have abuse of rights. The police
will not work properly because the little
money that comes in goes to corruption. And
they go about abusing rights and stealing from
the people because of corruption. Like you
said, the moment corruption is involved in any
transaction — whether it is construction,
whether it's a contract — rest assured you
cannot get quality and chances are it will
collapse, it will not work. Corruption is
responsible, for example, for lack of
democracy, because with corruption you cannot
have free and fair elections. And it will
always be the corrupt people who will find
their way, steal their way, back into power
and continue to perpetuate it and remain in
why it's so easy for people to go into
government to steal, because no one seems
to think [the money] belongs to anybody.
Wherever you have corruption, you are not
likely to have infrastructures, basics of
society that will help society. It's not
likely that you are going to have simple
things, for example education, you are not
going to get health institutions. It is going
to compromise everything. For example, even
people's ability to attract foreign investment
and to do business -- no society can develop
where you have this kind-of reputation.
Fundamentally the real effect of corruption is
that money meant for development goes into the
wrong hands and is used negatively. And
Nigeria is a classic example of such a
Within a short period of time that we tried to
address it, everything started getting a very
strong footing and it was really beginning to
address our problems.
Q: Did you find that people are afraid
to stand up when thieves are the people in
A: They have massive tolerance, they don't
even see it. They don't link and connect with
that. Nobody seems to look at government money
as their own money; there's a total disconnect
with government money and the people. That's
why it's so easy for people to go into
government to steal, because no one seems to
think it belongs to anybody. Even in Nigeria,
if somebody is caught stealing they can burn
him. But when you steal government money
nobody seems to connect it and say, 'Well, it
is my own money. It belongs to me.' Not yet.
It is part of the problem. And then also, the
powerful ones get away with things — not just
stealing — they do what they like. In Africa
the few rich learned that they can do what
they like, they continue to control
everything, they live like lords, and nothing
happens to them. They are above the law.
Q: How did you find assets in these
A: It's the easiest thing you can do. To
follow government money is not difficult
because it goes through the banks and you can
follow it If it's a contract, the moment a
contractor is paid, you can follow his own
bank accounts. And you can see where he is
taking the money. It's not difficult at all.
We set up a financial intelligence unit — to
see the movement of money, both coming in and
Q: Was it a hard decision to leave
A: Very, very. All my life I have lived there
and worked. I'm very passionate about it. It's
not easy for me to have left the country.