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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A new low


Looks better than the White House

As Nigeria Tries to Fight Graft, a New Sordid Tale

By LYDIA POLGREEN
Published: November 29, 2005

YENAGOA, Nigeria, Nov. 22 - Precisely where in the rogue's gallery of corrupt Nigerian leaders Diepreye Alamieyeseigha will fall is a matter for history to judge. Gen. Sani Abacha, the military dictator who helped himself to at least $3 billion and salted it away in foreign bank accounts, doubtless stole far more.

But General Abacha - who ruled the country from 1993 to 1998 - never fled money-laundering charges in a foreign land by donning a dress and a wig to match forged travel documents, as Mr. Alamieyeseigha, the governor of a small oil-producing state in the Niger Delta, did last week, government officials said.

For their sheer audacity, his antics are likely to earn him a prominent place among the leaders who in the past four decades are believed to have stolen or misspent $400 billion in government money, most of it the profits from Nigeria's oil reserves.

"It is a new low," said Gani Fawehinmi, one of Nigeria's most prominent lawyers and a longtime campaigner for good governance. "And in Nigeria that is saying something."

Mr. Alamieyeseigha is suspected of siphoning millions of dollars in cash and buying an oil refinery in Ecuador along with several houses in London, California and South Africa. He has denied stealing money from the state.

The sordid saga of the governor comes as the federal government has engaged in a broad effort to rehabilitate the country's image around the world.

Long associated with rampant corruption and kleptocratic governments, Nigeria has year in and year out gotten one of the worst scores in Transparency International's world corruption perception index, though this year its rating improved slightly.

Corruption touches virtually every aspect of Nigerian life, from the millions of sham e-mail messages sent each year by people claiming to be Nigerian officials seeking help with transferring large sums of money out of the country, to the police officers who routinely set up roadblocks, sometimes every few hundred yards, to extract bribes of 20 naira, about 15 cents, from drivers.

posted by Steve @ 11:48:00 AM

11:48:00 AM

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