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May 04, 2010

Nigerian President Dead at 58

by Scott Stearns

Nigeria's acting president has declared seven days of mourning following the death of  President Umaru Yar'Adua.

Presidential spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi says President Yar'Adua died about 9 pm local time.

Nigerian national television interrupted broadcasts with this announcement. "The president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces Al-Haji Umaru Musa Yar'Adua died a few hours ago in the presidential villa. Security aides notified the National Security Advisor General Aliyu Gusau. Gusau who immediately called the acting president. The late president has been ill for some time. We shall bring you an official statement as soon as possible," the announcement said.

The announcement gave no official cause of death. President Yar'Adua had long suffered from kidney disease. He spent months in a Saudi hospital being treated for an inflammation of the muscles surrounding his heart before returning to Nigeria two months ago.

In his absence, Nigerian lawmakers made vice president Goodluck Jonathan the country's acting president. Mr. Jonathan has since replaced much of the previous cabinet and says the new administration will take bold steps to improve Nigeria.

Mr. Jonathan's spokesman Ima Niboro spoke to reporters following the announcement of the presidents death. "The acting president has received this news with shock and sadness. Our nation is in mourning. I am sure the entire world mourns with us tonight," he said.

In a written statement, U.S. President Barack Obama honored what he called President Yar'Adua's profound personal decency and integrity, his deep commitment to public service, and his passionate belief in the vast potential and bright future of Nigeria's 150 million people.

President Obama says President Yar'Adua worked to promote peace and stability in Africa through his support of Nigerian peacekeeping efforts as well as his strong criticism of undemocratic actions in the region.  Mr. Obama says Mr. Yar'Adua was committed to creating lasting peace and prosperity within Nigeria's own borders. He says continuing that work will be an important part of honoring his legacy.

Acting President Jonathan has vowed to reinvigorate an amnesty program for Niger Delta militants that President Yar'Adua began last year.

His death leaves division with the ruling People's Democratic Party. Acting President Jonathan has not ruled out running for president himself next year. But he is from southern Nigeria.

Ruling party chairman Vincent Ogbulafor says the next candidate should be from northern Nigeria to fulfill the eight years promised northern politicians under an informal power-sharing agreement that rotates the presidency between the mainly-Muslim north and largely-Christian south every two terms.

Nigeria's government says Mr. Jonathan will be sworn-in as Nigerian president Thursday morning. President Yar'Adua will be buried in his home town of Katsina Thursday afternoon.