Leading article: The price of corruption

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The Independent Online

Talk about the "Nigerian Taliban" makes for spicy headlines, but the cause of the four days of violence in which hundreds of people have died, and thousands have fled their homes in the north of that country, is something rather different.

The Islamic sect leader who died at the hands of the Nigerian police yesterday as his uprising was crushed was certainly an extremist. His movement opposes everything from books to medicine, democracy to capitalism. It wants a more fundamentalist version of sharia law than has been imposed in many northern states of Nigeria for the past nine years. But this was nothing to do with al-Qa'ida. If you ask why this tiny minority wanted sharia applied more thoroughly, the answer is revealing. It is because the radical social welfare schemes of sharia were not introduced to address the dire poverty in the area. Nigeria is one of the richest nations in Africa, as well as one the most populous. But most of that huge population see none of its massive oil wealth.

Nigeria is run by an elite of millionaires so corrupt and ineffective they do not deliver even basic services such as running water and electricity. Disenchantment is rife, not least among the 85 per cent of the nation's graduates who are unemployed. In such circumstances extreme solutions have their attractions.

But ever more extreme forms of Islam are not the answer. Good governance is. To say that is not a pious ideal. Progress is possible, as was shown when Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was Nigeria's finance minister from 2003 to 2006. She introduced reforms and things improved. Nigeria went from the most corrupt nation on earth to just the sixth most. It was big progress for just three years. But the corrupt elite got rid of the reformer and things are slipping backwards.

The solutions have all been set out. Nigeria needs openness about government revenues and budget allocations. It needs Western governments to prosecute Western firms that pay big bribes there. It needs transparency in the procurement of government contracts and much more. But above all it requires political will, both in Africa and in the West. The elites can continue to ignore all that, of course. But the events of recent days show what will happen if they do.