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Nigerian Senate Blocks President from Third Term

By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 16, 2006; 12:12 PM

JOHANNESBURG, May 16 -- The Nigerian Senate voted on Tuesday to prevent President Olusegun Obasanjo from seeking a third term, bringing an apparent end to an issue that had bitterly divided Africa's most populous nation.

"It is dead now," said Rep. Wunmi Bewaji, a leader of the multi-party coalition seeking to block Obasanjo from remaining in office past elections planned for next year, speaking from Abuja, the capital. "It is a very good day for us. It's a victory for our people. It's a victory for our democracy."

The action came in an afternoon voice vote that killed a series of proposed constitutional amendments, including one that would have allowed the nation's president to seek a third term. Obasanjo, 69, had never publicly acknowledged plans to run again but the effort to amend Nigeria's constitution to allow a third term was widely viewed within Nigeria as engineered by him and his supporters.

Obasanjo was in France on Tuesday, but spokesman Femi Fani-Kayode, speaking from Abuja, said the president will respect the decision of the national assembly.

"Under the provisions of the constitution as they stand, it's not possible for the president to run," Fani-Kayode said.

He did not rule out, however, the possibility that there could be another effort to change the constitution. "That would be for the National Assembly" to decide, he said.

Obasanjo, a former military ruler from the 1970s, was elected in 1999, ending what had been decades of turbulent rule, frequently at the hands of the military. He won re-election in 2003 and is scheduled to step down in May 2007.

Since its independence from Britain in 1960, Nigeria has never had a transition between two civilian governments.

The debate over the possibility of a third term had in recent weeks been marred by allegations of bribery and violence. Fani-Kayode denied those allegations.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company