Nigerian Vice President Goodluck Jonathan can perform the executive duties of ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua, who is in hospital overseas, without a formal transfer of power, a federal court ruled yesterday.
“The vice president is empowered to carry out all the functions of the president in his absence,” said Justice Daniel Abutu in Nigeria’s capital Abuja.
It was not clear whether the vice president would act on the ruling and begin performing executive presidential duties. His office was not immediately available for comment. Jonathan 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 judgement means the vice president can sign any bill including the appropriation bill and perform all functions that are supposed to be done by the president,” said Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa.
Yar’ Adua made his first public comment on Tuesday since being hospitalised more than seven weeks ago in Saudi Arabia for a heart condition, saying he was recovering and hoped to go home soon.
Doubts over the president’s health and the fact he kept full powers despite his silence caused unease in the country of 140 million, slowed official business and put at risk a truce in the oil-producing Niger Delta.
Hundreds marched on Tuesday in the capital Abuja to protest about the political vacuum and demand the vice president be sworn in as acting president.
Transferring power from Yar’Adua, a Muslim northerner, to Jonathan, from the predominantly Christian south, would be highly sensitive in a country where rival groups have maintained a careful balance since the return of civilian rule in 1999.
The ruling will likely undermine lawsuits from the Nigerian Bar Association and a leading human rights lawyer against the government which accuse the president of breaching the constitution by not transferring over his powers.
Abutu is the presiding judge for the lawsuits, which are scheduled to be heard today.