After the surprise arrest of one of Nigeria’s most corrupt former governors two weeks ago, I asked whether the move against James Ibori, a close ally of Nigeria’s new president, was a sign of a new willingness to challenge corrupt government officials — or merely an enormous bureaucratic mistake. The Financial Times, in a brief report today, suggests that indeed a very large mistake was made. The FT reports that Nigeria’s anti-corruption chief, Nuhu Ribadu, has been stripped of his post at the country’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Ribadu reportedly has been dispatched on a year-long training program. The collapse of the Ibori case can be expected to occur shortly.
Anti-corruption drives will continue in Nigeria of course. But as they benefit from Nigeria’s greatest oil boom ever, a small elite of Nigeria kleptocrats can be expected to continue to loot their country’s resources — and lavish spending on themselves and their families. No amount of shaming by Westerners will change this. Nigeria’s elite is proud, aggressive and essentially immune international criticism. The parallels with Russia’s oil elite are striking. Eager to taste the fruits of material life and cultural freedom in Britain and the U.S., Nigeria’s wealthy are nonetheless increasingly impatient with the nanny attitudes of Western do-gooders. And the prospect of continued disapproval means little or nothing. Nigeria has a new friend in China, and wealthy Nigerians — like their counterparts in Moscow — know they will never be lonely.