PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria, Apr 20: Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo today faced growing pressure with militants in the oil-producing south killing two people in a car bomb attack and thousands of opposition supporters rallying against him in the capital.
Militants detonated the car bomb yesterday night in the southern city of Port Harcourt, extending a four-month campaign of sabotage and kidnapping that has already cut output from the world's eighth-largest oil exporter by a quarter.
In the capital Abuja, thousands of opposition supporters rallied today against a campaign by the ruling party to change the constitution and allow Obasanjo to run for a third term.
''The two events are coincidental, but the instability created by the third-term campaign has allowed all sorts of interest groups to push their agendas,'' said John Adeleke, an independent analyst.
The militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which demands more local control over the delta's oil resources, said in an email they detonated 30 kg (66 lb) of dynamite in a car using a cellular telephone. Observers said it was the first time a car bomb has been used in Nigeria.
''This act was symbolic rather than strategic and serves as a further warning to the Nigerian military, oil companies and those who are attempting to sell the birthright of the Niger Delta peoples for a bowl of porridge,'' MEND said via email, threatening similar attacks against oil targets.
The explosion blew the Mercedes Benz car 20 metres from its original site on the side of a road in the Bori Camp barracks in the southern city of Port Harcourt.
The car bomb came just a day after Obasanjo promised to build a 1.8 billion dollars highway through the Niger Delta and create 20,000 new jobs to appease widespread feelings of marginalisation and disenchantment in the neglected region. ''The attack is not just a sign of escalating violence, but a signal that the militias are changing tactics,'' said Sebastian Spio-Gabrah of US-based investment analysts Eurasia Group.
''The car bomb is also a warning shot to President Olusegun Obasanjo that his promises of economic aid will not quiet the militias.'' MEND's demands -- which also include the release of two jailed leaders from the region and compensation for oil spills -- are shared by millions in the delta, where most people live in poverty despite the riches being pumped from their land.
Analysts link the violence to uncertainty ahead of next year's presidential election. Different tribal and regional groups believe it's their turn to run multi-ethnic Nigeria after eight years of Obasanjo, a Yoruba from the southwest.
These hopefuls have been infuriated by a powerful campaign by the ruling party to amend the constitution to allow Obasanjo to stay in power for a third consecutive term.
Obasanjo has ruled Africa's most populous country since it returned to democracy in 1999 after three decades of almost continuous military dictatorship.
Obasanjo has not said publicly whether he wants a third term, but his party has instructed members to support a constitutional amendment, which was submitted to the National Assembly on April 11, that would allow him to run.
Thousands rallied in the capital Abuja today to protest against the amendment at the launch of a new opposition party, the Advanced Congress of Democrats.
The rally drew prominent critics from other opposition parties, as well as disgruntled members of the ruling People's Democratic Party, in a sign that a broad alliance is forming against the pro-Obasanjo camp.
''There's a need for a very strong and united opposition that can take power in this country, since if we are factionalised we cannot win against the incumbent,'' Ahmed Bola Tinubu, governor of Lagos state, told Reuters on the sidelines of the rally.
The ACD and other Obasanjo critics argue that the third term plan is anti-democratic and will take Nigeria backwards. The amendment is due to be debated in the National Assembly next week.