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Nigeria Voids Removal of 'Corrupt' Governor

The Nigerian government says Monday's removal of the state governor of Ekiti state, in the southwest, was unconstitutional and void. The declaration has added another twist to the drama being played out in some of Nigeria's 36 states ahead of landmark elections next year.

The federal Attorney General and Justice Minister Bayo Ojo says the removal of Governor Ayo Fayose and his deputy and the appointment of an acting governor, was in violation of the Nigerian constitution.

He said the state house of assembly had no power to suspend or appoint a state chief justice.

"The procedure and circumstance under which Justice Jide Aladejana was appointed are contrary to the provisions of the 1999 constitution on appointment of an acting chief judge," he said. "Hence, all actions taken by the said Justice Aladejana in his capacity as acting chief judge are unconstitutional."

Several of Nigeria's leading lawyers have criticized the process leading to the removal of Fayose, describing it as flawed, illegal and a dangerous trend.

Chief Justice Alfa Belgore had last weekend rejected the removal of the Ekiti state chief judge and the appointment of an acting chief judge by the state house of assembly.

The assembly had rejected a panel constituted by the chief judge to investigate corruption allegations against the impeached governor.

The appointment and removal of judicial officers rest with the National Judiciary Council.

Fayose was third state governor to be removed in the past few months under what analysts say had been questionable circumstances and in disregard of the constitution.

Ayo Olakotun, a political science lecturer at the University of Lagos, says the lack of respect for due process is now a trend that may continue if not checked.

"Oyo state, Plateau state, all the impeachments so far, have had this haze of illegality. One illegality spurns another illegality because when it happened earlier, nothing was done to arrest the trend," commented Olakotun. "Therefore, those rooting for these were emboldened in their illegality. And therefore, it has become what you call a gale that is sweeping the land."

Nigeria's political landscape is increasingly taking on a more turbulent outlook as Africa's most populous country marches toward April 2007 elections.

Governors in at least two other states have been served impeachment notices. All the indicted governors have been implicated in corruption-related offenses.