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Nigerian Court Offers VP a Political Lifeline

The Supreme Court in Nigeria ruled Monday that the electoral commission unlawfully disqualified Vice President Atiku Abubakar from running for president, handing Abubakar the legal victory just days before the vote. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa reports from Abuja.

The ruling by Nigeria's top court opened the way for a late presidential bid by Vice President Atiku Abubakar. The vice president's spokesman, Garba Shehu, told VOA that the judgment could have far-reaching implications for Nigeria's young democracy.

"We congratulate every citizen because this is important for democracy in the land, not just for Atiku," he said. "The important thing about this thing is that it expands the reach of access to every citizen, because the constitution gives every citizen the right to vote and be voted for."

Abubakar fell out with President Olusegun Obasanjo last year after helping quash a drive by the president's supporters to amend the constitution and allow a third elected term for Mr. Obasanjo.

Abubakar left Obasanjo's powerful party to run as an opposition candidate in a race in which Umaru Yar'Adua, a member of Obasanjo's party, is seen as the front-runner. The electoral commission had barred Abubakar from the presidential ballot based findings by an executive panel established by Obasanjo that found Abubakar stole government funds. Abubakar denies the fraud allegations.

The ruling affected not only Abubakar's candidacy in next Saturday's presidential poll, but at least six states where governorship candidates were disqualified in the state election.

In elections over the weekend for state governors and legislators, Mr. Obasanjo's party, the People's Democratic Party, appeared to take a commanding lead today, winning 21 of 36 governorships, according to preliminary results, with six states going to various opposition parties and results from another seven left to be reported. Abubakar's Action Congress won the governorship in Lagos state.

Africa's most populous nation and top oil producer returned to democracy in 1999 after decades of army rule and these elections should lead to the first handover from one elected president to another since independence in 1960.