Some of Nigeria's leading opposition groups are criticizing President Olusegun Obasanjo for his role in the drive to amend the constitution and allow the former military ruler a third term. Gilbert da Costa reports from Abuja on reactions to Mr. Obasanjo's acceptance Thursday of a parliamentary vote that denied him an opportunity to extend his mandate.
The Advanced Congress of Democrats, Afenifere and Pro-National Conference Organization (PRONACO) are leading the charge, criticizing President Obasanjo for his role in the failed campaign to extend his presidency beyond the two-term limit.
In a statement, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, a spokesman for the Advanced Congress of Democrats, said the president's attempt to extend his term was a disgrace. Mohammed compared Obasanjo to past leaders such as the late General Sanni Abacha who attempted to stay in office at a time Nigerians were tired of their rule.
Opponents say they were harassed, intimidated and offered bribes ahead of a parliamentary debate on the issue. Some critics of Mr. Obasanjo are demanding his resignation.
Mazi Okwu, who leads a coalition of 16 opposition parties, known as Patriotic Parties Alliance, says the third-term saga has weakened the president's stature.
"The president has no option, he had been overwhelmed," he said. "The gamble failed as far as I'm concerned. And it's unfortunate because he has wounded himself by fighting shy. He was there in the background claiming he had no interest and that God will intervene. And then his handlers failed him. As far as I'm concerned, it was very badly handled. So what has now happened is that he's now a lame duck president."
Opposition to a third term came mainly from the Muslim-dominated north where politicians say it's their turn to take the top job after eight years of rule by Obasanjo, a Christian from the southwest.
Analysts say Nigeria faces a turbulent run-up to elections as political figures jostle for influence in a country split between Muslims and Christians and divided by three main ethnic groups and hundreds of minorities.
Okwu says a future without Obasanjo means Nigeria has an opportunity for credible, free and fair elections in 2007.
"Let's see how it plays out because you see these are loose situations and anything could happen," he said. "Even if the PDP [ruling Peoples Democratic Party] decides to come down from its high horse and package a grand coalition, it can still pull it off. So, it's open I concede... the prominent candidates now need to network. It is very important and anything can happen. As far as I'm concerned, I'm excited from the robust politicking and electioneering campaigns because for the first time since 1999 there's a chance of the people's government.''
An increasing number of candidates have already indicated their intention to contest the presidential ballot in 2007. Elections next year should mark the first time in Nigerian history that a civilian president hands over power to another through elections.