A controversial Nigerian state governor has been arrested in connection with corruption allegations. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, of oil-rich Bayelsa state, is being sought by British authorities after fleeing money-laundering charges last month.
Seventeen members of Bayelsa's 24-seat state legislature voted early Friday to impeach Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, passing with one vote to spare a measure stripping the embattled politician of his immunity from prosecution.
Federal security forces surrounded the governor's office in the state capital Yenagoa earlier in the day as lawmakers were preparing to vote on the matter. Minutes after the vote, Mr. Alamieyeseigha was taken into custody.
British authorities this week issued a warrant for the governor's arrest. He was originally detained at an airport in London and charged with laundering more than three million dollars in stolen public funds.
Mr. Alamieyeseigha was released on bail, but then fled Britain, later reappearing in Bayelsa. Nigerian officials say he left Britain in disguise and carrying forged documents. His escape spawned criticism from Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who accused British authorities of mishandling the case.
The governor is a prominent leader of the oil-rich Niger Delta's majority Ijaw ethnic group, which has long campaigned for a greater share of petroleum revenues.
Mr. Alamieyeseigha has denied any wrongdoing. His supporters and some analysts claim his arrest as part of a countrywide crackdown on corruption is nothing more than political infighting.
"I think nobody can deny the fact that by some design so-called opponents of the president are the ones who are often being singled out for investigation," explains journalist Gilbert DaCosta. "And so it's, to a large extent, as some of the critics want to say, most of these things are politically motivated. And with the march toward elections in 2007, the stakes are indeed very high."
Supporters of President Obasanjo have recently begun pushing for constitutional changes that would allow him to run for a third term. The move has created major divisions within the president's ruling party.
It is not entirely clear what will now happen to Mr. Alamieyeseigha. Officials from Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission accuse him of misusing public funds, but so far no formal action has been taken against him.
"At this point he has not been charged with any crime in Nigeria," said journalist DaCosta. "Now that that immunity by virtue of this impeachment has been waved, we expect that he will be sent back to Britain to face criminal charges."
Soon after Mr. Alamieyeseigha's impeachment was approved, the current acting governor Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in to take charge of the state government.