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Nigerian Ruling Party Presidential Candidate Launches Election Campaign


Nigeria's ruling party, the People's Democratic Party, on Saturday launched its election campaign for the man the party hopes will succeed President Olusegun Obasanjo. Sarah Simpson reports for VOA from the southern city of Lagos.

Waving flags and dancing, thousands of supporters of the People's Democratic Party gathered on the parade ground under a sweltering sun for the official start of Umaru Yar'Adua's election campaign.

Yar'Adua is President Obasanjo's hand-picked successor to run in April elections.

A previously little known state governor from the north of Nigeria, Yar'Adua took the microphone dressed from head-to-toe in the red, white and green of his party. "PDP! PDP! Today I feel greatly honored and privileged to receive the PDP flag, as flag bearer of the People's Democratic Party - the greatest party in Africa," he said.

Yar'Adua promised to continue the work of his predecessor, and said he aimed to improve the lives of Nigerians in this oil-rich, but impoverished nation. "Nigeria today has a political leader and a political party that has been destined by providence to transform our country from an under-developed nation to one of the developed nations of the world," he said.

President Obasanjo also made a speech. The one-time military leader turned elected president called on the crowd to continue to support the PDP and its chosen candidate for the sake of continuity. "We have a track record that must be maintained and if you listen to the presidential flag bearer, he will confirm what I have always said: we want continuity and change!," he said.

Nigeria is a federal state that binds together over 200 ethnic groups. Sometimes, that union is fraught, and thousands of people have died in inter-ethnic and religious violence since Mr. Obasanjo became president in 1999.

To claim victory in the coming polls, Nigeria's next president will not only have to secure 50 percent of all votes cast, but will also have to win at least 25 percent of all votes in two-thirds of the country's 36 states.

Yar'Adua is a northerner and Muslim. His running mate, Goodluck Jonathan, comes from the Christian south of Nigeria.

Party leaders made much of that north-south alliance at Saturday's gathering.

But, Evelyn Komi, a 52-year-old market woman, said she would vote for the ruling party simply because Goodluck Jonathan comes from her home state. "I will vote for them because they are my people. The Vice is my man, he is a south-south president, that is why I am here," she said.

Presidential elections are scheduled for April 21.