Ex-dictator tops poll in Nigeria

NIGERIA MOVED a step closer yesterday to choosing the civilian president who could lead the country to democracy.

In primaries held ahead of presidential elections on 27 February General Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military ruler, emerged as a strong front- runner when he was chosen as the candidate of the People's Democratic Party (PDP).

At the weekend primary of the PDP in the central city of Jos, Mr Obasanjo, who was unelected last time he ruled Nigeria in the late 1970s, defeated Alex Ekwueme, a former civilian state president from the east of the country.

General Obasanjo won 68 per cent of votes from 2,439 delegates. "My joy knows no bounds. I will devote all my energy and all the powers awarded to me to the service of Nigeria and humanity," said the 61-year-old former political prisoner and, latterly, farmer.

In the 12 days remaining before Africa's most populous country choses a civilian president, he faces challengers from two other parties, the All People's Party (APP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD). But both are in disarray.

There was fist-fighting at the APP's primary in Kaduna this weekend, and the two bodies are not likely to threaten General Obasanjo. They have plans for a pact but so far this has not been approved by the Independent National Electoral Commission.

Under the pact, the APP's candidate, Ogbonnaya Onu, a former governor of Abia state in south-east Nigeria, must now defeat Olu Falae, a former finance minister who is the AD's candidate. Dr Onu would then represent both parties.

The campaign to date has centred not on crucial issues, such as how Nigeria might be saved from its worst economic slump since independence from Britain in 1960, but on regional differences.

General Obasanjo, from the southern-based Yoruba ethnic group, is famous for having been the only military dictator to have handed power to a civilian leader. In 1979, when his position was threatened by rifts in the military, he saved face by handing power to a government in which Mr Ekwueme served.

He was imprisoned for allegedly plotting the overthrow of General Sani Abacha, the dictator who died last June. His release that month was one of the first gestures of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, the new head of state, who produced the programme now under way for a transition to democracy.

Despite his record and the fact that General Obasanjo was a southerner in a northern-dominated military, he continues to be viewed with suspicion by fellow Yorubas whose powerbase is the the country's gigantic economic capital, Lagos. They consider him a traitor and claim many of the military figures who have governed Nigeria for all but 10 years of its independence are financing his campaign in return for imunity from prosecution for pocketing the country's wealth.

But Nigeria, which derives 95 per cent of its export earnings from oil, is also aware that General Obasanjo is the favoured candidate of investors. With the oil price currently at rock bottom and the country still excluded from the Commonwealth and much world trade because of the brutal policies of General Abacha, the country needs confident investors.

Despite an issues-lean campaign, General Obasanjo has impressed democracy campaigners by agreeing to consider passing more power to the regions and reforming Nigeria's federal structure. Many people argue that until government and military are decentralised, the threat of coups will continue to dominate policy-making.

How Lagos votes will be crucial to the outcome of the presidential election as well as that of the parliamentary poll on Saturday. Equally important will be the vote in the east, an area scarred by the Biafran war for independence in the 1960s.

Suggested Topics
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's most starring part
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
News
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable
science

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Portfolio Analyst - Prince2

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client, a glob...

Project Co-ordinator - Birmingham - Permanant

£20000 - £25000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Head of Maths

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Head of Maths position at a prestigious ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week