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Nigerian ruling party backs 3rd term for Obasanjo

Written by: Staff

ABUJA, Apr 13 (Reuters) Nigeria's ruling party formally threw its weight behind a bid to extend President Olusegun Obasanjo's hold on power today, and prepared to discipline the vice-president for challenging him.

The campaign to keep Obasanjo in charge of Africa's top oil producing nation for another four years has caused instability and violence, and raised fears among civil society groups the country is backsliding on democracy.

A committee of lawmakers proposed a constitutional amendment to extend the president's tenure from two to three terms this week, but many observers think it lacks the two-thirds support it needs to pass into law.

''The National Executive Council of the party is asking its members to lobby our legislators at the National and State Assemblies to support and approve the draft bill,'' said Ojo Maduekwe, secretary-general of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) after a meeting of the party's top brass.

Maduekwe offered no political justification for the party's backing of a third term, which has met massive resistance across Africa's most populous country.

Vice-President Atiku Abubakar last week denounced the third term as an attempt to subvert the constitution, and announced his own candidacy for elections next year.

Maduekwe said the party had created a special committee to investigate ''alleged anti-party activities'' of the vice-president ''with a view to recommending disciplinary measures''.

ALLEGED BRIBERY The constitutional amendment was presented to the Senate this week by Deputy Senate President Ibrahim Mantu, who is under investigation for allegedly receiving and giving bribes to push it through.

He denies the charges, but many observers see the probe as evidence of the strength of opposition to the third term in the assembly. Mantu survived suspension by one vote.

Obasanjo's election in 1999 marked the end of 15 years of dictatorship in Africa's most populous nation, and next year's vote should mark the first time in Nigerian history that one civilian president hands over to another through elections.

Opposition to a third term is particularly strong in the predominantly Muslim north, which had expected to take over in 2007 after eight years of Obasanjo, a Christian from the southwest.

The campaign has also infuriated many ethnic Ijaw, the dominant ethnic group in the Niger Delta in the far south, because they have not produced a president in Nigeria's 46 years of independence despite being home to all the oil wealth.

Militant attacks on the oil industry there have cut exports by a quarter.

Obasanjo has studiously avoided saying whether he wants to stand for election again next year, but the police and secret service have become increasingly repressive towards opponents of the third term.

Opposition leaders have been teargassed, arrested, labelled a threat to national security and investigated for corruption.

Reuters DKS BST007

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