A splinter faction of Nigeria's ruling party launched an open rebellion on live television on Thursday, outlining demands for reform in defiance of a summons to explain itself to the party leadership.
The People's Democratic Party (PDP) had summoned 19 of its senior members to clear themselves of allegations they had formed a splinter "PDP Reform Group" and were plotting to "cause disaffection among party members".
But instead of appearing as requested, the faction held a televised forum in a luxury Abuja hotel in which party members criticised their leaders for concentrating power in the hands of too few, including Nigeria's powerful state governors.
"The truth about this party is that the leadership is totally, grossly inept ... This party has no soul, this party has no conscience," Doyin Okupe, a senior PDP member and spokesman for ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, told the forum.
The row could split the PDP, which has won every presidential election since Nigeria's return to democracy just over a decade ago, and alter the political landscape in Africa's most populous nation ahead of presidential polls next year.
The party's overwhelming dominance -- with a strong majority in both houses of parliament and control of over three quarters of Nigeria's 36 states -- has left the oil-producing West African nation virtually as a one-party state.
The sickness of President Umaru Yar'Adua, who returned from a Saudi hospital in February but remains too ill to rule, had already raised the prospect of rifts within the PDP if it struggled to agree on who his successor should be.
Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, who has not ruled out running himself in next year's polls, is under pressure at home and abroad to ensure free and fair elections.
The reform group's demands broadly aim to break the stranglehold of state governors over the choice of presidential nominees. The powerful governors' caucus has effectively decided the outcome of every presidential race in Nigeria since 1999.
There have been rumblings of discontent about the way the PDP is run but never such an open challenge to its leadership from such an organised body of its members.
The 19 summoned to explain themselves before the party's National Working Committee, which manages its day to day affairs, included former Senate presidents, ex-ministers and ex-state governors.
In a communique, the reform group said there was an "absence of internal democracy" and that electoral nominees were decided "in air-conditioned rooms and caucuses". It said the governors' forum was not provided for in the party's constitution.
There was no immediate reaction from the PDP.
Should the faction be successful in pushing through its reform agenda and curbing the influence of the governors, the primaries due later this year are likely to become a much more open race.
Should the reform drive fail, there is a risk the party will split with the governors on one side and those opposed to their influence breaking away, raising the possibility of strong candidates contesting the presidential race.
ReutersLast Mod: 22 Nisan 2010, 19:26