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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 October 2006, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
Fears over Nigeria emergency rule
By Senan Murray
BBC News website, Abuja

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo's declaration of a state of emergency in troubled Ekiti State has heightened fears ahead of landmark elections due next April.

Impeached governor of Ekiti State, Nigeria
Mr Fayose's sacking means he can now be prosecuted

Local MPs voted to impeach governor Ayo Fayose on Monday after finding him guilty of siphoning state funds into personal bank accounts and receiving kickbacks.

But several senior politicians and legal figures complained that his removal was unlawful.

Analysts say Mr Fayose's sacking and the declaration of emergency rule in Ekiti were part of complex political scheming ahead of the general elections.

But the proclamation has also achieved the objective of the impeachment exercise by removing Governor Fayose from office and therefore leaving him liable for prosecution.

'Ominous sign'

Opposition politicians say it is an "ominous sign of things to come" in an election where Mr Obasanjo seems determined to influence the choice of his successor.

Olusegun Obasanjo
President Obasanjo cannot run for a third term in 2007

President Obasanjo told national television that he was taking action to prevent Ekiti descending into chaos.

For a solution, President Obasanjo, himself a retired army general, has appointed another retired general to run Ekiti State for the next six months.

While Maj Gen Tunji Olurin remains sole administrator in Ekiti, all democratic institutions in the state, including the local legislature, which impeached Mr Fayose, will remain suspended.

But the ruling party could well benefit from the move as the new governor is also a senior official in the ruling People's Democratic Party and will supervise the state polls due in six months' time.

Army

The developments are also worrying for Nigerians who only returned to multi-party democracy in 1999 after being ruled by the military for most of the previous 30 years.

What was done in Ekiti was unconstitutional and allowing it to stand would put our democracy in grave danger
Muhammadu Buhari

Imposing the former commander of the West African peacekeeping force, Ecomog, as sole administrator in Ekiti adds to the dominance of retired military officers in Nigerian politics.

Former military rulers Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and General Muhammadu Buhari are expected to be top contenders in April elections.

The ruling party is also headed by a retired army colonel.

Election 'plot'

Some go even further than suggesting the moves against Mr Fayose and other state governors are political manoeuvring.

Some opposition politicians express the fear that the declaration of emergency rule in Ekiti is part of a plot to cause enough instability to postpone next year's elections.

"There is no justification for declaring a state of emergency in Ekiti State as it was a situation that could have been dealt with by the law courts and the security agencies," opposition politician Balarabe Musa told the BBC.

"As far as I'm concerned, it is something personally scripted by Obasanjo to throw the country into chaos and under such a situation, he could then invoke the constitution and hang on to power beyond next year," said Mr Musa, who was the first governor to be impeached in Nigeria.

Earlier this year, Nigeria's parliament rejected a plan to change the constitution to let Mr Obasanjo seek a third term in office.

Governors under fire

The governors, who cannot be prosecuted while in office, are now under scrutiny like never before.

Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission says it is investigating two-thirds of governors in a corruption drive that has been criticised as a cover for a political witch-hunt with the president's opponents as targets.

Map of Ekiti State

Three governors have been impeached since 1999, with another two currently facing impeachment proceedings from their local legislatures over allegations of corruption.

Some analysts say the rejection of Mr Fayose's impeachment by President Obasanjo is a warning to local legislatures in Plateau and Anambra, where the governors are also facing impeachment proceedings for corruption.

The imposition of emergency rule in Ekiti means that Mr Fayose has been stripped of his constitutional immunity and could therefore be arrested and tried for corruption.

It also suggests that action against more governors is likely.

As this could have a decisive impact on April's elections and the identity of Nigeria's next president, the next few months are set to be turbulent and controversial.




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