Can Nigeria, Still without Its President, Avoid a Political Crisis?
Baldauf, Scott, The Christian Science Monitor
Africa's most populous nation has been without a leader since President Umaru Yar'Adua was rushed to a hospital in Saudi Arabia late last month. Key initiatives are stalling out.
When Nigeria's president Umaru Yar'Adua was rushed to a hospital
in Saudi Arabia late last month, nobody expected that the entire
government apparatus would grind to a halt in his absence.
Government spokesmen assure Nigerians that all presidential
functions are now being performed by his vice president, Goodluck
Jonathan. But Mr. Yar'Adua appears not to have written a
constitutionally mandated letter to the Nigerian Senate delegating
key decisionmaking powers to Mr. Jonathan in his absence.
Meanwhile, a number of key policy initiatives are withering on the
Rebels in the oil-rich Niger Delta, recently promised a new round of
peace talks with the government, are complaining of government
inaction and talking of scrapping the cease-fire completely. Fuel
supplies have fallen short at gas stations, as new government
contracts for the independent distributors await the president's
signature. A supplemental budget for 2009, to pay for new development
programs in the Niger Delta, also awaits the president's approval,
as do several court appointments to the Nigerian Supreme Court and
Court of Appeals.
Perhaps more worrisome are the talks among northern Nigerian
politicians, calling on Yar'Adua to resign so that they can hold
new elections and replace Yar'Adua with another northerner, instead
of a southerner like Jonathan, who hails from the troubled Niger
"The country is already in a serious political crisis and
constitutional crisis," says Femi Falana, a senior attorney in
Lagos, who has filed a lawsuit to clarify just who is in charge. Any
decision that the vice president makes, any contract he approves, and
appointment he makes, without that official letter from Yar'Adua,
will lack legal authority, he says.
And if patience runs out among the Niger Delta rebels, "then
you'll have a major crisis on your hands."
North-South horsetradingAs in the United States, the Nigerian
Constitution has a clear policy on what happens when a leader is
unable to perform his duties due to illness: power shifts to the vice
president, and government continues to function. But in Nigeria,
there is an informal political arrangement set up between the
country's largely Christian south and its Muslim north, to maintain
communal peace by alternating power from north to south. After the
eight-year rule of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a southerner,
only northerners were allowed by political parties to run for
president in the 2007 elections. …