Nigerian cabinet backs Yar’Adua amid calls to quit


Nigeria’s cabinet unanimously agreed yesterday there were no grounds on which to seek the resignation of President Umaru Yar’Adua, rejecting calls for him to step down or prove he is fit enough to govern.

At least nine Nigerian newspaper front pages carried a statement, which they said had been signed by more than 50 public figures, calling on Yar’Adua to resign immediately or allow a medical panel to determine his ability to rule.

The 58-year-old leader was flown to a clinic in Saudi Arabia nine days ago after complaining of chest pains and has been diagnosed with acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the membrane around the heart that can restrict normal beating.

The cabinet said it had taken note of the calls to invoke article 144 of the constitution, which states the president ceases to hold office if a two-thirds cabinet majority passes a resolution declaring him incapable and the declaration is then verified by a medical panel including his personal doctor.
"The credible facts on which the council took a decision were based on the release by the chief physician of the president that made full disclosure of (his) ailment and also gave us full indication of the recovery," Justice Minister Michael Aondoakaa told reporters in Abuja.
"The only evidence we have is the medical release and unless somebody produces any contrary medical evidence council has ruled that there is no basis to consider section 144," he said, describing Yar’Adua’s ailment as "a small illness which can befall anyone".

The Daily Trust newspaper, citing Nigerian officials in Saudi Arabia, said earlier that Yar’Adua was out of intensive care but that only his wife and Nigeria’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia had been allowed to visit him.

Yar’Adua’s spokesman has said he was responding well to treatment, while the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has said he will return home soon and resume work.

Calls to resign

Yar’Adua’s stay in a clinic in the Red Sea port of Jeddah is the latest in a series of overseas medical trips which have raised concern about his fitness. He has in the past visited Saudi Arabia and Germany to treat a chronic kidney problem.

The statement published in the newspapers said Yar’Adua should either resign or request the cabinet invoke article 144 and pass a resolution stating that he appears incapable, allowing a medical panel to determine his fitness.

The list of names reported to have signed the statement includes former presidential candidates, former state governors, a former Senate president and a former chief of defence staff.
"It is clear to every discerning observer that President Umaru Yar’Adua’s physical condition has had a negative impact on his ability to discharge the functions of the highest office in our nation," the statement said.

It was not immediately possible to check with all of those listed whether they had signed the document as reported.

The Vanguard newspaper quoted seven of those listed as saying they had signed or supported the statement’s sentiment but one of those named told Reuters he had not been consulted.

Nineteen politicians from Yar’Adua’s northern home region published a separate advertorial in several newspapers saying the constitution must be respected should he be unable to continue in office.

The PDP, which has accused the opposition of deliberately generating "hype and tension", criticised the resignation calls.
"Those who are calling for the president’s resignation are unpatriotic. Resignation is a voluntary thing and the president should not be coerced," the party’s legal adviser, Olusola Oke, was quoted by the Vanguard as saying.

The Action Congress opposition party earlier this week said there was nothing wrong with public debate about Yar’Adua’s health.
"Over a year ago, we advised the government to be more forthcoming on the issue of the president’s health, in order to stem the wild rumours over it," AC spokesman Lai Mohammed said.
"Unfortunately that advice was not heeded until the issue became critical this time."

Vice President Goodluck Jonathan would take over if the president resigns or becomes permanently incapable of discharging his functions, according to the constitution.

Jonathan’s office on Saturday issued a statement urging "all well-meaning Nigerians to continue to give support to the President Yar’Adua administration" and repeating that there was no cause for alarm over his health.