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Nigerian Lawmakers Name Acting President

Nigeria's Acting President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja. The country's parliament has named Jonathan acting president while President Umaru Yar'Adua remains hospitalized in Saudi Arabia (November 2009 file photo)

Goodluck Jonathan to serve as country's leader while President Yar'Adua undergoes medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.

Nigeria's parliament says Vice President Goodluck Jonathan is the country's acting leader, more than ten weeks after President Umaru Yar'Adua left for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.

Nigeria's Senate and House of Representatives Tuesday both passed motions saying Vice President Jonathan "shall henceforth discharge the functions of the office of the president, commander in chief of the armed forces."

The vice president has been serving in that capacity since President 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 last month 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. 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," Solomon said.

Akwa Ibom State Senator Bob Effiong says the country is now better off than it was before lawmakers approved the temporary transfer of power.

"The interest of Nigeria is very paramount. There must be a president. There must be somebody who leads. There must be a leader at these critical times to discharge the functions of the office of the president. We cannot continue in a vacuum. And I believe the Senate did the right thing," Effiong said.

Not all lawmakers agree. Senator Yakubu Garba Lado is from President Yar'Adua's home state of Katsina. He asked how parliament can consider a radio interview as written notification.

"It is clearly said in Section 145 that the president has to write that he is going on vacation. But I wonder how the distinguished senators will accept an interview that he granted which of, course, a lot of Nigerians are even questioning whether that is his voice or not," Lado said.

Senator Lado says lawmakers Tuesday exceeded their power.

"We refuse to consider that interview as a written something. 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," Lado said.

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.