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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Nigeria impeaches fifth state governor

Nigeria yesterday carried through the impeachment of its fifth state governor this year in a move that could tighten President Olusegun Obasanjo's grip on power, five months ahead of national elections.

Joshua Dariye, of the central state of Plateau, was removed from office at an unannounced sitting of state lawmakers that was not open to the press or public. The governor, who has lost his constitutional immunity, is now wanted by Nigeria's anti-corruption agency.

Mr Dariye is a fugitive from Britain after jumping bail on charges of money laundering. In 2004 he was suspended from office for six months after a spate of ethno-religious violence in his state killed hundreds of people.

The impeachment worried analysts who said the trend of removing governors perceived as political opponents of Mr Obasanjo could lead to chaos in Nigeria and derail elections scheduled for next April.

All the five governors have been impeached in controversial circumstances. Mr Dariye's impeachment was carried out by only a handful of lawmakers who said they had a constitutional two-thirds majority in the state house of assembly because many of their colleagues had defected from the ruling People's Democratic party and thereby lost their seats. This is being contested in the courts.

Mr Obasanjo, who earlier this year failed to secure constitutional backing for a presidential term extension, has since said he wants to make sure that "criminals and crooks" do not inherit the reins of power after he is due to stand down. But many analysts remain worried that Mr Obasanjo's strategy could force a backlash within his own ruling party, which has an overwhelming majority in Nigeria's 36 states.

The PDP was conceived as a cross-cutting power-sharing vehicle bringing together Nigeria's diverse geopolitical interests after the end of military rule in 1999.

"In as much as it might be alleged that the president has his own objectives, what needs to happen at this stage is to ensure that the (anti- corruption commission) is not politicised so that it does not become the exact opposite of what it stands for," said Dapo Oyewole, director for the Centre for African Policy and Peace Strategy.

Officials from Nigeria's anti-corruption commission say they have files on 31 of the 36 state governors. Sitting state governors are highly influential in local, state and presidential party primaries which are expected to be completed by December.

Last month, Mr Obasanjo forced through a state of emergency in the state of Ekiti, after the impeachment of a governor caused a political furore there, but Nigerian senators intimated they may not ratify similar moves again.

Mr Obasanjo has not yet made it clear who his chosen successor is but is expected to use the threat of impeachments as a coercive tool to force his will

The Financial Times
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