June 22, 2010 / 4:17 PM / in 8 years

Corruption row sparks fight in Nigerian parliament

ABUJA (Reuters) - A fight broke out in Nigeria’s parliament on Tuesday after a group of members were suspended for accusing the speaker of corruption, further distracting a body meant to be dealing with a raft of pending legislation.

The group of 11 legislators, calling themselves “The Progressives”, called for a probe into allegations that Speaker Oladimeji Bankole misappropriated 9 billion naira of an 11 billion budget from 2008 to 2009.

Punches were thrown and at least one person was injured after parliament voted to suspend the 11 members, saying they had “embarrassed” the House with their allegations, which have been widely reported in the local media.

“The recent attacks on the speaker and principal officers of this honourable house on television and the pages of newspapers have cast a serious dent on the image of this honourable house,” the suspension motion said.

A spokesman for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said the anti-corruption agency would launch an investigation into the allegations brought by the suspended lawmakers, led by Dino Melaye from central Kogi state.

Ebomhiana Musa, special adviser to Bankole, said he trusted the EFCC would find out if the allegations were true or false and take appropriate action.

Parliament is supposed to be working on key legislation including electoral reforms and a major overhaul of the country’s mainstay oil and gas industry. It had been expected to pass badly-needed legislation on Tuesday to create a “bad bank” to soak up toxic loans in the financial sector.

Corruption is endemic in Nigeria, from policemen at checkpoints demanding bribes to senior government officials accused of embezzling millions of dollars.

More than a dozen former governors and ministers have been accused of corruption in one of the world’s most tainted countries, but few have been convicted, with cases getting bogged down in legal wrangling.

Politicians have also been known to accuse their rivals of corruption in the hopes of weakening them in the eyes of voters.

Africa’s most populous country is expected to hold presidential and parliamentary elections by April next year.

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