, LAGOS, Feb 4 – A Nigerian minister has called on ailing President Umaru Yar\’Adua to transfer power, a senior official said Thursday, in the first sign of a cabinet split over his prolonged absence from the country.
Dora Akunyili, who as information minister doubles as the government\’s spokeswoman, called on her cabinet colleagues to revoke a decision which said that Yar\’Adua was healthy enough to rule.
Nigerian newspapers reported she circulated a memorandum with the request to her ministerial colleagues at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Akunyili was not available for comment early Thursday, but a senior official who declined to be named told AFP: "What is reported in the press is correct."
The president has been receiving treatment for a serious heart condition in a Saudi Arabian hospital since flying out of Nigeria on November 23.
According to the reports, the memorandum asks the government to demand a letter from the president justifying his absence on medical grounds and allowing Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to act as "interim president".
Jonathan has been filling in for Yar\’Adua but does not possess full executive powers to act as head of state.
The United States, Britain, France and the European Union last week waded into the row over the president\’s health, lamenting the "uncertainty" caused by the 58-year-old\’s lengthy absence from the helm of a major oil exporter.
The powers\’ joint statement came after his hand-picked cabinet deemed him fit enough to remain in office, in response to a High Court demand that the executive body decide on his ability to discharge his duties.
Opposition groups have argued that the president\’s illness has made him incapable of ruling the country.
The cabinet was reportedly deeply split on the issue, with pro-Yar\’Adua ministers saying Akunyili had breached cabinet protocol by submitting a document without a seven-day notice period and demanded she withdraw all copies of the memorandum distributed to ministers.
Newspapers reported that Akunyili outlined several reasons why Yar\’Adua should step aside: government business had stalled, key civil service appointments were halted, and the militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta had ended a ceasefire because of the lack of progress in peace talks with the government in the president\’s absence.
The renewed threat posed by the militants was a danger to the country\’s oil-based economy, she said, according to the reports.
Three separate legal challenges brought by the opposition have centered on the fact that Yar\’Adua must inform the legislature by letter if he is abenting himself, so that his deputy can be formally installed as acting president.
However, in one case, the Federal High Court ruled last week that there was nothing illegal about his failure to write to parliament about his absence when he left for Saudi Arabia.