Anti-corruption advocate returns from exile

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The Independent Online

Respected anti-corruption campaigner Nuhu Ribadu is expected to join the Nigerian government this week after returning from self-imposed exile in US.

The former head of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) fled the country nearly a year-and-half ago following death threats and an apparent attempt on his life.

The return of the popular Mr Ribadu is seen by some analysts as further proof that president Goodluck Jonathan is planning to contest the election expected next year in Africa's leading oil producer.

Mr Jonathan who recently took the helm following the death of Umaru Yar'Adua was initially ordered by the ruling party to act only as caretaker until the vote. Were he to run for the presidency, it would risk serious rifts in the ruling party where an unwritten agreement exists that power will be alternated between the Muslim dominated north and the predominantly Christian south.

Mr Jonathan is a southerner who stepped in to replace Mr Yar'Adua, a northerner, whose poor health forced him out of office.

Nigeria, which is overwhelmingly dependent on income from oil, is ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International and anti-graft officials, especially effective ones, tend not to keep their jobs for very long.

Mr Ribadu was appointed as the first head of the newly created EFCC by previous president Olesegun Obasanjo but was sacked from his post in December 2007 after ordering the arrests of a number of senior government colleagues and unearthing evidence of grand corruption.

After he moved against Nigeria's powerful state governors, Mr Ribadu was suddenly accused of failing to properly declare his assets and dismissed from the EFCC.

He was later stripped of his rank as police inspector and finally fled Nigeria, moving to the US.

Following his exit, the anti-graft tsar famously said in an interview with the BBC that he had been offered a bribe of £15m to drop an investigation into one state governor. He said he took the money and used it as evidence against the offical. While in Washington he was awarded a fellowship at the Centre for Global Development.

Mr Ribadu's fate closely mirrored that of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who was feted during her term as finance minister for helping to persuade the Paris Club of major creditors to forgive a large chunk of African debt but she resigned in 2006 after being abruptly stripped of her post at the Economic Intelligence Unit.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, who is now managing director of the World Bank, introduced the practice of publishing state budgets in an effort to improve transparency and cut back on rampant looting by officials.

Last month the case against Mr Ribadu was dropped by Nigerian prosecutors and his police rank was restored last week clearing the way for his return.

On Friday, a small crowd gathered at the Lagos airport to greet him.

"He was received at the Lagos airport by his wife, children and well-wishers," his lawyer Femi Falana told Agence France Presse.

"I feel very great. I am happy to be back home," he told reporters. Speaking later to local media, he said: "I've always been in the service of Nigeria and whatever is going to create that platform to continue in that service would be welcome. I'm back on duty."

Some observers expect Mr Ribadu to be appointed as special advisor to the president while others anticipate his moving in to to head up the Independent Electoral Commission. This role is seen as a key role for preventing a repeat of the seriously flawed national poll in 2005.