LAGOS A Nigerian court on Friday annulled the election of the governor of the southwestern state of Osun and installed his opposition rival, in the latest blow to the ruling party ahead of national elections next April.
The court ruled that Osun state governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) had been wrongly elected in the 2007 polls and installed his rival Rauf Aregbesola of the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
Nigeria's 36 state governors are powerful figures who can influence the choice of candidates for presidential elections, and Oyinlola's removal deals another blow to President Goodluck Jonathan as he prepares for a fierce presidential race.
"The former governor of the state Olagunsoye Oyinlola should vacate government house immediately," lead judge Clara Ogunbiyi told the appeals court in the city of Ibadan.
Oyinlola is the second PDP state governor to be removed from office by the courts in as many months and the ruling means the opposition now controls a large swathe of Nigeria's southwest around its stronghold, the commercial capital Lagos.
Jonathan's election bid is contentious because he is from the southern Niger Delta and some in the ruling party say a gentlemen's agreement about power sharing among Nigeria's regions means the next president must be a northerner.
Jonathan needs the support of the influential state governors if he is to see off challengers from the north both from within the ruling party and from the opposition.
Nigeria is hoping the presidential, parliamentary and state governorship elections in April will not be a repeat of the 2007 polls, which were so marred by vote rigging and intimidation they were declared not credible by observers.
The resulting confusion led to months, and in some cases years, of legal wrangling.
"Osun, under the grip of the electoral marauders, became a euphemism for election rigging with bravado," ACN spokesman Lai Mohammed said in a statement after the ruling.
"It is a good opportunity for Nigerians to use the chance presented by next year's general elections to send the marauders cascading down the bottomless pit of shame and oblivion."
Oyinlola is one of around a dozen PDP candidates who were declared winners of state governorship polls in 2007 but whose victories were later annulled by the courts. Many of those PDP candidates then went on to win re-runs.
The overwhelming dominance of the PDP, which controls more than two thirds of the 36 states and has a majority in both houses of parliament, has left many in Africa's most populous nation feeling like they live in a one-party state.
Friday's court ruling comes just over a month after the state of Ekiti, also in the southwest, was handed to the ACN after a prolonged legal battle.
An appeals court this month also nullified the election of Emmanuel Uduaghan, the PDP governor of the oil-producing state of Delta, but it ordered a re-run of the election rather than installing his opposition rival.
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(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)