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Nigerian Vice President Cleared of Corruption Allegations

A court in Nigeria has struck down a report by a government panel that said Vice President Atiku Abubakar should be indicted on graft charges that claim he had diverted public funds . For VOA, Gilbert da Costa reports from Abuja.

The ruling comes at an opportune time for the vice president whose quest to succeed President Olusegu Obasanjo appeared to have been scuttled by the report.

Nigeria's many political parties are in the process of selecting candidates for the April vote and Mr. Abubakar's supporters are clearly delighted that their candidate has now been cleared of any wrongdoing.

Adeolu Akande, spokesman for the vice president's campaign team, responds to the clearing of all legal impediments to Mr. Abubakar's candidacy.

"It means that the purported indictment is off and there is no legal impediment for him to pursue his political ambition," he noted. "As far as we are concerned, the so-called indictment is dead. And he is free to contest the elections now. We have always known that the indictment will be vacated by the courts, because as we said, it is a concoction of lies and it cannot stand the test of the judiciary."

Vice President Atiku Abubakar formally declared last weekend that he would run for president in elections next year.

The ruling Peoples Democratic Party suspended Mr. bubakar on the basis of the indictment. With the court dismissing the indictment, it is not certain if the party, which is controlled by President Obasanjo, will restore the vice president's membership and allow him contest the party's presidential ticket.

Party officials declined to comment but Akande is convinced the party has no choice than to accept the vice president back into its fold.

"The vice president is in court challenging his suspension from the PDP and that is the only condition that is stopping him from picking the PDP ticket," he added. "So, now that the so-called moral burden is off, the initiative is there. Since the basis of the suspension is off, we expect that the party will see reason to abandon the path of illegality they have taken as regards the vice president."

President Olusegun Obasanjo submitted the panel report to the Senate in September, highlighting a clause in the constitution, which says that a person cannot qualify for election as president if indicted for fraud by an "administrative panel of inquiry".

These accusations were part of a long-running battle for supremacy in the ruling party ahead of next year's poll, which is due to mark the first handover from one democratic president to another in Africa's most populous nation.