Nigeria's top anti-corruption crusader who earned the nickname "Eliot Ness" for his investigations of powerful government officials is about to lose his job, according to government sources.
Nuhu Ribadu's removal comes in the middle of his ongoing investigation of the former Nigerian vice president and many of the nation's governors.
To the outrage of watchdog groups, newly-elected Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua is expected to soon name a replacement for Ribadu as head of the elite Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The action would follow an earlier decision by the president to temporarily remove Ribadu from the EFCC by sending him on a yearlong training program.
"The president never wanted to retain Ribadu," Osita Ogbu of Transparency International Nigeria told the Blotter on ABCNews.com. Ogbu said the move to replace Ribadu calls into question President Yar'Adua's pledge to fight corruption. "We know that he has said that he intends to do that, but he is not showing that he is committed to doing that."
The United Nations has also expressed concerns about Ribadu's removal from the EFCC, saying it could jeopardize a planned $35 million U.N. anti-corruption project for Nigeria. Antonio Maria Costa, head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, wrote a letter earlier this year to President Yar'Adua noting that Ribadu's ouster "could be very detrimental to maintaining the momentum of ongoing anti-corruption investigations."
The 47-year-old Ribadu has earned worldwide acclaim for his willingness to take on some of the country's most powerful figures and for his crackdown on Nigeria's notorious Internet scam artists. Under Ribadu's leadership, the EFCC has convicted Nigeria's top police official and opened corruption investigations of ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar and 31 of the country's governors. Just this week, the EFCC announced a probe of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who created the anti-fraud agency in 2004 and appointed Ribadu as chairman.
"He is very, very, very popular because he did so many things that had never been done before," Ogbu said of Ribadu. "People who had been considered untouchable, he touched them."
In a 2006 interview with ABC News in Abuja, Nigeria, Ribadu blamed his nation's poverty and negative image on rampant corruption, saying hundreds of billions of dollars in oil revenue have been looted by crooked officials over the years.
"Corruption was endemic, was literally responsible for all our failures," said Ribadu, "for the very bad name and image that unfortunately some bad people managed to acquire for our whole people. And we felt it had to be addressed. We have to go after these bad people; we have to bring them to justice.
Ribadu himself has downplayed any conflict with President Yar'Adua, saying in a statement released through the EFCC that "as a loyal public servant, Nuhu Ribadu has no problem with the decision of Mr. President...to send him on a self-improvement course of study." Supporters of the president note that Ribadu's likely replacement, former Assistant Inspector General of Police Farida Waziri, also has strong law enforcement credentials. Waziri actually trained Ribadu when she was head of the police anti-fraud unit in the 1990s.
According to Osita Ogbu, however, Ribadu's stature as an anti-graft crusader makes him indispensable.
"Because of his unusual commitment and courage, it matters a lot. Most institutions are very weak, and it is important to keep the institution alive," he said. "The personal drive and courage of the chairman makes a lot of difference in anti-corruption efforts."