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Yar'Adua's return offers no quick fix to Nigeria's crisis

world Updated: Mar 06, 2010 08:01 IST
AFP
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The leadership debacle created by President Umaru Yar'Adua's debilitating absence from Nigeria is far from over despite his return 11 days ago from a lengthy treatment abroad for an acute heart ailment.

Yar'Adua's surprise return threw the country into confusion and revived concerns of a power struggle just two weeks after his deputy Goodluck Jonathan was installed on February 9 as the acting president.

Since then, Yar'Adua has not been seen in public and official delegations have failed to gain access to him.

One of his cousins, Zubaru Ali, nevertheless told Al Jazeera television that the president was able to walk, talk and eat.

Some observers had expected a Wednesday cabinet meeting to declare the president permanently unfit to stay in office. In the end however, it made no mention of him.

Nigeria's powerful state governors, who nominate ministers, pre-empted the Wednesday cabinet meeting, declaring Tuesday night that Yar'Adua would remain president while Jonathan would continue in an acting capacity.

At the same time, the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) separately announced that to tame the "restiveness" in Nigeria, Jonathan would not stand for elections next year.

The idea was to keep the presidency in the hands of northerners in compliance with an unwritten regional power rotation deal.

The presidency has traditionally rotated between the mainly Muslim north and the Christian majority south of Nigeria.

And an attempt this week to table a motion in senate on the matter along similar lines was also headed off.

Abuja-based analyst Chidi Odinkalu, the country is in a "kind of no-man's land".

The main opposition Action Congress (AC) has even suggested that having Yar'Adua in the presidential palace "is like a sword of Damocles hanging over the acting president".

It was "a recipe for disaster", said AC spokesman Lai Mohammed.

"Simply put, the acting presidency as we have it now is like a car moving on three tyres, instead of four, and without an extra tyre, since there is no vice president," he added.

But some analysts said all sides might choose to maintain the current situation as the parties turned their attention to preparations for presidential elections due early next year.

Trying to remove Yar'Adua -- through what one minister dubbed "political euthanasia" -- could prove a complicated and long-drawn-out exercise and raise tensions, analysts warn.

But in any case, his poor health means that he may not seek re-election to complete the north's eight year-term.

The decision of those who support Jonathan not to press their advantage appears to have eased tensions for now.

"It might be a ploy to douse tension and allow peace to reign," said Mike Oddih, a political science lecturer at Nigeria's Nnamdi Azikiwe University in eastern Anambra State.

"There is a lot of tension in the polity. There is the military factor, the ethnic, regional agenda -- all these factors are interplaying right now," said Oddih.

Others said this week's pronouncements should help deflect attention from Yar'Adua to the 2011 presidential elections and allow Jonathan to ensure a smooth transition.

Jonathan, a southerner has kept aloof from the leadership debate.

He "does not want to be seen as an opportunist trying to benefit from the downfall of his boss," said Oddih.

Yar'Adua is from the predominantly Muslim north and took over from Olusegun Obasanjo, a southerner who held power for eight years until 2007.

A group of respected elders from northern Nigeria want details on Yar'Adua's health and physical capacity to be made public to avoid the nation cracking along "ethno-religious and regional cleavages".

Guardian newspaper columnist Reuben Abati says "Nigeria has become as sick as its president" with state organs engaging in a "game of smoke and mirrors".

He blames the uncertainty surrounding Yar'Adua's health for unwittingly creating "such anxiety in the land, which has brought to the fore all the objective conditions for a military intervention".

The army vowed not to drag soldiers into politics as government tensions ran high during Yar'Adua's prolonged public absence for 93 days in a Saudi hospital and in the absence of public appearances since his return.

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