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Nigerian Leader, Deputy in Public Feud


A public feud has broken out between the Nigerian president and his deputy as the West African nation braces for crucial elections in 2007. Gilbert da Costa reports from Abuja that the dispute may worsen political tension.

The public disagreement between President Olusegun Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku Abubakar has become the major topic for public discourse. Local newspapers have been running headlines on the verbal exchanges.

Vice President Atiku Abubakar Thursday rejected a call by a spokesman for Mr. Obasanjo to resign following his public denunciation of the president's alleged quest for a third term.

Abubakar, in a strongly worded statement, said the president had violated the spirit of the constitution and should therefore resign.

Maxi Okwu, a lawyer and political analyst in Abuja, says the two leaders have publicly declared their inability to work together as a team. He says the most rational way out will be for the vice president to resign.

"Its a most unfortunate development," he said. "Though for Nigerians it is politically exciting that these two leaders of the country have gone for each others jugular. But looking at it morally and politically, it will appear as if the vice president has, as it were, burnt his boat on the Obasanjo presidency and in a working democracy, in fact reading from what he said, ought to have resigned long ago."

Vice President Abubakar has his eyes firmly set on contesting for the presidency in 2007 and appears ready for a showdown with the president.

Mr. Obasanjo has not publicly declared his intention to run for a third term but observers say he is intent on staying on beyond 2007.

The police had broken up meetings called by Obasanjo's opponents in recent weeks. Okwu says the president is likely to adopt repressive methods in the next couple of months, to achieve his political ambition.

"If the amendment as proposed sails through and the president has an opportunity to have another crack, he has to go repressive because he is quite unpopular," he said. "He's quite unpopular and he has to really employ a lot of repressive methods to ram his position through."

The constitution prevents Mr. Obasanjo from seeking a third term but his supporters have launched a massive campaign for changes, to allow him to run for a third term.

Local and international analysts have warned that a third term for Mr. Obasanjo could push Nigeria further into violence.

About 20,000 people have been killed through violence in the West African nation since 1999, when Mr. Obasanjo was inaugurated.