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Nigeria charges ex-governor in oil area with fraud

Charges of fraud and money-laundering brought against a former governor in the oil-rich Niger Delta looks likly to escalate a feud with President Goodluck

Reuters, Saturday 25 Feb 2012
Former State Governors Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa State (L-R), Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State and Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, meet at the South-South Summit to discuss the 2011 presidential election in Nigeria"s Port Harcourt July 26, 2010. Photo: Reuters

Nigerian authorities charged the powerful ex-governor of a state in the oil-producing Niger Delta with fraud and money laundering on Friday, a move likely to further embitter a feud between him and President Goodluck Jonathan.

The charge sheet at Nigeria's Federal High Court accused Timipre Sylva, the former state governor of Bayelsa, of using a fraudulent salary increase scheme to transfer 2 billion naira from state accounts and of laundering a total of 2.4 billion naira using various surrogate bank accounts.

It said charges against him included "inducing Union Bank, with the intent to defraud, to deliver to Bayelsa State Government the sum of 2 billion naira, under the false pretence of using the amount to augment salaries of the Bayelsa State Government."

He had also set up an overdraft facility to misappropriate funds, it claimed. He faces four counts of money laundering.

Nigeria's 36 state governors are among the most powerful politicians in Africa's most populous nation, often controlling budgets bigger than many African countries. They sometimes use armed gangs to settle scores, especially in the Delta.

Before he was charged Sylva was embroiled in a dispute with Jonathan, the president, over the governorship in Bayelsa, the home state of both men.

The ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) had banned Sylva from running in its primary last November, the first time the PDP had stopped a sitting governor from seeking a second term. Thousands of soldiers were then deployed to Bayelsa, prompting outrage from Sylva's advisers.

Western diplomats said Sylva was snubbed because he had fallen out with Jonathan, his former ally.

Rivalry between Sylva and Jonathan in the oil rich region has raised fears of a resurgence of the militant activity that halved oil production there in the last decade. Violence in the Niger Delta is often stoked by rival politicians.

Nigeria's Supreme Court then removed Sylva from his post last month saying his tenure had expired. It replaced him with Bayelsa's speaker of the house of assembly.

A candidate from Nigeria's ruling party won the election for the governorship two weeks ago. The vote was largely peaceful although one person was killed in a pre-poll rally.

But an attack on an oil pipeline owned by Italian firm Eni this month, claimed by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), formerly Nigeria's main militant threat, underscored the fragility of the peace.

"There's definitely a risk. It depends on how Sylva's sympathisers respond. It could lead to skirmishes, maybe a few (pipeline) attacks here and there," said Bismarck Rewane of Lagos-based consultancy Financial Derivatives.

But he said this would be unlikely to degenerate into conflict.

"Sylva's finished. He has no resources to sustain his campaign," he said.

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© 2010 Ahram Online.