April 13, 2010 3:00 am

Kingpin general to vie again for power in Nigeria

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A former military ruler of Nigeria with a reputation as a political kingpin and "master manipulator" plans to emerge from the shadows and seek the presidency at the next election.

General Ibrahim Baban-gida appears to be capitalising on a leadership crisis in sub-Saharan Africa's biggest energy producer. The polls, due in the first half of next year, promise to be the most competitive since the army handed back power to civilians in 1999.

"He will contest," Kassim Afegbua, spokesman for Gen Babangida, told the Financial Times yesterday. "The country is sharply divided. We need a man who is a rallying point."

The former general, popularly known by his initials "IBB", retains unrivalled connections in a country where power is secured through a vast patronage network.

Gen Babangida seized power in a bloodless coup in 1985 and critics say that corruption became allpervasive during his eight-year rule. He relinquished control in 1993 amid a wave of unrest following his annulment of a general election.

Now 68, Gen Babangida has been plotting his return ever since. Most recently, he declared his intention to run in the last elections in 2007 before withdrawing.

For all his influence, some analysts said, the former general could struggle to win over a country where memories of military rule are still fresh.

He faces younger challengers and it is unclear whether he is acting in alliance with Olusegun Obasanjo, the ex-military leader and former civilian president who vies with Gen Babangida for the mantle of Nigeria's political titan.

From his north-eastern home town of Minna, Gen Babangida remains central to the powerful security apparatus. One foreign official said: "If you want to be promoted general, you have to go to Minna first."

Gen Babangida is reputed to have amassed significant wealth. Earlier this month activist groups demanded court action against him over an alleged $12.2bn (€8.98bn, £7.9bn) hole in the country's oil windfall from the price rise triggered by the 1990-91 Gulf war. The former leader's spokesman denied the allegations, saying they were not credible.

Gen Babangida will seek the nomination of the ruling People's Democratic party at primary elections expected by November.

The party's unwritten pact rotates power every two terms between the mainly Muslim north and the predominantly Christian and animist south. Umaru Yar'Adua, the sitting president of Nigeria, has been ill since November and is unlikely to seek re-election. In the absence of an obvious candidate from the younger generation, Gen Babangida may have seen his chance.

But half a dozen former security chiefs, state governors and senior politicians are also jockeying for the PDP ticket. The dark horse is Goodluck Jonathan, the acting president. Previously little known, he has consolidated his authority since Mr Yar'Adua's disappearance , muscling out members of the stricken leader's inner circle.

Yet Gen Babangida will have a hand in the outcome, regardless of whether he triumphs. As one of his former ministers put it: "He is the master manipulator."

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