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Nigerian President Vows to Punish Bribe Takers


Nigerian President Umaru YarAdua says allegations by German telecommunications giant Siemens that it paid bribes to some former Nigerian officials will be investigated and legal action taken against anyone found guilty. From Abuja, Gilbert da Costa reports the allegations have attracted nationwide interest with an opposition party describing it as "a national disgrace."

Nigeria is often listed as one of the world's most corrupt countries. Its leaders have been accused of stealing billions of dollars from crude oil money.

President Umaru YarAdua came to power in May, promising urgent measures to stem corruption. Many people see the Siemens bribery allegation as a test case of his administration and how vigorous he will deal with cases of corruption.

A presidential statement quotes Mr. YarAdua as saying, "In the nation that we seek to build under my watch, any public official found to have abused his or her oath of office would not go unpunished."

Ibrahim Musa, an anti-corruption activist in Abuja, says the president, whose election was overshadowed by allegations of widespread irregularities, can only gain support and acceptance by waging a relentless campaign against corruption.

"Given the fact that the current president is trying to find legitimacy, acceptability and credibility from both Nigerians and the international community, I think he has to do that. He has started demonstrating the willingness to fight corruption," said Musa.

The bribery scandal has dominated the local media since the story broke, last week. Local newspapers have published details of what each indicted Nigerian official received from the $13 million allegedly paid out by Siemens.

The opposition Action Congress party described the scandal as "a national disgrace" and a huge setback for the country's quest to redeem its image. Lai Mohamed is the party's spokesman.

"It is very embarrassing for Nigeria. We [were] just trying to give the impression that we are out of the woods, and that Nigeria is no longer business as usual. But obviously from that revelation, we've been set back by several years again," said Mohamed.

Siemens is reported to have paid bribes to officials in Nigeria and two other countries to win lucrative contracts for telecom equipment deliveries.

Four former Nigeria telecom ministers, a senator and officials of Nigerian telecommunications and immigration service are alleged to have benefited from the bribe money.

Several of those named have rejected the accusation.

Nigerian officials have also recently been accused of taking $6 million in bribes from Wilbros, an oil-servicing company, in exchange for contracts.

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