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A Reformer without Public Support is....?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

BBC News has a story today (December 3, 2008) about the travails of Nuhu Ribadu. Ribadu was until recently the head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Nigeria. He made a name for himself as a fearless pursuer of the corrupt. Human Rights Watch reports that Ribadu is - despite of the loss of his job - at the receiving end of an 'escalating campaign of harassment' and that attempts have been made on his life.  The full report is worth reading.

As has been reported on this blog by my colleague, Tony Lambino, CommGAP recently organized a workshop for anti-corruption agencies in partnership with the UNODC. One of the reasons we were keen to support these agencies with an array of communication-based techniques and approaches was the observed fact of the often perilously isolated position of these agencies in their own environments. Yet they are meant to take on powerful interests in their societies. It has become quite clear now that the head of an anti-corruption commission or even the commission itself cannot, if they try to act alone, successfully fight corruption. Even where the agency has the temporary support of a head of state, it is not likely to be enough. 

What is needed? Public support. Coalitions must be built, public opinion must be transformed, social norms supportive of corruption must be changed. All this will not happen without serious, deliberate work by those leading the anti-corruption effort. To be a lone champion of reform is to be dangerously exposed. It is to be a general going into battle without battalions.

Nicolo Machiavelli makes the point more eloquently than I can in The Prince:

And it should be realised that taking the initiative in introducing a new form of government is very difficult and dangerous, and unlikely to succeed. The reason is that all those who profit from the old order will be opposed to the innovator, whereas all those who might benefit from the new order are, at best, tepid supporters of him. This lukewarmness arises partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws on their side, partly from the skeptical temper of men, who do not really believe in new things unless they have been seen to work well. The result is that whenever those who are opposed to change have the chance to attack the innovator, they do it with much vigour, whereas his supporters act only half-heartedly; so that the innovator and his supporters find themselves in great danger. (p. 20 – 21)

Photo Credit: Flickr user John Spooner


Submitted by Anthony Okoji on
Hi, It was true that Ribadu was a champion of the anti-corruption crusade in Nigeria, but he not only investigated 'corrupt' public office holders, he tried and found them guilty himself on the pages of newspapers. There is need for the mobilisation of public support, but caution must also be employed in the making public statements in the media that incriminate persons even before the courts of law have found them guilty. Ribadu is bound to have few feelers for himself in his present trivails because he accepted extra 'packages' for doing a job for which he is paid govenment funds. He who goes to equity, must go with clean hands. No wonder, Ribadu is going though his pains without having support from the masses. The public therefore feel that he was used as a 'hatchetman' for the government of his time. Again, politics is about public image, and when an anti-corruption agent goes to the press to the make public statements on public office holders, the damage done on their political career may never be healed. Anti-corruption crusaders must know when and how to go to the press. They should be guided by the communications deparrtment to ensure that their use of the media is as professional as possible, achieving the best results of gaining public support. They must also not accept undue lagesse from authorities for that would erode public trust and goodwill. I agree with Sina that Ribadu's case is a lesson for all to learn, and his successors it appears are threading almost too gently so as not to go through was he is passing through now when they leave the office. To succeed however, they do need a wide scope of coalitions, a task whose success can be enhanced by a quality communications department.

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