Nigeria President Yar'Adua: His return sparks unease

Nigeria President Umaru Yar'Adua returned to his country after nearly three months of medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, but he is not yet well enough to lead. Vice President Goodluck Jonathan is still in charge – for now.

By , Correspondent

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    Nigeria’s ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua returned to his country Wednesday after three months abroad receiving treatment.
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Nigeria’s ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua returned to his country Wednesday, much the way he left three months ago – in the dead of night and with no warning.

Mr. Yar’Adua has not been seen in Nigeria since he flew suddenly to Saudi Arabia in November for medical treatment.

His absence has thrown Africa’s most populous nation – which is the No. 3 crude oil supplier to the US – into a political crisis. (READ OUR STORY: Can Nigeria, still without its president, avoid a political crisis?)

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Power was earlier this month passed to his deputy Goodluck Jonathan after weeks of jockeying for power among government officials, opposition parties, and a populace increasingly concerned over who was running their country.

Who's in charge?

Now that Yar’Adua has returned, it is not clear who will be in charge of the nation and its 150 million people, split almost equally between Muslims and Christians.

For the time being, Mr. Jonathan "will continue to oversee the affairs of state," according to a statement from presidential spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi. But the statement offered no other details about Yar'Adua's health and how long he might be unable to lead.

Jonathan has already sacked a number of high-ranking officials seen as allies to Mr Yar’Adua, reshuffled ministries, and moved to stamp his authority on plans for a peace amnesty for rebels in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

There are concerns that the Jonathan's actions may make it difficult for his boss to regain the levers of power.

US concerns

Washington welcomed news of Yar’Adua’s return, but raised concerns that it may have been too early if the president is not yet ready to carry out the affairs of state.

"We hope that President Yar'Adua's return to Nigeria is not an effort by his senior advisers to upset Nigeria's stability and create renewed uncertainty in the democratic process," Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson said in a statement.

Added to the mix is an unspoken agreement in elite Nigerian politics that the presidency swaps between a southerner and a northerner every eight years.

This gentlemen's agreement is designed to soften tensions between the two halves of the country. Yar’Adua is from Kaduna in the mainly Muslim north. His predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo, was a southerner.

Jonathan is from the southern oil-producing Bayelsa state, and if he holds on to power, there may be anger from the northern elite at being cheated of their eight years in control.

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