LAGOS, Nigeria – Nigeria's anti-corruption agency is unable to challenge the corrupt politicians who cling to power in the oil-rich nation, according to a Human Rights Watch report released on Thursday.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has only garnered four convictions against Nigeria's political elite since its creation in 2003, with those found guilty facing little or no prison time, the rights group said.
The international watchdog said that Nigeria must strengthen the commission and its fellow agencies to fight graft in a nation where estimates suggest leaders have stolen as much as $8 billion a year since it became a democracy in 1999.
The group called for an independent investigation into the actions of the commission's current leader, Farida Waziri, over mismanagement and corruption allegations. It also said the country's judges should not hinder prosecutions of suspected corrupt officials, as the commission's own laws allow for speedy trials.
Femi Babafemi, a commission spokesman, said his agency did not challenge any of the facts and figures contained in the Human Rights Watch report. He pointed to the recent prosecution of top bankers as a sign the commission had done its job. However, he said nothing in the report warranted an investigation into Waziri's actions.
The anti-graft agency came into existence only a few years after Nigeria became a democracy following a series of military rulers and failed civilian governments. Its first chief, Nuhu Ribadu, claimed at one point that Africa's most populous nation likely lost more than $380 billion to graft between 1960 and 1999, the country's post-independence period that saw a string of military dictatorships and failed civilian governments.
Theft may also be rising as crude oil prices have spiked in recent years, sending more unaccounted-for cash into one of the top suppliers to the U.S.
Under Ribadu, the agency aggressively pursued suspected government fraud, especially against Nigeria's 36 state governors who control personal fiefdoms fueled by huge sums of federal oil money that rival the budgets of nearby countries. However, the agency trampled on suspects' rights while avoiding targeting the allies of then-President Olusegun Obasanjo, Human Rights Watch said.
The administration of late President Umaru Yar'Adua forced Ribadu from the agency in 2008. Waziri, who took over the commission, has been criticized by U.S. diplomats in leaked cables for being unprepared and for apparently being controlled by politicians. Others have leveled corruption allegations against her and operatives of the commission, though none have been proven.
The commission under Waziri has charged several prominent bankers over the fraud that caused the near-collapse of the country's banks in 2009. It also recently arrested and charged former House Speaker Dimeji Bankole over corruption allegations — the first major strike against the nation's political elite in many months.
Still, prosecutions by the agency have not risen since 2007. Human Rights Watch said the commission's funding tripled during that period.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.
BANGALORE (Reuters) – The Obama administration is working on proposals to prop up the weak housing market and may back a plan to refinance government-backed mortgages at today's lower interest rates, the New York Times said, citing two people briefed on the discussions.
Administration officials said on Wednesday that they were weighing a range of proposals, including changes to its previous refinancing programs to increase the number of homeowners taking part, according to the New York Times.
The exact layout of the refinancing plan is still under discussion, the paper said.
"We are looking at trying to encourage more participation in all of the programs, including those that help with refinancing," Phyllis Caldwell, who oversees housing policy at the Treasury Department, told the Times.
The officials are also working on a home rental program that would try to shore up housing prices by preventing hundreds of thousands of foreclosed homes from flooding the market, the paper said.
Persistent weakness in the housing market is dragging on the U.S. economy, which is losing its growth momentum under the weight of high unemployment and declining consumer confidence.
(Reporting by Sakthi Prasad in Bangalore; Editing by Kim Coghill)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, lifted by striking Verizon Communications workers, a government report showed on Thursday.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 417,000, the Labor Department said, but still nowhere near levels that would signal a recession.
Striking Verizon workers filed 8,500 claims for jobless benefits last week, after submitting 12,500 applications the previous week, which covered the period for the August nonfarm payrolls survey.
That suggests that the strike would have a negative affect on the payrolls count, which will be reported on September 2. The strike against Verizon has ended.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 405,000 last week. The prior week's claims were revised up to 412,000 from the previously reported 408,000.
The claims showed little signs that companies were laying off workers in droves in response to the recent tumble in share prices. Fears the economy is on the brink of slipping back into recession have rattled stock markets, helping to dampen business and consumer confidence.
While the labor market regained some ground in July a new wave of layoffs especially in the financial sector, coupled with the deterioration in business sentiment, could reverse the trend in the months ahead.
Employers added 117,000 new jobs in July after increasing payrolls by only 99,000 in May and June combined.
A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends, rose 4,000 to 407,500.
The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 80,000 to 3.64 million in the week ended August13.
Data for the so-called continuing claims covered the survey period for the household survey from which the unemployment rate is derived.
The unemployment rate fell to 9.1 percent from 9.2 percent in June.
The number of Americans on emergency unemployment benefits fell 43,827 to 3.09 million in the week ended August 6, the latest week for which data is available.
A total of 7.29 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during that period under all programs, down from 45,989 from the prior week.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Neil Stempleman)