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Nigerian Acting President Pledges to Fight Corruption

Nigeria's new Acting President Goodluck Jonathan is pictured as he takes office in Abuja, 10 Feb 2010

New York-based Human Rights Watch says Nigeria's acting president has made promising pledges to address endemic corruption and violence in the West African country.

As Nigeria's Vice President Goodluck Jonathan steps into his new role as the country's interim president, human rights groups are eager to see if the new leader will address corruption and rights abuses in the country. Human Rights Watch's Senior West Africa Researcher, Corinne Dufka, said Mr. Jonathan's words so far are promising and hope his actions will follow.

"He needs to take these very positive statements beyond rhetoric and into concrete action. Concrete steps to address what we have identified as large-scale violence, endemic corruption which has plagued Nigeria for decades," said Dufka. "A lack of accountability for all of these abuses and other extremely pressing human rights problems in Nigeria."

Mr. Jonathan took over as president this week after the longtime absence of President Umaru Yar'Adua, who was hospitalized in Saudia Arabia two months ago. Some observers say the appointment of Mr. Jonathan could mean the end of a political deadlock in the country.

In the area of Jos, Nigeria, recent violent outbreaks have left dozens dead. The violence is often cited as erupting between Muslims and Christians. Dufka says the outbreaks may also have political roots.

"We are also extremely concerned about successive deadly outbreaks of communal violence throughout Nigeria, most recently we have seen this violence in Plateau state in central Nigeria. We believe that the root of this violence stems from this massive level of corruption and sort of mismanagement that starves the people from general opportunity for health and education," said the researcher.

Mr. Jonathan pledged to tackle corruption in Nigeria, a country whose oil-wealth does not reach a majority of the population. Earlier this week, he removed the justice minister and attorney general, Michael Aondoakaa, who led members of the cabinet in resisting a provisional transfer of power to Mr. Jonathan. Human Rights Watch says this was an important preliminary step in fighting corruption.