Former US president George Bush and ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair joined Nigeria’s elite at a ceremony honouring its political and business establishment, but one winner’s absence highlighted the endemic corruption and other problems plaguing the oil-rich nation.
Hosted by a Nigerian newspaper mogul Nduka Obaigbena, yesterday’s ceremony included an award for former anti-corruption investigator Nuhu Ribadu, who investigated top ruling-party politicians.
But family members had to accept the award for Mr Ribadu, who left Nigeria for the US after being sacked from his job and targeted in a a drive-by shooting.
Mr Ribadu once estimated corruption cost Nigeria – a nation where most people live on less than £1.30 (€1.50) a day – more than €278.50bn since independence. Yet little has been done to stem that flow.
“We have in Nigeria in particular a system appreciated by Nigerians but no one else – an idea of dependence” on patronage and corruption, former president Shehu Shagari told those gathered at the ThisDay Awards in Abuja.
“It has to be fought against in this country or we will not have progress.”
How to change that system is an open question in a country where some former military leaders remain active in politics.
Mr Bush sat alongside former dictator Muhammadu Buhari, a general who had government critics detained and passed laws allowing for indefinite detentions without trial.
Neither Mr Bush nor Mr Blair spoke at the event, but former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice briefly touched on the corruption plaguing Nigeria in her speech.
She called on Nigeria to hold honest and transparent presidential elections scheduled for 2011.
However, some MPs have suggested moving the election up after vice president Goodluck Jonathan took over for President Umaru Yar’Adua, who is receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.
Mr Blair, Mr Bush and Ms Rice all met Mr Jonathan at different times over the weekend. After his meeting with Mr Bush, a statement by Mr Jonathan promised the coming elections “will be credible”.
Meanwhile police detained activist Shehu Sani of Civil Rights Congress in Nigeria and about 30 others peacefully protesting against Mr Blair and Mr Bush’s roles in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Mr Sani said the police held him for several hours before he posted bail on charges of incitement and creating a public disturbance.