Under Pressure, Anti-Corruption Official in Nigeria Steps Down
Saturday, January 5, 2008
JOHANNESBURG, Jan. 4 -- Nigerian anti-corruption official Nuhu Ribadu agreed late Thursday to demands that he relinquish his post to take a training course, but he left open the possibility of returning later in the year.
The move means that Ribadu will soon give up control of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, an agency that he has turned into a potent but controversial weapon against official corruption in a nation where politicians for years have acted with impunity.
It also appears to end the standoff, at least for now, between Ribadu and the ruling party of President Umaru Yar'Adua, which had brought intense pressure against him to step aside in the weeks since he arrested former Delta state governor James Ibori on charges of corruption and money laundering.
Mike Okiro, head of Nigeria's police force, ordered Ribadu last week to leave his job as head of the crimes commission to take a course at a government research organization.
"I intend to go to the course," Ribadu said in a brief telephone interview Friday.
The move provoked protest from civil society and rights groups that contended it was an attempt by Yar'Adua's party to sideline Ribadu. The issue, which also prompted concern among U.S. and other international officials, took on added prominence at a time when Yar'Adua is attempting to consolidate power after April elections that observers called severely flawed.
Ribadu initially resisted pressure to leave his post, but a senior member of his office, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said comments from a Yar'Adua spokesman published Thursday morning made clear that the president wanted him to take the training course.
Ribadu issued a statement Thursday night saying he "wishes to seize this opportunity to assure Mr. President, the leadership of the Nigeria Police and indeed, all patriotic Nigerians, of his absolute loyalty and dedication to the service of our fatherland. . . . As a loyal public servant, Nuhu Ribadu has no problem with the decision of Mr. President on the recommendation of the Inspector General of Police, to send him on a self-improvement course of study."
The course is scheduled to run through November. Ribadu declined to comment on whether he expected to return to the job after the course, but the official from his office said such a move is now possible.