A statement issued by the office of Nigeria's Justice Minister and Attorney General has vowed to prosecute "any person found wanting" during an investigation into alleged corruption in the country's fuel subsidy regime, after a parliamentary panel publicised allegations of suspected embezzlement and mismanagement that lost up to USD6.8 billion over the past three years (seeNigeria: 25 April 2012:).
Any individuals suspected to be involved "will be prosecuted irrespective of the person's standing in the society", according to the statement from the Justice Ministry, which nevertheless tempered its message, adding that the government "must be guided by the dictates of the rule of law and due process".
The statement apparently comes in response to widespread condemnation of the allegations in the press and civil society, with some trade unions threatening to launch protests and strikes unless direct action is taken by the Federal Government. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, as well as the Oil Ministry and national regulator, was harshly criticised in the National Assembly's report, which claimed institutional mismanagement and entrenched corruption were responsible for the losses, approximately equivalent to the yearly budget cost of the subsidy programme itself.
Significance: Although high-level prosecutions rarely result from investigations into alleged corruption in Nigeria, often due to official immunity claims or lack of judicial will, the case of the alleged mismanagement of the fuel subsidy funds will strike a chord with many Nigerians still angry about the attempted unilateral removal of the subsidy by the government on 1 January 2012.
The popular anger and strikes caused by the attempted full deregulation (the government and trade unions eventually agreed on a partial subsidy reinstatement) indicates that the case will be watched closely both domestically and internationally; and as such the country's judiciary is likely to move to make the case a benchmark for its ongoing transparency campaign.
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(Originally published May 8, 2012, in Global Insight.)