In Nigeria, a human rights lawyer said he wants to avert a constitutional crisis after filing a lawsuit to force President Umaru Yar'Adua to hand over power to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan.
Femi Falana said his legal challenge will prevent people who want to create chaos from derailing Nigeria’s fragile democracy.
“The governance of the country has been left in the hands of nobody contrary to the clear stipulations of the constitution…which requires the president to write to the speaker of the House of Representatives and the Senate president to the fact that he was proceeding on medical vacation. During which time the vice president…will take over the administration of Nigeria,” he said.
Nigeria’s constitution stipulates that the president should write to the heads of the two chambers of parliament if and when he is leaving on holiday or otherwise unable to govern, and turning power over to the vice-president until he writes to the contrary.
Falana said decisions made by the cabinet while President Yar'Adua is away were illegal because the president had not formally handed over to the vice president.
Falana said he has evidence that President Yar’Adua failed to write to leaders in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
“I have every proof that he didn’t do that and that is why we are in this dilemma. The vice president has rightly said I cannot sign any bill I am not the acting president of Nigeria…and has refused to take any responsibility on behalf of the president. Even the meetings of the Federal Executive Council that have been held weekly since the president left are illegal,” Falana said.
But Justice Minister and Attorney-General Michael Aondoakaa was quoted on Wednesday as saying that President Yar'Adua could exercise his presidential powers from anywhere in the world.
Falana denied his legal challenge is a mere publicity exercise.
“That will be irresponsible on the part of anybody (to say that). This is a very crucial issue. The chief justice of Nigeria will retire on the 31st of this month and that will be a greater crisis for the country if the president is not back to appoint an acting chief justice…so we are in a really serious constitutional crisis,” Falana said.
President Yar'Adua was recently flown to a clinic in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia after complaining of chest pains.
He has been diagnosed with acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the membrane around the heart that can restrict normal beating.
The president’s cabinet has rejected calls from some Nigerians for his resignation.