Nigeria's House of Representatives is beginning an investigation into the country's oil industry.  Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports for VOA that top industry officials are scheduled to testify before a special parliamentary panel at a public hearing.  

Nigeria's oil industry will come under scrutiny this week in Abuja as the House of Representatives holds public hearings on alleged under-handed dealings in the sector.

The anti-corruption unit, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, says an estimated $500 billion were stolen between 1960 and 2007 in Nigeria, the world's eighth largest oil exporter.

Political interference, embezzlement and administrative lapses have turned the state-owned petroleum company, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, into a huge cash-cow for the country's rulers.

Soji Apampa, of the anti-corruption group Integrity, says putting the spotlight on Nigeria's most strategic industry is a huge step forward.

"The probe of the oil and gas industry in Nigeria is a very welcome one because it is one of those industries that are still encased in lot of dark practices," said Apampa. "Insufficient light had been shed on it thus far, and as we have seen the probes that had taken place so far in the National Assembly, we know that their value is in bringing some level of transparency to the happenings in a particular sector."

A parliamentary committee of inquiry earlier this year reported widespread irregularities in the award of oil concessions handed out during the era of former president Olusegun Obasanjo.

Nine out of 10 Nigerians live on less than $2 a day, their lives blighted by poor infrastructure and a lack of public services resulting from decades of endemic corruption.

Nigeria regularly ranks among the most corrupt in the world, and analysts say this constitute a deterrent to foreign investment and impediment to growth.  

A parliamentary committee reported Tuesday that about half the revenues collected by government agencies were not paid to Nigeria's treasury.

"About 3.6 trillion [about $3 billion] has actually been generated as internally generated revenue. Of this amount, about 1.5 trillion has never found its way into government coffers," said John Eno, who heads the House of Representatives Committee on Finance.

President Umaru Yar'Adua, who promised to tackle graft when elected in 2007, has been criticized for making slow progress on the issue.