Wed, Jan 13, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Yar’Adua ‘recovering’, BBC says

DELICATE BALANCE Despite his illness, the Nigerian president, a Muslim northerner, has avoided turning power over to the vice president, who is from the Christian south


Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua said he was recovering and hoped to return home soon in his first interview since going into hospital in Saudi Arabia seven weeks ago for a heart condition, the BBC reported yesterday.

Speculation over Yar’Adua’s health and the fact he kept full powers despite his silence had brought growing unease in the country of 140 million, slowed official business and put at risk a truce in the oil-producing Niger Delta.

His comments came hours before a group of religious leaders and politicians was due to hold a rally in Abuja to demand the government end uncertainty threatening the worst political crisis since army rule ended more than a decade ago.

The BBC said he spoke by phone.

“At the moment I am undergoing treatment, and I’m getting better from the treatment. I hope that very soon there will be tremendous progress, which will allow me to get back home,” the 58-year-old leader was quoted as saying on the BBC Web site.

“I wish, at this stage, to thank all Nigerians for their prayers for my good health, and for their prayers for the nation,” he said.

Yar’Adua’s refusal to transfer powers to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan has prompted a lawsuit from the Nigerian Bar Association, which says the president is violating the Constitution, and feeding disquiet.

The rally planned at parliament yesterday was to demand a resolution requiring a briefing on Yar’Adua’s health or sanctions for breaching the Constitution.

Parliament was due to return from recess yesterday and was expected to address the issue of Yar’Adua’s prolonged absence.

However, with his ruling People’s Democratic Party controlling the assembly, such a motion was unlikely.

Transferring power from Yar’Adua, a Muslim northerner, to Jonathan, from the more heavily Christian south, would be highly sensitive in a country where rival groups have maintained a careful balance since the return of civilian rule.

Yar’Adua’s spokesman said on Monday the president was “very much conscious” and his health was improving.

However, many Nigerians have lost faith in official assurances and local media recently reported his condition had worsened.

Yar’Adua’s absence threatens to derail a widely popular ­amnesty program that has brought relative peace to the Niger Delta after thousands of militants surrendered their weapons for clemency, a monthly stipend, education and job opportunities.

Former rebel commanders and local activists were due to decide yesterday after a three-day meeting whether to continue participating in the amnesty program that has stalled since Yar’Adua’s departure.

“The absence of the president has very wide public policy implications for Nigeria in terms of development, in terms of justice, you name it. Our type of government revolves around the president,” said Ayodele Thompson, executive director of Lagos-based Initiative for Public Policy Analysis.

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