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Nigeria's President to Sue Newspaper for Report on His Health


Nigeria President Umaru Yar Adua has asked his lawyers to sue an Abuja-based newspaper after it reported the president was seriously ill and has not been seen in public in the past two days. Gilbert da Costa has more for VOA in this report from Abuja.

A Nigerian presidency statement said there was no truth in the report in the Leadership newspaper and it was part of a plot to embarrass the president and destabilize his administration. It said the president had persistently faced, what the statement described as, malicious rumors and outright falsehoods about his state of health.

President Umaru Yar 'Adua is known to have a chronic kidney problem. His health has been a source of constant speculation in the Nigerian media and opposition politicians have voiced concern about whether he is fit enough to govern.

Abuja-based lawyer and political analyst Maxi Okwu says there is a need for clarity on the state of the president's health, and that suing a newspaper is not the way to do it.

"The threat by the president to sue a paper for making a statement on a matter of public interest is an empty threat," said Okwu. "Let him not hide behind the fact that he has immunity from personal prosecution or litigation against his person to intimidate a public institution like a newspaper that should inform the public. The matter of his health is a matter for public interest, and it is because he shrouded it in mystery that the matter is escalating."

Recently, a privately-owned television station was shut for days for reporting that President Yar'Adua may step down due to ill-health.

In the middle of last year's electoral campaign, Mr. Yar'Adua had to be evacuated to Germany for a few days with a health scare. He has since returned to Germany on several occasions for medical check-ups.

President Yar'Adua's victory in April 2007 polls has been challenged at the Supreme Court by his two main rivals.

Eighteen months into his presidency, Mr. Yar'Adua is struggling to make good on promises to establish law and order and use the country's oil wealth to make it one of the world's top economies.

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