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Former president Obasanjo dumps ruling party

17 February 2015, 14:15

Lagos - Nigeria's former president Olusegun Obasanjo has quit the ruling party less than six weeks before a crunch general election and after repeated criticism of incumbent Goodluck Jonathan.

Obasanjo publicly ripped up his membership card of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Monday, two days after claiming that Jonathan was seeking to stay in power "by hook or by crook".

The 77-year-old former army general led a military government in the 1970s and served two terms as civilian president after Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999.

His support for Jonathan was seen as key to his victory in the last election in 2011 but relations between the two men have soured since then.

In recent weeks, he has said that Jonathan's main opponent at the March 28 election, Muhammadu Buhari, would likely fare better in tackling the Boko Haram insurgency and endemic corruption.

But he has stopped short of offering an outright endorsement of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, who is also a former military ruler.

Confirmation of Obasanjo's departure from the PDP dominated the Nigerian media on Tuesday given his continued high profile and influential status in Nigerian politics.

PDP spokesman Olisa Metuh said the party was undeterred by the loss of support while the military described Obasanjo's conduct as an "embarrassment" and "unbecoming" of a former general.

But whether his actions have any effect on Jonathan's re-election chances in the closely fought campaign remains to be seen.

"A lot of this is symbolic," political commentator Chris Ngwodo told AFP. "This is a major crack in the ruling party but it's been there for a while, so it doesn't come as a great surprise.

"It mainly demonstrates how isolated the president has become. His support has shrunk in the last two years.

"Beyond that it's significant in that Nigerian presidents, both current presidents and former presidents, tend to be fairly cohesive. They tend to speak with one voice.

"So, it's unusual when one breaks ranks as clearly as Obasanjo has done."

Dapo Thomas, a politics lecturer at the Lagos State University, believed that the PDP would be hit by the departure, giving an advantage to the APC.

"Obasanjo was like a colossus in the PDP. Of the 16 years the party has been in power, Obasanjo was president for eight years," he said.

"Even after leaving office, he became the chairman of the PDP board of trustees. Apart from his strong influence and hold on the party, he is a man of international clout.

"For the opposition it's good news as the coast is now clear for a total defeat of the PDP in next month's elections."

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