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Nigeria arrests, then frees top opposition figure in bomb probe

Critics claim the arrest of media mogul Raymond Dokpesi, the director of opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Babangida's campaign, was politically motivated.

By Scott BaldaufStaff Writer / October 5, 2010

Johannesburg, South Africa

With the arrest of Nigeria’s top media mogul – who also serves as the campaign director for former Nigerian President Ibrahim Babangida – the investigation into last week’s deadly bombing in the capital, Abuja, has taken a decidedly political turn.

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Raymond Dokpesi, owner of Africa Independent Television, turned himself in to police on Monday morning and was detained for hours without access to his attorney or family. Nigerian police say that there was a series of text messages between Mr. Dokpesi and other arrested suspects in the bombing both before and after the blasts.

With Dokpesi’s arrest, Nigerian authorities say their investigation is now leading them away from pinning sole responsibility for Friday's dual car-bomb attack on the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the top militant group in the oil-rich region.

Even though MEND, whose attacks on oil facilities in the No. 3 supplier of crude to the US have frequently caused oil prices to spike, claimed responsibility for the attack, Nigerian authorities and some analysts are wondering whether other groups may have been in on the attacks for political reasons.

“I think this is just domestic politics,” says Charles Dokubo, director of the Nigerian Institute for Security Studies in Lagos. “I don’t think this was MEND [that carried out the attacks], because the president is a man who comes from their region and if there is anyone who would give the Niger Delta the attention it needs, it is him. No, this comes from those people who are worried they will not be allowed to get their way in Nigerian politics.”

Refusing to “name names,” Mr. Dokubo adds, “No person from a minority has ever been president before, and there are people who are trying to upset all this.”

Upcoming presidential vote

With national presidential elections expected as soon as January 2011 the arrests of a major opposition campaign figure is almost certain to signal the start of a very contentious election period for Nigeria.