Sunday, 29 June 2008

A Shaky Start: Mama EFCC and Economic Truths

3 weeks ago I mentioned that I watched Mrs. Farida Waziri's confirmation by the Senate as the new Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. During her question and answer session with the senators, she was asked if she had stood as surety for ex-governor George Akume. She said, nay stressed, that she hadn't.

My attention was drawn recently to documents purportedly signed by Mrs. Waziri on the 8th of November 2007 that show she collected Mr. George Akume's passport from the EFCC.

Maybe she did not understand the question the lawmakers asked, or the reason why that particular question was asked. The Senators were initially trying to determine if there were any conflict-of-interest issues, and if any existed they would have to decide if the conflicts of interest were serious enough to make Mrs Farida's appointment as EFCC Chairman untenable. Mrs Farida's omission, deliberate or not, has robbed her appointment of some sheen. Surely she realises that standing as surety for a person's passport indicates an interest or involvement in that person's welfare.

So what next for Mama EFCC? I think this episode, for better or worse, defines her as a politician (in the mould of former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his own misleading testimony under oath?) rather than a straight-talking technocrat like her predecessor Nuhu Ribadu. She has shown evasive skills comparable to a seasoned circus acrobat so far, skills that Ribadu lacked and which led to his public frog-march out of the EFCC. So she'll be in that seat for a long time, but I doubt if members of the Public Philanderers Club are quaking in their boots. I still want to believe that she made an honest but regrettable mistake, and I will continue to give her the benefit of the doubt and wish her the best of luck. But I will be watching very, very, very closely from this point on.

Friday, 6 June 2008


I watched the Senate Committee on Drugs, Narcotics, Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption go through the motions yesterday as it confirmed the appointment of Mrs. Farida Waziri, a retired Assistant Inspector General (AIG) of Police, as the new Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Born in 1946, Mrs. Waziri reminds me of my grandma, and in a good way. She looks and speaks like one of those kindly old ladies in children's fairy tales. Her CV is impressive, and one can only hope that under her benign exterioir lies a wolf hungry to devour crime.
Let's also hope that unlike Little Red Riding Hood's wolf, she manages to evade the hunter's axe.


I first met Mallam Nasir el-Rufai in 2002 when I was posted to the Bureau of Public Enterprises as a youth corper. Eager to make an impression, I’d come to work before 8am, and leave at well past 9pm. This stand-out strategy was largely unsuccessful because everyone else (full-time staff and corpers) was doing it, and I never arrived before, or left after Mallam el-Rufai. At the time his energy was infectious and his vision turned us all into his followers, zealots of the man and HIS privatisation. He would lead Nigeria to glory, and we would follow in his footsteps.

In 2003 he was made Minister of the Federal Capital Territory and he began the transformation of the Ministry into a model of efficiency, stepping on toes in the process but not giving a damn. He would pursue his vision of Abuja, would transform the city into an oasis of progress, would drag Abuja kicking and screaming into the 21st century and God save anyone who dared stand in his way.

So what went wrong? Most Abuja residents agree that Mallam el-Rufai was a godsend to the city; their grouses arise mainly from opinions that his administration lacked a human face. I’d hazard a guess that his waterloo, like his friend Ribadu came when hats were thrown into political arenas.

Personally, I’d have voted for the man simply because he has the cajones to wield the broom we need to sweep our country clean. I tell you, people would have emigrated from Nigeria had el-Rufai been sworn in. And that ladies and gentlemen, was why he was dumped.

You see, people need to know you are open to…negotiation and compromise, two words which seemed alien to Mallam el Rufai. How comfortable would Obasanjo have been with the idea of el-Rufai astride aso rock while he was tucked away in Ota? One also wonders about Yaradua’s decision to relieve el-rufai of his ministerial portfolio. Maybe our fragile President was unwilling to deal with hurricane El-Rufai; it might have been the death of him. And what of powerful allies who could have pleaded his case to the Presidency – old and new? El-Rufai didn’t have any because he’d spared no one.

I am a fan of El-rufai – I want to get that statement of fact out of the way, because I’m about to get a bit nasty. I watched the Senate Committee on FCT question el-Rufai on TV and it made me so angry. I was angry at the Senate Committee for their ineffective handling of the opportunity to take the ex-minister to task, I was disappointed that the rich and powerful turned the focus of the panel from the poor into an opportunity for them to seek redress for imagined slights. I was especially surprised that el-Rufai - dare I say – FAILED to understand that while he may have had judicial and executive backing to demolish illegal ‘dwelling units’, he owed the poor a duty of care which was greater or at worst equal to any duty bestowed upon him when he became a Federal Minister.

My first gripe about how the committee wasted its opportunity to string my idol up is illustrated by the following question asked by the illustrious Senator Smart Adeyemi towards the end of the ‘el-Rufai show’:

“Demolition of houses violates human rights…how best do you think you are going to address those who suffered damages?”

Mallam Nasir el-Rufai’s curt response?

“I do not know anywhere in the principles of international law or any convention that says that when a person violates the law sanctions should not be applied on him because of human rights. You do not have the human right to break the law – I am sorry.”


When Senator Smart Adeyemi tried to save face by conjecturing that people lost their lives because of stress and frustration resulting from the demolitions, el-Rufai angrily interjected:

“There is nothing like that sir, you cannot prove it! You are not a doctor; no autopsy has been taken; there is no pathology, these kinds of statements have no basis!”

His censure of the Senator raised laughter and cheers from a room full of people with petitions against him. That was when I knew that el-Rufai had managed to clear his name.

Secondly, I was unhappy that the Committee unwittingly let itself be hijacked by the personal agendas of the rich and powerful. Among this group of issues put on the front burner were the demolition of properties belonging to the former PDP Chairman Ahmadu Ali and the former Senate President Pius Anyim. Senator Anyim actually made a personal appearance, coming forward to exchange pleasantries with the members of the committee WHILE el-Rufai was being quizzed. Conflict of interest, anyone? Yes the rich and powerful are Nigerians and yes they also have the right to submit petitions to the committee, but cherry-picking their petitions for whatever reason weakens the locus standi of the committee in the eyes of the public.

Finally, and this is truly hard for me to say, I felt el-Rufai could have done a bit more to appease disgruntled Nigerians, rich and poor. he was undoubtably an excellent minister; I believe he was above board and most Abuja residents feel they owe him a debt of gratitude for the way he transformed the City. The fact is however, that people suffered as a result of his drive to improve the City. All he needed to do was acknowledge the fact that people suffered because of his various development drives, express his sorrow at the suffering he caused, but explain that not only was it unavoidable but in the short and long term his actions were in the best interests of the populace. And as for arguments that his friends and relatives are entitled to land in Abuja because they are Nigerians? The less said about that the better, I feel.

No one, like they say, is perfect after all.

Kudos to Senator Henshaw for managing to tie down the articulate and well informed ex-minister on one issue, in the process ensuring that the day was not a total waste of tax payers money. His incisive line of questioning on the true definition of ‘land development’ elicted a reluctant and qualified apology from el-Rufai who had demolished some properties using the FCT Land Act’s inadequate definition instead of the Federal Land Use Act’s. I hope he won’t think I’m damning him with faint praise, but like Mallam el-Rufai, Senator Henshaw is one of those people who make me proud to be Nigerian.
June 3, 2008

We Don't Need No Education

The Irish International University (IIU) is "...not recognised is a figment of someone's imagination. I'm white, and they appreciate someone who's from the UK. The whole thing is dodgy; of course it's dodgy. The students are getting a degree, and as long as they don't know, they are happy."

- IIU Honoray Chancellor, His Excellency Baron Knowth (real name Professor Jeffrey Woller) a successful chartered accountant from London who owns a £1.2 million townhouse in Kensington but spends most of his time living as a tax exile in Monte Carlo

Today I'm meeting my wife's younger brother at Heathrow Airport. He is leaving his job as a bank officer in Nigeria to start an MBA programme in the UK. In school fees alone it will cost him £10,000.
£10,000. In Naira (Nigerian Money) that's N2,500,000. Need some perspective? The young gentleman graduated from Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria with a degree in Business Administration. Late last year students at his alma mater went on a destructive rampage when a rumour surfaced that annual fees for DEGREE programmes would be increased from £68 to £156. As a result of this University authorities shut the school down. All because of £88.

There seems to be a disconnect between our aspirations as young Nigerians, and the demands of the environment we have to live in. If we invested a tenth of what we are willing to give foreign universities we'd get the same level of education available to larger spread of people. We'd also stop the Professor Woller's of this world from 'misleading' us, ignorant foreigners that we are.

I sadly, have two MSc degrees awarded by a UK university. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.
And to think I believed them when they told me that fraud only occurred in Nigeria. Hmmph.
Jan 13, 2008

Off With Their Heads!!!

'...I heard the Queen say only yesterday you deserved to be beheaded!' 'What for?' said the one who had spoken first. `That's none of your business, Two!' said Seven. `Yes, it is his business!' said Five, `and I'll tell him--it was for bringing the cook tulip-roots instead of onions.'
- Alice in Wonderland

Read recently that the Saudis are back to their favourite pastime, beheading Nigerians accused of smuggling drugs into their country. A Nigerian Embassy official's response? To paraphrase, they were warned of the risks beforehand so...chop!

And then...silence?

No cries from the US about al qaeda involvement and threats to spread democracy to the region? No British condemnation and insistence that the Saudi State be barred from being represented at those international galas that mean soooo much? No splatters of ink in voluminous never-to-be-read tomes and the obligatory filibusting within the hallowed halls of the UN that goes on till we all forget why we were so outraged in the first place?

To be honest, personally I believe rules are rules. So if the rules say you lose your head if you are caught with drugs and you don't happen to have a spare head lying around, then don't bring drugs into Saudi Arabia. Take it to other nations who are more accommodating. The Saudis have identified a problem, and have come up with a solution they are happy with so fair play to them.
And I concede that it's not America's job to lobby for amnesty for Nigerian nationals who have run foul of foreign laws. That's our Government's responsibility. But if you turn a blind eye to this, don't come nagging and preaching when we apply our own 'home grown' remedies to our own problems. Just don't.

I wonder how the international community will react if the Nigerian Police ever catch a British or US citizen doing an armed robbery. Last time I checked, we still shoot convicted armed robbers.

Viva democracy!!!
Jan 12, 2008

So Long Ribadu, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye!!!

So Nuhu Ribadu has been sent on study leave to the Nigerian Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) and the country is going CRAZY. For those of you who don’t know who Ribadu is, I’ll draw a quick sketch:

After the September 11th attacks the United States started its campaign against terrorism and the funding of terrorist activities. As a direct result of this anti-terrorist drive, President Obasanjo of Nigeria in 2003 created the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to be the key agency of government responsible for fighting terrorism. Nuhu Ribadu, at the time a serving officer with the Nigerian Police Force was appointed the Commission’s first Executive Chairman. The focus of the Commission shifted fairly quickly from deterring terrorists (we unsurprisingly don’t have many suicidal fundamentalists in Nigeria) to silencing political opposition.

To be fair to Mr. Ribadu, almost everyone his Commission was ‘allowed’ to go after at the time was tinged with the sickly stench of corruption and gross embezzlement. Unfortunately this very zealous but selective anti-corruption crusade was more like a witch-hunt and Ribadu’s numerous public speeches were starting to sound more and more like the rabid rhetoric of a mad inquistador. His brashness and personal attacks on people being investigated were also making him elephantine enemies who had long memories.

I am a student of politics and power, and sadly Ribadu was neither a politician, diplomat, nor technocrat. He was just a police officer with visions of becoming the man who erased corruption from the Nigerian lexicon. His Waterloo came when Nigeria’s new president Umaru Yar’Adua was sworn into office in 2007. If Ribadu had been a politician, he would have realised the obvious: that his was a political office and that his remit, his mandate was of a necessity determined by whoever was President. If he was a diplomat, he should have negotiated a compromise between the new Government’s vision and his Commission’s fight against those Nigerians who were bleeding the country dry. If he had been a technocrat Ribadu would not have been blinded by the light shining off the numerous awards and trophies he had collected from international organisations. He would have shied away from journalists and reporters who had built him up as the most powerful person in sub-Saharan Africa and he would have quietly gotten on with his job.

Anyway, he’s gone now, so happy trails to our anti-corruption tsar. The EFCC will continue throwing thieves into jail, and our war against corruption and money laundering and terrorism (of course) will continue. I’ll accept that whoever fills Ribadu’s shoes will most probably be President Yar’Adua’s stooge. I’m more than happy with that because I feel that a Yar’Adua-stooge is better than having one that may have been Obasanjo’s puppet.

And regardless of the President’s agenda, I 100% believe that coming from where we’ve been as a country, a half-hearted fight against corruption is better than none at all.
Jan 10, 2008

Bad Hair Day (originally written Nov 4, 2007)

So the Speaker of the House of Reps has finally been prised off her seat. Well done Nigeria. But I'll say it now, I saw it all coming.

It wasn't that the Honourable ex-Speaker was un-qualified because she was a hair-dresser; after all our Honourable ex-President was an ex-jailbird / subsistence farmer. And Thatcher showed the world that women could be formidable politicians and leaders.

It wasn't any of those things. Do you know when I knew the House had a numptie at it's helm? It was when the No. 4 citizen in an infant democracy, in an interview given soon after she was elected Speaker, said that her ideological hero was Fidel Castro, and that she was a better politician than Hilary Clinton because Hilary was younger than she was!

Goodbye Mrs. Patricia Olubunmi Etteh, and I wish you luck as you embark on anything but a position of responsibility. You just were not ready, and at this stage of your life I doubt you ever will be.

On a more positive note for us Nigerians, the new Speaker, Mr Dimeji Bankole, is educated (Oxford educated, I hear, and an ex-US Army soldier to boot!). Yes I know that doesn't mean that he'll be a better leader, but at least he won't be able to say that as a humble hair-dresser how could he be expected to know any better.

Finally, well played Mr. President! You ignored the screeching cries from psychopants asking you to intervene in the Ettehgate scandal. I am glad you didn't, because you know exactly what you are: A Democratic President.

Watch out world, the future looks bright!