April 12, 2010 / 10:22 AM / 7 years ago

UPDATE 2-Former Nigerian military ruler to run for president

* First major politician to announce presidential intentions

* Seeks to slim federal government, give states more power

* His age and political credibility likely to be issues

(Updates with campaign platform, analyst)

By Felix Onuah

ABUJA, April 12 (Reuters) - Nigeria's former military leader Ibrahim Babangida is planning a political comeback by running for president nearly 25 years after he first came to power in a bloodless coup, his spokesman said on Monday.

Babangida, 68, seized power in the OPEC member state in August 1985 and went on to rule Africa's most populous nation for nearly eight years. He was forced to step down in 1993 after he cancelled an election that was generally regarded as fair.

"Yes, General Babangida has decided to contest for the presidency under the (People's Democratic Party) in the 2011 presidential election," spokesman Kassim Afeagbu told Reuters.

"He is only waiting for the party timetable before he will formally declare."

He is the first major politician to publicly announce his intention to run, and he will campaign for a smaller federal government focused mainly on defence, foreign policy and the economy, leaving the rest to the states and local councils.

The ruling PDP party is expected to hold primaries in the next few months to choose their presidential candidate for the general election, which must be held by April 2011.

The race for president is expected to be wide open since many believe ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua will not seek re-election.

Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has assumed executive powers in the absence of Yar'Adua, who remains too sick to govern and has been out of the public eye since November.

Though 17 years have elapsed, Babangida's reputation has not fully recovered since he annulled the poll, in a move that paved the way for another army dictator Sani Abacha to take over.

AGE OLD PROBLEM

Analysts say voters will also be concerned about his age, reluctant to vote for another leader who may not survive a full four-year term.

"After his June 1993 election problems. He will have considerable challenges in terms of his credibility," said Bismark Rewane, head of Lagos-based Head of Financial Derivatives.

"He will also have a generational problems at his age. You need someone with a lot of vigour and energy to deal with Nigeria's huge problems."

Rewane said Babangida would be good for business as he initiated crucial economic reforms during his administration.

"There's so much bureaucracy in government. It makes government too expensive," Afeagbu said. "He wants to run a slim government that will be less bureaucratic and less expensive at the federal level. (Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Giles Elgood and Simon Cameron-Moore)

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