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Bomb Blasts Enter Nigerian Presidential Campaign

Smoke and debris fill the sky seconds after a car bomb explodes alongside firemen responding to an initial car bomb that had exploded five minutes earlier, in Abuja, Nigeria, 01 Oct 2010

Smoke and debris fill the sky seconds after a car bomb explodes alongside firemen responding to an initial car bomb that had exploded five minutes earlier, in Abuja, Nigeria, 01 Oct 2010

Nigeria's independence day bomb blasts have become an issue in the country's presidential campaign with an investigation into one of the leading candidate's campaign manager and calls for the president's resignation.

Former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida's presidential campaign says President Goodluck Jonathan is engaged in a political witch hunt after the campaign's director was questioned about last Friday's bombing that killed 12 people.

President Jonathan says he knows the "unpatriotic elements" who sponsored the attack. But his campaign says the president is not interfering in the investigation. Dalhatu Sarki Tafida directs the Jonathan campaign.

"What would you do yourself or anybody? He came. He condemned," said Dalhatu Sarki Tafida. "And he said investigations would be carried out. And investigations are already going on. What else do you want him to do?"

Some northern politicians are calling for the president's resignation over his handling of the crisis. Tafida says that is an effort by some within the ruling party to take power by force.

"How can you start calling for Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the president, to resign? What is the relevance of that? How do you start calling for impeachment, the same party? I think there is something fundamentally wrong," said Tafida.

Babangida deputy campaign director Kanti Bello says what is wrong is the president trying to intimidate his political opponents, likening the president to former military ruler Sani Abacha.

"Look, we have gone through this road earlier," said Bello. "Remember Abacha? Some people were taken, including Obasanjo, as coup plotters. Is this the way we are going in this democratic dispensation? It would be unfortunate for this country."

President Jonathan's candidacy disrupts an informal deal within the ruling party that says the next Nigerian leader should be from the north to complete what would have been the second term of the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua instead of continuing on with President Jonathan, who is from the south.

President Jonathan is from the oil-rich Niger Delta. So there has been some criticism of the speed with which he absolved Niger Delta militants of responsibility for the Abuja bombing, even though an e-mail attributed to the group warned of the blast before it happened.

President Jonathan's defense of Niger Delta militants makes Babangida supporter Umar Aminu Brigade suspicious.

"Maybe they had a plan for this between him and them," said Brigade. "Because if people on their own came out categorically to say that we are the people who carried out this kind of unfortunate issue and yet the president came out categorically to the media, to the whole world, to tell the whole world that they are not the people who carried out all these things, what kind of president do we have?"

Brigade says Babangida is far better prepared to handle security.

"General Ibrahim Badamsi Babangida will do better than Goodluck Jonathan looking at their background politically, militarily, and what have you," he said. "Because when you talk about the issue of a military background, when you talk about the issue of security, Babangida will do better looking at what is really going on in the country."

Jonathan supporter Moses Okpogode says it is not military experience alone that qualifies a president to handle security.

"General Ibrahim Babangida is a former military ruler and he has been in the security system for some time," said Okpogode. "But it is not him per se that can bring security to the country. Security structures in the country can also be overhauled by the correct president, President Goodluck Jonathan."

Okpogode says President Jonathan has a better sense of the problems underlying insecurity, especially in the Niger Delta.

"I think because of his understanding of the democratic dispensation, Goodluck Jonathan is in a better position to bring security to the country, especially in this period where even people in the Niger Delta see it that they could bring down the security situation if there person is not there as the president," he said.

The bombings put security at the top of this presidential campaign with Babangida saying there is an abysmal lack of governance as the Jonathan administration is overwhelmed by crises. President Jonathan says there were security lapses that contributed to the bombing but he is confident that those responsible for the violence will be brought to justice.