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Nigerian Parliament Suspends Ailing President

Tuesday, 09 February 2010 10:02 AM

ABUJA – Nigeria's parliament on Tuesday voted to suspend ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua and hand power to his deputy until he is well enough to resume.

Both houses of the national assembly voted by consensus to install Vice President Goodluck Jonathan as acting head-of-state, rejecting a cabinet decision that the 58-year-old president should stay in office despite his frail health.

Experts said Nigeria's chief justice must now formally swear-in Jonathan as acting president. However, it was unclear if the votes had any legal force.

One constitutional lawyer, Festus Keyamo, dismissed the parliament move as illegal.

"What they have done amounts to a coup plot. It is a desperate decision by desperate politicians who were trying to save their face," Keyamo told AFP.

But the votes increased public pressure on the cabinet over its support for Yar'Adua last month after a High Court demand that the cabinet decide whether the president was fit to continue.

Information Minister Dora Akunyili, the government's spokeswoman, broke ranks with cabinet colleagues last week, calling on them to revoke their decision.

Yar'Adua has been in hospital in Saudi Arabia since November 23 for treatment to a serious heart condition, plunging the major oil exporter into political turmoil.

The motion passed by the senate said "Vice President Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan shall henceforth discharge the functions of the office of president, commander in chief of the armed forces of the federation, as acting president".

In a separate resolution, the House of Representatives said that in the interests of "peace, order and good government" the vice president "shall assume full presidential powers as acting president, pending the return of the president."

The senate also passed a motion saying Jonathan would cease to be acting president once Yar'Adua informs the assembly of his return from "medical vacation".

Jonathan received the backing of Nigeria's 36 state governors last Friday.

Opposition leaders have accused the government of covering up the seriousness of the president's illness, claiming his prolonged absence has stalled crucial government business.

Nigeria's constitution demands that the vice president assume full presidential powers when a president informs parliament of his absence from office.

Yar'Adua has not written to the legislature. However, the senate said it based its decision on a January 12 BBC interview with the president saying he would return to work once his doctors cleared him.

"We came to the conclusion that the president, through his declaration transmitted worldwide on the BBC, has furnished this parliament with irrefutable proof that he is on medical vacation ... and has therefore complied with the provision of section 145 of the 1999 constitution," said senate president David Mark.

"The last 78 days have been very challenging to us as a nation ...however we have examined all options available to us and today rightly concluded it is necessary to take this stance to allow this country to move forward," said Mark.

Keyamo, the legal expert, dismissed the vote as "unconstitutional" because Jonathan could not be asked to take over just on the basis of a BBC interview.

The Federal High Court in Abuja ruled in mid-January that Jonathan could carry out the president's functions in his absence, but not become "acting president".

Akunyili reportedly told the cabinet last week that Yar'Adua should step aside because government business had stalled, key civil service appointments were halted, and militants had ended a ceasefire because of the lack of progress in peace talks in the president's absence.

A delegation of lawmakers is to meet Yar'Adua in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to determine his fitness.

The United States, Britain, France and the European Union issued a joint statement last month lamenting the "uncertainty" caused by his lengthy absence.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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ABUJA – Nigeria's parliament on Tuesday voted to suspend ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua and hand power to his deputy until he is well enough to resume.
Tuesday, 09 February 2010 10:02 AM
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