Nigeria: Former VP, tied to disgraced ex-US congressman, announces presidential bid

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria's former vice president Atiku Abubakar, who was accused of bribing a U.S. congressman while in office, announced Sunday he would seek the nomination of the oil-rich country's ruling party to run for the presidency.

Abubakar, 63, would need the People's Democratic Party to again accept him as a member before contesting the primary, as he ran unsuccessfully as a presidential candidate for an opposition party in 2007.

However, his candidacy as a Muslim from northern Nigeria could pressure the party after a Christian from the south became Nigeria's president earlier this year following the death of its elected Muslim leader.

At a news conference Sunday, Abubakar told reporters he came to the decision after talking with family, friends and supporters.

"I have no illusions about the toughness of the challenges ahead, but with the support of our people we can overcome them," he said. He took only a few questions from reporters before rowdy supporters who flooded the event drowned out their voices.

Abubakar served as vice president under President Olusegun Obasanjo during his two, four-year term presidency. Their time in office marked Nigeria's return to democracy after a string of military dictatorships and failed governments that followed the nation's independence from Britain in 1960.

However, Abubakar received the most international attention during the trial of ex-Louisiana congressman William Jefferson, whose freezer was stocked with $90,000 in cash at the time of an FBI raid.

During Jefferson's 2009 federal trial, a Nigerian businessman testifying for the prosecution told jurors that Abubakar paid Jefferson $100,000 to help Abubakar make political contacts in the United States. A lawyer for Abubakar denied the allegation at the time.

Orphaned at age 8, Abubakar worked through law school and joined the Nigerian customs service, rising to the second-highest position after 20 years. He left as a wealthy businessman and his support helped ensure Obasanjo's electoral wins in 1999 and 2003.

He fell out with the ruling party after refusing to support a constitutional amendment allowing Obasanjo to run for a third term.

Abubakar is the second high-profile Nigerian to announce his plans to run in next year's election, which could be held as early as January. Former Nigerian military leader Ibrahim Babangida, who seized power in a bloodless coup and annulled an election intended to hand over power to a civilian leader, also has said he will run.

President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from Nigeria's oil-rich and restive southern delta, has yet to say whether he'll run. Jonathan came to office after the May 5 death of President Umaru Yar'Adua, a Muslim from the country's north.

An unwritten agreement in the People's Democratic Party calls for its presidential candidates to alternate between the Christian south and the Muslim north. Party leaders anticipated Yar'Adua holding office for two, four-year terms, like his Christian predecessor Obasanjo.

On Friday, the ruling party's executive committee said Jonathan could stand in the 2011 election, though that wouldn't preclude any other candidate seeking the nomination during the primary.