Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua will return soon from hospital in Saudi Arabia, the vice president said on Thursday, as pressure grew on the 58-year old leader to hand over power until his health improves.
More than a dozen former heads of state, ex-chief justices and elder statesmen urged Yar'Adua to allow Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to take over formally as acting head of state, according to a letter presented to the head of the Senate.
"For well over eight weeks now our president has been ill and out of the country," former military ruler Yakubu Gowon said in the letter calling on Yar'Adua to respect the constitution.
"This illness and long absence from the country is causing serious concern not only to Nigerian citizens but to all those who do business with Nigeria and have the well-being of the country at heart," Gowon said.
He said the letter was drafted after a meeting of "eminent Nigerians" including former heads of state Shehu Shagari and Ernest Shonekan, former vice president Alex Ekwueme and former defence minister and ex-army chief Theophilus Danjuma.
The Senate said on Wednesday the president should formally notify parliament of his absence, a step which under the terms of the constitution would mean Jonathan taking over as acting president until Yar'Adua is fit enough to return to office.
The opposition welcomed the Senate's decision and urged the House of Representatives to follow suit.
"It is incongruous, unpatriotic and undemocratic for President Yar'Adua and his handlers to subordinate constitutional order under personal survival," the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) opposition grouping said.
"The power vacuum ... has unleashed unintended consequences on Nigerians, sliding our democracy to quasi-dictatorship, rubbishing our image abroad and hindering peace, order and good governance," it said in a statement.
But the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) has rallied around the ailing leader and the cabinet did likewise on Wednesday, passing a unanimous resolution that he remains capable of holding office despite his medical condition.
Welcoming four new foreign envoys to Nigeria, Jonathan assured them that "the president will soon be back in the country" but gave no time frame for his return.
Yar'Adua has not been seen in public since his departure in November to receive treatment for pericarditis, an inflammation of the membrane surrounding the heart, and no minister has publicly said they have spoken to him in recent weeks, heightening uncertainty about his health.
His failure to transfer power to Jonathan has raised debate over the legality of government decisions in Africa's most populous nation. Investments have been put on ice and analysts say government business is stagnating.
ReutersLast Mod: 29 Ocak 2010, 04:35