|Farouk Lawan: Oil Graft Probe Chairman|
Credit: ReutersNigeria's justice ministry said on Friday it would prosecute anyone found guilty of being involved in a $6.8 billion fuel subsidy corruption scheme but urged the public to be patient and allow time for a full investigation.
Civil society groups and trade unions have demanded arrests following a parliamentary report exposing one of the biggest known corruption scandals in Nigeria's history.
Some have threatened a repeat of January's mass protests against an attempt to remove the fuel subsidy. They brought Africa's second biggest economy grinding to a halt for a week.
"Any person found wanting will be prosecuted irrespective of the person's standing in the society," a statement from the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General said.
"Nigerians must however appreciate that in discharging this onerous responsibility, government must be guided by the dictates of the rule of law and due process as required of any democratically elected and responsible government."
The national assembly report said mismanagement and theft by top Nigerian officials involved in the subsidy had cost the country $6.8 billion in three years.
Nigeria's public are skeptical of delays to prosecutions because in the past the government has shown intent when reports and committees on corruption have been produced, but prosecutions of senior figures have never resulted.
When a British court sentenced James Ibori, the former governor of a Nigerian oil state, to 13 years in prison last month for embezzling 50 million pounds ($79 million), local newspapers asked why convictions for graft never happen at home.
President Goodluck Jonathan and his administration admit Nigeria has a corruption problem but this case provided some of the strongest evidence, giving clear examples of how scams are carried out. Although few people were implicated by name, their association with ministries or companies can be easily tracked.
While the state oil company, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the subsidy regulator and the oil ministry were given the harshest criticism, bodies from the finance ministry to the central bank were also mentioned
The report recommended NNPC be overhauled. The firm has said it is investigating the report before issuing a full analysis but has already denied certain elements of the findings.
Nigeria tried in vain to end gasoline subsidies on Jan. 1, but a week of public protests forced the government to partially re-instate the payments, seen as a massive drain on its budget.
Most protesters named corruption as their number one gripe.