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Nigerian Minister of Justice Takes Charge of Corruption Prosecution


Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua asked his attorney general and minister of justice to take charge of all prosecutions related to corruption charges. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports that the directive has provoked mixed reactions in Nigeria.

Presidential spokesman Segun Adeniyi told reporters the government recognizes the need to streamline criminal prosecution of corruption-related offenses.

"President Yar'Adua firmly believes that in fighting corruption nobody and no institution should be seen to be above the law and the constitution," he said. "It is for this reason that he granted the request of the attorney general and minister of justice that all agencies of government involved in the prosecution of criminal offenses, such as the EFCC and ICPC, should report and initiate criminal proceedings with the consent and approval of the attorney general as specified in relevant sections of the constitution."

Nigerian corruption watchdogs, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, had until now conducted trials independently from the justice ministry.

Analysts fear the new system would have an underlying political agenda and impede the government's widely heralded "war on corruption."

"The problem is the political angle, whether Nigerians would not feel that being a politician [Yar'Adua], his politics and political views may not color prosecution, because the attorney general is one of his ministers. This is the dilemma," noted Maxi Okwu, an Abuja-based lawyer and political analyst.

Critics fear an entrenched group of corrupt individuals will continue to be protected under the new procedures, but Adeniyi rejects such notions.

"President Yar'Adua wishes to assure all Nigerians that his administration will never provide a safe haven or escape route for anyone, no matter how highly placed they may be and irrespective of whatever role they player or claim to have played in his election, if they are found to have soiled their hands by looting public funds for their personal aggrandizement," said Adeniyi.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation, but decades of corruption and mismanagement have blighted its ability to translate its oil wealth into development.

Four former state governors are currently being tried for corruption and several more are expected to be charged in the coming weeks.

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