By Daniel Idonor & Lawani Mikairu
ABUJAâ€”AS expected, the twin evils of corruption and bad leadership dominated bilateral talks between President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua and the visiting US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton who arrived Abuja Tuesday evening on a two-day trip to Nigeria.
Mrs Hillary Clinton was said to have hit hard on corruption, urging the Federal government to tackle it and be more transparent as the preparation for 2011 election gets under way.
She, however, said to have commended the way Nigeria has handled theÂ Â Niger Delta crisis and the recent religious uprising in some parts of the North.
This is coming on the heels ofÂ Â Nigeria saying on Wednesday thatÂ it expected peace to return to its oil-producing region by year end even as Mrs Clinton offered US help in a bid to strengthen ties with Africaâ€™s largest nation.
At the end of the meeting, the Federal Government listed the efforts so far put in place to make the business of corruption and bad leadership less attractive to Nigerians and non- Nigerians in the country and its determination to continue to fight the evils.
Fielding questions from State House correspondents, after the visit at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Ojo Maduekwe, Minister of Foreign Affairs said YarÃdua maintained the same position with President Barack Obama on the issue of corruption and bad leadership.
According to Maduekwe â€œthe presidentâ€™s position about good governance, the need to fight corruption and the issue of the rule of law, it was clear to the secretary of state that both President Yarâ€™Adua and President Obama are on the same page on these issues.â€
â€œIt was a great conversation- electoral reforms and commitment to the rule of law, the fight against corruption. The president acknowledged that we have serious challenges there. The President made it clear that the whole thing goes even more than the rule of law. Itâ€™s about attitude and this affects the integrity of the electoral process.â€
The meeting between Clinton and the president, he said, was â€œvery productive, the way you will expect it to be among friends. Honest, candid, encouraging, mutually inspiring, mutually re-enforcing and ultimately strategic.â€
Speaking on other issues discussed, he said: â€œItâ€™s about strengthening the capacity of the partnership for the two countries. One of the most powerful indications of that partnership is that the Secretary of State has pledged the commitment of the Obama administration to evolve a special relationship with Nigeria that will warehouse in what could be known as US/Nigeria Bi-National Commission.â€
The minister added that â€œnothing could be stronger than that in terms of how two countries can work together on a daily basis to strengthen understanding, goodwill, capacity and of course, in the case of Nigeria, to mobilise our tremendous resources, human and natural, to create prosperity.
â€œAnd the regional leadership we have been providing, the Secretary of State was very appreciative and she again pledged the commitment of her administration to continue to assist Nigeria to play that regional leadership.â€
Shortly after the meeting, Clinton, who was accompanied by Robin Sanders, US ambassador to Nigeria and other top embassy officials, walked straight to the waiting vehicle and drove off without a word to the waiting journalists at the presidential foyer.
Why we are fighting,by MEND
Meanwhile,Â Â The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the regionâ€™s main armed group, says it is fighting for a larger share of oil revenue for the regionâ€™s impoverished local communities. Some members of the movement have already accepted the amnesty offered by the Federal Government.Â Under the amnesty running from August 6 to October 4, militants can register for reintegration programmes in nine oil-producing states.
Clinton said the United States would only play a supporting role in implementing the amnestyÂ programme, stressing: â€œWe know that this is up to the Nigerian people and government to resolve.â€
Nigeriaâ€™s endemic corruption and political system also featured in her discussion with Nigeria officials. She said the United States governmentâ€â€” strongly supports and encourages the government of Nigeriaâ€™s efforts to increase transparency, reduce corruption and provide support for democratic processes in preparation for the 2011 elections.â€
This is against the backdrop of the 2007 election that poll monitors said was riddled with problems. Nonetheless, some observers saw it as at least a small step forward in a regional giant that has only experienced few peaceful transitions of power.
Nigeria Foreign Affairs Minister OjoÂ Â Maduekwe reacted by saying â€˜â€™Nigeria welcomed friendly US criticism but said corruption should be seen not as a sign of lack of will but â€œlargely within the context of building state capacity.Â Â â€œWeâ€™ll definitely make all the difficulties and problems become history as Nigeria marches to its manifest destiny,â€ he said.
Clinton was scheduled later to hold an open forum with civil society leaders on corruption and a roundtable with religious leaders, the latest effort by President Barack Obamaâ€™s administration to bridge the divide with the Islamic world.
Clinton refuses to discuss Boko Haram
Nigerian security forces late last month crushed an uprising by a Boko Haram Islamic sect in several northern states, leaving more than 800 people dead, the majority of them sect members.Â Clinton declined to discuss the operation and said it was up to Nigeria to determine if the so-called Boko Haram movement was home-grown or supported by Al_Qaeda.
But she saluted Nigeriaâ€™s efforts to preserve a delicate peace between Muslims and Christians, calling it a â€œvery important priority.â€
Mrs Clinton is expected to leave Nigeria later to Liberia and Cape Verde in continuation of her seven -nation Africa tour.
TI says FG not serious in fighting corruption
Meanwhile,Â Mr Ezenwa Nwagwu, the Northern Coordinator of Transparency International (TI), yesterday in Abuja said â€œthe Federal Government is not serious in its fight against corruption.â€™â€™
Nwagwu, who made the remark in an interview, said: â€œThere is no fight against corruption but mere talk. You still find that almost every agency of government is on trial. Corruption is rife and the fight against it is weak.
â€œWith collective efforts, with the issue coming to the front burner, there is no reason why we canâ€™t tackle it, but the truth is that corruption is still pervasive.
â€œIf corruption cases have been taken to court, we expect the judiciary to be alive to their duties and make sure that such cases are treated with dispatch.
Nwagwu noted that Nigeria ranked 26 on the Corruption Perception Index in 2007/2008 and remained the 33rd most corrupt country out of a total of 158 countries.
He said Transparency International was not about ranking countries and producing perception indexes, but about building capacity of institutions and individuals to tackle corruption.
â€œThe most recent workshop we had was on the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative Act or the NEITI Act, which is aimed at checking corruption in extractive industries such as petroleum and coal mining.
â€œIf we are able to track corruption in such areas, it will solve 50 per cent of corruption problems in Nigeria,â€™â€™ he said.