Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar says that his country is heading for autocracy and dictatorship unless voters support him in the upcoming presidential elections. For VOA in London, Benjamin Robertson has more.

A frontrunner for the upcoming presidential elections, Atiku Abubakar is warning of serious consequences for the country's democracy, calling the April elections a 'do or die affair'.

Speaking Tuesday in London at the international research organization Chatham House, he told a packed audience he feared outgoing president and former military general Olusegen Obansanjo would suspend the constitution and make himself president for life. Under the constitution a president may only serve two terms.

"Today the Nigerian state is not functioning properly and is in grave danger of failing as a nation state," he said. "Its political structures and very institutions that support a natural democracy including judiciary and press are under constant and regular threat."

As vice president in Obansanjo's government, the two men have been at loggerheads since last year after Abubakar opposed plans to amend the constitution and allow Mr. Obansanjo a third term.

Accused by Obansanjo supporters of corruption, Akubakar was recently stripped of his powers as vice president and has had to stand as a presidential candidate for an opposition party.

A surprise Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday reinstated him as vice president, saying the president had no legal power to remove him.

Asked during the occasionally heated exchange in London why as vice president he had not done more to solve issues of endemic corruption, he replied that he had been shut out of the policy making process by President Obasanjo and was never invited to Cabinet meetings.

If elected president, Abubakar promised to solve the problems of the oil-rich Niger delta by bringing stakeholders together and appointing a Cabinet minister with special responsibility for the region. He also said he would invest in infrastructure and law enforcement.

Not all observers were convinced by Abubakar's doomsday prophecies. Tom Cargill runs the Africa Program at Chatham House and says that though the elections will be a challenge he is optimistic about the country's future.

"I think these elections will be a key testing point, but I am not getting the kind of apocalyptic warnings that I seem to be getting six months ago when people were talking about blood in the streets and collapse of Nigeria," he said.

Now returning to Nigeria, Abubakar's next challenge will be to get through immigration. He says he expects to be arrested at the airport upon his arrival, even though his newly re-instated office of vice president grants him immunity from prosecution.