Authorities arrested the chairman of a former military dictator's presidential campaign Monday in connection with a set of dual car bombings in Nigeria's capital that killed a dozen people, senior government officials told The Associated Press.
Raymond Dokpesi is the owner of the Africa Independent Television network, which is one of the largest in Africa's most populous nation. He also chairs the presidential campaign for President Goodluck Jonathan's greatest political threat in the upcoming primary for Nigeria's ruling party, Ibrahim Babangida.
The allegations against Dokpesi will test whatever political power Jonathan has managed to amass in his five months in office since the death of his predecessor. Dokpesi has previously accused Jonathan's supporters of being behind threats to kidnap his family, a charge Jonathan's office denied.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to reporters, declined to give additional details about Dokpesi's arrest but said there were clear links between him and a former Nigerian militant who now faces terrorism charges in South Africa in connection with Friday's bombings.
"As we write, his family is worried, and deeply concerned for his safety, health and his well-being," Babangida's campaign said in a statement Monday night about Dokpesi's arrest.
The arrest puts a sudden and clear political turn on the investigation into the bombings that took place during celebrations to mark Nigeria's 50th anniversary of independence from Britain. Nigeria's main militant group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying the government had done nothing to end the unceasing poverty in the Niger Delta as the nation receives billions of dollars from oil revenue.
Babangida, a former military dictator from Nigeria's Muslim north, represents the clearest challenge to Jonathan, a Christian from the nation's south who assumed the office after President Umaru Yar'Adua, a Muslim from the north, died while in office.
Under an unwritten rule in Nigeria's ruling party, the presidency is to switch between the two regions, and since Yar'Adua died while still in his first term, some leaders in the north believe their region has another term due to them.
Nigeria's electoral commission has asked for permission to delay the upcoming presidential election in Africa's most populous nation by several months, warning that a January poll date wouldn't give workers enough time to conduct a new voter registration drive.
A government official in Jonathan's administration with knowledge of the investigation acknowledged the political nature of the allegations. However, the officials said "there are clear links" between Dokpesi and former militant Henry Okah, who is currently jailed in Johannesburg.
However, the official refused to offer details to substantiate the claim, saying the investigation was ongoing.
The Babangida campaign said Dokpesi was "invited" to talk to Nigeria's State Security Service. It said his mobile phone had rung unanswered since he arrived for questioning on Monday morning.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, also known by the acronym MEND, had issued a warning to journalists about an hour before the attacks Friday, telling people to stay away from festivities at Eagle Square in Abuja. One car bomb exploded, drawing police, firefighters and the curious to the street near a federal courthouse. Five minutes later, a second car bomb exploded, apparently intended to target those drawn to the scene.
MEND has destroyed oil pipelines, kidnapped petroleum company workers and fought government troops since 2006. The attack Friday marked the first time it targeted Nigeria's capital — and came within a 10-minute walk of where the presidents and others attended celebrations marking Nigeria's 50th anniversary of independence.
Lawyers for ex-MEND leader Okah, who has been living in Johannesburg since 2009, say he has denied any involvement in the bombings.