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Nigeria Police Stop Former State Governor from Fleeing Arrest

With about 30 current and former state governors in Nigeria reportedly under investigation for corruption, Nigerian police have announced the arrest of the former governor of Ondo state. Olusegun Agagu, who left office last year after losing reelection, was seized shortly before he was going to board a flight from the capital, Abuja, heading to Australia. He is said to have embezzled $170-million during his term in office. Anti-corruption activist Auwal Musa Rafsanjani is the chairman of Nigeria's Zero Corruption Coalition. He says that while most Nigerians welcome the development, they are not all that enthusiastic about Agagu's arrest because they continue to see many other public officials still getting away with a diversion of public funds, despite moves by Nigeria's President Umaru Yar'Adua to crack down on official acts of wrongdoing.

"A lot of Nigerians have welcomed it. But they are not also over-impressed because they know that the government will negotiate with him, since he belongs to the ruling (PDP) party. Once you are in the ruling party, the likelihood is that your corruption cases might be wrapped up. Officially, negotiation was just criminal, to collect some percentages. To many Nigerians, this was not an encouraging balance, but, rather, is giving incentives to people who want to loot that 'it's okay. Whatever a looter has, it can do as to collect five percent or ten percent. And then I will continue with the rest of the looting.' But most Nigerians are not really confident about the way or manner in which the anti-corruption agency (EFCC) is going about it," he said.

Serving Nigerian state governors have immunity from criminal prosecution. But as Governor Aguga's term was drawing to a close, he felt the force of a government criminal investigation of his finances. Instead of being arrested, he was allowed to go to Abuja, where this week, he tried unsuccessfully to board a plane to Australia. Security agents seized him at the airport right before he was scheduled to depart. Rafsanjani says that most Nigerians assume that the detained Ondo state official was heading out of the country to protect and spend his amassed fortune, since his immunity had expired.

"Since he is no longer under any protection of any laws, he has to completely disappear so that the government will not go after him. One expected that immediately after this guy was asked to go, it is expected that he should right away be arrested and probably be taken to court. But they had allowed him to come to Abuja. And it was through some extra effort by security agents that he was arrested," said Rafsanjani.

He warns that more and more former governors are finding a loophole in Nigeria's system that allows them to prolong their legal immunity and protect themselves from arrest.

"Some of them have found themselves as ministers, so you'll find out that the ministers in the cabinet, certainly with their corrupt cases with the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) and the ICTC (Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offenses Commission), and sometimes now they have been given ministerial appointments . That is one of the greatest disappointments that Nigerians have had over the claim of the fight against corruption in this government because clearly, they brought people who either have looted or stolen money in their states and yet they have now awarded them with ministerial appointments," he lamented.

Other former governors have won election to Nigeria's national assembly as senators and legislators and have found ways to avoid prosecution. Auwal Musa Rafsanjani says that Nigerian voters are going to have to do more to draw the line during the election process to make their officials more accountable and ensure that their public servants maintain their honesty when they serve in office.