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Nigeria's Oil State Ex-Governor Charged With Corruption


Nigerian prosecutors have formally charged a former governor of one of Nigeria's richest states with stealing state funds during his eight-year tenure. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa reports the trial may be an attempt by the government to shore up its anti-corruption credentials in the face of growing skepticism.

Mr. Ibori made a court appearance in the northern city of Kaduna, a day after his arrest. Prosecutors read out more than 100 charges related to corruption, money laundering and abuse of office. He pleaded not guilty.

Defense lawyers applied for bail, which was opposed by prosecutors. The court will rule on the bail application on Monday.

Mr. Ibori, who is also being investigated by the British police for suspected money laundering, is considered very wealthy and influential. He was a key supporter of President Umaru Yar'Adua during the discredited April presidential election, providing what many regard as substantial financial backing.

The former governor who ruled oil-rich Delta state between 1999 and 2007 is said to have looted millions of dollars of state funds.

Nigeria's anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which arrested Mr.Ibori, says the action showed no one is immune from prosecution, no matter how connected they are to the government.

Some opposition elements are not impressed. Osita Okechukwu, spokesman for the opposition coalition Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, says the government has not shown enough commitment to the anti-corruption crusade.

"Ibori was an expose of the fact that Yar'Adua is not sincere in his anti-corruption crusade," he said. "If he was sincere, Ibori was one of those Nuhu Ribadu [head of the EFCC] had concluded investigation several years back. The danger is that it might just be a wishy-washy affair. We of the CNPP [Conference of Nigerian Political Parties] are not happy with the tepid approach of Yar'Adua to the anti-corruption war."

At least five former governors from among Nigeria's 36 states have been charged with corruption since May, when their immunity from prosecution elapsed at the end of their tenure. Many other former governors are under investigation.

A British court has frozen $35 million of assets that prosecutors say were laundered by Mr. Ibori in Britain.