Nigerian Parliament votes to suspend ailing president

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 Parliament voted to install Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan as acting head of state, rejecting a Cabinet decision that the 58-year-old president’s frail health should not stop him remaining in office.

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 parliamentary motion, passed by the Senate and the lower house, said “Vice-President Dr Goodluck Ebere Jonathan shall henceforth discharge the functions of the office of president, commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the federation, as acting president”.

The Senate passed a second motion saying Jonathan would cease to be acting president once Yar’Adua informs the assembly of his return from medical leave.

Opposition leaders have accused the government of covering up the seriousness of the 58-year-old 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 BBC interview with the president on January 12 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.

The Federal High Court in Abuja ruled in mid-January that Jonathan could carry out the president’s functions in his absence, but not to the extent of becoming “acting president”.

Jonathan has already been forced to deploy extra troops in the north of the country to restore calm after hundreds of people were killed in clashes between Muslims and Christians.

Armed militants in the oil-producing Niger Delta have resumed attacks since January 30. They ended a ceasefire declared when Yar’Adua offered them amnesty last year. The militants cited a lack of progress in peace talks as the reason for resuming hostilities.

The deputy leader of the lower house of representatives, Baba-Shehu Agaie, was in Jeddah leading a group of legislators to see Yar’Adua. He said he had not seen the parliamentary motion but called the vote an acknowledgment of the current situation.

“Maybe the Senate is formalising that,” he said.

“Even before the president left Nigeria … he passed on his responsibilities to the vice-president,” Agaie told Agence France-Presse by telephone from Jeddah.

Agaie said his group, who arrived in the Red Sea city Monday night, would meet Yar’Adua on Wednesday. — AFP

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Ola Awoniyi
Ola Awoniyi
Journalist at AFP.

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