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Former Nigerian Military Ruler Joins Presidential Race


After months of speculation, Nigeria's former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida said he will run as a candidate in the presidential election of April, 2007. The candidacy is getting mixed reactions in Nigeria.

Ibrahim Babangida joins another former military ruler, Muhammadu Buhari, and several other candidates in the race to succeed President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The controversial Babangida is one of Nigeria's longest-serving military rulers. Reputed to be very wealthy, he is blamed by many for most of Nigeria's current economic problems. Critics say the Babangida administration institutionalized corruption in the government.

Babangida also canceled the results of the 1993 presidential election that was hailed as the most credible in Nigeria's history, and the resulting violent mass protests forced him to resign.

A political analyst in Abuja, Maxi Okwu, says Babangida's return to the political scene runs counter to the aspirations of most Nigerians to foster a new political future.

"As far as I am concerned, there is nothing new IBB [Babangida] is bringing to the equation that he forgot so many years ago that he is now bringing back, considering the way and manner he left," Okwu said. "I think he is out of tune with contemporary politics and for Nigeria, I do not think he is the best candidate we should be talking about now. He could have saved us the ordeal by keeping a low profile and relishing the eight years or so he was in power."

The former ruler enjoys support among a small, but powerful, clique who benefited from his eight-year rule. He will run on the ticket of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party.

Babangida spokesman Prince Kassim Afeagbu insists the 65-year-old retired army general would bring his tremendous experience to bear if elected.

"Babangida is not God. He may have his shortcomings, he may have his failings. But what we are saying is that if you place the good and the bad, the good outweighs the bad," he said. "So, we are also telling Nigerians that his second coming will provide an opportunity to right the wrongs that people said he committed when he was in government as a military president. And under a democratic dispensation we are expecting that the timing and expectations of the people would be different and they will be better served under a Babaginda presidency than any other person."

The likelihood of another former military ruler succeeding Mr. Obasanjo is disconcerting to some Nigerians. Mr. Obasanjo was also a military ruler before becoming the country's elected president in 1999.

The Center for Media Analysis, a research group based in Accra, Ghana, has been examining the issues likely to dominate the 2007 election in Nigeria. The Center's chief executive officer, Messan Mawugbe, tells VOA, good governance and the provision of regular electricity are some of the issues on the minds of Nigerians.

"Generosity, which has been part of our system where politicians dole out gifts to electorates to get them on board, was actually rated low," Mawugbe said. "And another striking aspect is even the oil sector, which one would think from outside that there would be a major concern, but the electorates have proven that what concerns them most is not that, but then electricity, good governance, and security."

Babangida provided crucial support to Mr. Obasanjo in 1999, but has reportedly failed to gain the president's backing in his bid to succeed him. A successful election would mark the first democratic transfer of power in Nigeria.

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