Nigeria's APC pledges to fight graft at debut summit

ABUJA Thu Mar 6, 2014 12:49pm EST

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ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria's main opposition party slammed President Goodluck Jonathan's record on corruption on Thursday, calling on Africa's most populous nation to end the governing party's 15-year rule at an election next year.

The All Progressives Congress (APC), holding its first national conference since being formed by four opposition parties 11 months ago, pledged to fight corruption, create jobs and curb unrest if it wins the presidential vote next February.

Calling it "A New Party for a New Nigeria", APC leaders Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler, and former Lagos state governor Bola Tinubu unveiled the party logo - a broom - to highlight its main promise to clean up graft.

The coalition is expected to provide Jonathan's People's Democratic Party (PDP) with its sternest test since it swept to power at the end of military rule in 1998.

Five state governors, dozens of legislators and former vice-president Atiku Abubakar have all defected to the APC, which now faces a long and fiercely contested campaign that foreign investors fear might stoke unrest and weaken Nigeria's finances. State revenues are often squandered prior to major elections.

Jonathan has come under fire for a series of corruption scandals in recent months. Most recently he suspended Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi after he said he found financial irregularities in an audit of the bank.

Many viewed it as a political maneuver as Sanusi had weeks earlier said $20 billion of oil revenues due to the state were unaccounted for, embarrassing the president and his team.

Jonathan last year pardoned the ex-governor of his home state of Bayelsa, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, because he was "remorseful" after being convicted of money-laundering.

"Instead of stopping this corruption, this government pardons those convicted of corruption and removes those who point out corruption," said Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola, 50, viewed as a potential future leader of APC.

"If we had a government that is serious about fighting corruption, there would be financial resources to create jobs."

JOBS AND VIOLENCE

The APC also made promises to end religiously-motivated violence and create jobs for uneducated youths.

Despite being Africa's largest oil exporter and the continent's second largest economy, Nigeria still suffers from gaping inequality. Thousands of new millionaires are created each year but most of the 170 million people live on less than $1 a day and unemployment is stuck around 25 percent.

An Islamist insurgency in the undeveloped northeast has been raging since an uprising by the Boko Haram sect in 2009, killing thousands each year. A costly military campaign by Jonathan has failed to stem the bloodshed.

"Me personally, I want a change from PDP government. They have failed in all their promises: no food and no security," said Ali Mazadu, a 46-year-old roadside trader whose brother and sister-in-law were killed by Boko Haram last month.

However, many believe that an opposition still run by old political faces like Atiku, Buhari and Tinubu may have no more credibility than top officials from the PDP.

"This not the first time that these politicians have promised Nigerians that they will fight corruption," said Jerry Audu, a 33-year-old unemployed university graduate.

"If they are voted into power, when they get on the seat they will join in perpetuating the same corruption."

The election could come down to ethnic divides as much as any policy promises. Southern Christian Jonathan angered many in his party when he ran in the 2011 presidential election, thereby breaking an unwritten PDP pact that the presidency switches between the north and south every two terms.

The APC is expected to pick a candidate from the mostly-Muslim north but was keen at its conference to make it clear it was a national party, just as the PDP says it is.

(This version of the story fixes name in the third paragraph)

(Additional reporting by Isaac Abrak; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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