Nigeria’s former anti-corruption chief Nuhu Ribadu on Wednesday launched his bid to run in a presidential election next April as the candidate of the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) party.
Ribadu won international praise for arrests of graft suspects and seizures of assets as the first head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
But he also made enemies for pursuing cases against powerful state governors, and was fired in late 2007. He fled Nigeria for Britain and the United States in January 2009, saying his life was in danger, but returned earlier this year.
History suggests Ribadu’s campaign will be an uphill struggle, as the candidate from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has won every presidential election in Nigeria since the end of military rule just over a decade ago.
Ribadu entered the presidential campaign in front of a crowd of ACN supporters in Abuja. Clutching a broom, a symbol of his plans to clean up corruption, he said if he was successful he would tackle out-of-control government spending.
“The first port of call in this vision of restructuring our economy for growth and development is the simple challenge of returning humility to government,” Ribadu said.
“Already we are running a scandalously shameful budget ratio … where the balance is sure to disappear through the notorious corruption chute.”
The former policeman had praise for Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi, who last month raised concerns that too much government revenue was spent on internal overheads.
Despite higher oil prices and output, Nigeria’s foreign reserves of $33 billion were down almost a quarter on a year ago at the start of December, its budget deficit is expected to widen to 6.1 percent this year, and it has spent billions of dollars of its windfall oil savings.
President Goodluck Jonathan presented the 2011 budget proposal to parliament on Wednesday, proposing a cut in 2011 spending although recurrent expenditure — the cost of running government — remains high under the plans.
Though his trump card is his history of fighting corruption, Ribadu pledged to prioritise development in the restive oil-producing Niger Delta, Jonathan’s ethnic homeland.
Attacks by militants who say they are fighting for a fairer share of the oil wealth have held back Nigeria’s oil industry — violence which at its peak almost four years ago shut down more than a quarter of the OPEC member’s production.
Jonathan is the first head of state from the wetlands region and he helped broker an amnesty there last August, which brought more than a year without major unrest. But there has been a resurgence in violence in the last two months.
Any perception that Jonathan is unable to maintain security in his ethnic homeland risks undermining his credibility and is likely to be used against him by opponents ahead of elections.
“Nowhere is the shame of our nation more visible than in the Niger Delta … the burden we face as a nation is the lack of gratitude to the region that produces the bulk of our wealth,” Ribadu said.
His youth and political inexperience will make Ribadu an outsider for the presidential election but there are cracks showing within the ruling party which could give their some rivals reason for optimism