A special court in the Nigeria Tuesday started a hearing on corruption charges filed against Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports that the charges flow from a public dispute between the vice president and the president ahead of crucial polls next year.
Vice President Atiku Abubakar is facing charges relating to abuse of office, embezzlement of public funds and money laundering filed by the attorney general on behalf of the Nigerian government.
The government says grave irregularities had characterized the handling of about $135 million in the coffers of a government agency, which the vice president headed. Mr. Abubakar is alleged to applied the funds to benefit his friends and associates.
The vice president was not in court Tuesday and the case has been adjourned to November 16.
Adeolu Akande, a spokesman for the vice president, says the special court was not competent to adjudicate on the matter since a high court in Abuja is already hearing a petition filed by the vice president on his indictment.
"The vice president has challenged the decision of the attorney general to go to the code of conduct [tribunal]," he said. "By judicial protocol, the code of conduct tribunal cannot commence hearing until the determination of the case in the high court. So, our position is that we are ready to pursue the case at the high court, raising all legal issues to make sure that the rule of law is protected."
The unprecedented move to prosecute an incumbent is widely linked to the fierce public face-off between the president and his deputy.
The dispute took a turn for the worse earlier this year when the vice president led a campaign to halt an attempt to rewrite the constitution to allow his boss stand for a third term.
Akande accuses the president of pursuing a narrow political vendetta.
"If you look at the frenzy with which they have done all this, within the space of two weeks, you have conducted investigation, it has gone to the federal executive council [cabinet], you have gazzetted the decision, you have gone to the tribunal," he said. "All these within 10 days, it has never happened in the history of Nigeria. By all account, no money was lost by the government,no case has been established and you are running all over the place.It is a desperate attempt to stop Vice President Atiku Abubakar from contesting the 2007 presidential elections."
Many Nigerians fear the face-off could destabilize the country ahead of polls that should mark the first democratic hand-over of power. Africa 's top oil producer returned to civil rule seven years ago after more than three decades of almost continuous military rule.