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Nigerian President to Take 2 Weeks Leave

  • Gilbert da Costa

Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua is to begin a two-week leave on Monday. A government statement did not say whether Mr. Yar'Adua was taking a holiday or needed the break for health reasons. The Nigerian leader is known to have a chronic kidney problem.

Mr. Yar'Adua's health has been a source of constant speculation in the Nigerian media and opposition politicians, among others, have voiced concern about whether he is fit enough to govern.

A local newspaper reported more than a week ago that the president will leave Nigeria for about eight weeks from January 26 for a series of medical checks.

An Abuja-based political analyst, Maxi Okwu, says the timing is wrong.

"Ordinarily, a president may take a leave or take a break. But the problem with the president of Nigeria taking a break at this time shows how unserious he is. The man is out of tune with the urgency of critical matters before the nation. Right now there is emergency all around the place and you want to take a two-week break. Nigeria suffers that is all. It is a disaster," said Okwu.

President Yar'Adua, known to have a chronic kidney problem, traveled to Saudi Arabia for more than two weeks last August, for a Muslim pilgrimage. Senior Nigerian officials said he had received treatment during the trip.

The government has said the Nigerian leader is in good health and is fit to head Africa's most populous nation.

The president sued the local Leadership newspaper last November after it reported that he had taken ill and had not attended public engagements for two days.

The privately-owned television station, Channels, was shut for several days last year after its license was withdrawn for reporting that Mr. Yar'Adua may step down due to ill-health.

Nigeria's economy is struggling in the face of a weakening currency and falling oil revenues. The naira has dropped more than 20 percent against the U.S. dollar since early December, foreign exchange reserves have been falling and analysts expect the economy will slow more sharply than expected this year.

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