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Nigeria Court Orders Vice President to Assume Executive Powers

Gilbert da Costa | Abuja 13 January 2010

A Nigeria federal court has ordered Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to take over presidential duties in the absence of President Umaru Yar'Adua. The court announcement comes a day after thousands of protesters marched through the streets of the capital city demanding the vice president assume executive powers.

The ruling was in response to one of at least four separate suits filed by groups and individuals in Nigeria seeking to temporarily transfer executive powers to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, and provide the country with interim leadership.

The Nigerian constitution requires the president to write to the National Assembly vesting the vice president with the powers to act as president. President Yar'Adua did not transfer powers to his deputy before traveling to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment in November.

The court accepted the argument that his continued absence and the power vacuum it has created could be a source of instability in Africa's most populous nation and ordered the vice president to immediately assume the position of acting president for the period of Mr.Yar'Adua's incapacitation.

A Nigerian lawyer based in Abuja, Maxi Okwu, welcomed the court decision.

"That is a welcomed relief. At least let somebody be in charge, somebody we can hold accountable. For the past 50 days this nation has been without a leader. You cannot rule a country by proxy. Now Goodluck has enough reasons to take over without appearing to disloyal. He should step in immediately," said Okwu.

The government is facing growing pressure over a perceived lack of leadership, given the continued absence of President Yar'Adua and persistent rumors over his state of health.

The Nigeria Bar Association, a prominent human-rights lawyer and two former lawmakers have all filed a legal challenge against the government, accusing Mr.Yar'Adua of breaching the constitution by staying in power.

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