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Nigerian Vice President's Aide Detained in Presidency Crisis


Nigeria's secret police are detaining a spokesman for the vice president. The arrest marks increasing tension in the public rift between the two most powerful men in Nigeria.

The campaign office of the Nigerian vice president, Atiku Abubakar, says the arrest of Shehu Garba represents increased political persecution of Mr. Abubakar and his staff.

Garba, a former newspaper editor, had issued several statements on behalf of the vice president accusing president Olusegun Obasanjo of corruption, as the media war involving the two camps heats up.

Deola Akande, a media officer at the vice president's campaign office in Abuja, says Garba's arrest may be linked to the release of damaging reports indicting the president and allegations that the detained media officer offered money to journalists to publish reports favorable to the vice president.

"Our suspicion is that in their attempt to smear the image of the vice president, they have failed woefully because we have put the president himself on the spot and we have questioned the integrity of the EFCC [Economic and Financial Crimes Commission] report, and it is like we are making a success of it," Mr. Akande said. "So, the fact that they are now accusing us of bribing the media rather than commending the media for its professionalism and commitment to the principle of fair hearing, shows that they have lost out in that battle."

The president's office, however, has denied targeting the vice president and his staff.

President Obasanjo's political advisor, Akin Oshontokun, told VOA Garba's arrest had nothing to do with the public rift.

"It has nothing to do with campaign or anything between the president and the vice president, absolutely nothing," he said. "I am sure you will agree with me that anyone who speaks for the vice president or the president, if you under investigation for anything that is unrelated, the fact that you speak for the vice president should not put you above the law or excuse you from whatever you might have done in your individual capacity."

The vice president is accused of influencing the deposit of government petroleum funds in commercial banks in which he is alleged to have interest.

Abubakar is planning to run for the 2007 elections to succeed Obasanjo, who will be stepping down after two terms in office, but his bid could be thwarted by the corruption allegation, which his supporters claim was politically motivated.

Oshontokun says the current face-off is typical of the political environment in Nigeria.

"In any society, in any state, the primary duty of government, the president, vice president and everybody else, is maintenance of law and order," he said. "If anyone chooses to personalize or dramatize what is going on, it doesn't detract from that basic idea. It happens in other societies, in South Africa, Mbeki and Zuma. When Zuma did something wrong, the law took its course. In the U.S. and Britain, these are routine things. There is nothing peculiar or unique about what is going on here."

The State Security Service claims Garba was picked up for what it described as activities that are of security interest.

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