Friday, January 29, 2010

Nigerian High Court Backs President Yar'Adua: He Does Not Have to Leave Office Due to Illness

Friday, January 29, 2010
18:47 Mecca time, 15:47 GMT

Nigeria court backs sick president

More than 50 prominent Nigerians urged the president to resign and hand over power to vice-president

A Nigerian court has dismissed calls for a temporary head of state be appointed until Umaru Yar'Adua, Nigeria's president, returns from Saudi Arabia where he is undergoing hospital treatment.

The Nigerian Bar Association had demanded the vice-president's powers be extended, accusing Yar'Adua of acting unconstitutionally in failing to inform parliament of his absence.

But Dan Abutu, the federal court judge, ruled on Friday there was nothing illegal about Yar'Adua's failure to write to parliament about his absence when he left for treatment on November 23.

"The failure to transmit a written declaration to the national assembly before proceeding on vacation is not unconstitutional," he said.

Abutu also ruled that Goodluck Jonathan, the vice-president, could not assume the role of acting president without Yar'Adua making such a written declaration.

The senate, former heads of state, ex-ministers, the bar association and the opposition have all called on Yar'Adua, who is being treated for a heart condition, to formally notify parliament of his absence and allow Jonathan to become acting president.

Abutu ruled two weeks ago that Jonathan could perform executive duties but not be acting president.

'Crucial ruling'

Andrew Simmons, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Nigeria, said the decision has helped to clarify the confusing political situation there.

"It has clarified one of the areas - it means the vice-president can act with executive powers of the president but would not be termed formally as the acting-president.

"It might sound like a small point but it is a crucial one, particularly for the ruling party.

"There is an election next year and many people feel there is a lot of power play going on, they feel it is important that the power is not formally handed over as it would allow Goodluck Jonathan to be his own man and make his own changes.

"It also points out that the constitution is slightly ambiguous, but it's not for the judge here to rewrite it. There is still a lot of concern because the president hasn't made it clear what he wants done here."

Only the cabinet, which consists of Yar'Adua's own appointees, has the power to force the president to hand over powers.

It has twice passed resolutions saying it believes he remains fit to govern.

Yar'Adua is receiving treatment for a serious heart condition in Jeddah and his absence has raised fears of a constitutional and political crisis in Africa's most populous country.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Nigeria court backs ill president

A Nigerian court has dismissed a call for an interim leader to be appointed while President Umaru Yar'Adua is in hospital in Saudi Arabia.

The high court said there was no constitutional requirement for him to write formally to parliament, informing them he is on "medical vacation".

This would automatically lead to his deputy becoming acting president.

President Yar'Adua has been away for two months, raising fears of a power vacuum and calls for him to step down.

"The failure to transmit a written declaration to the national assembly before proceeding on vacation is not unconstitutional," said federal high court judge Dan Abutu, dismissing the case brought by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).

The judge also said that Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan could continue to act on the president's behalf, without needing to be formally appointed as interim leader - upholding a similar ruling in a previous case.

Nigeria's Justice Minister Michael Aondoakaa said the question of whether Mr Yar'Adua should hand over power was now "settled".

But the BBC's Ahmed Idris in the capital, Abuja, says there is a general feeling among Nigerians that the constitution needs a thorough, and immediate, review to avoid similar problems in the future.

'Not incapable'

On Wednesday, the Senate passed a resolution calling on the president to provide a formal letter informing parliament of his absence.

At the same, the cabinet issued a statement that President Yar'Adua was "not incapable" of running the country.

23 November 2009: Goes to hospital in Saudi Arabia
26 November 2009: Presidential doctors say he has pericarditis - inflammation of the heart lining
23 December 2009: First court case filed called him to step down
30 December 2009: Chief justice sworn in. Lawyers say this is illegal in president's absence
5 January 2010: Two more court cases filed and a human rights group wants president declared "missing"
12 January 2010: President gives first interview since going to Saudi Arabia
27 January: Cabinet declares president fit

Court says no need for formal transfer of power

This followed a previous court ruling giving ministers two weeks to make such a declaration.

The president flew to Saudi Arabia in late November for medical treatment and has not been seen in public since.

In his only broadcast interview since he left the country, he told the BBC's Hausa Service on 12 January that he would return to resume his duties as soon as his doctors would allow.

As well as the flurry of court cases brought by his opponents, crowds of demonstrators have sporadically taken to the streets in Abuja and Lagos demanding power be handed to Vice-President Jonathan.

Correspondents say it is unlikely Wednesday's ruling will do much to stop the intensifying pressure for something to be done about the perceived power vacuum.

The most recent move has come from powerful quarters: A group known as the Eminent Elders, including three former heads of state - civilian and military - asked Mr Yar'Adua to send a letter allowing Mr Jonathan to formally become acting president.

The group said Mr Yar'Adu's absence was causing concern not only to Nigerians but to anyone doing business with the country.

On Thursday, the United States and European Union expressed their concern about the political crisis for the first time.

In an open letter, they said they welcomed constitutional efforts to "resolve the question of governing authority in the president's prolonged absence".

Correspondents say one reason for Mr Yar'Adua's reluctance to allow Mr Jonathan to act on his behalf is the ruling People's Democratic Party's tradition of alternating power between north and south.

Mr Yar'Adua is a northerner, while the vice-president is from the south. So if Mr Jonathan took over, that would shorten the north's stay in power.

The president is suffering from an inflammation of the lining around the heart and has long suffered from kidney problems.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2010/01/29 16:41:56 GMT

No comments: