Two Nigerian ministers resign over graft charges

Two Nigerian cabinet ministers have resigned weeks after they were accused of embezzlement by the anti-corruption police, President Umaru Yar'Adua's office said on Tuesday.

Two Nigerian ministers resign over graft charges
Health Ministers Adenike Grange and Gabriel Aduku are the first cabinet casualties since Yar'Adua took power last May on pledges of zero tolerance for corruption in what looks like a serious test case for the administration.

"Both ministers are leaving the Federal Executive Council (cabinet) following charges of corruption brought against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)," the presidency said in a statement.

The resignations came after newspaper reports last month that the EFCC had questioned Grange and some top health officials for allegedly spending 300 million naira ($2.5 million) of the ministry's 2007 budget on dubious contracts and Christmas gifts just before year-end contrary to a presidential directive.

Yar'Adua had directed all government agencies to return unspent monies from the 2007 budget to the federal treasury in a new step to check public sector corruption.

Yar'Adua has also ordered that 14 other top officials be suspended from office for participating "in the subversion of his directive ...," the statement added.

The norm under the previous administration was to embark on an end-of-year spending spree in a bid to exhaust all budgeted funds, with a chunk of money shared by officials as bonuses.

Nigerian newspapers had also named more than a dozen federal legislators, including Iyabo Bello-Obasanjo -- former President Olusegun Obasanjo's daughter who chairs the Senate committee on health -- among beneficiaries of the spending spree.

Yar'Adua has come under pressure to step up his anti-graft drive in one of the world's most tainted countries since he came to power after last year's flawed election. Investors are keen to see signs of how seriously Nigeria tackles graft.

Yar'Adua has said he will protect nobody and would let the EFCC go after anyone found corrupt.

The agency has charged eight out of the 36 state governors from the previous administration, including two of Yar'Adua's main financiers during campaigns for last April's election, with corruption after they stepped down in May and lost their immunity from prosecution.

But some anti-corruption campaigners fear the trials will drag on for years since the cases have hardly made any progress over the last few months and the ex-governors have all been granted on bail.

Last Mod: 26 Mart 2008, 17:13
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