February 5, 2010
DAKAR (Reuters) – Africa’s fight against corruption is being blocked by gangsters at every level of administrations and the campaign is doomed to fail unless presidents themselves spearhead the battle, a top campaigner said.
Nuhu Ribadu, who convicted over 300 corrupt officials and recovered over $5 billion while leading Nigeria’s anti-graft drive until falling out with the current administration, said the continent’s leadership was hypocritical in its approach.
“If you have an Al Capone as Head of State, an Al Capone as governor of the central bank and Al Capones in every other institution, how can one succeed?” Ribadu said, referring to the American gangster who ran crime syndicates for several decades.
“Unfortunately that is the situation in most African countries today,” Ribadu said in a telephone interview from Washington, where he is living in exile and working as a fellow at the Center for Global Development think-tank.
African nations — from Mauritania in the west, Cameroon in the centre and Kenya to the east — have launched anti-corruption campaigns, often under pressure from donors who blame underdevelopment on rampant mismanagement.
But Ribadu said such campaigns were riddled with hypocrisy and, citing numerous reports of corruption in police forces and the judiciary, he said it was impossible to “fight corruption with corruption”.
“I have arrested an Inspector General of Police, prosecuted him, convicted him and recovered $150 million from him,” said Ribadu, who was widely praised while he led Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission from 2003 to 2007.
“A leader of the Nigerian police force, a policeman with $150 million. For God’s sake how can such a police ever deliver?” he added.
Global anti-corruption group Transparency International says the combination of abundant natural resources, a history of conflict and unaccountable governments mean corruption remains one of the biggest challenges on the world’s poorest continent.
The responsibility, Ribadu said, lies at the very top.
“Unless you have a president who understands the need to clean up, stop this wastage and do it honestly and courageously nothing else would work,” he said.
“Fighting corruption is an extremely dangerous task. As long as that political backing and that political support is not there, those who are going to do it on the ground are exposed to all sorts of danger; and they are not going to survive it.”
Ribadu, 49, said top officials often tried to bribe him but he succeeded in his work because he had the direct backing of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
After surviving several assassination attempts Ribadu said he fled Nigeria to live “a horrible life in exile”.
He fell out of favour following the highly contested elections which ushered in a new administration headed by current President Umaru Yar’Adua.
The best thing the international community can do, Ribadu said, was to support the continent’s young democracies
“My hope and prayer is that we would end up with a political leadership that will enable us (Africans) achieve results.”
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