Lawyers challenge Nigerian president’s fitness to rule

Lawyers petitioned Nigeria’s Federal High Court on Thursday to install President Umaru Yar’Adua’s deputy as acting president until the ailing leader is well enough to return from hospital in Saudi Arabia.

The same court ruled on Wednesday that Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan could take full executive powers pending Yar’Adua’s recovery.

The court said Jonathan “cannot become the acting president but can only carry out the functions of the president in his absence, which he has been doing and should continue to do so”.

But lawyers are persisting with three separate legal challenges in the Abuja court to force the 58-year-old president to swear in Jonathan as acting president with full powers until he recovers.

The Nigerian Bar Association, human rights lawyer Femi Falana and former lawmaker Farouk Adamu Aliyu filed separate suits last week on the grounds that Yar’Adua is incapacitated.

Falana dismissed Wednesday’s court ruling as “meaningless” because “no functions have been formally and directly delegated to [Jonathan] by Yar’Adua”.

The ruling “has not addressed the vacuum on the ground”, Falana said.

Yar’Adua’s absence since November 23 has caused a political and legal furore in Africa’s second-biggest oil exporter.

The opposition says that government business has been stalled and that democracy in Africa’s most populous nation is facing its most serious threat in the decade since the end of military rule.

Wednesday’s court ruling focused on a section of the Constitution that states that executive powers are vested in the president, and may be exercised directly by him or through the vice-president or ministers.

Justice Minister Michael Aondoaaka, who is also Nigeria’s Attorney General, hailed Wednesday’s ruling, saying it had exonerated the government’s position that there is no power vacuum in the African giant.

But Thursday’s cases seek to bring a separate clause of the Constitution to bear on Yar’Adua’s leadership, which lawyers say requires the president to officially hand over powers to Jonathan as acting head of state.

Yar’Adua broke a 50-day silence on Tuesday, telling the BBC in a telephone interview that he was “getting better” and intended to return to work.

But the interview failed to calm the opposition clamour for him to step aside.

Ruling People’s Democratic party chairperson Vincent Ogbulafor described the attempts to force Yar’Adua aside as “unnecessary and shameful” and said they were aimed at destabilising the country. — AFP

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Ola Awoniyi
Ola Awoniyi
Journalist at AFP.

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