April 05, 2005 714 VIEWS
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Nigeria\'s anti-corruption commission has a tough job - the country is ranked the second most corrupt in the world according to Transparency International. Nigeria\'s poverty fuels its corruption The commission to fight corruption was one of the bodies set up by President Olusegun Obasanjo soon after he came into office in 1999. But in all that time, its work has led to the conviction of just one public official. Now the commission has sprung a surprise by launching an investigation into the activities of the country\'s most influential politicians. Timing Parliament has responded to this by challenging the activities of the anti-corruption commission itself. Is this an act of self preservation by the politicians or just a coincidence of timing? Senator Mamman Ali argues strongly for the latter. I was offered a parcel with three million Naira [about $20,000] - Senator Mamman Ali \"It\'s a total coincidence,\" he said. \"We have certain issues as individuals against the anti-corruption commission, but in the conduct of our legislative duties we don\'t have to take personal issues that far.\" But for Nigerians, this latest challenge to the work of the anti-corruption commission only strengthens the belief that the politicians have something to hide. \"If the law says they should be prosecuted, they should be prosecuted, because nobody is above the law. I don\'t think anybody should be above the law,\" said one. Parliamentary theatre Accusations of corruption are not just from ordinary individuals or the media, but from within the senate itself. Recently, in a remarkable piece of parliamentary theatre, Senator Mamman Ali walked to the front of the chamber and handed over a large bag full of cash. He said it had been given to him in order to influence his vote in parliament. \"I was confronted by some people in my house: \'Take this, then you forget\',\" he said. \"I was offered a parcel with three million Naira [about $20,000]. \"I was confronted by them. I had never known them, so I said, \'OK, thank you.\' I collected it and immediately moved to the senate floor.\" Important test It is the source of that money, alleged to have been handed out to many other senators in return for voting against a motion to impeach President Obasanjo, which the anti-corruption commission is attempting to investigate. President Obasanjo set up the commission when he came to power Chairman, Justice Mustapha Akambi, believes it will be an important test of the commission\'s powers. \"I want to believe that in the final analysis, this is a test case of whether any anti-corruption in this country will work in accordance with the law that established it,\" he said. But whilst the anti-corruption commission can investigate, cases are almost invariably delayed or thrown out by the courts. Example Just one minor official convicted in three years is not an impressive record. Senator Saidu Mohammed Dansadau, of the newly-formed senate committee of corrupt practices, is certainly not impressed with that record. \"The best way to fight corruption is through leadership by example,\" he said. \"I believe rather than reducing, corruption is getting higher and higher. What we require is the political will by the president and the leadership to fight corruption.\" The senator is saying no more than what all Nigerians know at heart - it does no good setting up committees and identifying corrupt practices if Nigeria\'s leaders fail to condemn loudly and at every opportunity, financial misconduct at the highest level. SEE BELOW FOR ADDITIONAL REPORTS By Joseph Winter, BBC News Online in Abuja. ********************************************************************** Analysis: OBASANJO\'S TOUGH TASK Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo\'s first priority following his re-election will be to convince doubters that his new mandate is legitimate. Nigerian voters are saying - We need jobs, roads, electricity, water, schools and clinics This will not be an easy task, as supporters of his main challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, refuse to accept the results, saying the vote was rigged. But observers say that Mr Obasanjo does enjoy considerable support and probably would have won the election, even without the \"over-zealousness\" of some of his supporters. According to the official results, he polled twice as many votes as Mr Buhari - a difference of 12 million. This is far more than were cast in the states in the south and east, where the worst irregularities occurred. \'Long list of things\' If he does manage to calm the tempers of those who feel aggrieved, however, he may well ask himself what he has let himself in for. Supporters of Mr Obasanjo and Mr Buhari do agree on one thing - life in the world\'s sixth largest oil producer should be better. \"We need jobs, roads, electricity, water, schools and clinics,\" everybody said as they queued to vote. They were just divided on who was better placed to solve these problems. \"He has a long list of things to do. He tried in his first term, but now he must do more,\" says Tony Amadi, author of a book on Mr Obasanjo\'s People\'s Democratic Party, The Making of the PDP. Nigeria\'s most pressing problems include: * Insecurity- several thousand people have been killed in ethnic and religious violence since military rule ended in 1999 * Corruption - Nigeria is frequently ranked the world\'s most corrupt country by campaign group Transparency International * Poverty Alleviation - some 66% of the population live on less than $1 a day - a similar figure to poor African countries which are not blessed with oil * Economy - Nigeria is heavily dependent on exports of crude oil, while agriculture and industry are declining Looking \'beyond oil\' \"To leave a legacy in four years, he must shake up the economy of the country,\" Mr Amadi says. Analysts agree that a priority is to build oil refineries. Nigeria exports some 1.86 million barrels of crude oil a day but then imports the refined product at a far higher price. Exporting refined oil would earn far more foreign currency and having more domestic refineries should also end the chronic fuel shortages which plague Nigeria. But economists say that Nigeria must start to look beyond oil. \"I don\'t know what our policy planners are doing,\" says Nazeef Abdullah from the Economics Department at the University of Abuja. \"We must strengthen agriculture and industry.\" Nigeria\'s fault lines Some 65% of Nigerians live in rural areas. Many are subsistence farmers, who inhabit a different world from the gleaming new air-conditioned buildings and four-lane flyovers of Abuja. NIGERIA\'S POVERTY Population: 129m Income/head: $290pa 34% illiteracy rate 38% no access to safe water 6.8 computers/1,000 people Source: World Bank Putting money into agriculture would be one of the best ways of raising the living standards of the very poorest Nigerians. Mr Abdullah says that the key to ending chronic insecurity is to adequately fund and equip the police. A lack of faith in the police is one reason behind the growth of ethnic militias across the country. Long-running arguments over the distribution of oil wealth are another factor behind ethnic unrest. Residents of the oil-producing Niger Delta region say their oil has built Abuja and Lagos and now they are demanding, sometimes violently, their share of the oil bounty. During his first term, Mr Obasanjo set up the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to plough some oil money into roads, schools and training for the region\'s inhabitants. In two years, the NDDC has spent some 40 billion naira ($28m) but Delta inhabitants say they have not seen where the money has gone. But Mr Abdullah points out that if Mr Obasanjo devotes too much attention to the mainly Christian south, where he gets most of his support, he risks being seen as a southern president. Most northern, Muslim-dominated areas voted for Mr Buhari and alienating them even further would risk worsening ethnic and religious tensions. Clashes between Muslims and Christians have seen some of the bitterest fighting of the past four years. Purging \'deadwood\' When Mr Obasanjo came to office in 1999, he promised to vigorously fight corruption, which has plagued Nigeria for so long. But only one minor official has been prosecuted by his anti-corruption commission. This is yet another priority for his second term, although getting tough would take considerable political courage as corrupt politicians, from whichever party, would no doubt seek to go down fighting. So is he up to the task? Mr Amadi says he must purge his cabinet of some of the \"deadwood\" in order to breathe new life into the government. \"He wants to leave a legacy. He cannot blow it by failing this time,\" he says. His supporters say that he was just being cautious in his first term for fear of stepping on too many toes and risking a return to the dark days of military rule. They say he will now show his true colours and take action to improve the lives of the 129 million Nigerians. Source BBC Nigeria
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