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Nigeria seeks modern army to maintain influence

Nigerian Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, who has taken over ceremonial duties for an ailing president, called for the modernization of the country's military to maintain its influence in Africa.

Jonathan's comments come as pressure mounts from senior lawyers and opposition party officials for President Umaru Yar'Adua to transfer presidential powers to him.

"As a nation, if we must continue to maintain our position in the continent and globally, then we must look inwards. The government takes the armed forces very seriously," Jonathan said yesterday at a church service in Nigeria's capital Abuja to commemorate Armed Forces Day.

"We must ... wake up to the global challenge of fighting wars with modern weapons," he added.

Jonathan said the Nigerian Defence Academy, the country's main military school, must reposition itself to be one of the world's best "if we must produce and prepare armed forces that will continue to carry the banner of this country high."

The 52-year-old has been representing Yar'Adua at cabinet meetings and official functions but executive powers have not been transferred to him, leading to questions over the legality of decisions made by the government in Yar'Adua's absence.

The president left Nigeria seven weeks ago to receive treatment for a heart condition in hospital in Saudi Arabia. No pictures or videos of Yar'Adua have been made public nor has he spoken in an official capacity since his departure on Nov. 23.

Nigeria's ambassador to Saudi Arabia told Reuters last week the 58-year-old leader was "sound and fit", but it was unclear when he would be able to return home.

Critics say government assurances about Yar'Adua's health are no longer enough for Nigeria's 140 millions residents and more evidence is needed to show he is fit enough to govern.

The Nigerian Bar Association, a prominent human rights lawyer and two former lawmakers have filed separate lawsuits against the government which accuse the president of breaching the constitution by staying in power.

A federal court hearing is scheduled for Thursday in Abuja.

The House of Representatives is also expected to address Yar'Adua's prolonged absence when it returns from recess tomorrow.

The president spoke to Jonathan and head of parliament last week, a government minister and state governor said, but the content of conversations between them have not been disclosed.


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