Nigeria is braced for a major political shake-up after the country's financial crimes unit vowed to name and shame leaders it claims have looted up to £212bn in oil revenues from the treasury.
Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, head of the economic and financial crimes commission (EFCC), said it was poised to publish the names of those, past and present, who siphoned state cash to foreign bank accounts, as it steps up its anti-corruption campaign ahead of elections expected next Spring.
"Over $400bn (£212bn) of oil money has been stolen by bad leaders. We are going to trace the activities of past and present leaders and publish the names of those leaders who have laundered money, their accounts and the names of the banks where money is being kept," Mr Ribadu said.
According to the international watchdog, Transparency International, Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, was the most corrupt in the world in 2003, and corruption is still endemic. Despite vast oil reserves, most Nigerians live in poverty and the oil-rich Niger Delta is in the grip of a mounting insurgency fuelled by local resentment.
The step from the financial crimes unit comes a week after the foreign minister and anti-corruption campaigner Ngozi Okonjo Iweala resigned after being sacked as head of the economic reform panel.
Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, who was credited with masterminding the cancellation of Nigeria's $18bn debt, step-ped down citing "a compelling need to take care of pressing family issues". However, the former World Bank vice-president was in London negotiating a new debt relief package when she heard the news of President Olusegun Obasanjo's decision to demote her. Her anti-corruption campaign, which saw Nigeria's top police officer jailed and a number of judges and senior customs officials sacked, brought her into conflict with the most powerful interests in the land.
Mr Ribadu said the commission would close the accounts of politicians who had "laundered money and converted it for their political ambitions". According to Mr Ribadu, what most of the governors receive is sufficient to develop their states but ends up in "private bank accounts". However, state governors claim they are being short changed by central government. Prior to her resignation, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala had begun publish ing federal payments on the Internet, making it one of the most visited Nigerian pages online.
"There are a lot of cases of government officials who connived with banks to steal government money," Mr Ribadu said. "This money is being converted and transferred to other countries. Over 80 per cent of Nigeria's money has gone to waste. This is a country with massive resources but people are suffering because we have poor management." The financial crimes boss stopped short of criticising the president, insisting that his support was helping them to combat a $12bn annual theft from state coffers.
The exit of Mrs Okonjo-Iweala sparked fears among analysts and the international community that President Obasanjo would begin to backslide on his commitment to reform Nigeria's corruption-based economy.
Under her stewardship, Nigeria became the first African country to be freed of its debt to the Paris club of rich nations last April, under a debt-relief deal that was supposed to clear the way for billions of dollars to be spent on reducing poverty. She won over the donor countries by arguing that Nigeria is a poor nation where most people live on less than 60p per day and one in five children does not reach the age of five.Reuse content