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Nigerians Divided Over Constitutional Reforms

A parliamentary joint committee in Nigeria is expected to adopt proposals for sweeping changes to the Nigerian constitution Friday. But deep divisions have emerged on the Nigerian political scene.

The National Assembly's joint constitutional review committee is expected to adopt proposals for several amendments to the Nigerian constitution.

The 70-member panel will most likely adopt the much-criticized plan to extend President Olusegun Obasanjo's term.

Critics say the amendment process has been manipulated to favor the adoption of a third term for Mr. Obasanjo.

"Obviously, there is an agenda," said Mazi Okwu, a leading member of the Nigerian opposition. "You can see the way they did their kangaroo zonal public hearing, which was a PDP [ruling Peoples Democratic Party] assembly to ram through what they had intended in the first place. So, what is happening, is a rape of our democracy. It is also a move by the PDP to force itself willy-nilly on us for another term."

The proposed changes are to be submitted to the full house of the two-chamber parliament for a decision.

The review committee has been in Port Harcourt, southeastern Nigeria, to draw up its final report. An attempt by opponents to stop the exercise through a court order was ignored by the parliamentary group on Wednesday.

Committee Chairman Ibrahim Mantu says the committee will work in the best interest of Nigeria.

"First and foremost, I am a lawmaker, who actually was sworn in, and I took an oath of office to defend the constitution and protect the constitution," he said. "So, anything that I will do that is contrary to the dictates of my conscience, it's like going against the oath I took, and so, therefore, I intend to do everything, to the best of my ability, in such a way that it is going to be openly acceptable by everybody."

Supporters of President Obasanjo have launched a campaign to amend the constitution and let the former military ruler, an ethnic Yoruba from the southwest, run for a third term.

Many politicians from other regions, including the oil-rich Niger Delta and the volatile north, are opposed to another term for the president.

Analysts have warned that the build-up to the 2007 general elections could create widespread instability in Africa's most populous nation.