Nigeria president's health under spotlight

Nigeria's opposition have called for clarity on the state of president Umaru Yar'Adua's health, saying his absence from the country for more than two weeks was adversely affecting the workings of government.

Mr Yar'Adua, known to have a chronic kidney problem, travelled to Saudi Arabia more than two weeks ago for a Muslim pilgrimage. A source in the presidency has said that he received medical treatment during the trip.

"I think we have gone past the age where the health of the president can be a matter of secrecy. The chief executive of a state is indispensable to the day-to-day running of a country … Certain decisions can only be taken by the commander-in-chief," said Lai Mohammed, spokesman for the Action Congress opposition party.

He said the country was in a state of "routine governance", with government officials going about their normal duties but lacking a figurehead to take major decisions or react to any breaking crises.

Government has however dismissed opposition sounding, saying Mr Yar'Adua is in good health and is fit to lead Africa's most populous nation.

Information Minister John Odey told reporters on Wednesday that Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan had been in contact with Yar'Adua by telephone and rejected accusations that the government was failing to keep people informed.

Asked if Mr Yar'Adua had sought medical attention in Saudi Arabia, he said: "Yes, of course. He is free to take that opportunity to do medical check-ups."

Some Nigerian newspapers have reported that the president underwent a renal transplant in Jeddah.

Meanwhile, doctors at the King Fahd Armed Forces Hospital, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, have asked president Yar'Adua to take more tests before he can return to Nigeria, family sources said. "He has completed the first round of tests but doctors have asked for another round in order to have a second opinion," the source said, although he did not disclose the ailment.

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

His victory in April 2007 polls has been challenged at Supreme Court by his two main rivals and analysts fear that should he become unable to govern there could be a leadership crisis in Africa's leading oil producer.

Jean-Louis Kayitenkore
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