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Nigeria reinstates impeached Anambra state governor

AWKA, Nigeria, Feb 9 (Reuters) - A Nigerian court has reinstated an opposition governor of the southeastern state of Anambra who was removed from office in controversial circumstances three months ago.

The Court of Appeal ruling is a sign Nigeria's judiciary is uncomfortable with a spate of politically motivated impeachments that has swept the country in the last 15 months and raised tensions ahead of general elections in April.

Civil rights activists had accused the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) of illegally impeaching governors opposed to President Olusegun Obasanjo, to give the president's allies more incumbency powers at the election.

Appeal Court Judge Jimi Bada upheld a lower court ruling and said Peter Obi's removal in November was "illegal and unconstitutional" because the Anambra state House of Assembly did not follow due process.

"The court ... found the entire process adopted by the legislators in impeaching the governor faulty. Mr Peter Obi should be reinstated immediately as the governor," Bada said.

The judgment followed a Supreme Court ruling in December reinstating a southwestern state governor who was removed in similar circumstances.

"I bear no grudge against anybody, I call on the people of Anambra state to join hands with me to create a new state," Obi said after resuming office in the state capital Awka on Friday.

A group of Anambra state lawmakers said they had voted to impeach Obi in secret at dawn, saying they met the two-thirds majority stipulated by the Nigerian constitution to remove a state governor.

INTRIGUES

But this was disputed by Obi and other legislators who took the matter to court. A state high court ruled in Obi's favour, but the lawmakers appealed against the judgment. The legislators said on Friday they will pursue the case to the Supreme Court.

His impeachment followed a complex series of intrigues which exposed corruption and thuggery at the heart of the Nigerian political system.

Obi assumed office in March last year after a Court of Appeals ruling that the 2003 elections in the state were rigged by the ruling PDP.

The PDP candidate, who had occupied the post of governor illegally for three years, fell out with senior party figures soon after election because he said he refused to loot public money to pay them back for their support.

Obi, who occupied the office for only seven months before he was impeached, was locked in a bitter power tussle with one of Obasanjo's closest confidants, Andy Uba, who wants to win the governorship in April. Analysts said the impeachment was to pave way for Uba's ambition.

The April polls would see Nigerians electing a president, 36 state governors, and federal and state lawmakers, in what should mark the first democratic handover from one government to another since Nigeria gained independence from Britain 46 years ago.

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