updated 10/14/2005 6:29:51 PM ET 2005-10-14T22:29:51

Nigeria signed an agreement with Microsoft Corp. on Friday to work together to fight Internet crime, officials said Friday.

In a statement on its Web site, Microsoft hailed the agreement as a first with an African country and said it will work with the Nigerian government "to combat issues such as spam, financial scams ... spyware, viruses, worms, malicious code launches and counterfeiting." (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

Nuhu Ribadu, head of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, signed the agreement on behalf of the government, said Wilson Uwajeren, the agency's spokesman in Lagos. He gave no other details.

President Olusegun Obasanjo's government is stepping up efforts to deal with people who send millions of unsolicited e-mails with false proposals to swindle victims.

Among the most common are e-mails proposing to share portions of dead African dictators' ill-gotten estates in exchange for an advance payment to help move the money overseas. The scammers keep the "fees" while victims receive nothing.

A new bill he sent to the parliament on Tuesday proposes making spam a criminal offense that could send the guilty to jail for three years.

The proposed law specifically identifies use of computers for spamming, fraud, identity theft, child pornography and terrorism as criminal offenses punishable by stiff jail terms and fines.

Obasanjo, whose election in 1999 ended more than 15 years of military rule in oil-rich Nigeria, has made the fight against corruption and financial crime in the country a key plank of his government, now in its second four-year term.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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