Posted by IRIN on
In the latest corruption scandal to rock Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo has cancelled the sale of 207 government houses at knockdown prices after discovering that close relatives of his wife and several cabinet ministers were to have been among the beneficiaries of this controversial deal.
ABUJA, 4 Apr 2005 (IRIN) - In the latest corruption scandal to rock Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo has cancelled the sale of 207 government houses at knockdown prices after discovering that close relatives of his wife and several cabinet ministers were to have been among the beneficiaries of this controversial deal.
Obasanjo last week ordered Housing Minister Mobolaji Osomo to cancel the planned sale of these houses on well-to-do estates in Lagos, the commercial hub of Nigeria. He told Osomo to sell the houses by public auction instead.
“I must express my displeasure, in very clear terms, about the way you seem to be handling the sale of federal government property in Lagos,” Obasanjo told Osomo in his letter, dated 31 March, a copy of which was made available to IRIN.
The president said he had been alerted to the wrongdoing by an anonymous letter which informed him that 207 people were being “allocated or offered property for sale surreptitiously…some without payment”.
“I also feel personally embarrassed that almost all members of my wife’s family are on that list,” Obasanjo said.
The list that was sent to Obasanjo has been widely published by Nigerian newspapers. It includes a brother and two sisters of Nigeria's first lady, Stella Obasanjo - Henry Abebe, Yemisi Abebe and Franca Abebe. All three were lined up to buy choice properties in the upmarket Lagos residential suburb of Ikoyi.
The list also contained the names of several government ministers, some of whom have claimed that they never submitted a request to buy any of the houses concerned.
The cancellation of the property deal has provided a temporary respite for government employees living in the affected houses who faced imminent eviction.
At two large condominium estates in Lagos, the news was received with celebration. The residents had long claimed they were being kicked out of their homes so that government ministers could get their hands on lucrative Lagos properties cheaply.
The government is currently selling off many of its houses as part of an IMF-backed policy to cut back on administration costs. In future, most civil servants will be expected to rent or buy their own accommodation.
Obasanjo recently launched a new crackdown on the corruption which has already claimed two high-profile victims.
Last month, Obasanjo sacked Education Minister, Fabian Osuji, accusing him of bribing legislators, including Senate President Adolphus Wabara, to increase his ministry’s budget for 2005.
And in January police chief Tafa Balogun retired suddenly amid allegations that he had salted away several million dollars of ill-gotten wealth in a series of bank accounts. Balogun was arrested last week by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. It was expected to formally lay charges against him on Monday.
Earlier, in January 2003, the president fired Labour Minister Hussein Akwanga over allegations that he took bribes from the French company SAGEM that enabled it to win a contract to produce new identity cards for Nigeria's 126 million inhabitants. Akwanga and three other senior politicians charged with him are currently free on bail pending the conclusion of their trial.
Corruption is rampant in Nigeria. However, no top government official has so far been convicted for corrupt practices during Obasanjo’s six years in office.
The international corruption watchdog Transparency International ranked Nigeria third from bottom, just ahead of Bangladesh and Haiti, in its 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.
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