Nuhu Ribadu, Fighting Corruption in Nigeria As Nigeria prepares for presidential elections, a leading candidate remains under investigation for embezzlement. Nigeria's chief anti-corruption official, Nuhu Ribadu, is in Washington to discuss his reform agenda.

Nuhu Ribadu, Fighting Corruption in Nigeria

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Poverty is almost as desperate in parts of Nigeria, which chooses a president this month. And people there might have a chance to vote for a candidate who's indicted. Courts issued conflicting rulings this week on Nigeria's vice president. Atiku Abubakar wants the top job despite a corruption investigation. He says he's the victim of a political vendetta led by a man who dropped by our studios this week.

Nuhu Ribadu was the chief corruption investigator in the oil-rich nation of Nigeria. And he says the case against the vice president stretches all the way to America.

Mr. NUHU RIBADU (Chief Corruption Investigator, Nigeria): It came as a result of the complaint that we got from the United States government. And there was an investigation this year to do with a member of Congress - Congressman Jefferson.

INSKEEP: Some people will remember William Jefferson of New Orleans was found with a freezer full of cash.

Mr. RIBADU: Couple of thousands of dollars, yeah.

INSKEEP: Many thousand of dollars. And that was said to be money that was going to be passed to the vice president of Nigeria?

Mr. RIBADU: That was it. There was an investigation here in the U.S. (Unintelligible) we do a request sent to us to also investigate from the Nigerian side. Indeed, we investigated and we found out that somehow vice president was responsible for removal of public money, and part of the money came to U.S.

INSKEEP: Opponents of President Obasanjo, your boss…

Mr. RIBADU: Yes.

INSKEEP: …have said that your office is prosecuting the president's political enemies.

Mr. RIBADU: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Here's a case where there's a political enemy of the president, in fact, you are prosecuting.

Mr. RIBADU: I do not agree with that at all. I don't see why they are enemies. He's his own vice president. They belong to the same party. They probably do disagree now. But then when you fight corruption, it fights back. They will always have something to say. And it's not just him. Today, we have over 150 convictions. He's one out of several people who are being investigated today. A majority of them are those who are very close to power. Majority of them are the powerful people in the society.

INSKEEP: Have there been occasions in the last few years, as you went through those 150 convictions, that a case came across your desk and you saw the names of the people involved that your investigators were turning up and you had to -because these are, as you said, people in power, you had to shake your head and say oh, I know that man. Oh, a friend of mine.

Mr. RIBADU: Yeah. I hope I know all. Atiku is my own brother. I mean we are from the same place. We are from the same village. And unfortunately now, but that is the case. I mean, we do confronted with situations like this daily. I have friends, classmates, close associates involved in these cases and we just have to close our eyes. It's very tough. It's very difficult, but it has to be done.

INSKEEP: Of those 150, are those all government officials?

Mr. RIBADU: Not all. We have bank chief executive of big-time banks in our country. We have (unintelligible) who cheat and deceive people and send scam. (Unintelligible) led us all over the world.

INSKEEP: These are the people that the Americans are familiar with because countless Americans received e-mails saying, I'm Mr. Steve Inskeep from Nigeria, frequently and…

Mr. RIBADU: Unfortunately.

INSKEEP: …I've come across this $10-million account.

Mr. RIBADU: Yeah.

INSKEEP: If only you'll give me your bank account number, I'll give you a percentage.

Mr. RIBADU: Yeah.

INSKEEP: It's people like that.

Mr. RIBADU: Such people, yeah. We've gone after them. We brought them to justice. At least those who made money from it. We have returned the money to the rightful owners, victims all over the world. And this is the new Nigeria we want the world to know.

INSKEEP: When you were last in this program in 2005, you quite passionately said that some of the fault for corruption lay with Western companies…

Mr. RIBADU: Yeah.

INSKEEP: …that were willing to pay bribes to do business in Nigeria in the energy sector, among other things.

Mr. RIBADU: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Big oil producer here. At that time you were investigating a company that was involved in a series of transactions, during which it became a subsidiary of Halliburton.

Mr. RIBADU: Halliburton. Yeah.

INSKEEP: Where is your investigation stand now?

Mr. RIBADU: We are still on with the investigation. We are still investigating Halliburton and it's a very long and big one. Unfortunately, though, we have the capacity to really get to the root. It is been totally undermined because most of the transactions took place outside Nigeria even…

INSKEEP: Transactions took place in London.

Mr. RIBADU: In London, in some islands and of course…

INSKEEP: In the United States, you said.

Mr. RIBADU: Yes. And we are on and we are continuing. We've been able to reach a starting point. It has been very tough, very difficult, but we are continuing. We'll never just give up.

INSKEEP: Have you made requests to the United States government for assistance?

Mr. RIBADU: We are talking to them.

INSKEEP: That means you've asked them for assistance.

Mr. RIBADU: Yes.

INSKEEP: And are you getting the assistance?

Mr. RIBADU: We are going to get it.

INSKEEP: You're going to get it.

Mr. RIBADU: Yes.

INSKEEP: Are you speaking diplomatically?

Mr. RIBADU: Well, we will get it. I believe we're going to get it.

INSKEEP: Well, Nuhu Ribadu, thanks very much for coming by. Appreciate it.

Mr. RIBADU: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: Nigeria's top corruption investigator is visiting Washington. By the way, Nigeria's vice president answers those corruption charges by saying money may have reached a congressman's freezer but it was never paid to him.

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