A NEW Nigerian opposition party showed its strength in the heart of the capital yesterday, attracting thousands of opponents to a plan to change the constitution to keep President Olusegun Obasanjo in power.
The Advanced Congres
s of Democrats (ACD) has gained widespread support over the past few months by positioning itself as the rallying point for opponents of the campaign to allow Obasanjo to stand for a third term in elections next year.
The ACD’s launch rally drew prominent critics of the third term plan from other opposition parties, as well as disgruntled members of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, in a sign that a broad alliance is forming against the pro-Obasanjo camp.
“There’s a need for a very strong and united opposition that can take power in this country, since if we are factionalised we cannot win against the incumbent,” Ahmed Bola Tinubu, governor of Lagos state, told Reuter on the sidelines of the rally.
Tinubu is not a member of the ACD, but he said his own Alliance for Democracy was considering a merger with the new party as a way to strengthen opposition to the third term.
Obasanjo has ruled Africa’s most populous country since it returned to democracy in 1999 after three decades of almost continuous military dictatorship.
The ACD and other Obasanjo critics argue that the third term plan is anti-democratic and will take Nigeria backwards.
“We should not change our constitution to suit the desire of a single leader who has trampled on democracy and the rule of law … African leaders must know when to leave power. We cannot follow Zimbabwe,” Tinubu said.
In a carnival atmosphere, thousands of ACD supporters, who came from across the country in buses and minivans, chanted “Democracy Forever”, some wearing T-shirts that said “No to Third Term” and “New Hope for 2007”.
In past weeks, authorities have arrested several ACD leaders, teargassed an ACD rally and shut down a radio station belonging to a prominent member, in what the party described as attempts to muzzle it.
But yesterday police maintained a discreet presence at the ACD launch. The event was also broadcast on state television — an unusual example of the opposition getting airtime on the tightly controlled channel.
Obasanjo has not said publicly whether he wants a third term, but his party has instructed members to support a constitutional amendment, which was submitted to the National Assembly on April 11, that would allow him to run.
The amendment would need a two thirds majority to pass and observers say it does not have enough support for now. Deputy Senate president, Ibrahim Mantu, who has led the third term campaign in the assembly, is under investigation by lawmakers for alleged bribery.
Obasanjo’s supporters argue that a third term would allow him to pursue a programme of free-market economic reforms, but the plan has fuelled violence and instability across Africa’s top oil-producing nation. — Reuter