Published on Friday, 29 January 2010 04:12
Written by Admin
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and European leaders urged Nigeria's government Thursday to adhere to the young democracy's constitution as it faces a "period of uncertainty" in the long absence of its ill president.
That message came as a former military dictator and a civilian president joined the growing number of elites in Nigeria calling on President Umaru Yar'Adua to cede power to the nation's vice president.
In an open letter, Clinton and the other leaders offered their first comments on the growing crisis affecting the West African nation. President Umaru Yar'Adua left Nigeria in late November to receive medical care at a Saudi Arabian hospital without ceding power to the nation's vice president, effectively grinding government in the country of 150 million people to a halt.
"We therefore extend our support to the people of Nigeria during the current period of uncertainty, caused by President Yar'Adua's illness," the letter reads. "We extend our best wishes to the president and his family, and join the Nigerian people in wishing him a full recovery.
"Nigeria has expressed its resolve to adhere to constitutional processes during this difficult time. We commend that determination to address the current situation through appropriate democratic institutions. Nigeria's continued commitment and adherence to its democratic norms and values are key to addressing the many challenges it faces."
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton signed the letter with Clinton. The letter came as world leaders met Thursday in London for a conference on Afghanistan.
Yar'Adua, who long has suffered from kidney ailments, traveled out of the country several times for what his advisers said were medical checkups before he left Nigeria for Saudi Arabia on Nov. 23. He was admitted to a hospital the next day. As questions mounted, his physician released a statement saying Yar'Adua had acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart that can cause a fatal complication.
Since Yar'Adua left Nigeria, a young Nigerian attempted to bring down a trans-Atlantic flight bound for Detroit, sparking new security regulations for travelers from his nation. A major kidnapping and a pipeline attack occurred in the oil-rich Niger Delta, despite an amnesty program for militants led by Yar'Adua. Religious violence between Christians and Muslims in central Nigeria also left more than 300 dead and thousands displaced.
While Nigerian law allows for a smooth transition of power from Yar'Adua to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, the 58-year-old president left without following any of those procedures. While the federal government says Jonathan has been acting in Yar'Adua's place without the constitutional procedures, protesters have taken to the street warning the country will remain rudderless until something changes.
On Thursday, a group of former government officials and leaders issued a statement urging Yar'Adua to formally appoint Jonathan to act as president. Among those signing the letter was former President Shehu Shagari, who served from 1979 until he was toppled by a coup in 1983. Also signing the letter was retired Gen. Yakubu Gowon, who ruled as a military dictator from 1966 to 1975 during the Biafran civil war.
Their calls come after former President Olusegun Obasanjo publicly asked Yar'Adua to take "the path of honor" and resign if he was medically unable to serve as president.
But as the pressure mounts, the vice president and others in the federal government have largely kept quiet. While meeting with new ambassadors to the country Thursday, Jonathan assured them that Yar'Adua would soon be returning to Nigeria.
However, Jonathan offered no expected arrival date for the leader - nor said whether he'd assume power.
Associated Press Writer Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria, contributed to this report.
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