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Nigerian Activists Demand Accountability, Threaten Protests

People protest in Nigeria's northern city of Kano on January 16, 2012, before unions called off strikes over high fuel prices.

Nigerian activists are demanding prosecutions, after lawmakers reviewed a report that documents massive high-level theft of public funds intended to subsidize the cost of fuel for the Nigerian people. The activists said that if no action is taken within the next two weeks, they will again lead the people into the streets.

Early this year, when Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan announced an end to the decades-old fuel subsidy, prices of everything skyrocketed and demonstrations broke out across the country. For about a week, business came to a standstill as protesters marched, unions struck, and rallies turned into dangerous - and sometimes deadly - clashes with security forces.

Eventually, the president bowed to public pressure and reinstated some of the subsidy.

But late last month, Nigerian legislators reviewed a report that changed everything: a lot of the subsidy never did help the people, it said. The report said about $7 billion was stolen by rich businesspeople and/or government officials.

Pastor Tunde Bakare, the head of the Save Nigeria Group, one of the organizers of the January protests, said if the government does not produce concrete evidence that they are working to prosecute high-level officials implicated in the report within two weeks, there will be new protests.

He said the subsidy of more than 2.5 trillion Nigerian naira in 2011 - that’s more than $16 billion - belongs to the public.

"Our message to our countrymen and women is that they must be stronghearted, and determined to take back our country," said Bakare. "If our people realize what 3 trillion [naira] can do in the life of a nation, it would not be difficult to understand why we must kill corruption, lest it kills us, as it is systematically doing already."

President Jonathan’s office has publicly promised he "would not spare" anyone proven guilty, but some activists said former ministers and current Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke are party to the scam. Many are calling for the petroleum minister's resignation.

This comes as Mr. Jonathan faces increasing pressure to end the escalating battle between the government and Boko Haram, an Islamist militant sect blamed for the deaths of more than 400 people this year alone.

Nigerian writer and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka in Pretoria, February 1, 2012.
Nigerian writer and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka in Pretoria, February 1, 2012.

Nobel laureate and playwright Woles Soyinka said corruption may not have caused insecurity in Nigeria, but it causes suffering that exacerbates it.

"The level of fury is not unrelated to the amount of violence we are witnessing today throughout the nation," said Soyinka. "It is not the entire cause of it, it is not unrelated, to fact that humanity in the streets, in the markets, in motor garages, in factories are bombarded with things like these while they are just ekeing their daily living."

The report, which lawmakers adopted April 25, was prepared by a committee established to investigate the subsidy after the January protests. The report called the subsidy “fraught with endemic corruption and entrenched inefficiency.”

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