Nigeria acts against graft

The leader of Nigeria’s Senate resigned on Tuesday after being accused of bribery. He quit less than 24 hours after President Olusegun Obasanjo sacked his minister of housing for trying to sell off government houses at knock-down prices.

“I hereby step aside as president of the Senate to enable me to attend to all the allegations against me,” Adolphus Wabara told the Senate chamber.

Wabara is the most powerful head to roll in Obasanjo’s crusade against graft.
As president of the Senate, he was third in line to the head of state.

The politician’s downfall was assured after Obasanjo denounced him on national television two weeks ago. On Monday Wabara was instructed to resign by the People’s Democratic Party, which has a comfortable majority in both houses of the federal Parliament. He was replaced by Ken Nnamani, a 57-year-old senator from the south-eastern Enugu state.

Wabara was accused of sharing a $410 000 bribe with several other legislators, which was allegedly paid by former minister of education Fabian Osuji to ensure parliamentary approval of an inflated education budget. Osuji was sacked last month when the information came to light.

On Monday the presidential axe fell on Minister of Housing and Urban Development Mobolaji Osomo after revelations that she had arranged to sell off 207 government houses in the plush Lagos suburb of Ikoyi to senior government officials and other people of influence.

“Following an unsatisfactory explanation offered by the minister of housing, her appointment has been terminated forthwith by the president,” a terse government statement read.

The irregular deal threatens to bring more corrupt officials to light. The list of alleged beneficiaries, which was sent anonymously to Obasanjo and published in several Nigerian newspapers, includes ministers and state governors.

Some of those named have, however, protested their innocence, saying they had not applied to buy any of the houses or that they had rejected offers made to them.

Meanwhile, the country’s former police chief Tafawa Balogun appeared before the Abuja High Court on Monday to be formally charged with 70 counts of graft and money laundering involving $98-million.

Balogun, who pleaded not guilty to all the charges, resigned as inspector general in January after three years in the job.

One of the charges was that he forced staff at the Societé Generale bank to pay him a $227 000 bribe to prevent the withdrawal of police security from its branches.

Balogun was remanded in custody until April 18, when his application for bail will be heard.

In January last year Obasanjo sacked his then minister of labour Husseini Akwanga for receiving bribes from a French company to help it secure a contract to produce national identity cards.

Akwanga was later put on trial along with two other former ministers, but the case is yet to be concluded.

Government critics often point out that no top official has actually been convicted and jailed for corruption since Obasanjo became president six years ago.

Corruption is a deep-rooted problem in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with 126-million people and the continent’s top oil exporter.

The country is ranked third last by the global corruption watchdog Transparency International in its 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index, just above Bangladesh and Haiti.—Irin