Legal wrangle in Nigeria succession

January 14, 2010 12:00 am

, ABUJA, Jan 15- Ailing Nigerian President Umaru Yar\’Adua is no stranger to legitimacy battles since his assumption of office in 2007, but he now faces a torrent of legal and succession battles over his failing health.

A former governor of a northern Muslim state which introduced Sharia law during his tenure, Yar\’Adua was plucked from political obscurity by then-president Olusegun Obasanjo as his successor, to the consternation of many Nigerians, including ruling party chiefs.

Yar\’Adua was known to have suffered poor health when he was state governor of Katsina, and many local and foreign analysts observed that the former general might have "anointed" him from obscurity to make him a mere transitional president.

After the April 2007 presidential poll, billed as violent and fraudulent by the United States and the European Union, Yar\’Adua\’s rivals — including former dictator Muhammadu Buhari and former civilian vice president Atiku Abubakar — challenged his victory in a long-drawn-out political tussle.

It was not until December 2008 that he got a legal reprieve when the Supreme Court upheld the validity of his election.

But he is facing a fresh wave of challenges to his power from the same political foes and others, this time on account of his failing health.

Yar\’Adua left Nigeria on November 23 and has since been hospitalised in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for an acute heart ailment.

Buhari and Abubakar have requested the Senate set up a 15-man panel of "credible" people to probe Yar\’Adua\’s whereabouts and his state of health with a view to determining his capability to continue to function in office.

If Yar\’Adua is found incapable, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south, would complete the remainder of his mandate, which should last till May next year.

By unwritten law in Nigeria, the presidency rotates between the two main geographical regions — the mainly Muslim north and mainly Christian south — to maintain a fragile political equilibrum in the country.

If Jonathan is asked to complete the presidential mandate, questions will arise over who the new vice president will be, and who will emerge as the ruling Peoples Democratic Party\’s next presidential candidate in the 2011 election.

The PDP, founded in 1998 and which controls 28 of the nation\’s 36 states, faces a dilemma over succession in the presidency.

The party is clearly divided between Jonathan\’s and Yar\’Adua\’s camps.

PDP national chairman Vincent Ogbulafor on Wednesday condemned what he said were efforts to "destabilise the country" by those who "exaggerate" the president\’s health condition.

Justice Minister Michael Aondoaaka the same day said loudly and clearly at the Abuja Federal High Court that the vice president could exercise certain powers of president, but not in an acting capacity.

He got a backing from the court chief judge\’s ruling.

But the same court is also hearing three other challenges to Yar\’Adua brought by opposition lawyers, which it has deferred to next week. The earliest ruling is expected on January 22.

Meanwhile the juggernauts of the PDP — the Obasanjo-led "board of trustees" — are expected to meet to discuss the crisis on Thursday evening.


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