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Chairman of ruling party quits after warning Obasanjo of coup

[Nigeria] Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.
President Olusegun Obasanjo's government wants to ban same-sex marriage (UNDPI)

The influential chairman of Nigeria's ruling party has submitted his resignation under pressure from President Olusegun Obasanjo after warning the head of state that his government was becoming unpopular and might be toppled in a coup.

Audu Ogbeh told reporters on Monday that he would quit as chairman of Obasanjo's People's Democratic Party (PDP) with effect from 28 February. He added that he was quitting under pressure from Obasanjo.

Thisday newspaper quoted Ogbeh as saying "I am not in any contest for power with the president."

Nevertheless, his departure comes amid increasing squabbling within the PDP. This has exposed vote-rigging by the party in the 2003 general elections and has undermined Obasanjo's image as a model democrat in the country as a whole.

Political commentators say many of the internal disputes which are tearing apart the PDP are connected with a power grab by rival candidates jockeying for the party's nomination in Nigeria's 2007 presidential election.

Obasanjo served a first stint of power as military head of state from 1976 to 1979, when he handed over to an elected civilian government.

He returned to power through the ballot box in 1999 after 20 years on the sidelines of national politics and was re-elected in April 2003. However, Obasanjo is constitutionally bound to step down after completing his present four-year term in 2007.

The president's row with Ogbeh began when the PDP chairman wrote to him in early December asking him to take action to curb growing chaos in Anambra state in southeastern Nigeria.

There, Chris Uba, a local businessman and close ally of Obasanjo, was accused of burning down public buildings and attempting to kill the state's PDP governor, Chris Ngige, in November while policemen stood by and watched.

Uba had backed Ngige for governorship in the 2003 elections, but the two men subsequently fell out.

The businessman accused the newly elected governor of reneging on a promise to give him a big say in choosing the state cabinet. Uba subsequently tried to embarrass Ngige by declaring publicly that he had personally rigged the vote for the Anambra state governorship so that Ngige would win.

Warning Obasanjo that the federal government had become unpopular as a result of such goings on, Ogbeh recalled in his two-page letter that Nigeria’s previous civilian government, in which he himself had served as a minister, was toppled in 1983 at a time when its public image very poor.

“I am afraid we are drifting in the same direction again,” Ogbeh said in the letter. “In life, perception is reality and today, we are perceived in the worst light by an angry, scornful Nigerian public.”

In an angry 10-page riposte, Obasanjo accused Ogbeh of wishing for a coup and finally showing his true colours. While recounting his own efforts to mediate the crisis in Anambra, Obasanjo revealed that both Uba and Ngige had admitted in his presence that they rigged the governorship vote in Anambra to put PDP in office.

He likened them to “two armed robbers that conspired to loot a house” and ended up fighting over the loot.

Ogbeh told Thisday that following the exchange of letters he has been subjected to harassment by state security officials who accused him of embarrassing the president.

The PDP chairman said his residence in Abuja had been placed under round-the-clock surveillance and on one occasion his grown-up daughter was prevented from coming to see him by security agents who said he could not receive visitors after 6 pm.

Even when Ogbeh came out to identify her daughter, the security agents continued to deny her entry into his residence, the newspaper said.

Several Nigerian newspapers reported on Tuesday that top security aides of Obasanjo had prevailed on Ogbeh to resign on Sunday after the president had declared he would no longer work with him.

Ogbeh's resignation appears to be part of a growing power struggle within the PDP between factions that support rival candidates for the party's presidential nomination in 2007.

Obasanjo himself is widely believed to favour General Ibrahim Babangida, who backed his own bid for the presidency in 1999.

Like Obasanjo, Babangida is a former miltary head of state. He ruled the country from 1985 until 1993, when he was deposed by General Sani Abacha in a coup.

Opposing him for the presidential nomination is Obasanjo's Vice-President Abubakar Atiku, who is keen to have a shot at the top job.

Atiku’s faction is widely regarded as being the most powerful in PDP. It includes a majority of the PDP's 28 state governors.

“Two attempts by Obasanjo’s supporters to unseat Ogbeh at two recent party executive meetings failed because Atiku’s camp backed him,” one top PDP official told IRIN. “That’s why they used the security agencies to harass him into quitting.”

The PDP’s sweeping election victory in 2003 has been marred by recent revelations of massive rigging and outright falsification of results.

Last month the Court of Appeal upheld Obasanjo’s election but cancelled the results for Ogun state, his home area in southwestern Nigeria, where it ruled the results had been falsified.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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