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Nigerian Opposition Seeks United Front


Nigeria's main opposition parties held a meeting Thursday to discuss the formation of a political coalition to compete in general elections scheduled for later this month. From Abuja, Gilbert da Costa reports for VOA that opposition leaders believe that by running as a bloc they will have a better chance at the polls.

Osita Okechukwu, a spokesman for Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, organizers of Thursday's meeting in Abuja, says unifying Nigeria's fractious opposition parties is a challenge but it could serve the country well. He says even a loose coalition will help in boosting the opposition's chances at the polls.

"We looked at it that there is a lot of political violence. We said if that is the case, why don't we sit down and define a granite coalition and face the elections as a body, he said. "We know that in certain states, some parties might be stronger than the other. We want to know if we can harmonize our efforts."

The ruling Peoples Democratic Party - the PDP - says efforts to cobble together a last-minute coalition show desperation on the part of the opposition.

The PDP controls several of Nigeria's 36 states, which gives it enormous clout and, some say, access to huge financial resources with which to compromise election officials and use security forces to its advantage.

The PDP has denied the opposition's claim of plans to rig the elections. President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is not running, has promised free, fair and credible elections. He has repeatedly condemned political violence and vote rigging, which, he says, threaten the credibility of the Nigerian vote.

But, opposition parties, emboldened by what they regard as the failings of the current government, remain very optimistic that they can defeat the ruling party, even without forming a coalition.

As Okechukwu explains, the government has been in power eight years and can point to few, if any, successes.

"As far as we are concerned, the election is a referendum of the past eight years and the PDP had not performed," he said. "Is it poverty alleviation? Is it in supplying electricity? Is it employment? If the votes count, even without the opposition uniting, we will defeat the PDP hands down because they wasted the past eight years, in spite of the abundant resources."

Nigerians vote Saturday, April 14 for state legislators and governors. The presidential election is scheduled for April 21. The PDP candidate is Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, a former polytechnic teacher. The main opposition candidate is Muhammadu Buhari, a former leader of the army.

The elections are being watched closely by foreign observers, as they could determine the fate of Nigeria's young democracy.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous country and biggest oil exporter, returned to democracy in 1999 after nearly three decades of military rule.