News / Africa

Nigeria's New Acting President Calls for Unity

Nigeria's new acting president is calling for unity ten weeks after the nation's elected leader left the country for medical treatment. Lawmakers Tuesday made Vice President Goodluck Jonathan Nigeria's acting leader.

In a nationwide address, Acting President Jonathan called on all Nigerians to set aside religious and ethnic differences to work together for the common good.

"The events of the recent past have put to a test our collective resolve as a democratic nation," said Goodluck Jonathan. "I am delighted to know that our nation has demonstrated resilience and unity of purpose."

Nigeria's Senate and House of Representatives Tuesday both passed motions making Mr. Jonathan acting president.

He has been serving in that capacity since President Musa Yar'Adua left Nigeria in late November. But that was not official because the president did not write a letter to parliament notifying lawmakers of his absence.

He has still not written that letter. But the Senate and House chose to act based on a radio interview the president gave confirming that he is in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.

Lagos State Senator Ganiyu Solomon says parliament responded to the wishes of a majority of Nigerians.

"It seems that we don't have the president around for 78 days, and there's a kind of logjam," said Ganiyu Solomon. "Somebody must take the initiative to come up with something that is acceptable to the whole lot of Nigerians. We felt the right thing, what they really want, is to have power given to the vice president as acting president. And we act accordingly."

Senator Yakubu Garba Lado is from President Yar'Adua's home state of Katsina. He says lawmakers have exceeded their power.

"We refuse to consider that interview as a written something," said Garba Lado. "So that will indicate there is some mischief behind it. I believe that it was wrong. And I know some Nigerians may decide to take us to court. And when we are challenged in a court of law, I believe we will be defeated because we do not have the power to do what we did today."

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson was in Abuja during the national assembly vote. Following a meeting with Mr. Jonathan, Carson said the Obama administration has always supported a constitutional resolution of the crisis.

"As a fellow democracy, the United States believes firmly in the values of democracy," said Johnnie Carson. "We think that these principles are also important in Nigeria, which is Africa's largest democracy and also a friend and a partner of the United States."

Political momentum shifted against the president last week when Nigeria's powerful state governors said a temporary transfer of authority would be in the nation's best interest.

Information Minister Dora Akunyili broke with the rest of the president's cabinet in calling for such a transfer of power after the cabinet twice passed resolutions saying Mr. Yar'Adua was fit to govern.

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