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Nigeria's Ruling Party Chief Convicted in Corruption Trial

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A federal court in Nigeria has found the former deputy national chairman of the country's ruling Peoples Democratic Party guilty of corruption and he has been ordered jailed for two and half years.

Olabode George, who was regarded as one of Nigeria's most powerful politicians, was convicted for corruption and abuse of office involving $700 million during his time as head of the Nigerian Port Authority. Five other former officials also received similar sentences.

George was a key ally of President Umaru Yar'Adua during the 2007 presidential election, and acted as his campaign manager.

Musa Rafsanjani, who heads the anti-corruption group Zero Corruption, praises the conviction as a landmark case in the fight against graft in Nigeria, one of the world's most tainted countries.

"Given the overwhelming evidence, one expected that any judge would not ignore this fundamental corruption," he said. "We are happy that this has happened at the highest level and we hope it will serve as a deterrent to powerful and so-called untouchable corrupt leaders in Nigeria who think that it is their birth right to loot and steal money that is meant for development in Nigeria."

President Umaru Yar'Adua, who promised to tackle graft when elected in 2007, has been criticized for making slow progress on the issue.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concerns about Nigeria's anti-graft war during a stop on her African tour in August.

Rafsanjani says campaigners are not particularly convinced about the government's commitment to fighting corruption.

"Nigeria is a very complex country with so many competing interests," he added. "As I speak to you now, there are many people, as far as we are concerned, their actions and utterances amount to supporting corruption in Nigeria and they occupy high positions in the country. So it is very confusing really."

Campaigners say corruption in Nigeria remains an enormous obstacle to fighting poverty and making government accountable.

President Yar'Adua has said he will protect nobody and would let anti-graft agencies go after anyone found to be corrupt.