News / Africa

Nigeria Senate Sets Time Limit for President's Absence

The Nigeria senate has adopted a amendment to the constitution setting a time limit for presidents to formally notify the parliament of their inability to perform their duties.

Eighty-nine senators voted to amend a section of the Nigerian constitution which imposed no limit on the period of time a sitting president can be away from office on grounds of inability to perform his duties or on vacation. Only two senators voted against it.

The amendment sets a 14-day limit for the president to inform parliament of his inability to perform his roles or the parliament can vote to appoint the vice president as acting leader.

A protest in Abuja over a power vacuum created by the absence of President Umaru Yar'Adua, who was away for 7 weeks receiving treatment in Saudi Arabia (File)
A protest in Abuja over a power vacuum created by the absence of President Umaru Yar'Adua, who was away for 7 weeks receiving treatment in Saudi Arabia (File)

The senate vote was instigated by the three-month absence of President Umaru Yar'Adua for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia. The political vacuum and constitutional crisis the president's long absence generated compelled the Nigerian parliament to pass a resolution authorizing vice president Goodluck Jonathan to perform the president's duties in acting capacity.

A statement by President Yar'Adua's office on Wednesday said Goodluck Jonathan would remain in charge while the president recovers. The statement however referred to acting president Jonathan as vice president, providing some indication that the president does not recognize him as the acting president.

Lagos-based lawyer and political activist, Supo Sonibare, says Nigeria needs a healthy leader who can exercise full executive powers to tackle the numerous challenges facing Africa's most populous country.

"There are issues that the president who is well needs to address. Issues about the stability of this country, issues about the Niger Delta, issues about power, issues about even good governance," he explained.  "There are too many issues that require the attention of a president who is well. We cannot dwell on a president who is unwell. If they were to revert back to the president being president and the vice president just being vice president, the vice president cannot exercise the powers of the president."

The amendment can only become law if approved by parliaments in 24 of Nigeria's 36 states.

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