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« Floods kill 29, displace 340,000 in Indonesia; Between 40 and 70 percent of Jakarta inundated; more rain expected | Main | Militants free 9 Chinese oil workers in Nigeria »

February 05, 2007

Activists report on Nigeria corruption

LAGOS, Nigeria - A human rights group said Wednesday its study of one of Nigeria's oil-producing states found that officials squandered or stole public money, some hospitals required patients to bring their own beds, and schools were running out of chalk.

By KATHARINE HOURELD, Associated Press Writer
Wed Jan 31, 12:15 PM ET

New York-based Human Rights Watch made the allegations after studying government finances in the state of Rivers — one of six oil-producing states in Nigeria, Africa's biggest oil producer.

"Many state and local officials in Rivers have squandered or stolen public money that could have gone toward providing vital health and education services," said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

The Rivers governor's office rejected allegations of wrongdoing, saying government audits had not turned up any problems.

Out of a 2006 budget of $1.3 billion, the governor's office handed out more than $90,000 a day in unspecified "contributions" and budgeted $10 million for the year for "entertainment and hospitality ... gifts and souvenirs," the Human Rights Watch report said.

Also on the shopping list was a private jet to replace a helicopter purchased the previous year, the group said. Most Nigerians don't have access to clean water or electricity.

The office of Gov. Peter Odili also budgeted roughly $65,000 per day for travel. Human Rights Watch didn't say how many officials were in the state office.

Mila Ofobirika, a Rivers state official, called the report a "farce."

"The report does not reflect the reality on the ground" and government audits showed no theft, he said. "We have nothing to fear because we have put our house in order."

Under Nigeria's federal system, the central government disperses money to officials in the country's 36 states, who are responsible for providing basic services. Rivers is one of six states in the southern Niger Delta region where crude oil is pumped.

The report, by researcher Chris Albin-Lackey, said that politicians in Rivers have a record of "shocking and disastrous failure" in their delivery of basic services like primary health care and education.

Researchers found that Rivers health clinics often required patients to bring their own beds and medicines and only one of the 15 schools surveyed had textbooks. Most schools were running out of chalk, and wrote on bare cement walls.

"State and local budgets have expanded dramatically in recent years, but mismanagement and theft has left basic health and education services in a terrible state of decay," Takirambudde said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the report said that some local politicians were banking annual salaries of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Officials hid public documents and government officials in one local area required colleagues to swear secrecy oaths before "juju" — the popular name for black magic — shrines.

With a population of 140 million, oil-rich Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation and, at least on paper, one of its richest. Local governments have had their budgets increased by up to fourfold in the last eight years by a windfall generated by high oil prices.

But most Nigerians say they've seen little improvement in their lives.

President Olusegun Obasanjo has promised to crack down on corruption and several top state officials have been investigated, but the opposition says those probes are politically motivated. General elections are scheduled for April and competition for the lucrative state government positions is heating up.

Posted by Publisher at February 5, 2007 02:14 PM

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