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After Nuhu Ribadu EFCC tightens noose on OBJ

Posted by By CHRISTIAN ITA & MOHAMMED UMAR, Abuja on 2007/12/30 | Views: 3506 |

After Nuhu Ribadu EFCC tightens noose on OBJ


Contrary to perception in some quarters that the removal of Nuhu Ribadu as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was aimed at securing reprieve for some ex-governors standing trial for alleged money laundering, his removal is actually to pave way for an unfettered investigation of graft charges against former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

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Contrary to perception in some quarters that the removal of Nuhu Ribadu as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was aimed at securing reprieve for some ex-governors standing trial for alleged money laundering, his removal is actually to pave way for an unfettered investigation of graft charges against former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

Relations between President Umaru Yar’Adua and his predecessor have been anything but warm in recent weeks following Yar’Adua’s unwillingness to cover Obasanjo’s tracks.

Sunday Sun gathered that the prevailing sentiments in the Presidency is that Ribadu has been providing cover for Obasanjo despite overwhelming evidence of sleaze against the former President that should ordinarily recommend him for trial.

Less than a week ago, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) led by former Kaduna State governor, Alhaji Balarabe Musa stormed the office of the EFCC in Abuja to demand the probe and subsequent trial of the former President for alleged corrupt enrichment while in office.

In a petition the CNPP handed over to the Commission, it gave a catalogue of alleged economic malfeasance perpetrated by Obasanjo while in office.
CNPP, which is an umbrella organization for opposition parties, said under Obasanjo’s watch, state-owned enterprises and properties were converted into private ownership.

The former President, they contended, illegally appointed himself as the Petroleum Resources Minister contrary to the 1999 Constitution and "hence, his activities in the oil industry were shrouded in secrecy and he never rendered accounts of the oil revenue to relevant agencies like the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC)."

The body also alleged that "between 2000-2006, Nigeria lost over $130 billion unaccounted revenue", adding, "for 8 years Obasanjo unilaterally withdrew over N1 trillion from the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Federation Accounts."

Other allegations of financial crime they made against Obasanjo include: Sale of refineries to his cronies as scraps, illegal sales of NITEL, Egbin (power station), underhand deals in the privatization of ALSCON, Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill and Hilton Hotel.

Other allegations against the former president include contract awards for Niger Delta Integrated Power Projects and Equipment of University Teaching Hospitals by presidential fiat, sales of government houses for peanuts, the acquisition of Transcorp shares while in office.

Earlier in November, another group, The Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) led a protest march to the EFCC office to demand a probe of Obasanjo’s wealth.
Like the CNPP, the coalition had tendered a petition wherein it gave details of its allegations against Obasanjo.

"CACOL strongly wishes to see you and the EFCC take appropriate legal action against the former president as we certainly know that the wealth of the former president was acquired through foul, deceitful and immoral means, and his management of the affairs of the Nigerian State, both administrative and financial, left room to suspect financial recklessness, aiding and abetting of corruption and other foul means that diminished the conduct of the former president as a honest, transparent and accountable person," the group stated.

Despite these weighty allegations, the thinking of the Presidency is that EFCC under Ribadu has maintained a "conspiratorial" silence and when it said anything, it was often to dismiss the allegations against Obasanjo.
Sunday Sun gathered that what irked the Presidency the most was the admission two weeks ago by the Commission that it had received a petition regarding the N3.6 billion scandal involving Obasanjo's daughter, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, since 2006.

An Austrian firm, M. Schneides GMBH & Co had alleged in the petition to the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies that Obasanjo-Bello was corrupt. She was accused of impersonation while serving as Health Commissioner in Ogun State two years ago.
EFCC’s admittance came after the media had blown open the scandal, a situation the Presidency is said to find objectionable, wondering if anything would have been heard about the petition if the media had not blown it open.
Ribadu’s removal, therefore, Sunday Sun gathered, was to pave way for the probe and possible trial of the former President.

EFCC formally quizzed the President’s daughter Thursday.
Incidentally, before the ordering of Ribadu to proceed for NIPSS course, a plot was said to have been initiated by a powerful lobby in the Senate to get rid of Adamawa State-born cop from the EFCC.
The development was confirmed to Sunday Sun by Senator Lawali Shuaibu.
Relying on section 2(3) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Act), the group, which Senator Lawali Shuaibu identified as made up of ex-governors, had begun questioning the legal status of Ribadu to function as the chairman of the Commission.
Section 2(3) of the Act states: "The Chairman and members of the Commission other than ex-officio members shall be appointed by the President subject to the confirmation of the Senate."
And Section 3(1) of the same Act states: "The Chairman and members of the Commission other than ex-officio members, shall hold office for a period of four years and may be re-appointed for a further term of four years and no more."
Ribadu was first appointed in May 2003 and by 2007, his tenure lapsed.
However, typical of Obasanjo, he announced the re-appointment of Ribadu in the twilight of his administration for a further four years without seeking and getting confirmation from the Senate as required by the Act.
Latching onto that, these senators were moving to get the Senate to declare Ribadu’s appointment as illegal.
Senator Shuaibu, who was in the Senate between 1999-2003 and headed the Committee that oversees the activities of the EFCC, said these group of ex-governors-turned senators were uncomfortable with the activities of Ribadu.
Following non-compliance with the EFCC Act in the reappointment of Ribadu by Obasanjo, there are reported moves to have the Senate declare his activities in that last six months as illegal, null and void.
Meanwhile, a report by Saharareporters, a news portal, indicates that the West, United States and Britain in particular, are unhappy with Ribadu’s removal.
Ribadu enjoys a lot of goodwill in the international circuits as he is seen as a committed official from Nigeria in the global war on money-laundering following September 11. At the moment, leading western countries like United States, Britain and France are collaborating in a global initiative against corruption tagged STAR (Stolen Asset Recovery).
Saharareporters claims the governments of the two countries are mounting pressure on Aso Rock to allow Ribadu continue for at least another year.
The pressure from these two countries is believed to be reason why the Presidency has so far kept mum on the matter.
In the same vein, Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka has described as unacceptable moves to ease out Ribadu from EFCC, describing it as an assault on democracy. He identified Ribadu as a committed officer in the battle to rid the nation of corruption, wondering why Yar’Adua would succumb to pressures from powerful individuals against the anti-graft boss.

In the beginning...
The ding-dong battle for the removal of Mr. Nuhu Ribadu as EFCC Chairman finally came to a head during the week as the Inspector- General of Police (IGP), Mr. Mike Okiro, directed the EFCC boss to proceed to the elite National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPPS) for a one- year course. A move interpreted as an attempt to shoot down his rising profile.
However, to many close watchers, the 'fall' of Ribadu was not unexpected, considering that his job has for a long time been on the line for a number of reasons.

Stepping on powerful toes
Ribadu was seen, rightly or wrongly, as a puppet of the immediate past President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who had used the machinery of the EFCC to advance Obasanjo’s cause on the political front. His opponents point to the way cop sided with the ex-President while he fought his erstwhile deputy, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, to a standstill.
Besides courting the enmity of the former Vice-President, Ribadu was also known to have once told the BBC that ex-President Ibrahim Babangida would never succeed Obasanjo as Nigeria’s President, a stance which portrayed him as working on a hidden script known to him and Obasanjo.
At another time, it was the turn of the erstwhile Abia state governor, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, an unapologetic critic of the Obasanjo administration. For crying out loud against Obasanjo’s alleged corrupt tendencies, Kalu and his mother were randomly hounded by the anti-graft agency over alleged corruption, in spite of subsisting court injunctions. The former governor was eventually arrested and kept in Kuje Prison, before he was granted bail after fulfilling stringent conditions. His offence: being in OBJ's bad books.

Warrior extra-ordinaire
Vocal and emotional, Ribadu never shied away from any battle. He did not pick fights in his prosecution of the anti-graft battle. For instance, in his battle to cleanse the police force of graft perpetrated in the top hierarchy, he surely stepped on powerful toes. He championed the investigation of former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, from whom properties worth billions of naira were confiscated. Unconfirmed reports also had it that the present I.G also once received a shocker from the EFCC boss.
Prior to his appointment as acting IGP, sources close to Louis Edet House said Okiro had gone to the EFCC headquarters to see the crime-burster over some issues. Ribadu was said to have kept Okiro waiting for more than one hour, only to leave the office through the back door.
Nevertheless, the befuddled Okiro was said to have pursued him to his house where he tabled his case before the younger and junior police officer.

The Kuru ambush
According to insiders, Okiro had borne his humiliation and pains patiently until a couple of weeks ago when he went to President Umar Musa Yar’Adua with a request that some AIGs proceed to NIPSS. The IGP was said to have reminded the President that it would ultimately be in the interest of his administration, especially in the face of its avowed stance on due process for the officers to proceed on the high profile course given the height they had attained in the Police.
In the case of Ribadu, for instance, Okiro was said to have pointed out to the President that the EFCC chairman ought to have passed through the National War College even before his promotion to a police commissioner had due process been followed.
Furthermore, the I.G was said to have impressed it on the president that after his promotion as commissioner of police, he [EFCC chairman] needed to have gone to Kuru before being made an AIG.
Okiro reportedly further told the President that if the action was not taken, it could destabilize the entire police system and perpetuate the arbitrariness inflicted on the Force by Obasanjo. The President was said to have been convinced and gave his approval.

Stormy meeting
However, when the IGP called Ribadu to inform him of the development, the EFCC chairman was said to have fumed in anger and stormed out of the meeting, unaware that the President had already given a nod to the proposal. Now, his close friends say Ribadu has come to the painful conclusion that the EFCC job has slipped out of his hand for good.

An increasingly assertive Yar'Adua
Furthermore, presidency insiders told Sunday Sun that Yar’Adua is not "very comfortable with EFCC’s flagrant abuse of due process and rule of law under Ribadu." This time, the source said, he has mustered the political will to deal with the "embarrassment" once and for all.
Also, the President allegedly feels that the EFCC has been applying subtle blackmail against him, a development which is said to have irked him. For instance, Ribadu was said to have written to Yar’Adua seeking for permission to prosecute some past governors James Ibori and Lucky Igbinedion among others. "The president felt it was blackmail, reasoning that Ribadu did not need to first seek his permission before confronting others. The administration also shares the view that it is the anti-graft boss that is spreading the unsubstantiated insinuation that the president is shielding his powerful friends and sponsors from prosecution over alleged corruption. And he (Yar'Adua) had allowed him to get away with some of his flagrant abuse of due process and the law in order not to be perceived in that light. He couldn't continue forever under the shadow of blackmail. And when Okiro asked for permission to ask Ribadu to go on a course, he had to do what's right before the law, not minding if he would be called names."

'Not guilty’
However, Ribadu’s supporters contend that the EFCC chairman’s commitment to get the work done may have been responsible for his perception as high- handed and arrogant. They argue that it was not Ribadu’s fault that he was promoted a commissionser before he went to the War College, nor should he bear the blame for his promotion to the rank of AIG. "Nuhu is a patriotic Nigerian who wants the best for his country. He genuinely believes in the fight against corruption. He could have made mistakes but he's only human," said a close friend of his.

To go or not ot go?
Even as the proposed Kuru issue continues to generate debate in the country, there have been divergent arguments on whether Ribadu should be eased out of his job or not. Two radical lawyers hold two opposing views. While Femi Falana believes that the anti-graft Czar is being tactically eased out for stepping on powerful toes, Festus Keyamo argues against the personalisation of public office.
"It is absolutely illegal to say that Ribadu is being sent to NIPSS because he is being prepared for the position of Inspector-General of Police.," says Falana.
To Keyamo: "We can not equate the effectiveness of the fight against corruption with the presence of Nuhu Ribadu."

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