Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar is now the presidential candidate of Nigeria's fledgling opposition Action Congress Party. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa reports that Atiku's party switch has provoked a debate on his status as vice president.
The bitter feud between President Olusegun Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku Abubakar may worsen in the coming days with the emergence of the vice president as the candidate of an opposition party.
Mr. Obasanjo blocked the vice president from running on the ruling party's ticket, compelling Abubakar to seek the nomination of Action Congress.
Supporters of Obasanjo claim the vice president has forfeited any claim to the number-two position by breaking ranks with the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, and can be removed by the president.
Nigerian House of Representatives Committee of Judiciary Chairman Balla Na'Allah says that assumption is wrong because the president has no constitutional right to make a pronouncement on the status of the vice president.
"The president does not have power to declare the seat of the vice president vacant, constitutionally, said Na'Allah. "The law did not say he [vice president] should vacate office, it says he can only be removed from office. So, changing political parties by an executive does not affect his political career as it relates to contesting for another election. But for a member of the senate or a member of the House of Representatives, because he is occupying a seat, he is expected to vacate the office."
A defiant Vice President Abubakar criticized what he called the current dictatorship in Nigeria and urged his supporters to brace up for intimidation and harassment by the authorities.
"The task ahead will be a very challenging one. It is not going to be easy," he said. "The misguided, but powerful few, who think that they alone own this country and have been playing God in the past few years, will put many obstacles in our way. But today, God has shown that he is God. There is likely to be more intimidation and harassment of our people."
The 2007 polls will be one of the most hotly contested, because the president and many state governors are nearing the end of their second terms and the constitution bars them from seeking a third. Intense power struggles are taking place at every level.
With a Friday deadline to Nigerian political parties to submit names of their presidential candidates, the chase for the presidency looks like a three-way race. The frontrunners are a little known governor, a former military ruler, and the vice president.