Hundreds protest to demand Nigeria leader appears
By Joe Brock
ABUJA (Reuters) - Hundreds of Nigerians gathered in the capital Abuja on Wednesday for a march to the presidency to demand the appearance of ailing leader Umaru Yar'Adua, two weeks after he returned from a Saudi hospital.
The 58-year-old leader has not been seen in public since being flown back after three months of treatment in Jeddah for a heart condition. There have been no announcements on his health but presidency sources say he remains in intensive care.
His return while still too frail to govern raised fears that his inner circle of aides, led by his wife Turai, would fight to maintain their influence over Africa's most populous nation and seek to undermine Acting President Goodluck Jonathan.
A power struggle at the top of the OPEC member nation of 140 million people could bring paralysis in government decision-making, threatening an amnesty program in the oil-producing Niger Delta and stalling momentum on reforms.
Several hundred people, many wearing T-shirts with "Save Nigeria Group" on the front and "Enough is Enough" on the back, gathered near to a city center hotel under the watch of police officers lining the avenue.
"We want the invisible president to be revoked. We are tired of a president we can't see, who can't govern. We want to see him," Babatunde Ogala, a politician from the commercial capital Lagos, told the gathering crowd.
"If we can't see him we want someone else who is allowed to govern. Why is a cabal controlling our country," he said.
Officials organizing the march said they planned to walk to Aso Rock, the presidential villa, and hand a letter of protest to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, who co-ordinates between the presidency and government ministries.
"Turai, leave Nigeria alone" and "Jonathan get decisive now" were among the banners held up above the crowd.
A police spokesman addressed the protesters, pledging that the security forces were there to protect them and would help them carry their message "in a peaceful manner." He said officers were not carrying tear gas or weapons.
Such political demonstrations are relatively rare in Nigeria, where the vast majority of people get by on $2 a day or less and feel politics is a game played by multi-millionaires whose outcome has little effect on their daily lives.
Similar marches in recent months have passed peacefully.
Should Yar'Adua be formally declared too sick to govern, or resign or die, Jonathan would be sworn in as head of state and complete the unexpired presidential term, which runs to May next year, with a new vice president.
The demonstrators are also demanding electoral reforms to avoid the sort of chaos seen in the 2007 polls which brought Yar'Adua to power, a vote so marred by ballot-stuffing and intimidation that observers said it was not credible.
Full Text of SNG's Letter Below:
Dr. Goodluck Jonathan GCON
The Acting President
Federal Republic of Nigeria
10 March, 2010
Petition from Save Nigeria Group (SNG)
We, the Save Nigeria Group (SNG), a coalition of pro-democracy and human rights organizations and patriotic Nigerians who desire the entrenchment of a truly democratic and accountable governance hereby petition you on certain developments that can truncate democracy and security in Nigeria. We believe in Nigeria and are determined to fight to save the country from the control of groups and individuals that profit from the failure of the Nigerian system.
For more than 100 days, Nigerians have not seen or heard from President Umaru Musa Yar'adua since he was evacuated to Saudi Arabia for treatment. For the 3 months he reportedly stayed in an intensive care unit of a Saudi hospital, several of his aides continued to claim that the President was getting better. Some claimed he had started intense physical exercises. It is now more than two weeks since he was brought back to Nigeria in the dead of the night. We have not still heard from or seen President Yar'adua.
The refusal of President Yar'adua to resign from office on account of his deteriorating ill-health and failure to transmit a letter of vacation on time as required by the Constitution has resulted in a severe but avoidable constitutional crisis. This crisis has compounded other political challenges caused by an electoral system that is designed to aid electoral malpractices. This dysfunctional electoral system threatens democracy and good governance in Nigeria.
In other to save Nigeria from real and present dangers, the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) demands:
- An end to the invisible Presidency of Yar'adua by activating Section 144 of the Constitution so that presidential powers will be fully accountable;
- The dissolution of the present Executive Council of the Federation which has largely collaborated with presidential aides to foist this crisis on the nation; and
- Quick and thorough implementation of the Uwais Report on electoral reform starting with the immediate removal of Professor Maurice Iwu as Chairman and the reconstitution of the INEC with persons of impeccable integrity and competence.
We will continue to mobilize Nigerians to engage in public action, including protests, sit-at-homes and strike actions until these demands are fully implemented in the interest of peace, security and genuine democracy in Nigeria.
Please accept our highest esteem and support.
Pastor Tunde Bakare
For: SAVE NIGERIA GROUP