ABUJA (AFP) – Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan's political rivals on Tuesday accused him of intimidation and witchhunting as an aide of a former military ruler was questioned over last week's bomb blasts.
Ibrahim Babangida's campaign chief for the next year's presidential elections, Raymond Dokpesi, was questioned by the state intelligence agents, as Jonathan met with former militants who assured that they had no role in Friday's attacks that killed 12 people.
More than 60 former rebel commanders and fighters from the oil rich Niger Delta went to tell Jonathan they were not involved in twin car bomb attacks in the capital as the west African country hosted 50th independence anniversary celebrations.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), in a statement claimed responsibility for the attacks.
MEND's former leader, Henry Okah was quickly arrested after the attacks in South Africa where he lives.
Four powerful politicians who are vying along with Jonathan for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party's ticket in next year's elections, said authorities' attempts to implicate Babangida's aide is a sign of intimidation.
"This latest attempt to demonise Dr Dokpesi and cast him in the mould of a terrorist is but a small part of an escalating culture of impunity, recklessness, intolerance and arbitrariness," said the politicians.
The statement was signed by Babangida and three other presidential hopefuls.
"We consider this as political witch-hunt," said Kassim Afegbua, Babangida's spokesman told AFP.
Jonathan is facing pressure from the four politicians amidst a row in the ruling party over whether to support him or a candidate from the mainly Muslim north.
The four are all Muslims while Jonathan is a southern Christian.
An unwritten PDP policy has long dictated that the party rotate its candidates between the Muslim north and predominantly Christian south every second term as a way of smoothing over ethnic, religious and social divides in the vast west African country.
Since president Umaru Yar'Adua, a Muslim, died before his first term was up, some argue another northern candidate should be chosen.
Meantime, Okah told the Qatar-based television station Al-Jazeera that he was arrested because he refused to play a part in implicating northern politicians in the bomb blast.
He said one of Jonathan's aide had called him and asked him to persuade MEND to retract its claim of responsibility for the Abuja attacks.
"They wanted to blame the attacks on northerners who are trying to fight against him (Jonathan) to come back as president. I declined to do this and a few hours later I was arrested," he said.
But Jonathan's office refuted Okah's claims as an "outright lie".
"He should face the charges and stop making frivolous claims," said Jonathan's spokesman Ima Niboro.
Jonathan has blamed the attacks on "a small terrorist group that resides outside Nigeria that was paid by some people."
On Tuesday dozens of former rebels visited Jonathan to tell him they played no role in the attacks.
"We are not part of the incident on the 1st of October," Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as 'Tompolo', told Jonathan at a meeting that was open to journalists.
"MEND is not involved," said Tompolo, claiming to be a leader of MEND, the most prominent of several groups in Nigeria's southern oil-rich swamps.
"I'm happy that you are here as the actors and leaders of MEND, to tell Nigerians and the rest of the world that it is not MEND that did it," he told the former fighters.