Corruption scandal keeps Nigerian House paralysed

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ABUJA, Oct 23 (Reuters) Nigeria's House of Representatives adjourned for another week today as warring sides in the ruling party prolonged a crisis over alleged corruption.

Nigeria's lower chamber has been paralysed for weeks since Speaker Patricia Etteh, a former beautician, was found by a House panel to have broken rules in awarding contracts worth 5 million dollars to renovate two official houses and buy 10 cars.

Etteh has refused to step aside for the House to debate the panel's report, and has repeatedly adjourned the chamber.

The president's presentation of the 2008 budget has already been seriously delayed by the crisis, and the House has yet to debate a single piece of legislation since it was inaugurated four months ago.

When the House resumed after a two-week adjournment last Tuesday, rival forces within the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) tussled and shouted insults in the chamber.

One of Etteh's supporters, Aminu Safana, collapsed on Wednesday and died after over-exerting himself.

Reconvening again today, the majority leader suggested the House should adjourn out of respect for Safana until the following day, but Etteh over-ruled this motion and sent representatives on another week's break.

Etteh's opponents said they were collecting signatures to reconvene the house anyway tomorrow. But her supporters said the adjournment was needed to let frayed nerves cool.

''With this adjournment, we will have the time to sit down and talk to ourselves so that we can come to an agreement,'' said Dino Melaye, the chairman of the committee on information.

The row has embarrassed President Umaru Yar'Adua, who came to power in May pledging a restoration of moral values and zero tolerance for graft in one of the world's most corrupt nations.

Yar'Adua is the head of the PDP, but he has so far refused to step into the furore despite calls by many Nigerians for him to do so, preferring instead to respect the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature.

The president has cultivated an image of austerity and simple living in an effort to curtail the culture of profligacy among Nigeria's ruling elite, but his message has been lost in a daily flow of headlines about the speaker's lavish renovations.

In her defence, Etteh says she is the victim of a vendetta by veteran members who are angry because she did not name them chairmen of the House committees they coveted, instead choosing first-term legislators.

Some members privately agree, but they say Etteh should face the consequences of her actions even if those who exposed the contracts were driven by revenge.

Reuters AK VP0040

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