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Nigeria's Okonjo-Iweala seeks reform without the 'godfathers'

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Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

(Read caption) Nigeria's Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has found reforming Nigeria's notoriously corrupt economy to be a long-term challenge. 'You make progress, then you get courage to make more ... Fighting corruption is something we need to keep working at,' she says.

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Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is battling to reform one of the world's most corrupt nations without support from the shadowy "godfathers" who wield power from behind the scenes.

Summoned by President Goodluck Jonathan last year to restore some order to Nigerian public finances, the former World Bank managing director says her efforts are slowly bearing fruit.

But while Western nations and international agencies admire her drive from afar, they hold little sway in Nigeria. Ms. Okonjo-Iweala's ability to fight corrupt interests is constrained by her lack of support from wealthy figures such as ex-state governors, military officers, and ruling party hacks who use huge patronage – or sometimes violence – to drive politics back stage.

"Her only 'godfather' is the international community, and that doesn't cut it," said a senior adviser to the national assembly, who asked not to be named.

When she quit her Washington job and flew back home, Okonjo-Iweala knew her second stint as finance minister would be tough. She now admits it has been even tougher than she imagined.

"It was much harder. It has not been easy, and the struggle is still ongoing," she told Reuters in her office in Abuja, the capital, exhausted by a night negotiating with oil unions. "You make progress, then you get courage to make more ... Fighting corruption is something we need to keep working at."

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