Corruption in Nigeria
Wednesday, June 1, 2005; Washington Post, Page A18
ELECTED TO a second term in 2003, Nigeria's president, Olusegun
Obasanjo, has promised to clean up corruption. He has shown some
signs of seriousness: Investigations have triggered the sacking of
two government ministers, the arrest of a former police chief and the
resignation of the Senate president. But the key test of Mr.
Obasanjo's commitment is oil. Nigeria pumps 3 percent of the world's
crude, and oil is the source of the cronyism that has suffocated
Nigerian development since independence.
In the oil sphere Mr. Obasanjo has made the right noises. Last year
Nigeria was one of four African countries to sign up to the
Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, an international
effort to promote the publication of payments oil and mining firms
make to governments. The government has appointed a Western audit
firm to certify that its oil accounts are accurate; the hope is that
published revenue that can be monitored by advocacy groups and the
media will not be diverted into ministers' pockets. Nigerians even
suggest that their new openness will serve as a model for Africa's
burgeoning oil sector. "I rejoice greatly that Nigeria is and will
continue to be at the forefront of the continent's new transparent
dawn," Mr. Obasanjo declared in February 2004. The quote is displayed
prominently on the transparency initiative's Web site.
Recently, however, the dawn has been looking a bit bleak. Some of
Nigeria's oil fields are shared with the tiny nation of Sao Tome and
Principe, and the allocation of exploration rights there smells bad.
According to a Nigerian press report, a firm run by a politically
connected Nigerian seems favored to win an auction over a U.S.
contender that bid substantially more; several other bidders appear
to stand out for their links to the government rather than for their
knowledge of geology or engineering. The first payment generated by
this auction process has been made into a Nigerian bank controlled
(again, according to a Nigerian press report) by the family of the
recently sacked Senate president, a move that violated the
anti-corruption best practice of depositing it in an international
bank. Despite promises of transparency, an exploration contract with
Chevron and Exxon Mobil so far has not been published. The plan seems
to be to release part of it, eventually.
Sao Tome's government has protested the conduct of the bidding
process and demanded a fresh auction. But it's not clear whether Mr.
Obasanjo will listen. The president inserted himself directly into
the argument this month by visiting Sao Tome; according to one
account, his message to his counterpart was to allow the flawed
auction to stand. Mr. Obasanjo is no doubt under considerable
pressure from corrupt elites at home. But if he wants to change
Nigeria's dismal development record, he should live up to his fine