Nigerians Protest President's Absence in Capital

Published January 12, 2010

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) -- Hundreds of Nigerians concerned about the ill president's long hospitalization abroad protested in the capital Tuesday after the leader said in a radio interview that he hoped to recover and return to power.

President Umaru Yar'Adua left Nigeria on Nov. 23 to seek medical treatment in Saudi Arabia. He has long been troubled by a kidney ailment, and doctors have said the 58-year-old is now suffering from acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart.

Protesters rallied Tuesday in Abuja, where the Nigerian House of Representatives also planned to discuss Yar'Adua's long absence from power. One held a sign that asked: "Umaru, Where Are You?"

The BBC quoted Yar'Adua as saying he hoped to make "tremendous progress" and resume power in Africa's most populous nation.

"At the moment I am undergoing treatment, and I'm getting better from the treatment," the broadcaster quoted Yar'Adua as saying.

Nobel Prize laureate Wole Soyinka acknowledged the president's radio comments at the rally, but accused corrupt government officials of embezzling millions during Yar'Adua's absence.

"It doesn't matter if President Yar'Adua walks in on his own two legs today," Soyinka said.

Three separate federal lawsuits also are challenging Yar'Adua's absence, asking for the country's vice president to officially lead the country.

Yar'Adua did not formally appoint an acting leader before he left, as the constitution requires. The constitution puts Vice President Goodluck Jonathan next in line, but it's unclear if the Muslim-dominated north would allow the Muslim Yar'Adua to be replaced with a Christian, as Jonathan is.

The Nigerian presidency alternates between Christian and Muslim leaders, and Yar'Adua still has two years left in his term.

Last month, a group of 50 prominent Nigerians also issued a petition calling on Yar'Adua to resign if he's medically incapable of running the country.

Written by <P>By Associated Press</P>

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