News / Africa

Nigerian President Returns Home

Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua (File)
Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua (File)

Nigeria's ailing president has returned to the country's capital after three months in a Saudi hospital.

President Umaru Yar'Adua returned to the Nigerian capital early Wednesday.  An ambulance met his aircraft at the presidential wing of Abuja's airport, and soldiers lined the route his motorcade took back to his residence.

There is no immediate word on the health of the 58-year-old leader who had been receiving treatment for a heart condition for the past three months in Saudi Arabia.

In his absence, Nigerian lawmakers made Vice President Goodluck Jonathan the country's acting leader. But the move was not without controversy.

President Yar'Adua did not formally notify lawmakers that he was leaving the country, so the National Assembly acted on the basis of a radio interview in which he said he was in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.  Because the action was not based on written notification as required by the constitution, some of the president's supporters are challenging Mr. Jonathan's appointment in court.

The National Assembly's action instructs Mr. Jonathan to cede power to President Yar'Adua upon his return, if he is medically capable of running the country.  Among the questions now is who will make the determination of the president's medical capability.

While the acting president has repeatedly said he will relinquish power whenever President Yar'Adua is fit to return to office, Mr. Jonathan has moved quickly to make clear that while he is the acting president, this will be his government.

On his first day in office, he dismissed the Justice Minister without notifying the ruling party.

In Washington, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson welcomed President Yar'Adua's return, but expressed concerns about Nigeria's future.  In a written statement, Carson said the Obama Administration hopes the president's return "is not an effort by his senior advisors to upset Nigeria's stability and create renewed uncertainty in the democratic process."

Presidential elections scheduled for next year could be moved up to this November if lawmakers approve changes to the electoral code.

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