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Top Nigerian Officials Fired for Alleged Graft

Lagos-based corruption watchdog, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, has called for a protest march against the eight-year rule of former president Olusegun Obasanjo. The agitation is driven by reports suggesting a string of shady deals under the former administration. Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports the firing of two cabinet ministers for corruption is unlikely to stem calls for a full probe.

Presidential spokesman Segun Adeniyi says the two health ministers were compelled to quit over alleged embezzlement of public funds. The ministers had failed to return about $3 million of the health ministry's budget to the treasury, contravening a directive from President Umaru Yar'Adua. The former ministers denied wrongdoing, blaming junior officials for the scam.

Adeniyi says 14 ranking officials of the ministry have been suspended, pending the conclusion of investigations.

"President Yar'Adua has ordered that the permanent secretary in the federal ministry of health, Prince Simon Ogandi; the director of administration and the director of finance who participated in the subversion of his directive on the return of the unspent budget 2007 funds to the treasury should proceed on immediate suspension pending further disciplinary action by government," Adeniyi said. "Another director, a chief accountant, a principal administrative officer, a principal transport officer and seven other civil servants in the ministry were also affected by the suspension order."

President Yar'Adua directed government agencies to return unspent funds from the 2007 budget in a bid to stop the funds from being stolen.

Several lawmakers, including Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, former President Obasanjo's daughter, have been named by the local press as some of the beneficiaries of the money.

The former president has come under criticism, following corruption allegations involving his administration.

The Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, a non-governmental organization, is demanding a full-scale probe of the Obasanjo administration.

President Yar'Adua says he will protect nobody and would allow anti-graft agencies free reign to go after anyone found to be corrupt.

Lai Mohammed, of the opposition Action Congress, says an official investigation is crucial for Yar'Adua's anti-corruption campaign.

"If President Yar'Adua really wants to make any impact, he must really probe the past administration of Obasanjo," Mohammed said. "Otherwise, he would not be able to move an inch."

Campaigners say long delays in concluding corruption trials have equally undermined public confidence in the anti-corruption efforts.