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Nigerian Speaker Under Fire For Home Renovations

Nigerian lawmakers, opposition party pressing for an investigation into how the parliamentary speaker spent nearly $5 million to renovate two official residences. From Abuja, Gilbert da Costa reports for VOA that the probe call is gaining support across party lines.

Nigerian opposition Action Congress has dismissed as outrageous reports that Patricia Etteh, speaker of the ruling People's Democratic Party, approved contracts worth $4.8 million to refurbish her house and her deputy's.

It was also reported she allegedly approved another $1.4 million for 12 official cars.

Opposition party Action Congress said the spending was an example of hypocrisy in the new government of President Umaru Yar'Adua, who pledged to crack down on graft after his election to lead a country considered one of the world's most corrupt.

Some lawmakers of the ruling People's Democratic Party, or PDP, are backing the investigation.

Among them is John Agoda, a ruling party lawmaker, who is pushing for the probe when the lower house of parliament resumes on September 4.

"I am going to wage a sensational national crusade that the house of a principal officer or the two houses of [Madam] speaker and her deputy will consume the taxpayers money to the tune of 628 million [naira] is highly unacceptable," he said. "If what we read in The Daily Trust [newspaper] on Sunday is correct, then there will be an earthquake."

Her supporters have rejected allegations of impropriety by awarding lucrative contracts to friends for the refurbishings - a charge Dino Maleye, chairman of the house committee on information, insists is wrong.

"Madam speaker is not the accountant of the House of Representatives," said Maleye. "She is not the cashier of the national assembly. She is not in any way responsible for repairs of federal government houses. The houses in question is a federal government property, built by, and maintained by the FCDA [Federal Capital Development Agency]. So, there is no way Madam speaker could have been a beneficiary of this exercise."

The speaker, who has been reportedly in the United States celebrating her birthday, has also come under fire for leaving out opposition members from key positions in the parliament.

Nigeria earns about $30 billion from oil exports but poverty is endemic as officials routinely steal or squander state resources.