Monday, May 25, 2009

Nuhu Ribadu and the US Congress

On 19 May 2009, the Ex-Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nuhu Ribadu, gave a testimony before the US House Financial Services Committee. Mr Ribadu’s testimony was titled ‘Capital Loss and Corruption: The Example of Nigeria’. It is intriguing that this story was not reported by any of the major media house in Nigeria. Transcripts of the Mr Ribadu’s testimony were only circulated by Nigerian-owned internet media organisations, most of which are foreign based. Is this a ‘conspiracy’? Or perhaps, it is not that important to report. For me, I think Mr Ribadu’s appearance at the US congress is worth every page in the newspaper.

One of Nuhu Ribadu’s requests was a review of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) to include power to prosecute both givers and takers of bribes. In his words, he noted that “until those receiving the bribes are punished for their actions, the marketplace for high stakes elite bribery will continue to thrive”. While I agree with Mr Ribadu that both givers and recipients of bribes should be seen as equal in the eyes of the law, I would be surprised if the US government will succumb to his proposal for the FCPA Act review.

The anti bribery provisions of the US FCPA Act prohibits corrupt payments to foreign officials for the purpose of obtaining or keeping business. Persons subject to the FCPA Act includes any individual who is a citizen, national, or resident of the United States and any corporation and other business entity organized under the laws of the United States or having its principal place of business in the United States. Criminal penalties of fine of up to $2million may be imposed on violator of the FCPA anti bribery provision and imprisonment for up to five years.
If Mr Ribadu’s proposal is accepted, it means in the case of Halliburton as an example, the US government will be able to charge the Nigerian officials who were named to have received bribes from Halliburton officials. And for this to happen, the Nigerian government will be required to sign a Treaty Agreement with the US government, which would allow extradition of named suspects to the US for trial.

Nuhu Ribadu should remember that Nigeria is a sovereign nation. The US, as much as it can try, cannot dictate to the Nigerian government how it deals with its domestic issues (which include corruption). In fact, to ask the US congress for changes in the US law to help fight corruption in Nigerian is somewhat patronizing. We need to remember that we are the architect of our own problems. No country will enact laws in the interest of other nations. The primary duty of the US legislature is to enact laws that will protect the interest of the US and its citizens. As a nation, we are fond of looking for help where it does not exist. We blame everyone but ourselves for our woes. The fact is every developed nation (including the US) has had the problem of corruption one time or the other. But the good news is that they have been succeeded in flushing it out of their system. And I’m sure they did not ask for other nations to enact legislations on their behalf.
Unfortunately one of our biggest problems as a nation is that we fail to accept responsibility for our actions. I was reading the other in the newspaper, that the Minister for Foreign Affairs called a meeting of the diplomatic corps in Abuja, and he accused them of partly responsible for the Niger Delta crisis. As far as the Minister was concerned, the foreign nations are responsible because they buy crude oil from the militants in exchange for ammunitions. But the question I will ask the Minister is, how did we find ourselves in the Niger Delta crisis in the first place? Was it the western nations that brain-washed the Militants into blowing up oil installations? What has been the government track record in dealing with the Niger Delta crisis in the last 10 years?

The problem of corruption is endemic in the Nigerian society. We need to find ways of discouraging people from asking for bribes. There are enough laws in Nigeria to prosecute corrupt individuals. The political will is what is lacking. Corruption has become an institution in Nigeria. And it is this same institution that has produced the incumbent President. What do we expect from a President that rode into office on a political engine that was fuelled with stolen money?

Even if the US government accepts Mr Ribadu’s proposal, how does he think it will work in Nigeria considering the government continuous subversion of the anti-corruption crusade. How can a government that has been unable to institute corruption charges against any official be able to extradite anyone to the US or any other foreign country to face charges? We know how the current Attorney-General used the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) to frustrate the trial of a former Governor in the United Kingdom. Mr Ribadu should then tell me, how the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act Treaty will be treated any differently by the Nigerian government?

I appreciate Nuhu Ribadu passion and zeal in fighting corruption, but I do believe the focus should be within Nigeria. No foreign government will help us solve our problem. Perhaps, the likes of Nuhu Ribadu should be using his position and influence to lobby foreign nations and aid agencies such as World Bank, IMF, DFID etc not to offer any nation; any form of foreign aid (not just Nigeria) unless it demonstrates strong commitment to anti-corruption. And the commitment should not just be setting up of ‘mickey mouse’ law enforcement agencies such as EFCC or ICPC. No government really needs an EFCC or ICPC to prosecute corrupt individuals, if it is really sincere. The Police Force is enough to do the job!

Overall, Mr Ribadu’s performance at the US Congress hearing can best be described as ‘below average’. Considering his exposure and role in the anti-corruption crusade in last six years, I did expect more from Nuhu Ribadu. Instead of answering questions directed to him and keeping to the point, Nuhu Ribadu allowed himself to be drowned in emotions. To me, Nuhu Ribadu came across as someone who was unprepared for such an important hearing. He was unable to properly articulate his viewpoints to the US politicians. The reality is most of this US politicians don’t even know anything about Nigeria, except for what they read or hear in the media. Their assessment of issues will only be based on facts and not speculations. And unfortunately, Mr Ribadu was unable to back some of his claims with facts required.

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