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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 October 2007, 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK
Nigeria's speaker will step aside
Rowdy scenes in the House of Representatives
No parliamentary business has been conducted in months
Nigeria's embattled parliament speaker Patricia Etteh has agreed to step aside while MPs debate her conduct.

An inquiry found her guilty of breaking house rules in awarding contracts worth $5m to refurbish houses and buy cars.

Division about whether she should preside over the debate has resulted in fist fights in parliament and one MP died while shouting in her defence.

The BBC's Alex Last in Lagos says the whole affair has become an embarrassment to many Nigerians.

Vendetta

Mrs Etteh, a former beautician and ruling party member, is accused of irregularities in spending $5m of government money to buy 12 cars and renovate two official residences - her own and that of a deputy.

A panel of inquiry was set up under the chairmanship of David Iroko to investigate.

The national assembly has been waiting to debate the Iroko report into her conduct, but the debate has been repeatedly delayed while arguments raged over whether it was proper for the speaker to preside over it.

Tensions became so high that members have twice ended up punching each other on the floor of the house and one member collapsed and died after shouting in defence of Mrs Etteh.

Her supporters say she is not guilty and is the victim of a political vendetta.

Our correspondent says the case has gripped Nigeria at a time when the government has pledged zero tolerance of corruption.

The Nigerian Bar Association was among many groups who called on Mrs Etteh to resign, saying public confidence in the speaker had been eroded.

The scandal has eclipsed all other business - the House of Representatives has not managed to debate one single piece of legislation since it was inaugurated four months ago. Even the Nigerian budget has had to be delayed.

But President Umaru Yar'Adua declined to intervene, declaring that, constitutionally, it was not his role to interfere in affairs of the National Assembly.

This has left people questioning the new president's unprecedented hands-off approach to Nigerian government, our reporter says.



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