17 February 2014, Abuja – The name Malam Nuhu Ribadu has become synonymous with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), given the role he played as pioneer chairman of the country’s anti-corruption agency, which he headed from 2003 to be reappointed in 2007. It was, therefore, hardly surprising when President Goodluck Jonathan appointed him in 2012 to head the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force charged with the responsibility of proffering solutions to the problem of petroleum subsidy regime and oil industry.
In this exclusive interview with Sunday Trust, the 2011 presidential candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and now a leading chieftain of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) blames the federal government for paying lip service to the fight against corruption, especially in the oil sector, saying the time has come for Nigerians to rise up against the backhand dealings in the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC). Ribadu also spoke on his 2015 presidential ambition, his role in the merger of the opposition parties and the proposed national confab, among other issues. Excerpts:
Your tenure at the EFCC witnessed remarkable strides in the fight against corruption in Nigeria. Are you satisfied with the current war against corruption in the country?
Not at all! Nigerians are being shocked on daily basis with more revelations of corruption coming from the government itself. Corruption has reached a point that leaves one speechless. Like any other Nigerian, I am simply dumbfounded, and as I said, when you hear these revelations coming from the government and the National Assembly, it is simply sickening and it also tells you that it is time for change in the country.
You headed a committee that conducted an investigation into allegations of corruption in the oil sector. How do you feel that the recommendations of your report have not been implemented even as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is coming out with more allegations of corruption in the sector?
What is coming out from the CBN today is a confirmation of the findings of my committee. Most of the things that Nigerians are hearing today are things we highlighted exhaustively in that report and we recommended measures to address them. We submitted our report over a year ago but the Federal Government of Nigeria has refused to implement it and allowed it to die as if nothing happened.
It is very disappointing. If you go back to the report, they are the same issues we raised about transparency, accountability and about one organization doing everything. The NNPC is the producer, manager, seller of the crude, receiver of the monies, the regulator, the one that receives the money on behalf of the federal government and uses it the way it likes and remits to the government what it likes.
These are the same issues that we discussed in that report and we called for openness, transparency and accountability and made a case for a different regulatory responsibility. We also said there are certain things happening in our oil industry that are shameful and needed to be discouraged.
For instance, we said they should stop the swap business, where crude oil is giving to contractors who bring finished product in return. We said stop appointing contractors or agents to sell our crude oil. We said this whole thing about subsidy business is shrouded with secrecy and corruption. We therefore, called for accountability in the process of crude oil business in Nigeria and all these were contained in the report of the committee that I chaired.
I think what is being revealed now is just a direct continuation of what we said and probably if the federal government had taken action at that time, it would have saved itself from what is going on today. But what matters now is for all of us to stand up and insist on NNPC to be held accountable and that the place be open and transparent.
After your tenure as chairman of the EFCC, you left the country in controversial circumstances and some people even said you went on ‘exile’. When you returned in 2010, you joined active politics and pitched tent with the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Why did you choose to be with the opposition?
I would always attribute whatever happens to me in my lifetime to God almighty. Of course, as a human being I always look at situations and circumstances before taking decisions. By the time I came back to the country, as you rightly observed, many of the political parties were trying to woo me, but out of them I felt the ACN was somehow attractive in terms of the ideology and the performance of the party’s state governments in 2010. Secondly, I had many friends in the party that I felt far more comfortable with and understood clearly that we had to build bridges across the country and find a way of supporting national politics.
We must discourage regional politics and for me coming from the North, I felt that there was need for us to reach out and contribute towards building national unity in politics. These were some of the things that attracted me to the ACN and today I am happy that I have been more or less vindicated by the choice I made to join the party.
The ACN which you joined upon your return to the country is one of the political parties that have merged into the main opposition party, the All Progressive Congress (APC). What role did you play in the merger process?
As a very loyal member of the ACN I participated fully in the merger process; sometimes behind the scene. But I can tell you that from the very beginning I was involved in the merger which started even before the 2011 elections. My contribution started from the very moment I joined the ACN, because I encouraged and supported the coming together of all the opposition parties, especially the major ones.
I continued in that spirit up to the 2011 general elections when I stepped down for the candidate of another opposition party in the presidential election, as a way of encouraging the merger process. At that time, we did it under the alliance arrangement and somehow it did not succeed completely, but it was a very big step forward towards the eventual merger of the opposition parties. I was possibly the person who made the biggest sacrifice in that arrangement, having stepped down as a presidential candidate just to encourage and support that initiative.
Having participated actively in the merger process that has produced the APC, are you now convinced that your party will truly provide the desired alternative government for the country?
I pray daily for the success of the APC to bring relief to Nigerians from the misrule of the PDP that has been going on since 1999. There is no doubt that we have problems in this country and the blame must go to the party that has been in charge. The APC is coming today as a new and fresh party that is open to all and hoping that Nigerians will see a difference in managing the affairs of the country.
I must add that in the APC we have many quality people; individuals who have performed credibly well in their responsibilities in the past. For example we have state governments that have done extremely well and are still doing quite well and we believe that if the party is given a chance at the center we can do even more. The way the party is growing today is a clear indication that Nigerians are looking for change.
Even within the PDP you could see people moving out, meaning that there are people in the PDP who are yearning for change because they have found themselves in a party that is not being fair and just to them. It is therefore, legitimate for them to move and be part of the train of change that may come in our country for the first time.
After your last attempt at the presidential election in 2011, you appeared to have been less visible on the political scene. Can you let us into some of the things you have been doing, especially with the formation of the APC?
I have been very active and I work every day of my life. I am participating fully at the highest level of the party and at the same time doing my bit at the state level. We have worked hard to achieve some understanding in Adamawa, even though I cannot say we are completely free of problems, but to a large extent we have worked hard to reach some form of understanding in the state and I fully participated in that. I just took part in the registration process and we mobilized people to register and you would be amazed at the turnout and the way people have accepted the party. Within the shortest time, the membership cards were exhausted and we had to get more to continue registering members. All these are things we have been involved in actively, but by my nature I tend to do things in a quieter way, devoid of noisemaking.
Talking about the registration reminds one of the allegation by the PDP that it was an exercise that is aimed at rigging the 2015 general elections. What do you make of the allegation?
It is baffling and funny to me! How do you relate party membership registration to rigging? For the very first time in the history of Nigeria, we carried out our registration publicly and people lined up to register as members of a political party. PDP has never, in its history of total deceit and fraud, ever conducted such an exercise openly, transparently and publicly. This is the only party that, for the first time in the history of Nigeria, has availed Nigerians of the opportunity to belong to a political party from the unit level and even requested for volunteers to come and serve as officers of the registration exercise.
This is a party that for the first time is opening its doors not just for members of the merging parties but all Nigerians, including young people who are coming of age. This is not the type of fraudulent registration by the PDP that they do behind closed doors and write whatever they like. You will never ever see PDP membership register. It is behind the closet of those who are lying and deceiving Nigerians. How then do you relate such a transparent membership registration exercise by the APC to rigging? It is only the PDP that can say such a thing, but Nigerians are laughing at them.
But critics say your party has accepted defectors from the ruling party you are criticizing, including five governors… .
The defections have even justified what we are talking about. This is a party of justice, fairness and one that has opened its doors to all Nigerians. Those who are leaving the PDP are doing so because of the party’s impunity. They had to defect because the PDP was not treating them fairly; they were being shortchanged and unjustly treated. And they are, therefore, justified to go to anywhere they can get justice which they have found in the house of the APC. I don’t know how any right-thinking person can remain in the PDP with the kind of revolution that is taking place in the APC today.
How then would you reconcile the defections of some of your chieftains to the PDP, among whom are the former governors of Kano and Sokoto states?
I am extremely disappointed and feel there is something wrong with the way they are thinking. I feel at this moment in the history of Nigeria, if anybody should be thinking of moving to the PDP, then it is not for the love of the country. At a time when all the bad things are coming out of the PDP government – the looting, stealing, bloodletting and insecurity and the way PDP has divided Nigeria along religious and regional lines – if someone will still find comfort in the party, then there must be something wrong with such a person. I feel there is honour and dignity in politics. Human beings must have good character and principles. You cannot move from a new party that has just started and go to a dead carcass, a house of fraud and deceit, and claim that you were not treated fairly. There must be something behind it – rather than the love for your country.
The former governor of Kano State, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, has alleged that the APC constitution has been doctored. What does the party seek to achieve by tempering with its constitution?
Doctored by whom? The only recognized constitution of the APC is the one with INEC and Nigerians are free to go and demand for it. For you to be registered as a political party you have to submit your constitution to INEC. I am also appealing to media to request for APC’s constitution from INEC to verify.
Posters announcing your presidential ambition have been reportedly sighted in some parts of the country. Is that an indication that you may be testing the waters to take another shot at the presidency in 2015?
I am aware of the posters but I am not the person responsible for them. There are a few people behind it and I have met them and I asked them to desist from doing so because it is too early and that I am personally concentrating on the formation of the APC for now. I am working to see that we register members in order to build brotherhood and sisterhood within. I told them it is not time for any individual, including myself to come out with any ambition for now. Some of them listened to me but others refused and those who are doing it in all the areas are different people.
Some of them I know them while others I don’t even know, but I am not in any way surprised because this is not the first time this type of thing is happening to me. A similar thing happened in 2010, even before I joined politics. But for sure I am more experienced in politics now than I was in 2010 and as much as I am grateful and appreciative to those who have confidence in me. However, when the time comes I will make my decision known on whether to run or not.
Emerging signals suggest that there is going to be a titanic scramble for the presidential ticket of the APC. Does this not portend crisis for the party?
I don’t think so. I believe the more the merrier. It is a sign that this is a big party that has room for aspirants to market themselves to the electorate. If bigwigs are coming in to aspire for the presidential ticket of the party, it is a testimony that this is a platform that has hope for winning elections in Nigeria and I am very excited that Nigerians are looking up to the APC as a better alternative to pursue their ambitions.
Do you think zoning will be a factor in determining elections in the APC as had been the case with the PDP?
No I don’t think it is a healthy thing and it is the major reason why PDP so messed Nigeria up badly by dragging us into politics of region and religion. It is a horrible seed that PDP sowed in the politics of Nigeria. It is a dangerous trend and I think nobody should go that direction. Personally, I believe in Nigeria as one constituency and I am comfortable with Nigerians wherever they come from as my own leaders. What this country wants is quality leadership that has to do with the person and not where he comes from. It is about an individual who will bring about comfort to all.
So I hate regional politics whether you call it power shift or whatever. We must concentrate on individuals that will serve the interest of Nigerians and can build bridges of unity, thereby giving everyone a sense of belonging. We must concentrate on stopping corruption in Nigeria today as well as providing security and this has nothing to do with where you come from. We cannot be talking today about changing the leadership based on where one comes from because we cannot afford to substitute one bad thing for another.
The federal government has just rolled out guidelines for its planned national conference that is aimed at addressing some of the challenges of nationhood. What is your take on the proposed confab?
It is always good to talk if it would bring solutions to our problems, especially in a multi- religious, ethnic and cultural country like Nigeria. It makes sense for you to continue to engage for the purpose of fostering unity for the growth and development of the country. But it is another thing if those who are in charge would want to use it for political gains or advantage. I look at this period as a very wrong one for convoking a national conference – It is the year that we are going to have an election and the sitting president is showing a keen interest in the election and this is even as he had earlier kicked against the idea of a national conference. How come, when you are now faced with difficulties and challenges, you wake up and say it is time to talk? It is the wrong time to talk, because it is a political activity year and that it would be misunderstood and misinterpreted. Above all, it will not achieve the results that we are all yearning for. Rather it would create another opportunity for waste of resources.
But the guidelines released provide for the nomination of delegates even from the political parties. Are you saying that your party will not participate?
I can’t speak on behalf of my party. But as an individual I would not want the conference to take place as scheduled with the political parties participating.
Some interesting political scenarios have taken place in your state lately. We saw the defection of your governor from the PDP, and most recently, that of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to the APC. How do you see these playing out in the politics of your state, Adamawa?
I am happy that Adamawa State is in the lead of the mass defections we are witnessing to the APC more than any other state in Nigeria. In fact all of us are moving into the APC and I feel honoured and proud to be part of this new drive coming from Adamawa to effect a change in Nigeria. All of us are moving in that direction. The governor who we are all very proud of is the main champion of the rejection of PDP as a party because it is a party of injustice. It is a party that many suffer but a few individuals sit at the top and do whatever they like. Our governor championed the resistance to that injustice and succeeded in leading to a mass movement out of the unjust house that is the PDP. The former vice president has also suffered injustice in the PDP even though he was among its founding fathers and has served as vice president for eight years. But he ended up not being treated fairly and accorded his rightful position as the only former vice president of the political party. It is not only him. The PDP has a bad behaviour of maltreating its founding fathers and treating them with disdain. Whoever is in charge becomes very dictatorial to the exclusion of many others. So those who are moving out are doing so because of the grave injustice meted out to them.
Should you eventually make up your mind to contest the presidential ticket of the APC, would you consider the coming of Atiku into your party as a threat to your ambition?
Why should I? In the first instance you are right that I have not decided and I told you what makes a man is to continue to learn and make better decisions in his journey through life. I will certainly get to a position whereby such a decision will be made, but I can assure you that it has nothing to do with other persons. It is about me and I do not look at any individual as a threat or a hindrance. I am a very optimistic person who looks at the bright side of life. I see Atiku’s coming as a positive development in whatever we are going to do, just like all the others who are with us. Most importantly, I believe that when God wills anything to happen, no individual can stop it.
– Daily Trust