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Nigeria's leading anti-corruption campaigner has in recent weeks
been subject to an escalating campaign of harassment, threats, and an
apparent attempt on his life, Human Rights Watch said today. Human
Rights Watch called on the Nigerian government to protect the
campaigner, Nuhu Ribadu, former chairman of Nigeria's Economic and
Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
In an interview with Human Rights Watch in Nigeria, Ribadu, a
long-serving police official, said he feared for his life and believed
the threats against him - including shots fired at him in late
September and telephoned death threats - were linked to his work at the
EFCC. "I fear for my life," Ribadu told Human Rights Watch. "I have
made a lot of enemies." He was removed from his position in December
2007 after the commission arrested and indicted on corruption charges a
powerful politician who was known to be close to the president.
"The campaign of intimidation against Mr. Ribadu appears aimed at
silencing a key voice in the crucial fight against corruption in
Nigeria," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
"The Nigerian government and President Yar'Adua need to protect Ribadu
and anyone else who dares to speak out against the corrupt and
During his tenure at the EFCC - from 2003 to 2007 - Ribadu pursued
politically sensitive investigations into suspected corrupt activities
of powerful ruling-party officials, though the institution's
credibility was at times tarnished by its apparent selective
prosecution of political opponents of then-president Olusegun Obasanjo.
The EFCC under Ribadu indicted hundreds of individuals collectively
implicated in the theft of several billion dollars. These included a
former inspector general of police, several former state governors, and
politically influential businessmen.
Despite pledges to allow the EFCC to pursue an impartial
"zero-tolerance" effort to pursue corrupt officials, the government of
President Umaru Yar'Adua - now in its second year - has seriously
undermined the fledgling anti-corruption efforts that began under his
Ribadu described to Human Rights Watch the apparent attempt on his
life in late September, while he was driving from Jos to Abuja, the
capital: "At around 6:00 that morning, I noticed a car with about four
men in it following me. I stopped at a filling station and it passed
me, but some minutes later, I saw the car coming toward me from the
other direction. As the vehicle approached, a man in the back opened
fire on my vehicle with a pistol. The three bullets which hit my car
cracked a part of my windscreen, broke the side-view mirror, and hit a
side panel on the car." Ribadu was unhurt in the incident.
More recently, Ribadu said he had received credible information
about another planned attempt on his life. He also said he has received
threatening phone calls in which he is advised to "say his last
prayers." "The harassment, the intimidation is meant to put fear in me,
to break me, but I am going to stand and continue standing," he told
Human Rights Watch.
In December 2007, the EFCC sent shock waves through the political
establishment by arresting the powerful former Delta State governor
James Ibori and charging him with 103 counts of corruption, including
an alleged attempt to bribe Ribadu with US$15 million in cash to drop
the case against him. The EFCC's decision to prosecute Ibori was
notable because the former governor was widely seen as politically
untouchable. He is among the wealthiest politicians in Nigeria and is
known to be a close associate of Yar'Adua. Two weeks later, the
inspector general of police ordered Ribadu to resign and attend a
10-month police training course.
In August 2008, Ribadu was demoted from the rank of assistant
inspector general of police, on the grounds that promotions he received
while at the EFCC had failed to comply with police procedure. On
November 22 he was forcefully removed by state security agents from the
graduation ceremony that followed the course he was ordered to attend.
In November, he was officially informed of his future posting to a
regional police headquarters in Edo State, with duties that would
require working in Edo, Delta, and Bayelsa states. Ribadu firmly
believes this posting would leave him vulnerable because the powerful
former governors from all three of these states were investigated,
charged, or convicted of corruption by the Ribadu-led EFCC. Ribadu is
also a material witness in the corruption trial against Ibori, should
it take place.
Following the appointment of Farida Waziri as the new EFCC chair in
May, the commission sacked at least 12 of its top investigators.
Several were later reassigned to the states whose governors they had
investigated. In February 2008, a senior EFCC official was attacked by
armed thugs. In August, the former head of the unit investigating Ibori
was arrested and held without charge for several weeks. Judicial
personnel and other political observers interviewed by Human Rights
Watch said certain actions by the attorney general have undermined
anti-corruption efforts both in Nigeria and in the United Kingdom,
including intervening on behalf of Ibori in a British court case
involving Ibori's alleged embezzlement and money laundering of US$35
million of Delta State funds.
Although Waziri has indicted several senior-level politicians,
including three former governors and the head of the Nigerian Ports
Authority, on corruption charges, the high-profile cases initiated
under Ribadu, including that of Ibori, have been effectively stalled.
Meanwhile, the EFCC has initiated an investigation into Ribadu's
acquisition of property - a move considered by many observers to be
politically motivated. Ribadu has on several occasions publicly
declared his assets.
Nigeria, the world's eighth-largest oil exporter, suffers from
rampant government corruption and mismanagement, which has led to gross
violations of the right to basic health care and education. Despite
Nigeria's tremendous wealth, its abject poverty ranks among the worst
in the world. Public funds that could have been spent on improving the
lives of ordinary citizens have instead been squandered and stolen by members of Nigeria's political elite.
Corruption also lies at the heart of Nigeria's most pressing human
rights problems. Many politicians have used stolen government revenues
political violence in order to rig elections marked by violence and
fraud. Nigeria's compromised police force has consistently turned a
blind eye to these and other abuses by well-connected politicians.
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
"Today and every day let's honor King as we end racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the denial of healthcare, militarism, and this false narrative of Christian nationalism," said Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis.
To mark Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, leaders of a modern iteration of the slain civil rights champion's final campaign called on U.S. politicians from both sides of the aisle—many of whose policies and actions are like those King condemned as the "evil triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism"—to step up and meet the needs of the country's poor and low-income people.
Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival released a video demanding the Biden administration and every member of Congress "meet with poor and low-wealth people, religious leaders, economists, lawyers, and public health specialists to address the systemic policy violence that threatens the soul of our nation."
"When prophets are killed or assassinated, our job is to pick up the baton and continue the work," campaign co-chair Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II said in the video. "Sadly, many will go to King events today and claim to honor the prophet. Elected officials on both sides of the aisle will go while even today, they are standing diametrically opposed to the things he fought for: addressing systemic poverty, addressing racism, ensuring voter protection, just immigration policy, just treatment of Indigenous people, healthcare for all, and dealing with the war economy and militarism."
As they do each year, officials—including Republican lawmakers who voted against an MLK Day holiday, the U.S. government King called "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today," and its agencies like the FBI that tried to destroy King—all took to Twitter to sing his praises.
Poor People's Campaign Petition Congress to Truly Honor MLK Legacy | Press Conferencewww.youtube.com
Rev. Liz Theoharis, also a co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, said in the video that "this Martin Luther King Day, we must continue a campaign for social, political, and economic rights, not simply commemorate a man. Today and every day let's honor King as we end racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the denial of healthcare, militarism, and this false narrative of Christian nationalism. Let us fight poverty, not people."
The video also includes messages from low-income Americans and advocates calling for healthcare, living wages, "and more so everyone can thrive."
"I live in North Carolina. I work 60 hours a week and more and I still don't make enough money to live comfortably," Matthew Byars said in the video. "I'm chasing the American Dream, but I'm living the American nightmare. Raise the minimum wage. Impacted people matter too."
King, along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, launched the original Poor People's Campaign in December 1967, months before he was assassinated in Memphis while supporting a strike by Black sanitation workers. King said the movement's demands were $30 billion for anti-poverty programs, full employment for all, a guaranteed universal income, and the annual construction of 500,000 affordable homes.
SCLC president Ralph Abernathy led the campaign after King's murder, and in May 1968—just weeks after King's murder—his widow, Coretta Scott King, led demonstrators in a two-week protest in Washington, D.C., where participants demanded an Economic Bill of Rights.
Camp life in Resurrection City 1968www.youtube.com
Thousands of poor people camped on the National Mall in a community called Resurrection City, which stood for six weeks—including on the day when Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) was assassinated on June 5—until police violently destroyed it and evicted the protesters.
"At a time when online mobilizations were one of the few forms of protest available to the public, Twitter was seemingly asked to shield the powerful from criticism," said one campaigner. "That should worry all those who care about accountability."
Drugmaker BioNTech and the German government pushed Twitter to "hide" posts by activists calling on Big Pharma to temporarily lift patents on Covid-19 vaccines—a move which would have given people the Global South greater access to the lifesaving inoculations, a report published Monday by The Intercept revealed.
Twitter lobbyist Nina Morschhaeuser "flagged the corporate accounts of Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca for her colleagues to monitor and shield from activists," according to The Intercept's Lee Fang. An email from Morschhaeuser said the German Federal Office for Information Security also contacted Twitter on behalf of BioNTech, whose spokesperson, Jasmina Alatovic, asked the social media giant to "hide" activist tweets targeting her company's account for two days.
Morschhaeuser, meanwhile, requested that colleagues track the hashtags #PeoplesVaccine—a movement for the temporary lifting of patent protections—and #JoinCTAP, a reference to the World Health Organization's Covid-19 Technology Access Pool. Morschhaeuser further warned that the advocacy group Global Justice Now shared an online signup form for a December 2020 People's Vaccine Day of Action.
"The allegations in this article suggest that government and industry tried to silence legitimate criticism during a crisis," Maaza Seyoum, Global South convener at the People's Vaccine Alliance, said in a statement Monday. "At a time when online mobilizations were one of the few forms of protest available to the public, Twitter was seemingly asked to shield the powerful from criticism. That should worry all those who care about accountability."
\u201c\ud83d\udce2 REACTION: German government and @BioNTech_Group asked Twitter to censor vaccine equity critics.\n\nNew #TwitterFiles piece by @lhfang shows how they worked to silence activists demanding a #PeoplesVaccine\n\nRead our reaction: https://t.co/VyaSBIbWnS\n\n1/\u201d— The People's Vaccine (@The People's Vaccine) 1673889107
Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden also noted the troubling timing of BioNTech's censorship request during a period of global pandemic lockdowns.
"To try and stifle digital dissent during a pandemic, when tweets and emails are some of the only forms of protest available to those locked in their homes, is deeply sinister," he told The Intercept.
It is not clear to what extent Twitter took any action on BioNTech's request. In response to Morschhaeuser's inquiry, several Twitter officials chimed in, debating what action could or could not be taken. Su Fern Teo, a member of the company's safety team, noted that a quick scan of the activist campaign showed nothing that violated the company's terms of service, and asked for more examples to "get a better sense of the content that may violate our policies."
But it shows the extent to which pharmaceutical giants engaged in a global lobbying blitz to ensure corporate dominance over the medical products that became central to combating the pandemic. Ultimately, the campaign to share Covid vaccine recipes around the world failed.
While U.S. President Joe Biden in 2021 heeded activists' calls and joined most of the Global South in backing a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver at the World Trade Organization, most rich nations—including Germany—oppose the policy and have, along with Big Pharma, fought to thwart it.
"If the German government wants to show that it is now willing to side with public health over private profit, it must change its approach to pandemic response," Seyoum asserted. "That means backing efforts at the World Trade Organization to improve access to generic Covid-19 medicines and treatments, supporting the World Health Organization's mRNA Hub in South Africa, and standing up to corporate interests in negotiations over a Pandemic Treaty."
Critics rebuke U.S. climate envoy for calling Sultan al-Jaber a "terrific choice."
Progressives on Monday reacted with outrage and disbelief after U.S. climate envoy John Kerry backed the appointment of Sultan al-Jaber to lead the the United Nations' annual conference on the climate emergency, saying the CEO of the United Arab Emirates' state-run oil company was not only qualified to preside over the summit, but that his background strengthened the case for his presidency.
As Common Dreamsreported last week, the UAE named al-Jaber as president of the 28th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28), scheduled to begin in November—a decision that was met with scorn from campaigners as al-Jaber is heads the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and a renewable energy firm in which ADNOC holds a 24% stake.
"I think that Dr. Sultan al-Jaber is a terrific choice because he is the head of the company. That company knows it needs to transition," Kerry told the Associated Press Sunday, despite the fact that scientists and advocates across the globe have also known for decades that policymakers must lead a rapid transition away from oil and gas-generated energy. "He knows—and the leadership of the UAE is committed to transitioning."
Advocates have warned that the UAE has not made clear how it plans to reach its stated goal of being carbon neutral by 2050, especially as it plans to increase production of crude oil by a million barrels per day.
The UAE is expected to become "the third largest expander of oil and gas production" between 2023 and 2025 as ADNOC embarks on the second-largest expansion of oil production of any company in the world, locking in more than 2.7 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions.
But when asked by Sky News Arabia about whether al-Jaber would have a conflict of interest at the conference, where leaders are expected to be pushed to take significant emissions-reduction steps, Kerry dismissed the concern.
"That's a first blush, very simplistic way to look at this," Kerry said, adding that "the only way we will meet this crisis and protect our citizens and build an economy for the future, is by reducing emissions."
Putting the ADNOC executive—who is also the UAE's climate enjoy and minister of industry and technology—in charge of COP28 drew comparisons from Progressive International leader Yanis Varoufaki to naming "a jihadist to oversee religious tolerance" or "a Nazi to oversee racial harmony."
"What could go wrong?" labor historian Erik Loomis asked sardonically.
\u201cJeffrey Dahmer placed to oversee anti-cannibalism commission. \n\nhttps://t.co/D7Yyz2MMAw\u201d— Erik Loomis (@Erik Loomis) 1673888060
COP28 will follow the two most recent international climate conferences, held in Glasgow, Scotland and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where hundreds of fossil fuel lobbyists were in attendance and policymakers failed to hammer out a final agreement requiring countries to phase out oil, coal, and gas extraction.
Kerry toldSky News Arabia that the UAE was not "involved in changing" the outcome of the COP26 and COP27 talks.
The former secretary of state acknowledged that there would be "a level of scrutiny" aimed at al-Jaber's appointment.
"And I think that's going to be very constructive," he told the AP. "It's going to help people, you know, stay on the line here. I think this is a time, a new time of accountability."
Acknowledging Kerry's negotiating of the Paris climate agreement in 2015—which despite its many flaws and shortcomings represents the strongest global pact ever reached on the issue—Leo Roberts of the climate think tank E3G said on social media that the U.S. politician's endorsement of el-Jaber represents "a really rather spectacular fall from grace."