Nigeria: Calls for President’s resignation fuel war of words among politicians

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There is an ongoing conflict of opinions as to whether the Nigerian President Mr. Umaru Yar’Adua should stay in office or resign. His health has reportedly affected his ability to administer the country. The president is currently being treated in Saudi Arabia for a heart problem.

A statement asking the president to step down was signed by senior political figures and democracy activists, among others, and allegedly published in local newspapers. Observers say that most of the people who have signed the statement are prominent figures in Nigeria – including Aminu Bello Masari, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, and Ken Nnamani, a former Senate president.

They said that while they “sympathize” with the President’s condition of health, there is also the “need to provide effective governance … cannot be compromised”. the statement also claimed that the Yar’Adua had not attended “crucial affairs of state at home and abroad”.

But while a faction of politicians have called on the president to step down, cabinet ministers on the other hand have dismissed the claims unanimously, saying there was no need for the president to leave office.

“The cabinet has met and has ‘unanimously resolved; that the president has not been found incapable of discharging his functions. Council wishes to inform all Nigerians that all organs of government are functioning and that government will continue to deliver,” Information Minister, Dora Akunyili was quoted in a statement to local press.

In the past week, the front pages of Nigeria’s newspapers have carried the photographs of a pale, and obviously sick president. However officials had kept silent on what was wrong with Mr. Yar’Adua until last week when they finally confirmed he was suffering from acute pericarditis – an inflammation of the lining of his heart, in a backdrop of a kidney problem.

Mr. ar’Adua is the first civilian leader in Nigeria to have taken over from another after winning controversial polls in 2007, and the first Nigerian leader for 40 years to be university educated. His most renowned effort according to analysts and observers is his efforts in tackling the unrest in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

Following the Cabinet’s rejection of the invocation of Article 144 (1) of Nigeria’s 1999 constitution which states that “the president ceases to hold office if a two-thirds cabinet majority passes a resolution declaring he is incapable of discharging his functions and that declaration is verified by a medical panel of five doctors including his personal physician,” critics believe that their choice is to avoid a much feared north south divide.

In fact, Chapter VI of the Nigerian Constitution part 1, Article 136, states that “If a person duly elected as President dies before taking and subscribing the oath of allegiance and oath of office, or is for any reason whatsoever unable to be sworn in, the person elected with him as Vice-President shall be sworn in as President”.

This means that should the president resign, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner and a Christian, would according to the Nigerian constitution succeeded him. Fears expressed by analysts have have suggested that Nigeria’s politically dominant northern Muslims, will not quietly accept an abrupt transition to a southern presidency, and early elections would fuel tensions and the risk of large-scale civil unrest.

Nigeria’s return to democracy has been marked by a growing challenge of preventing Africa’s most populous country from breaking apart along ethnic and religious lines as the country’s faultline between the predominantly Muslim north and mainly Christian south widens.

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