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Monday, May 10, 1999 Published at 21:33 GMT 22:33 UK

World: Africa

Nigerian generals deny corruption

General Abubakar has denied issuing oil licences irregularly

By Barnaby Phillips in Lagos

Two leading Nigerian generals have distanced themselves from widespread corruption allegations surrounding the military government during its last weeks in office.

Nigeria elections
The Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Ishaya Bamaiyi, and the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Al-Amin Daggash, released a terse statement, in which they categorically denied having benefited in any way from a controversial allocation of oil-exploration licences.

The licences, which cover off-shore areas believed to be extremely rich in oil reserves, were awarded in March.

Only one of the companies which received an exploration licence is known to have any previous experience in oil production.

Nigeria's military head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, has denied in a BBC interview that there was anything corrupt in the allocation process.

President-elect 'furious'

But sources close to the incoming civilian president, retired General Olusegun Obasanjo, say he is furious about an apparent lack of transparency and that he will review the new licences when he takes office.

Privately, foreign donors express dismay at the corruption allegations surrounding Nigeria's military government during its last weeks in office.

While General Abubakar has won widespread international praise for introducing political reforms, his economic record is far more questionable.

Despite his pledge at the beginning of the year to follow an austerity programme, Nigeria's foreign reserves have been depleted with dramatic speed, and the government has failed to meet many of the spending targets it agreed in consultations with the International Monetary Fund.

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