Anglican church chides Nigeria's "scheming" rulers

Abuja, Nigeria - Nigeria's Anglican primate on Thursday challenged the country's politicians to curb their "ostentatious" lifestyle and called for an immunity clause protecting them from prosecution to be scrapped.

Archbishop Peter Akinola also said politicians were "scheming" ahead of the next general election in 2007 instead of working to alleviate the suffering of the poor masses in Africa's most populous nation.

"The political class are not helping matters as scheming for the 2007 elections seems to override every other consideration," the influential Akinola, who leads the world's second largest Anglican community, told a news conference.

"The suffering of the vast majority is as glaring as the ostentatious living of a privileged few," he said.

His words will come as music to the ears of most Nigerians, who live in poverty with few basic services like running water or electricity in a country that exports billions of dollars' worth of oil every year. Decades of corruption, mismanagement and neglect under successive military rulers have left the country's infrastructure in disarray.

Six years after a return to civilian rule, few of Nigeria's 140 million people have felt any improvement despite government talk of "dividends of democracy". Many still see politics as a money-making venture rather than a mission of public service.

One recent controversy saw the governor of the oil-producing state of Rivers -- where armed conflict, sabotage and kidnappings are rife -- come under fire for building a new government house with helipad and pool and buying a private jet.

Akinola said a constitutional clause giving immunity from prosecution to elected officials had done more harm than good.

"When leaders are clearly living beyond their means or where there is evidence of funds being transferred into foreign bank accounts, if the immunity clause should be called to their aid it makes the whole idea ridiculous," he said.

Governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau State is under investigation by British police over alleged money-laundering and has been charged with embezzling public funds in a Nigerian court, but has successfully claimed immunity from prosecution.

Akinola's call comes a day after another governor, from the oil-producing state of Bayelsa, was charged in a London court with money-laundering. Police had found 1 million pounds in cash at his London house. He denies any wrongdoing.