Nigeria’s president made his first public comment on Tuesday since being hospitalised more than seven weeks ago in Saudi Arabia for a heart condition, saying he was recovering and hoped to return home soon.
Doubts over President Umaru 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.
The comments answer local media reports suggesting the president’s condition had worsened and could buy more time to end uncertainty threatening the worst political crisis since army rule ended more than a decade ago.
But religious leaders and opposition politicians angry at Yar’Adua’s long absence without handing over power went ahead with a protest rally in Abuja.
“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,” he told British Broadcasting Corporation radio by phone.
“I wish, at this stage, to thank all Nigerians for their prayers for my good health, and for their prayers for the nation,” said Yar’Adua, 58, who sounded weak and gave no clear indication when he might return.
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 growing disquiet.
Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka led a rally of religious leaders and opposition politicians to parliament to demand a resolution requiring a briefing on Yar’Adua’s health or sanctions for breaching the constitution.
“We are told nothing has stopped, how can people tell us such a lie?” Soyinka told hundreds of protesters with white T-shirts saying “Enough is enough”. “Electoral reform, constitutional reform has all ground to a halt.”
Parliament returns from recess on Tuesday and is expected to address the issue of Yar’Adua’s prolonged absence.
But with his ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) controlling the assembly, the motion demanded by the protesters is 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.
“It is a constitutional right of the vice president to take over if the president is incapacitated,” said Jonjon Oyeinfe, a leading activist and ex-president of the Ijaw Youth Council ethnic rights group.
“They are doing this because he is from the Niger Delta. If he came from the north, it wouldn’t be like this.”
Yar’Adua’s spokesman said on Monday the president was “very much conscious” and his health was improving.
But many Nigerians have little faith in official assurances and local media recently reported his condition had worsened.
SOURCED FROM REUTERS
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