Page last updated at 15:54 GMT, Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Nigeria Senate and cabinet at odds over ill Yar'Adua

Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua -  file photo 29 July 2009
President Umaru Yar'Adua has both heart and kidney problems

Nigeria's Senate and cabinet are at loggerheads over President Umaru Yar'Adua, who has spent two months in hospital in Saudi Arabia.

The cabinet has declared that he is still capable of governing the country.

However, the Senate has called on him to provide a letter saying he is sick, which would allow his deputy to take power, as acting president.

His prolonged absence from Nigeria has raised fears of a power vacuum and led to calls for him to step down.

Nigerian judges are considering three separate legal cases against Mr Yar'Adua.

'Not incapable'

After two days of fierce debate in the Senate, its leader David Mark urged Mr Yar'Adua "to formally notify the National Assembly of his medical vacation".

Lawyers say such written instructions would automatically allow Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to become acting president.

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

But after a cabinet meeting Justice Minister Michael Aondoakaa said: "The medical treatment outside the country does not constitute incapacity to warrant or commence the process of the removal of the president from office."

This was in response to a court order last week which gave cabinet ministers two weeks to decide if Mr Yar'Adua was still capable of ruling the country.

The president flew to Saudi Arabia in late November for medical treatment and has not been seen in public since.

In his only broadcast interview since he left the country, he told the BBC's Hausa service on 12 January that he would return to resume his duties as soon as his doctors would allow.

As well as the flurry of court cases brought by his opponents, crowds of demonstrators have sporadically taken to the streets in Abuja and Lagos demanding power be handed to Mr Jonathan.

Correspondents say one reason for Mr Yar'Adua's reluctance to allow Mr Jonathan to act on his behalf is the ruling People's Democratic Party's tradition of alternating power between north and south.

Mr Yar'Adua is a northerner, while the vice-president is from the south. So if Mr Jonathan took over, that would shorten the north's stay in power.

The president is suffering from an inflammation of the lining around the heart and has long suffered from kidney problems.

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