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Human Rights Watch Says Corruption Pervasive in Nigeria

A Human Rights Watch report says violence and corruption are fundamental and pervasive problems in Nigeria. Sarah Simpson reports from the commercial capital Lagos, where the report held few surprises for residents who struggle daily with graft and the fear of violent crime.

The Human Rights Watch report released in Lagos says violence and corruption are so bad in Nigeria that the conduct of public officials is more like criminal activity than democratic government.

The Human Rights Watch researcher presenting the report, Chris Albin-Lackey, says the situation in Nigeria has deteriorated since the end of military rule in 1999.

"What has really happened here continually over the past eight years in much of the country, is government institutions have been captured by people who have no intention to govern responsibly or show any respect for human rights of its citizens," he said.

Political violence is paid for by politicians and their sponsors, or "godfathers", says Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organization based in New York. It says some arm gangs to fight, rig polls or even carry out political assassinations on their behalf.

The prize everyone is fighting for is money and lots of it. Nigeria is a multi-billion-dollar oil exporter, but much of that cash is siphoned off to personal bank accounts of the ruling elite. Poverty is on the rise as a result, says Albin-Lackey.

"These problems have a lot to do with why in spite of the country's vast natural resources, poverty is increasing rather than declining," added said. "Access to basic health care and education of any speakable standard of quality is again falling instead of increasing."

Lagos citizens like this young man, who says his name is "Don't-cheat-me" Marshall, complains that he lives without access to basics like electricity or clean drinking water.

"Corruption is too much in Nigeria," he said. Our government does not take care of us. Look at [this], no lights, nothing!"

Marshall tries to earn a living hawking plastic buckets on the bustling streets of Lagos, but he is fearful of gangs of unemployed young men known as Area Boys who terrorize the city's residents extorting money under threat of violence.

Such gangs or "cults" have been around for decades though they have grown in prominence over the last eight years, says Human Rights Watch.

New President Umaru Yar'Adua has the opportunity to turn the tide, says Human Rights Watch, but the task is immense and he is burdened by the fact that his own position is a result of violent and corrupt elections in April that swept him to power.

Though Ephraim Tete says he is supportive of President Yar'Adua, he is not expecting an end to problems like corruption any time soon.

"The problem of corruption is not something one will just deal with at a go," he noted. "It has to take time because corruption did not just emerge in a day. It took time before corruption emerged. So it will take time before the corruption disappears, if at all it will."

Human Rights Watch says it wants to see President Yar'Adua's government bring an end to the culture of impunity among Nigeria's ruling class through investigations and criminal proceedings.

Trader Tony Obayomi has his own ideas of how to deal with those guilty of violence and corruption.

"Either it should be life in jail or they should kill them by hanging so that other people coming behind will learn from it," he said. "But we have not learned those sort of things. That is the most [significant] problem I see in this country."

Nigeria is the most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa and the seventh-largest oil exporter in the world.