Nigeria Court Hears Lawsuits Over Leader’s Absence

Nigerian PresidentNigerian lawyers who want the country’s ill president temporarily replaced went to court Thursday. The judge said no decision was expected until next week, extending the political uncertainty in Africa’s most populous nation.

President Umaru Yar’Adua left Nigeria nearly two months ago to seek medical treatment in Saudi Arabia. He has long been troubled by a kidney ailment, and doctors have said the 58-year-old is now suffering from acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart.

Three lawsuits aim to force the federal government to allow the vice president to take over.

Judge Dan Abutu scheduled a hearing for one case on Jan. 21. He said the judgment on the second case would be issued Jan. 22, and he recused himself from the third.

While Nigerian law allows for a smooth transition of power from Yar’Adua to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, the president left without formally appointing an acting leader, as the constitution requires.

The constitution puts Jonathan next in line, but it’s unclear if the Muslim-dominated north would allow the Muslim Yar’Adua to be replaced with Jonathan, who is a Christian. The Nigerian presidency alternates between Christian and Muslim leaders, and Yar’Adua still has two years left in his term.

Yar’Adua’s nearly two-month absence prompted hundreds of Nigerians to protest in the capital Tuesday after the leader said in a radio interview that he hoped to recover and return to power.

“I hope that very soon there will be tremendous progress that will allow me to get back home,” Yar’Adua told the BBC in a telephone interview aired early Tuesday, pausing occasionally to cough. “I wish to thank all Nigerians for their prayers for my good health and their prayers for the nation.”

He added: “As soon as my doctors discharge me, I will return to Nigeria to assume my duties.”

Last month, a group of 50 prominent Nigerians also issued a petition calling on Yar’Adua to resign if he’s medically incapable of running the country.

Lawmakers have said that they will send a delegation to Saudi Arabia to “convey a goodwill message” and discuss national issues with Yar’Adua.

SOURCE: The Associated Press (c) 2010