A crisis in Nigeria's ruling party deepened on Monday as a group of rebel members won the right to appeal against their suspension and corruption charges were filed against the party chairman.
Disagreement over who the People's Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in next year's presidential elections should be risks tearing apart the grouping that has dominated Nigeria's politics since the country returned to democracy just over a decade ago.
A split could radically alter the political landscape in Africa's most populous nation, raising the prospect of more than one candidate credibly contesting next year's polls.
The PDP suspended a group of 19 senior members last week after they launched an open rebellion calling for reforms which could break the stranglehold of a small elite over the party and throw the presidential race wide open.
The group, known as the PDP Reform Forum, on Monday won an appeal allowing them to challenge their suspension in court and preventing the party from holding a key meeting due on Tuesday to approve rules for the presidential primaries.
"I am of the view that it is in the interest of justice to grant the application and the application is hereby granted," Justice Abubakar Talba told a high court in Abuja.
The Reform Forum had argued that should Tuesday's meeting go ahead in their absence, their interests as party members would not be represented.
The ruling dealt a second blow to party chairman Vincent Ogbulafor, hours after another Abuja court charged him and four others with 16 counts of "conspiracy and fraud" relating to his time as a government minister in 2001.
The charges filed by Nigeria's anti-fraud agency the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (IPCP) accuse Ogbulafor of conspiring to siphon off 233 million naira ($1.5 million) in public funds.
"The prosecution is at liberty to apply for an arrest warrant if there is any likelihood that any of the accused may decide not to come that day," Justice Ishaq Bello said, setting Ogbulafor's arraignment for May 3.
The rift in the PDP centres around who should stand as the party candidate in next year's presidential race.
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.
Ogbulafor said last month that the PDP candidate in 2011 should be from Yar'Adua's Muslim north, abiding by the terms of an unwritten agreement that power rotates between north and the mostly Christian south every two terms.
But Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian, has not ruled himself out of the race and some northerners have said they would support him.
Posters backing his candidacy appeared around Abuja over the weekend, although they appeared to have been posted by a little-known northern youth group.
ReutersLast Mod: 26 Nisan 2010, 21:07