In Nigeria, five former senior government officials appeared before a federal high court in Abuja Tuesday to answer corruption charges. The case concerns a controversial national identity card project.
The multi-million dollar national ID card project had been dogged by controversy, particularly with regard to its high cost. Various Nigerian administrations had spent millions of dollars on the project without much result.
The French firm, Sagem SA, was awarded a $240 million contract last year for the final phase of the project which started about two decades ago.
A Nigerian, Niji Adelagun, said to be the frontman for the French firm was charged Tuesday with paying out $1.7 million in bribes between 2001 and 2003. He allegedly gave the money to leading Nigerian officials to secure the contract.
A former top official of the internal affairs ministry, Rufina Akerele, allegedly received $500,000 which was paid into her London account with Barclays Bank. Former minister of internal affairs, Sunday Afolabi, allegedly received $345,000 to support SAGEM SA's bid. Another former minister, Hussaini Akwanga, allegedly had $30,000 paid to his daughters in Dublin for their school expenses.
All the accused persons, except Niji Adelagun, were in court -dressed in traditional attires and looking unruffled. They pleaded not guilty to the 16 charges brought against them.
The court subsequently granted the accused persons bail on condition that they deposit their international passports with the court.
Sunday Afolabi, told reporters that he was embittered by his indictment. "I feel very bad and sad that after serving the federal government diligently I am being treated this way."
The court will reconvene on 23rd January to continue with the matter.
The case is seen by many as an attempt by the Obasanjo administration to deliver a strong message of commitment to the campaign against corruption. Nigerians appear divided on how much importance to attach to the current trial, the first involving senior government officials since the anti-corruption commission was set up a few years ago.
While some argue that the government is only trying to create a false impression of prosecuting an anti-corruption crusade, others think the administration has shown sincerity and commitment.