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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Nigeria President Can't Account for Cash




ABUJA, Nigeria -- No one is sure exactly how much money has disappeared from Nigeria's coffers since the country's former dictator died last year. What's clear is that money is gone f lots of it. The widely accepted estimate is that, give or take a couple hundred million, about $2.7 billion has been withdrawn from Nigeria's foreign reserves during its year-long democratic transition.


The government insists the money was well spent. Yet the missing billions have deeply tarnished the regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who has allowed elections that will soon end 15 years of military dictatorship. The controversy f and depleted coffers f also illustrates the myriad challenges facing president-elect, Olusegun Obasanjo, who will be inaugurated Saturday.


Abubakar appears to have run into two of Nigeria's most intractable problems f corruption and an entrenched officer class accustomed to easy access to government funds.


Obasanjo insists that government-sanctioned thievery will finally end, insisting in a speech this week that "the time for decisive action against corruption has come."


Abubakar, however, took over Nigeria making similar pledges.


Despite billions of dollars in annual revenues, Nigeria has crumbling schools, terrible telephone services and only haphazard electricity.


Wealthy Nigerians have their water trucked in every morning in tankers. Instead of building an infrastructure, successive Nigerian juntas let soldiers build enormous fortunes, replete with private planes, multiple mansions and entire fleets of cars.


"We haven't had anything like public accountability for decades," sighed Maureen Babalolo, head of the anti-corruption group Integrity.


Speaking to reporters earlier in May, Information Minister John Nwodo cited costs of elections, renovations of oil refineries, payments of outstanding debts and support for the government of Sierra Leone to explain the shortfall f which he said totaled about $2.6 billion.


"We have kept our pledge," Vice Admiral Okhai Mike Akhigbe said in a speech this week, denying press reports of stolen funds. "We can proudly say that we have steered the ship of state on the path of national renewal."