Obasanjo sacks housing minister over scandal

Abuja - President Olusegun Obasanjo sacked his housing minister on Monday, the second such dismissal in less than two weeks as the Nigerian leader tries to show he is serious about tackling corruption.

Alice Mobolaji Osomo was dismissed after a public scandal erupted over her attempt to secretly sell 207 state-owned properties in a plush part of Lagos, one week after education minister Fabian Osuji was sacked for bribery.

And the sacking came on the same day as Nigeria's former police chief Tafa Balogun appeared in an Abuja court to face 70 charges of fraud and money laundering involving around $100-million (R600-million).

The dismissal was announced in a statement from Obasanjo's office.

It said she was sacked "following the embarrassing handling of the sale of federal government property in Lagos in violation of the federal executive council decision and the clear and repeated instructions from Obasanjo".

Obasanjo is engaged in a renewed anti-corruption drive and was angry that the sale was being conducted behind closed doors, with homes privately offered to ministers, state governors, lawmakers, police chiefs and military top brass.

He was doubly embarrassed that the list of names of people who had been offered priority in the sale of the homes, some of them worth many hundreds of thousands of dollars, included key members of his economic team.

Several top officials, including Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala confirmed that they had been offered property by Osomo's ministry but said that they had turned it down.

Other senior officials, however, have confirmed that they put down deposits on the homes in the belief that the sell-off had government approval.

That team is engaged in a high-profile international campaign to persuade Nigeria's foreign creditors that the anti-corruption drive is making progress and that the country therefore deserves relief on its $35-billion debt.

As part of a clean-up of Nigeria's notoriously murky public finances, the federal government is engaged in a large-scale programme to sell off assets.

In theory, the programme is designed to increase the transparency of state spending, but the project has been dogged with accusations that government cronies and powerful officials have been creaming off lucrative investments. - Sapa-AFP

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