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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 April, 2005, 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK
Obasanjo clears way for Babangida
By Sola Odunfa
BBC Focus On Africa magazine

General Babangida
General Babangida helped secure Obasanjo's win in 1999
Since General Olusegun Obasanjo won Nigeria's presidential election in 1999, there has been speculation in political and media circles that a pact existed with his most important supporter, former ruler General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.

The speculation is that in exchange for the support that he received from Babangida, the president would anoint him as his successor when he steps down at the end of his second term in 2007.

Obasanjo denied the existence of such a pact when he told journalists last year: "I don't know who will succeed me."

But any doubts about Obasanjo's commitment to Babangida have been removed by the perceived ruthlessness with which he has been cutting down his deputy, Vice-President Atiku Abubakar.

Financial muscle

When a caucus of Nigeria's military officers met at the presidential villa in 1998 to determine the successor to General Abacha, a decision was taken to release all political prisoners.

General was one of the beneficiaries of the amnesty. He was languishing in jail at the time, serving a 25-year jail term for alleged treason.

Babangida started building his political machinery - this concerned Atiku and he showed it. It has been his undoing.
With Abacha dead, Obasanjo was a free man - and one of the first visitors to his farm in Otta was General Babangida, who was Nigeria's dictatorial ruler for eight years, until 1993.

General Babangida wasted no time in informing Obasanjo that he should prepare to contest presidential elections. Obasanjo was at first reluctant, but he relented after Babangida assured him he would not fail.

Obasanjo registered as a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); Babangida provided the financial muscle for his campaign.

Obasanjo won the election and he was sworn in on May 29, 1999.

Now, after six years in charge, he is looking for a successor.

Atiku is the only credible presidential contestant from within the ranks of the PDP.

During their first term in office Atiku demonstrated total loyalty towards Obasanjo and he was rewarded with power over a wide range of issues in government.

He told Obasanjo of his ambition to succeed him and had on numerous private occasions sought his support: each time, Obasanjo was reported to have told him that it was premature to discuss the issue.

Meanwhile, Babangida started building his political machinery.

This concerned Atiku and he showed it. It has been his undoing.

When Obasanjo sought the PDP's nomination to serve another term as elected president in 2003, Atiku hesitated before giving him support.

Although his last-minute intervention gave Obasanjo victory at the PDP convention, Obasanjo felt hurt and he set out to erode Atiku's support base.

He has removed virtually all the vice-president's supporters from the cabinet and other important political positions.

Required support

The final blow was the forced removal from office of the national chairman of the PDP, Chief Audu Ogbeh, in January this year.

Obasanjo had first sought to oust Ogbe at a meeting of the party's Central Executive Committee, but he made a tactical retreat after realising that he would not get the required support.

General Obasanjo
General Obasanjo is believed to be looking for a successor
A few days later, he sent Atiku to represent him at the Sudan peace deal signing in Nairobi, Kenya.

As soon as Atiku was out of the country, the president summoned the party chairman to the presidential villa and forced him to submit a resignation letter.

Ogbeh complied, announcing later that he resigned in the interest of the party, the nation and his family.

Being abroad, Atiku could not intervene. He was helpless as a powerful ally was being removed from the party hierarchy.

The chairman's resignation and planned reorganisation of the ruling party by Obasanjo have completely eroded Atiku's influence.

Sensing they have no future with him, Atiku's remaining allies in the PDP are deserting in droves to the Obasanjo camp.

They include state governors: Atiku could count on the loyalty of around 20 of them, but this is no longer the case.

The winning camp at this time is the Obasanjo/Babangida alliance.

Babangida holds PDP membership card No 007 from his hometown, Minna in Niger State.

Several groups have sprung up under the "Nigeria Project 2007" banner. They are campaigning for Babangida to be the next president.

He may be 'stepping back' into the presidential villa - unless General Obasanjo has other plans.



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