February 14, 1999
JOS, Nigeria (CNN) - Nigeria's dominant party began voting Sunday to pick a candidate for this month's presidential elections to end 15 years of military rule.
Former army ruler Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo was a front-runner.
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) delegates started to decide their party's nominee just hours before Monday's deadline to submit names for the February 27 election.
Apart from Obasanjo, 62, who gave up power in 1979, another favored PDP choice was Alex Ekwueme, 66, who was vice president in the civilian government that succeeded him.
The elections in the oil-producing African nation will decide who is to succeed current head of state Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, who has pledged to step down May 29.
The country's other two parties are the leftist Alliance for Democracy (AD) and the All Peoples Party (APP), whose executive Sunday chose the little-known former state governor Ogbonnaya Onu as the party's candidate.
Other parties jockey for position
Under an electoral pact, Onu must defeat the AD candidate, former finance minister Olu Falae, for the two parties' joint nomination.
The PDP, which took most of the vote in local and state elections, and the APP, which came second, have been beset by ethnic divisions and vote buying that have marked Nigerian politics in the past and provided an excuse for continued military rule over the country of at least 108 million.
Obasanjo, an ethnic Yoruba from southwest Nigeria, enjoys the backing of many in the Hausa-speaking north, which has dominated Nigeria since independence from Britain in 1960. He also has the support of retired military officers.
But even in his own party, he faces anger because of his military past. Several PDP delegates have complained that they were being coerced by party leaders to back Obasanjo, Nigerian newspapers reported Sunday.
Ekwueme has support among the Ibos of southeast Nigeria, who failed to secede in a bloody war in the 1960s. The government in which he served was overthrown in 1983.
A total of 2,469 delegates must choose between either of them or five other candidates.
"Everybody knows that at least 40 percent of the delegates can be swayed one way or the other, and that means by whoever can come up with the most money. That is the final deciding factor," said one PDP politician.
The APP's Onu must win the support of 5,000 delegates at what is likely to be a stormy meeting Monday morning.
Nigeria, which has been ruled by military leaders for all but 10 years since independence, has been moving toward civilian rule since the death in June of former dictator Gen. Sani Abacha.
Legislative elections will be held February 20, a week before the presidential ballot.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Centrist party leads balloting in Nigeria
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