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Senate leadership race shows cracks in Nigerian government

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — A former governor was elected Tuesday as head of Nigeria’s Senate — the third most powerful figure in the country — in a victory that highlights the cracks appearing in the coalition that brought President Muhammadu Buhari to power.

Bukola Saraki, who was elected unopposed and immediately sworn in, belongs to Buhari’s coalition but he was not its choice for Senate president.

Party officials say Buhari, who had returned Monday night from a G7 summit in Germany, called an urgent meeting Tuesday morning of his party’s senators to resolve the dispute about its candidate for Senate president. The party officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to reporters.

While that meeting was going on, Saraki pushed the vote through, with the Senate clerk ruling there was a quorum in the 108-seat body. Fifty-seven senators were present, mostly from the opposition People’s Democratic Party. The PDP has 49 senators while the presidential coalition has 58.

Saraki defected from the PDP to Buhari’s coalition last year. The coalition had chosen Ahmed Lawan, a longtime legislator from northeastern Yobe state, as its candidate while the opposition had publicly supported Saraki, despite his earlier defection.

It could be a sign that defeated President Goodluck Jonathan’s party is building an alternative power base to undermine Buhari just days after his May 29 inauguration.

Saraki, 52, was a two-term governor of Kwara state best known abroad for importing white Zimbabwean farmers to develop commercial agriculture in his state, a move that he said has transformed Kwara from a food importer to an exporter.

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