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Ex-Ministers Named in $400 Million  Nigeria Airways Scandal - 2003-11-24

The Nigerian government has included former government ministers in a long awaited report on a $400 million corruption case involving Nigeria Airways, the national carrier.

A damning report that has been kept under wraps since May 2002 was finally released by the government Sunday. The report recommended that authorities recover $400 million of state funds from the government officials and companies involved.

It also recommended the prosecution of several individuals, including government ministers, and companies for corruption and financial mismanagement.

Political Analyst Tunde Martins says that although this is the biggest corruption scandal to have been unearthed since President Olusegun Obasanjo took office in 1999, the problems in Nigeria run much deeper.

"Government is systematically and gradually unearthing corruption that has taken place in the past," said Mr. Martins. "But government has not succeeded in prosecuting anyone due to lots of obstacles. It is not the fault of the government, but the unwillingness of Nigerian society to confront corruption head-on."

Two former aviation ministers are implicated in the graft case. They are Alabo Graham-Douglas, a former presidential candidate, and Patrick Koshoni, a retired admiral from the Nigerian navy. In total, 90 government officials are named in the report.

In 2001, President Obasanjo appointed a judicial commission to look into activities at Nigeria Airways under the previous military regime.

Nigerian Airways was in the 1970s a thriving airline operating a fleet of 30 planes. But by the time President Obasanjo came to office in 1999, it had only one plane left.

Fraudulent invoicing and questionable payments were among the irregularities uncovered by the probe, as were payments made for planes that were never delivered. Free tickets were regularly handed out to friends and associates of employees. Assets were stripped, including the sale of Nigeria Airways House in London for less than half its value.

Nigeria is widely regarded as one of the world's most corrupt countries. In its 2003 survey of corporate executives, the non-governmental organization Transparency International, found that Nigerian government and public officials are perceived as the second most corrupt in the world after Bangladesh.