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Mon, 14 May 2012 10:57 - Updated Mon, 14 May 2012 10:57

Nigeria president unlikely to risk oil graft crackdown

Abuja

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ABUJA - Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is coming under pressure to prosecute top officials implicated in a $6.8 billion fuel subsidy fraud, but many of the suspects are allies he is unlikely to go after if wants to keep his power base intact.

It has been three weeks since parliament produced a report detailing massive corruption in a state subsidised petrol import scheme and Jonathan has yet to indicate how he intends to respond.

Inaction on one of the biggest corruption scandals in Nigerian history will hurt Jonathan's reformist credentials and further alienate his government from a disillusioned population. It could also prompt major public protests.

But some of Jonathan's closest allies manage the oil industry, which is based in his home region, and the tentacles of the subsidy fraud spread throughout the political elite, making it near impossible to untangle.

"In the past pressure for change has usually prompted the casting aside of a scapegoat," said Antony Goldman, Nigeria analyst and head of Africa-focused PM Consulting.

"Too many people in the ruling elite do not want an end to corruption, they just want their turn. From an external perspective, failure to act may indeed look like weakness; the domestic environment is more complex."

Civil society groups have threatened protests if those they deem responsible for the mess, including Oil Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke, and heads of the state oil firm, aren't sacked.

In January, thousands bought the nation to standstill in protests against an attempted removal of the subsidy.