Former Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) chairman, Mallam Nuhu Rubadu Wednesday said he was still “paying dearly” for his efforts to rid the country of corruption.
According to him, corruption would not have become so endemic if past administrations had the will to fight it.
Ribadu, who denied tampering with recovered assets while at EFCC, said highly placed government officials frustrated the commission’s work, culminating in his removal from office and halting the progress being made in the anti-graft war.
“Somebody was brought in to destroy the agency. It was a tragedy,” Ribadu said.
He spoke in Abuja at a National Stakeholders’ Workshop on the Recovery and Management of Recovered Assets, organised by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), in collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat.
PACAC chairman, Prof Itsay Sagay (SAN), said if Ribadu had not been removed, maybe corruption would not have become so endemic.
He said developing strategies for recovery of stolen assets would act as a deterrent to looters.
“Seizure of assets is more painful to them than imprisonment,” Sagay said.
Ribadu, who gave the keynote speech with the theme: Assets Recovery in Nigeria: Experiences from the past, said although he was still paying the price for stepping on some toes, he had no regrets.
He denied allegations that he was part of those who allegedly re-looted recovered assets, including N1trillion, and expressed surprise that it was a subject of Senate investigation.
He said: “Considering the care we took in handling whatever was in our custody, I find it baffling and disheartening when I hear people make insinuations about how we handled recovered assets.
“It is a most unfair remark but certainly not totally surprising as the fight against corruption is essentially a thankless job, especially in our climes.
“That was why I was telling Prof Sagay: ‘Don’t bother sir, people will abuse you; don’t say anything. This is the job’.
“We are hurting people; we are taking things from those who took things and we denied them chance to make use of them and enjoy and with their family.
“I’m still paying dearly. In my own madness, I decided to go into politics and I am still paying for it. But I am not bothered. I’ll continue fighting till my last breath. If I’m given the opportunity I’ll do it again.”
Ribadu believes the Buhari administration has the political will to tackle corruption and has demonstrated it.
He described EFCC chairman Ibrahim Magu as “a good, courageous and honest guy”.
Ribadu said: “We have the most vital tool needed in this war, namely political will. I see in the present leadership, specifically the president, the will to allow the war to be fought without interference and the eagerness to support it in whatever way possible. These two points are important prerequisite in winning the anti-corruption war.
“We are also lucky to have a set of people, including Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) who are very passionate and committed to be in charge of the process,” he said.
According to him, due to the limitations of the existing laws on asset forfeiture, the current attempt at enacting a law to cover the spectrum of issues around forfeiture is a welcomed development.
He said despite lack of lack of adequate legal guidance, a lot of stolen assets laundered in several countries had been returned.
According to him, the most significant case of assets recovery prior to the establishment of the EFCC are those stolen by the late head of state General Sani Abacha loot. He said N83billion was recovered from Abacha’s loot locally alone.
“As a legal officer and prosecutor then with the Nigeria Police, I was attached to the team that worked on the Abacha case. With paucity of assets recovery laws, we relied on informal methods including Administrative Confiscation, a mechanism of confiscating assets through non-judicial means. Within the first few months, we recovered billions domestically from such forfeitures,” he said.
Ribadu said a national policy on assets recovery and their use must be developed, backed by a strong legal framework.
“I would suggest that high level, serious consultations be held between all the three arms of government to discuss steps and measures of evolving a very comprehensive national strategy on the fight against corruption that would enumerate the roles expected of all; the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.
“We should have a strategy that is a product of a consensus. Out of this strategy we can agree, if need be, to have new laws or institutions with clear mandates and responsibilities,” Ribadu said.
PACAC Executive Secretary, Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, said between $20billion to $40billion is stolen annually from developing countries.
According to him, seizure is important to the asset recovery process as it ensures the blockage or preservation of assets.
He said such seizures require judicial backing, usually through ex-parte orders (in which notice is not given) so as to prevent the looter from transferring or hiding the assets.
Director, Rule of Law Division, Commonwealth Secretariat, Katalaina Sapolu, said the international community and the Commonwealth would support the Buhari administration’s bid to recover stolen funds.
She said more importantly is what to do with the assets when recovered.
“The management of recovered proceeds is really an issue. Asset recovery has been implemented. But what do you do with the stolen assets once you receive them?
“We do not think that there has been, in many jurisdictions, a really settled view on the approach, because it requires development of policy and establishment of relevant institutional frameworks,” Sapolu said.
According to her, the outcome of the three-day workshop would help in the formulation of such policies.