Britain backs Nigeria’s acting leader amid fears

Britain offered public support to Nigerian Acting President Goodluck Jonathan on Friday after the return of Nigeria’s ailing leader prompted concerns of a power struggle in Africa’s most populous nation.

The former colonial ruler and the United States had, like many Nigerians, feared the surprise arrival of President Umaru Yar’Adua on Wednesday after three months in a Saudi hospital could lead to confusion and government deadlock.

Britain welcomed a statement from Yar’Adua’s spokesman on Thursday that Jonathan would keep full powers and remain commander of chief until the recovery of Yar’Adua, 58, who is still too frail to rule the major oil exporter.

“It is important to avoid uncertainty at this time,” Britain’s ambassador, Bob Dewar, said in a statement.

“It is also important at this time to avoid any political or constitutional confusion that could put at risk the integrity and transparency needed in the conduct of public affairs,” Dewar said, offering support to Jonathan and the government.

Jonathan was due to brief presidency staff on Friday, a Muslim holiday in Nigeria, in a sign of asserting his authority.

Jonathan assumed executive powers on February 9, ending months of state paralysis and allowing him to set priorities such as an amnesty for rebels in the oil-producing Niger Delta, restoring power supplies and preparing for elections.

Any return to uncertainty could again hold up decision making in the country of 140 million and risk a surge of attacks by militants who have in the past shut in as much of a third of the OPEC member’s oil output capacity.

Concerns arose after Yar’Adua’s return that a cabal around him sought to sideline Jonathan and retain influence.

Access to Yar’Adua in a mobile intensive care unit is closely guarded by his powerful wife, Turai. Jonathan has not spoken to him since his return.

If Jonathan appeared to be sidelined, it could increase the chances of a new flare-up in the Niger Delta, his home region, where militants have threatened attacks on Africa’s biggest energy industry if there is no progress on an amnesty programme.

Thousands laid down weapons under the programme last year but promises of stipends and training have been slow coming.



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