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Nigerian Groups React Positively to Clinton on Corruption, Flawed Elections

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's call for Nigeria to embrace broad political reforms and toughen up on corruption has been hailed by civil society groups and opposition politicians.

Opposition and human rights campaigners, who attended the Abuja town-hall meeting, were in full agreement with U.S. Secretary of State Clinton that Nigeria 's fight against corruption is faltering under President Umaru Yar'Adua.

Tony Uranta is the Executive Secretary of the Niger Delta security and Strategic Group.

"The Nigerian government has tried to celebrate it as a victory for Nigeria,"Uranta said. "I do not think so. I think it is more of an indictment. In fact in her speech at the town-hall meeting it was clear that she was very disappointed with the Nigerian government. She was totally appalled with the rate at which corruption has crept into the realities of our nation."

Corruption is endemic in Africa 's most populous nation, from policeman at checkpoints soliciting bribes to top government officials accused of stealing millions of dollars. Watchdog groups rank Nigeria among the world's most corrupt countries.

The anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, says more than $300 billion of public funds have been stolen in Nigeria since the 1970s.

The World Bank says nine out of 10 Nigerians survive on less than $2 a day, their lives blighted by poor infrastructure and a lack of public services resulting from decades of endemic corruption.

The country director of the non-governmental group Action Aid Nigeria, Hussein Abdu, sees Clinton's visit as a wake up call for Nigeria, the world's eighth-biggest oil exporter.

"I think her coming yesterday was like a reminder to us that look, we are off the mark and it is important for us to retrace our steps and to begin to follow a course for the regeneration of the country, and for the reconstruction of the country,"Abdu said.

Another salient theme of the Clinton visit was Nigeria 's flawed electoral system. Both local and international observers said the 2007 polls, presidential, legislative and state governorship, were marred by serious fraud nationwide.

President Umaru Yar'Adua pledged to reform the electoral system when he came to power in 2007, but critics believe he has moved too slowly and that key changes are not likely before 2011 when Nigeria holds its next round of general elections.

Clinton 's support for urgent electoral reforms was therefore widely celebrated by opposition parties and civil society groups.