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Nigerian senate president impeached after corruption inquiry

ABUJA, Nigeria (Reuters) -- Nigeria's upper house has impeached its leader Chuba Okadigbo in the climax to a parliamentary inquiry into contract awards.

Jubilation erupted in the senate chamber after Tuesday night's vote that looked certain to bolster President Olusegun Obasanjo's drive for accountability in Nigerian public life.

Many Nigerians blame widespread corruption, especially during decades of military rule that ended last year, for retarding economic development in Africa's leading oil exporter.

The 109-member senate voted 81-14 in favor of removing Okadigbo after he refused to comply with an earlier resolution asking him to resign or be impeached, lawmakers said.

A member of a six-member group charged with formally informing Okadigbo of that resolution reported back to the full house that the senate president had refused to step down.

"We now proceed to the next segment of our resolution which is to commence impeachment proceedings," Senator John Mbata, who presided in the absence of Okadigbo, told the house.

The process itself took less than 20 minutes as each senator present was called to answer "Yes" or "No" as to whether Okadigbo should be impeached.

Okadigbo and 13 other senators were absent.

Mbata said the senate would reconvene later on Wednesday to elect a new president. The post ranks third in Nigeria's constitutional hierarchy after the president and vice-president.

NATIONAL OUTRAGE

Many outraged Nigerians had voiced support for the removal of the senate's leadership after revelations at the public hearings into contract deals and shareout of huge financial perks by parliamentary officials.

The army has cited corruption by politicians in the past to justify taking power.

Earlier on Tuesday Okadigbo's deputy, Haruna Abubakar, and Senate Leader Samaila Mamman, tendered their resignations in line with the conclusions of the ad hoc parliamentary committee that probed contract irregularities at the National Assembly.

The chairman of Obasanjo's Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Barnabas Gemade, appearing on television, had welcomed the earlier resolution of the house as signaling the real start of the anti-corruption drive.

Although Okadigbo is a stalwart of the PDP, which has solid majorities in the Senate and the lower-chamber House of Representatives, his relations with Obasanjo have been rocky in recent months.

Obasanjo's aides accused the flamboyant Okadigbo of tacitly backing a failed bid by an opposition senator earlier this year to impeach the president. Okadigbo in turn charges that the presidency orchestrated moves since then to unseat him.

Students from a university in Okadigbo's southeastern home area on Monday disrupted a visit there by Obasanjo, attacking the presidential convoy and provoking a clash with security forces in which newspapers said one student was killed.

The students carried placards accusing Obasanjo of backing impeachment moves against their kinsman.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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