ABUJA, Nigeria - Lawmakers in Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo's ruling party threatened Thursday to sabotage his re-election bid unless the jailed son of late dictator Gen. Sani Abacha is released.
The new cracks in Obasanjo's ruling Peoples Democratic Party emerged as the upper house, Senate, debated for a second day Thursday whether to impeach Obasanjo for failing to abide by government budgets.
Obasanjo has warned of the possibility of violence in the months leading up to next year's elections. Thousands have already been killed in political, ethnic and religious bloodletting since the 1999 ballot.
Jibrin Barau, a member of the House of Representatives from the ruling party, told journalists that he and dozens of other elected party members from Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north would campaign against Obasanjo unless Mohammed Abacha is released from jail. Abacha has languished behind bars for three years awaiting trial on charges of involvement in the 1995 murder of Kudirat Abiola, the wife of the late billionaire presidential aspirant Moshood Abiola.
Barau's announcement was backed by 100 House of Representatives members — more than half of them ruling party members — who were in attendance.
Obasanjo, whose 1999 election ending decades of military rule was made possible by Gen. Sani Abacha's death from apparent heart failure a year earlier, has announced he will run for a second term when his mandate expires in 2003.
"We cannot contain the anger of the people ... over the continued detention of Mohammed Abacha," Barau said.
However, other ruling party officials dismissed the ultimatum as a rebellion against the president, and argued that Abacha's guilt would be decided by the courts.
"Any card-carrying member of the PDP that participated (in calls for Abacha's release) is guilty of gross indiscipline," said Gbenga Olawepo, an influential party member and Obasanjo supporter.
Since his election, Obasanjo has lost much of the support from the bloc of northerners who voted for him as a retired military general. Nigeria's military has long been northern-dominated while Nigeria's pro-democracy movements are primarily southern based.
Northern politicians have frequently accused Obasanjo, a southern Christian, of launching a vendetta against the Abacha family, which has been accused of stealing billions of dollars during the dictator's rule, when opponents were jailed, tortured and occasionally killed.
Last month, Obasanjo's government signed an out-of-court settlement with the Abacha family calling for the return of billions of dollars in looted funds in European banks while allowing the family to keep a share.