Legal battles begin ahead of Nigerian elections

Thu Jan 6, 2011 2:46pm GMT

By Joe Brock

ABUJA (Reuters) - Legal battles have begun within Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) even before it has chosen its nominee for presidential elections in April, undermining hopes that the process will run smoothly.

Africa's most populous nation is gearing up for the most fiercely contested election since the end of military rule more than a decade ago, with the ruling party deeply divided over who should run on its ticket.

Three members of the PDP went to court on Thursday, a week ahead of the primaries, to try to stop President Goodluck Jonathan from contesting, a lawyer for his main rival, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, told Reuters.

The move comes after other party members filed a suit to try to prevent Abubakar from standing in the primaries.

Jonathan is considered front-runner as the incumbent, but he is a southerner and faces opposition from northern factions in the PDP who say that a power-sharing or "zoning" deal means the next president must be a northerner such as Abubakar.

"Members of the party have today sued the party on the grounds that Goodluck Jonathan should not run due to the zoning agreement. The case has been adjourned until Monday," Atiku's lawyer Rickey Tarfa said.

"Zoning is in place and it should be respected."

The continent's top oil exporter is hoping to avoid a repeat of chaotic 2007 polls, so marred by intimidation and fraud that observers deemed them not credible. The resulting court battles lasted years, undermining the winner's ability to govern.   Continued...

<p>Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan waves during a military parade marking Nigeria's 50th independence anniversary in Abuja October 1, 2010. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde</p>
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