Nigeria: Former minister braces up for corruption charges

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The former minister in charge of Nigeria’s federal capital of Abuja has returned from a self-imposed exile to face charges of financial misappropriation and abuse of power, labeled against him. Mr. Nasir el-Rufai wishes to clear his name of the allegations in a court hearing on Thursday.

Mr. Rufai, who is a close ally of former president Olusegun Obasanjo, is suspected of embezzling 32 billion naira (213 million dollars) of public funds when he was in office. He returned last Saturday after two years in exile to defend himself against this charges.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission spokesman Femi Babafemi told reporters that Mr. Rufai was granted bail and Thursday’s hearing would focus on corruption and abuse of office.

“The former minister, Nasir el-Rufai, will appear before the court of law on Thursday on a nine-count charge. The two parties [The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and Mr. Rufai] appeared to be satisfied. He said he was coming to Nigeria to clear his name. He has submitted himself willingly,” Mr. Rufai’s lawyer, Abdulakeem Mustapha was quoted by reporters.

The allegations brought against Mr. Rufai also include claims that he had reclaimed land allocated to the electricity supply agency and given it to relatives. However, the ex-minister insists that the charges labeled against him are politically motivated.

Mr. Rufai’s return comes as political apprehension increases in Nigeria ahead of next year’s presidential election. And some Nigerians have described this impending corruption trial as a test for acting President Goodluck Jonathan to proof his anti-corruption campaign.

“Let’s see if he [Rufai] is brought to justice or harbored as most often it is in Nigeria. Let’s see if Jonathan will prove to Nigerians, and indeed the international community that they are out to fight corruption. We are waiting,” Emeka Adolph, a Nigerian student said.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) filed eight-count charge of criminal conspiracy and abuse of office against Mr. Rufa’i on May 6, 2009. On November 5, a warrant of arrest was issued by the Nigeria Police, which disclosed that he was wanted for acts contrary to Sections 96, 120, 123 and 124 CAP 532 laws of the federation of Nigeria as well as some provisions of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act of 2000.

Mr. El-Rufa’i had always said he would be in the country before the end of the year to face all charges filed against him.

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