Saturday, January 5, 2008

Ex-World Banker demands reinstatement of Nuhu Ribadu

Over at CGD blog, Dennis de Tray calls for reinstatement of Nuhu Ribadu (emphasis mine);

Nuhu Ribadu visited CGD last October, while he was still the executive chairman of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). For an hour and a half he held a room full of hardened development types spellbound. He came across as articulate, professional, extraordinarily committed…and incredibly brave. He talked of taking on Nigeria's corruption kingpins, of how he was determined to show that no one, no matter how powerful, how well-connected, was above the law. But unlike most of us, Nuhu did more than talk. He acted. As we left the room at the end of his presentation, I remember wondering to a colleague how long Nuhu would last. We now have the answer: as of end 2007, Nuhu Ribadu is no longer the executive chairman of Nigeria's top anti-corruption body.

I confess that after listening to him, I worried that Nuhu was at risk of being silenced through violence. But the powers that be in Nigeria have found a less dramatic way to sideline him: they sent him off "on a course to develop himself and to develop the police," as Mike Okiro, Nigeria's top police official told the press. So, Nigeria's most visible and effective corruption fighter is now in a remote training center becoming a better policeman. Somehow I doubt this is bringing much joy to the average Nigerian. The IHT reports that some people in Nigeria are outraged.

Nuhu Ribadu is a controversial public figure. There were and are accusations of political bias, of favoritism, of overzealousness. But, strangely, Nuhu was not removed from office for misconduct or poor performance. He was removed shortly after he authorized the arrest of James Ibori, one of Nigeria's richest men and a close associate of President Umaru Yar'Adua. Pure coincidence, I am sure.

It is rather naive for think-tanks or development agencies to demand who democratically elected governments can hire and fire. It also reflects a poor understanding of the difficult process of initiating and managing reforms. Let us hear from a little bit more experienced person talking about a similar context;

You can initiate institutional reforms only if they are championed by the head of state. And the reform process will continue only if the head of state sticks with the program. In developing and ex-communist countries, only the head of state and his immediate entourage can command the attention and garner the overwhelming political support required to wipe out the willful inertia of the status quo. Elites and bureaucracies are initially inclined to resist even small changes. Any decision as far-reaching as creating a legal property system, which will include and emancipate the poor, is essentially political and should be put in the hands of the head of state right from the start.

Keeping the head of state with the program is a major challenge for any reformer, as we found out in Peru, where the enemies of the reforms sought to dampen the president’s commitment to change by continually labeling us as potential political rivals. It was a mistake for us as a think tank to get into the political front lines of the reforms. When Presidents Garcia and Fujimori called, I should have found ways to make sure the limelight was always on the president. Or perhaps I should have accepted Fujimori’s proposal to become his first prime minister and build within the government an elite team to lead the reforms. My initial belief that an independent think tank could carry out the reforms on it own, without a political commitment to the government, was sheer illusion. It is the head of state himself, and the politicians he trusts, who should implement the reform process to make sure those who take the political risks get the credit. That is why ILD has no problems in working abroad, where we operate as hired technocrats, foreigners without any political involvement.

-Hernando de Soto, p.xxxvi, from the preface to The Other Path

To see another example listen to this Egyptian minister.

For Discussion: The real lesson of the Nuhu Ribadu is that an overzealous and ambitious (certainly a capable and competent) civil servant was given too much limelight by international agencies like the World Bank where as the real credit should have gone to his bosses in the government. Discuss.

See this Economist article for some of the politics behind the issue.

Condemned to Corruption for all Eternity?

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