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Corruption Probe In Nigeria - 2002-08-14

In Nigeria, a special commission established by the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo is set to start a corruption investigation, after members of the Nigerian parliament on Tuesday called on the president to resign. The lower house approved a measure calling for Mr. Obasanjo to step down within two weeks or face impeachment for what members of parliament said is his government's incompetence and corruption.

Passage of the measure on Tuesday drew an angry reaction from leaders of the Nigerian President's party. One official of the ruling People's Democratic Party called the House of Representatives' move "irresponsible."

It is not the first time members of the Nigerian National Assembly have called for Mr. Obasanjo to be removed from office. In June, members of the Senate moved to impeach the president, but abandoned the action after reaching an agreement with him.

The latest impeachment threat came amid a bitter dispute between the parliament and President Obasanjo over budget issues, and over the Nigerian leader's frequent travels abroad.

Members of parliament complain the Obasanjo administration has yet to implement a budget they passed in 1999. They also criticize him for taking what newspapers recently reported were more than 100 trips since he was elected in 1999.

Observers say Tuesday's call for impeachment was a means to damage Mr. Obasanjo politically as he prepares to run for reelection next year. Members of the opposition said they did not believe the parliament's action would cause Mr. Obasanjo to resign.

The Nigerian presidency did not immediately issue an official reaction to the parliament's action Tuesday, but the measure apparently came as no surprise to the administration.

As the lower house came out with its motion, Nigeria's Information Minister Jerry Gana announced the creation of a new commission that is to investigate spending at various government entities, including the National Assembly and the presidency.

News of the parliament's action against Mr. Obasanjo was largely absent from reports on the state-owned media.

Olusegun Obasanjo's election in 1999 marked the end of a long string of military governments in Nigeria - Africa's most populous nation. He faces what analysts say is a tough battle for reelection next year, as the country -- one of the world's main producers of oil -- struggles with widespread poverty, corruption, and a deepening divide between Muslim fundamentalists in the north and Christian southerners.