Ex-Nigerian leaders want president to hand over to deputy; US, EU wade in

US, EU wade into Nigeria crisis: A group of former Nigerian heads of state and elder statesmen Thursday called on ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua to take formal steps to enable the vice president to act in his absence. Meanwhile, World powers Thursday waded into the row in Nigeria over the president’s health, lamenting the “uncertainty” caused by his absence as his deputy promised that he would return home soon.

“It is important to resolve this issue by inviting the president to formally issue the necessary communication that will enable the vice president to be acting president,” the group said in a letter signed on its behalf by former military head of State, General Yakubu Gowon.

Other members of the group, who presented the letter in Abuja Thursday to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan and the heads of the two chambers of parliament, are Shehu Shagari (1979-83) and Ernest Shonekan (1993) — both ex-civilian leaders. 

Former vice president Alex Ekwueme, ex-chief justices of the federation Mohammed Uwais, Alfa Belgore and Idris Kutigi, as well as former army chief General Theophilus Danjuma, were also part of the delegation. 

They said the letter was written “following a critical review of the general political situation of the country in the recent past but more especially since the illness of the president and his prolonged absence.” 

Pressure has been piling up in recent weeks for Yar’Adua to step aside. Even his own mentor and predecessor Olusegun Obasanjo has suggested he resigns. 

The elders’ group aligned with the decision of the senate on Wednesday.

The senate decided, after two days of debate, to urge Yar’Adua to formally notify the National Assembly of his medical vacation in line with the relevant law to pave the way for his deputy to act in his absence. 

The cabinet decided, a few minutes after the senate resolution, that the president was fit to discharge the functions of his office pointing out that being away on medical grounds does not make the president incapable of discharging his functions. 

The cabinet resolution was against the backdrop of a January 22 court ruling ordering the federal Executive Council to decide if the president is incapable of discharging his functions in the light of his absence from the country since November 23. 

Yar’Adua, 58, in Saudi Arabia for more than two months for treatment for an acute heart condition, will return soon, Jonathan said Thursday, according to a statement from his office.

At a ceremony to receive letters of credence from four new ambassadors, Jonathan thanked them “for their concern over the health of President Umaru Yar’Adua and assured them that the president would soon be back in the country”, the statement said.

 US, EU wade into Nigeria crisis

World powers Thursday waded into the row in Nigeria over the president’s health, lamenting the “uncertainty” caused by his absence as his deputy promised that he would return home soon.

“Nigeria is going through a period of uncertainty because of the prolonged illness of President Musa Umaru Yar?Adua,” said a joint statement by the United States, European Union, Britain and France.

The powers said they welcomed constitutional efforts in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and one of the world’s top oil producers, to “resolve the question of governing authority in the president’s prolonged absence”.

The 58-year-old president has been receiving treatment for a serious heart condition in Saudi Arabia since November 23.

Three separate legal challenges are currently underway in the Federal High Court to force the government to hand presidential powers to his deputy Goodluck Jonathan.

Separately, the government and the Senate have openly clashed over how to deal with Yar’Adua’s prolonged absence and his apparent refusal to hand power to his deputy from his hospital bed in Jeddah.

“Nigeria?s stability and democracy carry great significance beyond its immediate borders,” given its importance as a global oil producer and stabilising force in west Africa, said the statement.

It was signed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton.

It is the first time foreign powers have openly expressed concern about Yar’Adua’s absence amid concerns by opposition groups that the president’s illness has made him incapable of ruling the 150 million-strong population of Nigeria, Africa’s second-biggest oil producer.

The statement was issued in London as foreign ministers met to discuss how to aid war-torn Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Jonathan on Thursday said the president will return “soon” but gave no date.

At a ceremony to receive letters of credence from new ambassadors, Jonathan thanked them “for their concern … and assured them that the president would soon be back in the country,” his office said in a statement.

The Senate on Wednesday demanded that Yar’Adua take steps to transfer power to Jonathan, in line with the requirements of the country’s constitution.

However, his hand-picked cabinet deemed him fit enough to remain in office, after the High Court ordered the executive body to decide on his ability to discharge his duties.

The cabinet said the fact that he is receiving treatment outside the country did not warrant his removal on grounds of incapacity.

A federal high court will on Friday rule on a suit filed by lawyers seeking an order for Yar’Adua to hand full powers to Jonathan until his return.

The case is one of three legal challenges to Yar’Adua’s authority.

Jonathan, who has been filling in for the president, has been unable to assume full powers because Yar’Adua has not formally informed parliament of his absence, which his opponents say is a breach of the constitution.

They also accuse the government of covering-up the extent of Yar’Adua’s illness.

An unwritten policy of the ruling PDP allows a rotation of power between the Christian south and the Muslim north. Yar’Adua is a Muslim, while Jonathan is a southern Christian.

“We extend our best wishes to President Yar? Adua and his family and join the Nigerian people in wishing him a full recovery,” said the foreign ministers’ statement.

But it nonetheless commended efforts to break the political deadlock gripping the country, pointing to the recent outbreak of religious and ethnic violence in central Nigeria which claimed hundreds of lives.

“Nigerians have launched an important conversation in examining how constitutional processes can resolve the question of governing authority in the President?s prolonged absence.

“We commend these efforts and their pursuit through appropriate Nigerian democratic institutions to address its citizens? concerns.”