ABUJA, Nigeria – Former world leaders George W. Bush and Tony Blair joined Nigeria's elite at a ceremony honoring the political and business establishment Sunday, but one honoree's absence highlighted the endemic corruption and other problems plaguing the oil-rich nation.
Hosted by a Nigerian newspaper mogul Nduka Obaigbena, the ceremony included an award for former anti-corruption investigator Nuhu Ribadu, who investigated top ruling-party politicians. But family members had to accept the award for Ribadu who left Nigeria for the United States after being fired from his job and the target of a drive-by shooting.
Ribadu once estimated corruption cost Nigeria — a nation where most people live on less than $2 a day — over $380 billion since independence. Yet little has been done to stem that flow.
"We have in Nigeria in particular a system appreciated by Nigerians but no one else — an idea of dependence" on patronage and graft, former President Shehu Shagari told those gathered Sunday at the ThisDay Awards. "It has to be fought against in this country or we will not have progress."
How to change that system is an open question in a country where some former military leaders remain active in politics. Invited guest former President Bush sat alongside former dictator Muhammadu Buhari, a general who had government critics detained and passed laws allowing for indefinite detentions without trial.
Neither Bush nor Blair spoke at the event, but former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice briefly touched on the corruption plaguing Nigeria in her speech.
Rice called on Nigeria to hold honest and transparent presidential elections scheduled for 2011.
However, some lawmakers have suggested moving the election up after vice president Goodluck Jonathan took over for President Umaru Yar'Adua, who is receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.
Blair, Bush and Rice all met with Jonathan at different times over the weekend. After his meeting with Bush, a statement by Jonathan promised the coming elections "will be credible."
Also Sunday, police detained activist Shehu Sani of Civil Rights Congress in Nigeria and about 30 others peacefully protesting Blair and Bush's roles in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Sani said the police held him for several hours before he posted bail on charges of incitement and creating a public disturbance.
Associated Press Writer Bashir Adigun contributed to this report.