An opposition candidate for governor in Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta was arrested Thursday on a murder charge after defending himself in court against treason allegations, a worrying sign ahead of the nation's coming elections.
Paramilitary police officers stormed a federal court in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, to arrest John James Akpan Udoedehe, a gubernatorial candidate in Akwa Ibom state. Udoedehe was in the process of being granted bail over the treason charges. Officers briefly scuffled with Udoedehe's supporters before taking the candidate away, presumably for an initial court hearing in the Niger Delta state.
Udoedehe is the candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria, competing against the ruling People's Democratic Party candidate in the oil-producing state. Federal police spokesman Olusola Amore said the arrest came after a riot between supporters of the two parties in the state that left four people dead and more than 200 cars torched.
Udoedehe's lawyer, Leo Ekpenyong, blamed the arrest on political interference. He warned it would only aggravate tensions in the state.
"The atmosphere in Akwa Ibom is so charged, it is going to boil into a very serious war," Ekpenyong told The Associated Press. "The governor and presidency are pushing the people of Akwa Ibom state to the wall and they may react."
Amore denied police bowed to political pressure.
"We don't look at political considerations; we are looking at the crime," the spokesman said.
It remains unclear how Udoedehe will affect the coming gubernatorial election. Nigeria begins a three-week electoral process Saturday, with local, state and federal positions in play. The gubernatorial races will be held April 16. But violence often accompanies elections in the delta, where politicians have armed local militants and criminals in the past to rig votes.
The Nigerian subsidiary of U.S. oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp. has many of its fields in Akwa Ibom.