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Tuesday, February 16, 1999 Published at 11:36 GMT

World: Africa

Two contest Nigeria presidency

Now there are just two presidential candidates

Nigeria's former finance minister, Olu Falae, has been named the joint presidential nominee for two of Nigeria's three political parties, setting him against retired general Olusegun Obasanjo in the upcoming elections.

Nigeria in transition
Officials from the All People's Party and the Alliance for Democracy agreed early on Tuesday morning on a joint candidacy for Mr Falae, following weeks of political and legal wrangling over such a plan.

The 60-year-old former government official will have a difficult campaign to overcome the political power and financial backing of Mr Obasanjo and the Peoples' Democratic Party in the election on 27 February.

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The retired general - who was imprisoned by former military dictator Sani Abacha - is the favourite to win presidential elections on 27 February, the latest step on Nigeria's return to civilian rule. The current military leader, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, has pledged to step down on 29 May after handing over power to the first civilian president in 15 years.

Analysts say the linkage of the AD and the APP is surprising at first glance, as the Alliance for Democracy is largely composed of Yorubas from Nigeria's southwest and lead by a number of prominent opponents of the country's late dictator, Sani Abacha.

The All Peoples Party, meanwhile, includes many politicians who built their careers through loyalty to General Abacha.

Mr Falae, a Yoruba who had earlier been named the candidate of the Alliance for Democracy, is seen as a temperate politician who could gain support outside of the southwest.

Mr Obasanjo is also a Yoruba, but in a country split along regional, ethnic and religious lines, he is also an anomaly. He draws most of his support from the predominantly Muslim north, where the military is popular.

Mr Obasanjo is also well-known for being the only Nigerian military ruler to ever give up power voluntarily.

He was jailed from 1995 until June last year by Abacha for alleged involvement in a coup. But his military past is exactly why he is widely distrusted in his home region in the south, where opposition to successive military governments has been strong.

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