In Nigeria, the controversy surrounding the eligibility of Vice President Atiku Abubakar took another turn over the weekend. The independent electoral commission (INEC) said it has not cleared the vice president to contest April?s general elections as a presidential candidate for the opposition Action Congress (AC) party. Supporters of Abubakar say this is yet another attempt by what they called ?the powers that be? to frustrate the vice president?s presidential ambitions.

Shehu Garuba is the spokesman for Vice President Atiku Abubakar. He said the Independent electoral commission is blackmailing the vice president.

?There will always be controversy around the vice president, as we prepare to go to the polls in April, simply because the President of Nigeria, General Obasanjo is determined to, at all cost, stop the vice president from running. Now the Independent Electoral Commission has no power under the constitution to prevent or to ban any candidate from running in any election?what is playing out is blackmail on the vice president,? he said.

Garuba said the Independent Electoral Commission is refusing to process the document presented by the vice president?s campaign team.

?What they (INEC) are saying is because the vice president has challenged in court the power of INEC to screen candidates to verify candidates or to disqualify, they are saying, well, Mr. Vice president since you have gone to court challenging our power to screen any candidate, we will not screen you, you are on your won. Now that?s a blackmail,? Garuba noted.

He denied that the controversy surrounding the vice president?s candidature in the upcoming elections would have any negative effect on his campaign.

?Absolutely no, because as I speak to you now, even this matter of his contest or the power o INEC screening is before a judge. And this is a matter that would be resolved in the coming week or two. So nothing absolutely nothing stands in the way of the vice president because he has actually won all of his court cases,? he said.

Garuba blamed the federal government in having a hand in frustrating the presidential ambitions of the vice president.

?The problem is that of government and INEC who appear bent on stopping him (Atiku Abubakar). But the vice president has no problem. He is a law abiding citizen, and he believes in the due process of the law,? he said.

Garuba said though the vice president?s campaign has been hit by controversies, it is not going to be distracted.

?We are trying to make the point that we are not going to be distracted. As a matter of fact, the vice president has been doing whatever he can to stay on the message because he is campaigning as a candidate of change in the oncoming elections. Are Nigerians satisfied with the present state of things? If not, that?s the candidate for change,? he said.

Garuba said the vice president?s campaign in the Plateau State capital Jos kicks off today (Monday).

?We are here in plateau, Jos for the inauguration of the North central one of the presidential campaigns. And we will do this without this campaign been shadowed at all by any of these games that are being played by government and its institutions,? he said.

Garuba said the vice president?s campaign message has been well received.

?We have done two major rallies. No rally by any candidate so far in the incoming elections has attracted as much a crowd that has been there. So the vice president is being listened to, he?s been eagerly awaited by Nigerian voters, they want to get his message,? he said.