Nuhu Ribadu worked in the Nigerian Police Force where he rose to become the Chief prosecutor and Head of Legal Unit of the Force. In 2003, he was appointed the pioneer head of the newly formed anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. He was forced out of the agency in 2007 for failing to do the biddings of the then President Musa Yar’Adua.
In 2010, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, selected him as its presidential candidate for the 2011 election. He lost the election, but continued to be a member of the ACN which has now merged with three other political parties to form the All Progressives Congress, APC.
In this chat with Ashafa Barkiya, editor of the well-regarded Hausa newspaper, RARIYA, Mr. Ribadu speaks about his life, career, politics and why he accepted to serve as Chairman of the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force.
The interview was translated to English.
You were not well known prior to your appointment as Chairman of the EFCC. How did you join the Police, and why?
Thanks to Allah, I joined the Police after I completed my first degree in 1984. I also went to law school and qualified as a Barrister. We were some of the earliest to join the Police after qualifying as lawyers from the North.
Certainly, there were reasons why I decided to join the police, even though I was offered direct employment by the NNPC, UBA, PZ and Corporate Affairs Commission after I completed my youth service. Many people were surprised at my decision to join the police. They thought my lean frame disqualified me from being a police officer. Secondly, no one in my family had ever worked with the police. Thirdly, people thought the police was not for the well-educated.
In fact, even in terms of pay, I was relegating myself because what I would have earned from all the other organisations that offered me employment was twice what I got as police officer. But I felt it was important to work where I would get fulfillment from the job, achieve some aims like helping the people, and shape my own philosophy of life.
Honestly, I grew up passionate about protecting people’s rights, to help the weak and helpless. I want to see the truth upheld. I always want fairness to prevail all the time. So I felt I could only achieve those goals in the police more than any other place.
Were you always been like that or were you ‘radicalised’ at the University?
I am not sure it’s about ‘radicalism’. I think it has to do with wanting to see things done right and with the fear of God. I can say that I grew up seeing it practiced in my family home. Our father, Alhaji Ahmadu Ribadu, was well known in Yola, and people attest to the kind of life he lived. He was a politician and always stood by the truth.
Well, I can tell you that I shared the ‘radical’ philosophy at school, but what really is the radicalism? It is just about knowing your right and standing up for it as allowed by the laws. In the university I was a member of the Peoples Redemption Party. I was part of those who demonstrated against the impeachment of former Governor Balarabe Musa in Kaduna state. We were the ones who went to Kaduna House of Assembly to protest and they kept sending us away, with the police beating us. We were the boys of Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman. Don’t also forget that my family members were in the National Party of Nigeria then.
What was your first posting as a policeman, and what were the challenges you faced?
The first place I worked was Mushin Police Station in Lagos in 1986. From there, I was posted to Apapa Area Command and Police Station. From there, I worked at Ajegunle as Crimes Investigations Officer.
So what were the challenges you faced, since there were frequent robbery incidents then?
I also remember that was when the police faced the challenge of the renowned armed robber, Lawrence Anini.
Certainly there were lots of confrontations with armed robbers at Ajegunle, Apapa and Mushin. I personally used to carry my gun and engage the robbers in exchange of fire. It’s really a long story.
After all the confrontations; did you regret joining the police?
It happened once shortly after I joined the force and it happened at the first place I was posted to. When I reported for duty at Mushin Police station, the DPO asked me to lead an operation to a place we received a report about. I took three policemen with me and when we got there we saw someone who was killed by armed robbers and they took away his car.
As soon as we alighted from our car, the policemen that came with me began to search the dead man’s pocket and were removing money to stuff in their pocket. One of them removed his wristwatch and put it in his pocket.
So, I processed the corpse and we took it to Ikeja Hospital. I also found out where he was staying and how to contact his family. When we returned to the office, I noticed that these policemen did not submit all the stuff they took from the dead man, and I asked them why. They simply said I should ‘just forget there is no problem’. I was so angry because I saw them steal from a dead man.
That incident disturbed me a lot. I just left for home and refused to come the following day and the day after. There was a policeman called Musa Dan Gombe, he was also a Fulani man like me, who came looking for me at home. He sought to know why I did not go to work for two days and I told him that I honestly can’t do this work because it was contrary to my objectives. What I saw really demoralised me, and I just couldn’t do it.
But Musa told me that the force needed people like me because without people like me change will not come. His advice strengthened me and that was why I stayed and resolved to fight these types of ugly behaviour. I resolved and pledged to God since that moment to fight decay in the police force. I began the crusade since then and as God would have it I was getting successful such that I even arrested a sitting Inspector General of Police for graft.
Throughout my service in the police, I just concentrated on upholding what is right. A lot has happened that often made me contemplate leaving the force, but with God’s help I withstood the challenges and continued my work. Some of them I don’t even want to recall. But you also know that we have some very good people in the police, and I worked with a lot of them.
Where were you when Anini was arrested?
I was in Apapa. I was the one who first set up the road block at Tin Can Island. That was when the order came for senior officers to also man roadblocks.
In your position as police prosecutor, how did you feel when a judge released a hardened criminal on bail two days after his arraignment and the case died thereafter?
That is actually what spoils our work and bastardises the constitution and rule of law. It comes about because of corruption, which usually happens either during investigations or prosecution. But I don’t accept bribe and my lieutenants also dare not accept bribe. If you are prosecuting my case, even if you are mad you will not collect money. It so happens that apart from being a policeman, I am also a lawyer. So, I know how everything works. Both the policeman prosecuting the case I investigated and the judge cannot therefore accept money to bastardise the case. That is the reason why we had the highest number of prosecutions when we were at Alagbon.
Releasing criminals, especially armed robbers, is very dangerous especially to the policemen prosecuting the case. When we were working, there were several cases of policemen who were killed by the armed robbers they arrested earlier. So the judges demoralise police prosecutors by releasing hardened criminals.
You made history in the EFCC especially with the arrest of Tafa Balogun, your boss, James Ibori, as well as some governors and highly placed individuals. But did you ever face threats or attacks while you held sway as chairman of the agency, like your successor, Farida Waziri, said she faced?
A. Is this anything worth recalling? It would seem as if I don’t know the job if I go back to recounting all these stories. Whoever does what is right and fight the bad eggs in the society knows that he would face a lot of challenges. There was no kind of plot that was not hatched against me while I was in both the EFCC and the Police, but I feel it would be demeaning for me to start talking about them now.
The Federal Government appeared to have confidence in you and appointed you to head the Committee on Petroleum Revenue. Your committee completed its task and submitted a report to government, however, nothing appears to be have been done about it. How do you feel?
I am unhappy about it especially because I worked tirelessly with the fear of God, for the good of your country. I suffered for eight months doing that work without receiving a kobo. And I left my job in Afghanistan where I was heavily paid. They asked me to come back for the job and I told them I would not receive a dime. I said I would do it as service to my fatherland.
Were you offered compensation and you refused?
I refused the money I was offered. I told them I did not need money to do that kind of service for my fatherland. When I accepted to do the work, some people were saying why should I accept to work for a PDP government since I was in the opposition. I said then that I was working for the Nigerian people, not the PDP government. If I could work for Afghanistan to shape up things, I see nothing wrong in my coming back to work for my country.
I accepted to do it because I knew I could bring out facts that someone else may not be able to. In our report of eight months, we brought out the damages being done in the Oil and Gas industry, the kind of money being stolen and ways to block the theft and strengthen the sector.
We submitted our report, but there was an attempt to sabotage us even while we worked because surprisingly, some members of my committee were appointed into the board of the NNPC, a parastatal we were investigating. They tried to sabotage the work we did.
But thank God, all Nigerians have seen what we did. God exposed them, and the president received the report and promised to work on it. But over a year later, he has not uttered a word to me, not to talk about implementing the report.
You have been facing the challenge of refusing to accept bribe or gratification since you started your working life. Seeing how people get rich while in government; people ask what is wrong with Ribadu, doesn’t he like money? Do you abhor or fear money?
I thank God for the way I live my life. I was properly brought up in a way that shaped my life. I am naturally not materialistic. For instance, I have never worn a wristwatch. Even those small….
Any type at all. That is how I am. I leave a simple life. Go into my house and see how I live.
May be you find it heavy…?
No. I even noticed that it is used for fashion these days
Or you put it inside your pocket?
What will I do with a watch inside my pocket? There is a clock inside the car, office, at home, cell phone, why should I worry myself tying it around. In fact I just hate all these bling bling lifestyle.
I have one wife, my kids are here, six of them, I am satisfied with whatever God has given me. I can take care of my needs you know?
It’s not as if I don’t like money, but I am just afraid of taking what is not mine, forbidden ones. If you cling to this life style, God will give you your own. I love seeing rich men, so it’s not as if I hate the rich. I like to see people make progress. But as for me, I never consider making so much money a priority in life.
The Federal Government recently entered into a pact with the British Government to exchange prisoners, and already some people are speculating that the pact was simply aimed at returning James Ibori back to the country. What do you have to say about it, since you were the first to arrest him?
Well, I really don’t know what to say. It is really confusing since they said it was prisoner exchange. The question is how many Britons do we have in our jails here? None! But we have so many out there; so with whom are we going to exchange? I understand that Britain will even give us money to build prisons. In fact, I am not going to say anything on this matter yet. In my opinion it is a wrong arrangement since no prisoner will be transferred back to England.
Ibori offered you a bribe of $15million, which is over N2.5 Billion, which you received and handed over to the CBN. Why didn’t you have a second thought and pocket the money since no one knew you were offered that money?
But it is not my money, it was ill-gotten and I do not see myself benefitting from ill-gotten wealth. The God I serve forbids that. I can’t take stolen money. In fact, apart from the $15 million dollars, I was offered much higher amount as bribe while I was in the Police, but I refused to accept. I have jailed many lawyers who collected large sums of money from their clients to bring to me. It is not as if I don’t need those monies, but, but I cannot be the one to benefit from stolen funds, when I was given the mandate of fighting such crimes, God forbid.
Let me tell you something, life is very easy. God has been faithful to me, because without searching, job opportunities kept coming from many countries that help me to keep body and soul together. I also have many rich friends. Even when I decided to join politics, these friends from all over Nigeria gave me maximum support by contributing enough funds to help me run my campaign.
This house was my official quarters and the government decided to sell most of its houses at subsidised rates. They said occupants could pay for the house in installments. Should I have said I don’t need it? Isn’t that a way of acquiring wealth legally without recourse to dubious means?
Apart from this house, the only other one I have is my home in Yola.
Because of your anti-corruption stance and your sojourn in the EFCC, it is believed you know many corrupt people; so, many people thought that your political aspiration in 2011 will improve our politics. Things did not go as planned; what do you have to say about your experience in politics and the 2011 defeat?
Firstly, it is wrong to assume that I know more thieves than anyone in this country. I just worked to fight bribery and corruption. May be it was because of what we did, which people saw, that was why they keep making such assertions. It may also be because I was the first person to head the EFCC and our efforts were simply aimed at making things right in all aspects of our country’s development.
It was because of our efforts that the international community agreed to start having financial dealings with Nigerians via the internet. They used to fear transacting with us through that channel. We have also helped in getting respite and respect for the country in many aspects, especially as it relates to reducing to the barest the scourge of 419 and money laundering.
We also almost stopped oil theft in the Niger Delta and it only resumed with higher intensity after we left office. All these were aimed at returning our country to the right pedestal and economic prosperity.
As for politics, I never imagined myself being a politician, it was simply meant to happen.
I actually belong to a political family. When I was about to come back to Nigeria, I was persuaded by not just the ACN, but many others, including the government. But I was more convinced with the party I eventually joined, because I had a dream of uniting all opposition parties under one roof. I am a Northerner, yet the strongest party in the South decided to trust me. Like you rightly pointed out, in less than ten months after I joined politics, I ran for the presidential election. It has never happened before. Here I am, not rich and just returning from exile, yet people said they trust me to be their presidential candidate. All these happened within a short time; but I saw a lot.
Although I withdrew for General Muhammadu Buhari on the eve of the election, when all of us were called to a meeting with General Ibrahim Babangida, General Aliyu Gusau, Buhari himself and Atiku Abubakar, as well as Tinubu and Akande. The meeting was aimed at finding a consensus, and I promptly told them I will withdraw for Buhari. It was actually from that moment that a form of alliance and understanding was reached among opposition parties. After the talks, I did run under ACN, but merger talks had already kick started.
But what many in the North said at the time was that the ACN drafted you to run, but refused to vote for you; what do you say to that? You have said so before, that you are still in this merged party, don’t you think what happened before can be repeated?
As far as I know, they did not abandon me. What happened was that before Election Day, I had told them that I withdrew from the race and they agreed. There were witnesses also, such as General Babangida, Aliyu Gusau, Buhari, Atiku, Sule Yahaya Hamma, Bashir Yusuf Ibrahim, and the rest.
But there was misunderstanding between the CPC and ACN, even though I had withdrawn. The two parties failed to agree. That incident discouraged a lot of people especially in the South West because as far they were concerned, they had no candidate. Since they had no candidate, they did not even appoint agents to polling units, and so did not spend a kobo at the time. So people were allowed to freely elect who they wanted. You cannot blame them since they failed to reach an agreement with CPC.
But many were already of the view that you came to divide Northern votes?
It’s not true. I pray to God not to let me live that kind of life. I will never do anything that will shortchange the people of this country, because whatever I do, I put the fear of God first. And as God would have it, what I had set out to achieve is what eventually happened because the opposition parties have now come together.
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