Nuhu Ribadu & the Scorpions: Setbacks and potential promises for anti-corruption efforts in Africa’s two largest economies

Two recent articles point to a convergence of missing or diminishing anti-corruption efforts in both South Africa and Nigeria.

For one, Nigeria’s former head of anti corruption Mr. Ribadu (whose high-provile 2012 report revealed that the country had lost tens of billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues due to illicit dealings between multinational oil companies and government officials) defected from the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) to President Goodluck Jonathan’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).  This is a welcome development for President Jonathan, whose party has been plagued by allegations of bribery and corruption scandals.  It remains to be seen whether Mr. Ribadu’s move beckons a more docile and timid anti-corruption approach in Africa’s largest economy (by GDP), or whether – perhaps less likely so – he will remain the strong voice of the anti-bribery advocate that he has proven to be in his prior tenure.

In the Mail & Guardian piece, “Concourt justices: Where are SA’s corruption busters?”, Phillip De Wet writes about a similar state of lack of enforcement in South Africa: “Years after disbanding the Scorpions, courts are still grappling with the consequences. And the highest court seems unamused at the state of play,” says Mr. De Wet, writing about the hearing of the Constitutional Court on Tuesday in a case that brings to the fore the keenly felt absence of  the dedicated investigative unit tasked with ridding South Africa of corruption?  A key question is whether the police unit of the Hawks are capable of taking on the role that the felled Scorpion unit used to play.

“We don’t have a dedicated corruption-fighting unit,” chief justice Dikgang Moseneke declared.  The Hawks are seen as potentially weaker and less independent than the former Scorpions, as they remain within the police forces from an administrative standpoint: Advocate David Unterhalter (a friend of AAF and told the court on behalf of an amicus curiae, the Suzman Foundation, that the police minister has “a very very deep power to suspend without pay and then to dismiss” the head of the Hawks.  Judgment was reserved for now.

As to Mr. Ribadu’s parallel defection several thousand kilometers to the north, the World Bulletin writes as follows:

Former president Olusegun Obasanjo hired Ribadu as chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from April 2003 to December 2007 and he earned a reputation for going after seeming untouchables in the fight against rampant corruption, even at risk to his own life…. “In terms of electorate Ribadu hasn’t got much influence, but he was seen as clean and anti-corruption”, which had benefited the opposition’s fight on an anti-graft ticket, Lagos-based consultancy 46-Parallels partner Kayode Akindele said.

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