Print options

February 09, 2010

Acting Nigerian President Sacks Justice Minister

by Scott Stearns

Nigeria's new acting president has demoted the Minister of Justice who opposed his taking temporary power in the prolonged medical absence of the country's elected leader.

In his first cabinet meeting since lawmakers made him Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan sacked Justice Minister Michael Aondoakaa.

Attorney General Aondoakaa led members of the cabinet in resisting a provisional transfer of power to Mr. Jonathan, insisting that there was no power vacuum in Nigeria ten weeks after President Umaru Yar'Adua left for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.

Speaking to reporters following his demotion, Aondoakaa said he has no regrets.

"No single action I have taken I have regretted," he said. "Every single action I took was in the interest of this country. No country will say there is a vacuum. No country, no Attorney General will go to the pages of the papers and say, 'There is a vacuum.' I pledged my loyalty to the vice president. I am the minister of special duties."

Aondoakaa is replaced as justice minister by former labor minister Adetokunbo Kayode.
 
Aondoakaa had a series of highly-publicized confrontations with Information Minister Dora Akunyili, who broke with the cabinet last week in calling for President Yar'Adua to hand over power by officially notifying parliament of his absence.
 
After Wednesday's cabinet meeting, Akunyili said Acting President Jonathan exercised his constitutional authority.

"These are presidential powers," said Dora Akunyili. "He has the power to move any of us."

Nigerian lawmakers Tuesday made Mr. Jonathan acting president. The constitution says they may do so whenever the president notifies them in writing that he is going on vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office.

But President Yar'Adua did not write to lawmakers before leaving in late November. So parliament acted instead on the basis of a radio interview in which the president confirmed that he is in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.

Nigeria's Bar Association says such a move is not backed by the constitution. Some of the president's supporters say they intend to challenge Mr. Jonathan's appointment in court.