Yar'Adua needs time - Official

2010-02-24 13:54
Lagos - Nigeria's ill President Umaru Yar'Adua returned home on Wednesday to his West African nation after three months abroad receiving treatment for a heart condition at a Saudi Arabian hospital, an ambassador said.

Abdullah Aminchi, Nigeria's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said that Yar'Adua returned home on an early morning flight that arrived in Abuja, the country's capital.

Shaky television footage showed an ambulance leaving the airport's presidential wing, but offered no images of the sick president, who hasn't been seen publicly since leaving Nigeria on November 23. His arrival also offers the latest constitutional test for a young democracy that had its lawmakers use extra-constitutional means to put the nation's vice president into power two weeks ago.

Aminchi said Yar'Adua would need time to recuperate before assuming presidential powers.

"He's already walking. He eats. He can move about," the ambassador said. "I think he just needs some time to rest and he can go back to his work as president of Nigeria."

New questions

Reporters at the presidential villa saw Yar'Adua's chief aide, Col Onoyveta Mustapha, before a scheduled meeting of the Cabinet on Wednesday. However, they caught no glimpse of the nation's ailing president.

Mustapha had been one of only a few trusted aides who stayed with and had access to Yar'Adua while he received treatment at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Jeddah. Those surrounding Yar'Adua blocked a delegation of lawmakers from visiting him earlier this month.

Yar'Adua was admitted into the hospital the day after he left Nigeria. As questions mounted, his physician released a statement saying Yar'Adua suffered from acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart.

Though the country's constitution calls for the president to offer a written letter empowering the vice president to take over in his absence, Yar'Adua did not follow that procedure. The Nigerian government ground to a halt in Yar'Adua absence as oil contracts went unsigned and people in the streets worried about the future of Africa's most populous nation.

After more than two months of a standstill, the National Assembly voted to empower Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to take over as acting president. However, the parliament's action specified that Jonathan had to cede power to Yar'Adua upon his return if he's medically capable of leading the nation of 150 million. The lawmakers' vote also went beyond the process envisioned by the constitution, offering new questions on how exactly Jonathan would offer the power back to Yar'Adua.

Nigeria’s future

News of Yar'Adua's return received a quick response from the US, where Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has issued calls to Nigeria to respect and follow its constitution. In a statement on Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson said the US welcomed Yar'Adua's return, but still had concerns about the nation's future.

"Recent reports, however, continue to suggest that President Yar'Adua's health remains fragile and that he may still be unable to fulfill the demands of his office," Carson said. "We hope that President Yar'Adua's return to Nigeria is not an effort by his senior advisors to upset Nigeria's stability and create renewed uncertainty in the democratic process."

Yar'Adua long has been plagued by poor health and kidney ailments. During his 2007 presidential campaign, he left the country two weeks before the vote to receive medical care in Germany after experiencing what he described as a shortness of breath. His absence sparked enough concern then that outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo even made a telephone call to Yar'Adua during a political rally to ask his candidate: "Umaru, are you dead?"

Despite those health concerns, Yar'Adua became president through an election marred by fraud, intimidation and violence. Still, it marked the first time power was transferred from one elected civilian to another in the country, which became independent from Britain in 1960.

- AP



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