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Nigerian Tribunal Probes Vice President's Financial Dealings

The financial dealings of Nigeria’s Vice President Atiku Abubakar have come under attack at hearings of a special tribunal that has just opened in the capital, Abuja. Abubakar, who faces Federal charges of abuse of office, embezzlement, and money laundering, did not appear in court yesterday. His spokesman, Adeolu Akande, argued, however, that the special court, known as the Code of Conduct Tribunal, was not competent to rule on the charges, since the Vice President is already pursuing the case through a petition he has submitted to another judicial forum, the country’s High Court in Abuja. Abubakar is asking the high bench to rule on the indictment lodged against him by the government’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which accuses him of mishandling about 135 million dollars in Petroleum Technology Development Funds (PTDF). The PTDF scandal came to light after an FBI investigation in the United States uncovered financial dealings between Abubakar and US Congressman William Jefferson involving an alleged 100-thousand dollar payoff that has been associated with a six-point-five million-dollar telecommunications deal between a Nigerian company, NDTV, and iGate, a US telecom firm.

Auwal Musa is Deputy Executive Director of Nigeria’s Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center and also serves as Program Manager for the Nigeria branch of Transparency International. He tells VOA English to Africa reporter Howard Lesser that outrage is mounting among Nigerian anti-corruption groups, against both the embattled Vice President and the man he wants to succeed in next year’s election, President Olusegun Obasanjo.

“The whole thing is revolving around the integrity of the judiciary and also the rule of law in Nigeria. For a lot of civil society have been complaining over the way in which the Executive has disregarded the rule of law because the President is interested in the matter, the Judiciary also seems to compromise its integrity in this matter,” he said.

Musa acknowledges that the US Congress requested Nigeria’s Federal Crimes Commission to probe Atiku Abubakar’s financial dealings in response to the allegations against Congressman Jefferson. But he says it was last May’s rejection of a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would have allowed President Obasanjo to seek a third consecutive term which has sparked the current controversy.

“The way I see this thing is that it’s not really to punish the Vice President, but just to prevent him from vying for the Presidency. The whole battle actually began when the Vice President refused to support the President to amend the Constitution and then when the President was defeated over the third-term issue, he discovered that the Vice President was one of the major people behind the defeat of the third-term agenda. The President was not happy that the Vice President has become so disloyal to him, and since the Vice President also has intentions to contest the election, the best way for him (Obasanjo) to retaliate is to also make life difficult for him, to bring all the corruption issues,” he said.

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