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Nigerian Minister Calls on Yar'Adua to Transfer Power

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

A split has emerged in the Nigerian Cabinet over whether ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua should hand over power to his deputy.

Nigerian newspapers report that Information Minister Dora Akunyili circulated a memo Wednesday, urging that the Cabinet ask the president for a transfer of power.

The reports say the meeting where she presented the memo turned into a shouting match, and that other ministers forced the memo off the agenda. However, the reports say Akunyili may resubmit the memo next week.

The Cabinet, known as the Federal Executive Council, has twice passed resolutions saying Mr. Yar'Adua is fit to govern despite the president's more than two-month stay in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.

The president's absence has sparked confusion over who is running the government, and concerns of a power vacuum in Africa's most populous country.

Mr. Yar'Adua has not been seen in public since entering a Saudi hospital November 23, and has given only one brief radio interview in that entire time.

Vice President Goodluck Jonathan has taken over many of the president's duties, but a federal court has ruled he cannot be named acting president.

Nigeria's constitution requires that the president give parliament a transfer-of-power letter before the vice president can formally take over.

Pressure has been increasing on Mr. Yar'Adua to take that measure. The Nigerian Senate, opposition parties, and the Nigerian Bar Association have all called on the president to notify parliament of his absence and allow Jonathan to assume his duties until he can return.

Officials have said the president is being treated for a heart ailment, acute pericarditis. Mr. Yar'Adua is also known to have a chronic kidney problem.