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Nigerian Parliament Investigates Oil Sector

Nigeria's House of Representatives is set Tuesday to begin a probe into allegations of corruption in the country's oil industry. A parliamentary panel is scheduled to question top oil officials ahead of a wider public investigation. Gilbert da Costa has more for VOA in this report from Abuja.

The panel is to probe the oil industry between 1999 and 2007, looking at oil concessions and operations of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was also oil minister between 1999 and 2007, was indicted last year by a parliamentary inquiry for acting illegally in the management of an oil development fund, the Petroleum Training and Development Fund.

Atiku Abubakar, formerly Mr. Obasanjo's deputy who had a falling out with the former president, says Mr. Obasanjo should take responsibility for the alleged under-handed dealings in the oil sector for the period under review.

"I know nothing about the oil sector," he said. "The [former] president was the minister of oil for all the eight years, and he related only with the group managing director [of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation]. Nobody knew anything about the oil sector. No member of the cabinet can tell you anything about the oil sector."

Mr. Obasanjo, who presided over the longest-ever stretch of uninterrupted civilian rule in Nigeria, has come under public scrutiny in recent months following allegations of corruption during his tenure.

A parliamentary committee is investigating why $13 billion spent on the energy sector during Mr. Obasanjo's rule failed to end the country's electricity crisis. A senate panel is scrutinizing land acquisitions by the former president and his family.

The anti-corruption unit, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, says about $500 billion, mainly from the oil sector, was stolen between 1960 and 2007 in Nigeria, the world's eighth-largest oil exporter.

President Umaru Yar Adua was elected last year on a platform of "zero tolerance" for corruption, but he has nevertheless been criticized for his efforts. Rights advocates are skeptical of the president's commitment to confronting allegedly corrupt political bosses who brought him to power.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission says it has recovered more than $4 billion in assets from fraudsters and corrupt officials in the past five years, as well as securing 250 convictions.