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23.03.2007 General News

Obasanjo indicted for graft

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A Nigerian Senate committee has indicted the president and his deputy for corruption over an oil fund.

The committee recommends both President Olusegun Obasanjo and Vice-President Atiku Abubakar be prosecuted.

The committee resigned after pressure to block the report. The Senate will now consider the report but not until after general elections next month.

Mr Obasanjo stands down after two terms in office, but Mr Abubakar has been barred from running.

It is the first time a Nigerian Senate committee has accused President Obasanjo of corruption.

A government ministerial panel had accused Mr Abubakar of diverting money belonging to the Petroleum Technology Development Fund.

The country's anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission which examined the PTDF financial records accused Mr Abubakar of diverting some $145m to his personal businesses.

Mr Abubakar denies all the charges and is in court challenging his exclusion from the presidential election.

The senate committee report found Mr Abubakar approved $20m from the PTDF account without the president"s approval.

The committee report which was obtained by the BBC also found that Mr Obasanjo had "illegally” approved the spending of over $27m dollars for some government projects.

“With regards to the approval which the vice president gave in respect of the $20m on 14 October 2003, without the authority of Mr President, the committee views the approval of the vice president as illegal” the report says.

“In respect of some projects commenced by PTDF in 2006 for which Mr President gave approval and later got them ratified retroactively, the committee views the action of the president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, as illegal.”

A member of the committee told the BBC there had been efforts to make them tone down some aspects of the report which indicted the president.

Senator Umar Tsauri, chairman of the committee, told the BBC they had met “repeated roadblocks” in trying to present the report to the Senate and felt its release before the elections was being prevented.

“We pleaded with the leadership of the Senate to allow us to present our report but they said no and we just felt it was better to resign because it'd be a blow to our integrity,” he said.

“Our integrity was at stake. We resigned because we are principled people.”

BBC reporters in Nigeria say much of the political significance of the report will be lost once President Obasanjo stands down in May.

Meanwhile, riot police were deployed after five people were killed in clashes over land in Nigeria's southwestern state of Ondo, police said Thursday.

“We have deployed our men to contain the violence which broke out in Ikare-Akoka on Wednesday. The fighting was between two families contesting the ownership of a piece of land,” a senior police officer told AFP.

“Five people lost their lives in the incident, while 15 others sustained injuries,” the officer said.

He said weapons such as guns, knives, planks, iron rods were used by the fighting families who had an age-long dispute over the land.

“We are happy that peace has returned to the troubled town after our intervention,” he added.

Land disputes are common in Nigeria. Last month at least 10 people were killed and more than 200 houses razed in southern Nigeria's Ogoniland in a similar incident.

Oil-rich Ogoniland is a hotbed of civil unrest in the restive Niger Delta, home to Nigeria's multi-billion-dollar oil and gas resources.

Community unrest forced Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell, Nigeria's major oil operator, out of Ogoniland in 1993 and the company has yet to return there. BBC/AFP