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Nigeria’s parliament “hands presidential power” to VP Jonathan; some scholars debate constitutionality….

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Nigeria’s parliament “hands presidential power” to VP Jonathan; some scholars debate constitutionality…

Special to USAfricaonline.com and Nigeria360 e-group

Dr. Goodluck Jonathan has assumed control of Nigeria after Nigeria’s parliament ruled that he should take over from the ill and absent president  Umaru Yar’Adua. He left Nigeria in late November 2009 for hospital treatment in Saudi Arabia. (See several reports and insights on USAfricaonline.com)

His prolonged absence has sparked a crisis that ground the government to a virtual halt and triggered the resumption of an insurgency in the vital oil sector.

Yar’Adua’s physician has said the 58-year-old, who long has suffered from kidney ailments, is being treated for acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed measures calling on Dr. Jonathan to act as president and commander in chief until Yar’Adua returns from Saudi Arabia. There’s no indication when Yar’Adua will return.

Parliament’s move is unprecedented and has no clear constitutional backing, underlining the extent to which Nigeria’s institutions are being tested by the insistence of the group around Yar’Adua that he remains fit to govern.

Oluwarotimi O. Akeredolu, president of the Nigerian Bar Association, said: “I’m not sure they are on strong ground legally. There’s nothing enabling them to do what they have done.”

Others expressed relief that the political void had been filled.

“The political class in Nigeria does seem to get itself in a tangle over legal niceties on these things,” said Antony Goldman, Nigeria expert and head of London-based PM Consulting.

“But the further away you get from Nigeria, the bigger picture for investors is that there is major uncertainty at the heart of leadership … Investors would like clarity. Investors would like an end to this debate on whether a correct government is in place,” he said.

Despite the lack of a letter from Yar’Adua designating Jonathan in charge, Senate President David Marks said a telephone interview the president gave to the BBC about his poor health could act in place of a formal letter.

“The BBC interview is as good as the letter envisaged by the constitution,” Mark said. USAfrica, to the surprise of Nigerians and informed analysts. However, some legal experts say the constitution offers no remedy when a president declines to send the letter and it does not empower the National Assembly to act as it did.

Jonathan served as a governor in oil-rich Bayelsa state before being picked as Yar’Adua’s running mate on the 2007 ticket for the People’s Democratic Party, the ruling political party in Nigeria. Jonathan, a Christian who is fond of bowler hats, largely avoided the infighting in Yar’Adua’s absence and remained silent as the nation’s de facto leader. His only major act in Yar’Adua’s absence came when he called out the military to restore order in central Nigeria after fighting between Christians and Muslims claimed more than 300 lives.

Parliament’s action could cause further tensions between the two faiths. An unwritten power-sharing agreement within the PDP between Nigeria’s Christians and Muslims calls for the presidency to alternate between the two faiths. Jonathan, a Christian, would be taking over for Yar’Adua, a Muslim, before his appointed time is up. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a former dictator who became the civilian elected leader in 1999 and preceded Yar’Adua, is a Christian who served two terms.

Perhaps with an eye for what waits ahead, Jonathan called for national unity. “Today affords us time to reconnect with ourselves and overcome any suspicions, hurts and doubts, which have occurred,” he said. “In all these, there are no winners and no losers, because by the grace of God we have once again succeeded in moving our country forward.” USAfricaonline.com/AP/Telegraph/wire services

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