'I'm not dead', says Nigerian President

Nigerians fear power crisis with their leader stuck in hospital in Saudi Arabia

Breaking a seven-week silence, Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua yesterday took to the airwaves from his Saudi hospital bed to reassure his increasingly agitated nation that he was neither dead nor in a coma.

"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 President, his voice sounding weak, told the BBC by telephone.

Mr Yar'Adua, known as Baba-go-Slow for his sluggish pace in enacting reforms, flew to Saudi Arabia on 23 November. His office later announced he had been hospitalised for pericarditis, an inflammation of the heart lining. As the days have ticked by – with Nigerian newspapers putting small calendar tags on their front pages to keep count – consternation has grown.

Nigerians have been grappling with the fall-out of the failed Christmas Day bombing attempted by one of their own; militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta have broken their ceasefire because of stalled talks with the government; and three separate lawsuits have been lodged at the high court to get power handed over to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan.

The surprise emergence by the Nigerian leader seemed timed to try to take the wind out of the sails of mass protests, led by Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka. Hundreds marched through the Nigerian capital, Abuja, yesterday to voice their anger at Africa's most populous nation having no one at the helm.

"Everything has ground to a halt," Mr Soyinka told the crowd. "This has been kept deliberately so because there is a small cabal that profits by not having him in control. Heaven knows what millions are going down the sink on the lack of supervision."

Mere mention of the radio interview brought boos from the crowd, decked out in white T-shirts saying "Enough is Enough" and brandishing placards that demanded "Umaru, where are you?" Many were angry that their President had not spoken directly to them, privileging a foreign media organisation, with some even claiming that the whole three-minute recording was a fake. The BBC said the interview had been organised by the President's office and recorded late on Monday.

"We don't want an offshore president. In short, he is missing," Gboyega Atoyebi, a 28-year-old lawyer, told the Associated Press. "Whether he is coming back or not, we are not deceived by his purported speech on the BBC. We want to see him live. Let him address the Nigerian nation."

A federal court is due to rule tomorrow on whether Mr Yar'Adua is in breach of the constitution. Although Nigerian law allows for a transfer of power from the President to his number two, Mr Yar'Adua chose not to do. So a supplemental budget was sent out to Saudi Arabia for the sick leader to sign and a new chief justice was sworn in in his absence, in violation of the constitution.

Analysts note that transferring power from Mr Yar'Adua, a Muslim northerner, to Mr Jonathan, from the Christian south, would be highly sensitive in Nigeria, where a careful balance between rival groups has been maintained since the return of civilian rule in 1999. But the counter-argument is that a rudderless nation poses an even bigger risk. "It is unfair and even dangerous to allow the power void for a day longer. The vacuum is an open invitation to enemies of democracy to strike," Punch newspaper said in an editorial.

Ayodele Thompson, director of the Initiative for Public Policy Analysis in Lagos, says Nigeria has already suffered the consequences, most notably in being put on the US terror watchlist alongside Iran, Syria and Cuba in the wake of the attempted bombing by Nigerian student, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. "If we'd had an active, working President then we wouldn't have been blacklisted," he said. "It's quite simple. The President should hand over to the Vice President so he can act for the country. After all, Mr Yar'Adua couldn't even tell the nation when he might be coming back to lead."

Shrugging off these widespread calls for a transfer of power, the Nigerian parliament yesterday voted instead to send a delegation to Jeddah to check on the President's health.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Female Care Worker

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This expanding, vibrant charity which su...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Supervisor & Advisor - Automotive

£16500 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading...

Recruitment Genius: Housing Assistant

£16819 - £21063 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager - OTE £60,000

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In 2014, they launched the worl...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones