Page last updated at 13:13 GMT, Thursday, 14 January 2010

Nigeria court delays sick President Yar'Adua cases

Goodluck  Jonathan (L) with Umaru Yar'Adua file image
Goodluck Jonathan (L) has been in charge since November

Nigerian judges have adjourned three cases aimed at clarifying who rules while ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua is in hospital in Saudi Arabia.

Government critics say the president acted illegally when he failed to hand power formally to his vice-president - sparking four legal challenges.

A court ruling on Wednesday backed the government, saying the constitution did not require such transfer.

Two adjourned cases will be heard next week, the other has no fixed date.

Mr Yar'Adua has been receiving treatment for a heart condition since late November.

His prolonged absence led to rumours that he was brain damaged or even dead.

'Meaningless' ruling

The BBC's Caroline Duffield in Abuja says even senior cabinet ministers seemed to be mystified, openly admitting they did not know when he would return.

23 November 2009: Goes to hospital in Saudi Arabia
26 November 2009: Presidential doctors say he has pericarditis - inflammation of the heart lining
23 December 2009: First court case filed called him to step down
30 December 2009: Chief justice sworn in. Lawyers say this is illegal in president's absence
5 January 2010: Two more court cases filed and a human rights group wants president declared "missing"
12 January 2010: President gives first interview since going to Saudi Arabia

She says Nigerians are watching the court cases very closely after all the uncertainty and political anxiety of recent weeks.

Analysts said Wednesday's ruling by Judge Dan Abutu appeared to preserve the status quo - that Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan was in charge, but could not be regarded as official head of state.

But human rights lawyer and opposition activist Femi Falana, who is bringing one of Thursday's cases, dismissed the ruling as "meaningless".

"Jonathan cannot act for Yar'Adua because no functions have been formally and directly delegated to him by Yar'Adua," the AFP news agency quoted him as saying.

Mr Falana is asking the court to annul all decisions taken by the cabinet during the president's absence.

But during a short hearing at Abuja's Federal Court he argued that Judge Abutu could not rule in his case because Wednesday's case was so similar.

Judge Abutu passed the case to another judge, but a date for the next hearing was not set.

In another of Thursday's cases, the Nigerian Bar Association is demanding that power is handed over formally to Mr Jonathan.

That case was adjourned until 21 January.

While a third case, in which a rights group wants Mr Yar'Adua declared "missing", was adjourned until 22 January.

No reason was given for the adjournments.

Mr Yar'Adua has not been seen in public since he was taken to hospital in November, but he gave an interview to the BBC on Tuesday saying he was recovering and hoped to be able to resume his duties.

Doctors say he is suffering from acute pericarditis - inflammation of the lining of the heart.

He also has a long-standing kidney complaint.

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