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Nigeria's Governors Discuss Missing President

By Daily Guide

Regional governors from Nigeria's 36 states headed into emergency talks Monday to discuss the country's power vacuum as calls grew for ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua to step down, officials said.

"All the governors are meeting this evening to discuss matters of national importance, including the president's continued absence from the country," an official from a southern Nigerian state told AFP.

The meeting comes as Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka prepared to lead a march and rally in the capital Abuja on Tuesday, to protest Yar'Adua's seven-week absence from the country.

"We are displeased by the vacuum created by the long absence from office of President Umaru Yar'Adua," a spokesman for the civil rights movement Save Nigeria Group (SNG), Yinka Odumakin, told AFP.

The growing speculation over Yar'Adua comes as Africa's most populous nation and second-largest oil producer faces its most serious constitutional crisis in decades.

The country has also been thrust into the international spotlight by Islamist fundamentalist violence in the north and the failed Christmas Day bombing of a US airliner by a young Nigerian, prompting its appearance on a 14-nation terror watchlist by the United States.

The 58-year-old president has not been seen or heard since he was flown to hospital in Saudi Arabia on November 23 for treatment for acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the membrane around the heart.

Aides have insisted he is responding well to treatment, but Nigeria's opposition has demanded proof that Yar'Adua is even alive.

A supplementary budget was rushed to his bedside for his signature last week, and the government was forced to strenuously deny opposition claims that the signature was forged. Some rights activists want the president declared missing.

Tuesday's rally will coincide with the first formal debate by lawmakers as both chambers of the National Assembly meet to debate the political vacuum created by the president's absence and lack of information about his condition.

"We will discuss the indisposition of the president," said Ita Enang, chairman of the House of Representatives' committee on rules and business.

Recent weeks have seen growing calls from several prominent Nigerians and organisations for either the president's resignation or the temporary transfer of power to his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan.

There has been no word from Yar'Adua's office on his state of health since November 26, when the nature of his condition was revealed.

The president, a former teacher from Nigeria's Muslim-majority north, has his defenders. Lagos governor Babatunde Fashola said the ongoing debate on what should happen in the absence of Yar'Adua was "storm in a tea cup". AP