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Nigeria Missing Billions In Public Fuel Funds

Nigeria is struggling to make sense of a report that says high-level officials and business people stole $6.8 billion in public funds intended to subsidize the cost of fuel. At the same time, the lawmaker that spearheaded the report is accused of accepting a bribe from an oil company and is under investigation.

In early January, business in Nigeria came to a standstill after the fuel subsidy was cut at the recommendation of economists. Protests broke out across the country as the price of food and fuel skyrocketed.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil exporter, but it imports most of the fuel it consumes. Economists say the subsidy institutionalized corruption and waste, but the public outcry forced President Goodluck Jonathan to partially reinstate the subsidy, pending further investigation.

Member of Parliament Farouk Lawan then led a committee that found $6.8 billion of the subsidy funds had been stolen by high-level public officials and crooked business people over three years before 2011.

Last week, Nigerian Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the ministry is working to identify companies that took subsidy funds and did not provide fuel. She says Nigeria will ask for the money back.

While the minister was revealing her plans, however, Lawan was caught up in his own scandal.

CEO of Zenon Oil and Gas Limited Femi Otedola accused the lawmaker of demanding a $3.5 million bribe and of receiving $620,000. Otedola says Lawan asked for the cash to remove Zenon from the list of companies accused of stealing subsidy funds.

Lawan spent the weekend in jail and is now under investigation. Zenon remains on the list of companies accused of stealing public money.

— Reported by Heather Murdock of voanews.com

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