Court asks Chief Justice to swear-in Jonathan as acting President

A Federal High Court in Abuja, on Wednesday, asked the Chief Justice of Nigeria to swear-in Vice President Goodluck Jonathan as acting president of Nigeria pending the return of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua from Saudi Arabia. The ruling followed a case instituted by a lawyer, Christopher Onwuekwe, claiming that the absence of President Yar’Adua and his failure to handover to Mr. Jonathan as acting 

President are indications that there is no Head of government and that the situation is capable of threatening the existence and stability of the Federal Republic of Nigeria..

Mr. Onwuekwe, through his counsel, Amobi Nzelu, said that since the president has not written to the National Assembly informing it that his Vice should oversee the affairs of the state pending his return, a way out of the situation would be for the court to empower Mr. Jonathan to exercise the powers of president pending Mr. Yar’Adua’s return to office.

The suit by Mr. Onwuekwe is not the only one in which a court will be asked to make Mr. Jonathan acting President in the absence of Mr. Yar’Adua who is believed to be receiving medical attention in Saudi Arabia.. Recently, the President of the West African Bar Association, Femi Falana, sued the Federal Government at a Federal High Court in Abuja, asking it to compel President Yar’ Adua to inform the National Assembly about his hospitalisation and empower Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to take charge of governance.

Nigeria deputy ‘has full powers’ in Yar’Adua absence- BBC 

Goodluck  Jonathan, file image

Goodluck Jonathan is not the “acting president” but can act as president

Nigeria’s vice-president has the right to perform all duties on behalf of sick President Umaru Yar’Adua without any formal transfer, a judge has ruled.

It is the first of four cases aiming to clarify who rules Nigeria during Mr Yar’Adua’s absence. He has been in a Saudi Arabia hospital since November.

Ministers and the lawyer who brought the case said they were satisfied.

But some critics want to see Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan become official head of state.

Correspondents say the issue is so sensitive because of the ruling party’s system of alternating power between north and south.

While Mr Yar’Adua is a northerner, Mr Jonathan hails from the south.

Northern powerbrokers may be reluctant to see a southerner take over officially before the next scheduled presidential election in 2011.

‘No power vacuum’

Justice Daniel Abutu said Mr Jonathan would only be legally regarded as “acting president” if he had received written instructions to do so.


Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua -  file photo 29 July 2009
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

Christopher Onwuekwe, the lawyer who brought the suit against the government, said he felt the judge had upheld his case.

He said he went to court only to confirm that the vice-president had the power to carry out the functions of the president.

Justice Minister Michael Aondoakka welcomed the ruling, saying it showed there was no power vacuum and would allow ministers to get on with the business of governing.

He said there was now no justification for the other three cases – due before court on Thursday – to go ahead.

In one of the cases, rights lawyer and activist Femi Falana wants all decisions taken by the cabinet during the president’s absence to be annulled.

In another, the Nigerian Bar Association is demanding that he hand over power formally to Mr Jonathan.

And a rights group wants Mr Yar’Adua declared “missing”.

In his first public remarks since falling ill, Mr Yar’Adua told the BBC on Tuesday he was in constant contact with his deputy.

He said he was recovering and hoped to be able to return to Nigeria to resume his duties.

Doctors say the president is suffering from acute pericarditis – inflammation of the lining of the heart.

He also has a long-standing kidney complaint. 

Desperate measures: Chief judge Abutu’s court says no vacuum in Aso Rock, Aondoakaa undercuts Goodluck Jonathan again! – SaharaReporters 

Aondoakaa undercuts VP Jonatahn Goodluck again!! 

In what may be Nigeria’s most bizarre judicial charade of the season, a Federal High court in Abuja presided over by Chief Judge Dan Abutu this afternoon endorsed the current vacuum created in the country by the continued absence of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua from his post. Goaded by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mike Aondoakaa, who was personally present in the court along with Mr. Amobi Nzelu, an Abuja based lawyer, the court declared that there is no vacuum whatsoever in the discharge of the functions of the President’s office.  Contrary to at least one report, it did not declare that the Vice-President should now be sworn in. 

The strategically-heard motion and hurried verdict, pundits believe, was deliberately and carefully orchestrated with the objective of scuttling the three critical related cases pending before the same judge which come up tomorrow for hearing.  They were filed by the Nigeria Bar Association, Mr. Femi Falana and Hon. Aliyu Faruk and relate to the current political vacuum created by the non transmission of the statutory letter to the National Assembly by Yar’Adua before his trip to Saudi Arabia for medical attention. 

Amobi Nzelu, purporting to be acting as counsel to one Mr. Christopher Onwukwe, who is curiously a fresh graduate of the Nigerian Law School working in his chambers, approached the court to determine whether  the Vice President, under the provisions of Sections 5(1) and 148

(1) of the Nigerian Constitution, can exercise the executive powers vested in the President in the absence of the President and whether the Vice President can lawfully discharge any or all of the functions of the President in the absence of the President in the interest of peace, order and good governance of the federation pending when the President resumes and takes over. 

Nzelu urged the court to declare that going by the combined provisions of those two sections, the Vice President can exercise the executive powers vested in the President in the absence of the President and that the Vice President can lawfully discharge all the functions of Mr. President in the absence of the President for the interest of the country pending when the President resumes and takes over. 

In the supporting affidavit to the originating summons, the plaintiff confirmed that the President did not transmit any written declaration to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of

Representatives and that the Federal Republic of Nigeria currently does not have a head of government. He also stated that if the declarations sought are not granted that the country will be heading for social and economic chaos and constitutional paralysis as there will be no functioning government. 

The seeming altruistic posture of Mr. Amobi Nzelu ended at this point and the real intention which he sought to achieve became apparent as the Abuja lawyer ignored the counter-affidavits filed on behalf of the Attorney General by Mr. Abdullahi Yola, the Solicitor-General of the Federation. 

In the counter affidavit, Aondoakaa stated that the President is not in any manner incapable of discharging the functions of his office and that the absence of the President has not affected the smooth running of the polity. He also stated that the Federal Executive Council has reviewed the health condition of the President and declared him capable of discharging the duties of his office and that there has not been any failure on the part of the President in the performance of the functions of his office to warrant the transmission of any declaration to the National Assembly. 

The Attorney General also stated in the counter affidavit that there is no statutory requirement that the President must transmit a written declaration to the National Assembly whenever he is traveling out of the country. 

A lawyer of Amobi’s standing certainly recognizes the need to controvert an assertion in an affidavit through the filing of a better and further affidavit but he tactically neglected to do this.  By leaving the assertions of the Attorney General to go unchallenged, he created an easy loophole for the court to make a decision that was favourable to the Attorney General. 

As if on cue, the Justice Abutu held that statements not controverted are deemed to be true and declared that the Vice President had been lawfully discharging the functions of the President’s office on the strength of the delegation of the President of his duties to the Vice President. 

Today’s hurried legal manoeuvres come one day after thousands of Abuja demonstrated in Abuja calling upon Yar’Adua to resign, and one day before Aondoakaa is due to return to the same court following adjournments in the three motions mentioned above.  Analysts say it is evidence in itself that there is growing panic in the options left to Yar’Adua’s kitchen cabinet, and a measure of their desperation.