Nigerian President Returns After 3 Month Absence

Under a veil of secrecy, Nigeria's president has returned to the country after three months of medical treatment in Saudi Arabia. The vice president will continue to run state business as the president recuperates.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Two planes touched down in Nigeria this week. An ambulance and troops were on hand to meet the late night flights. The next day, Nigerians woke up to the news that their president had finally returned home. He'd been gone for three months in Saudi Arabia while suffering an illness. NPR's West Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is monitoring developments.

INSKEEP: And, Ofeibea, it's had to imagine the president of the United States being out of action for three months. What are things like in Nigeria?

OFEIBEA QUIST: A complete mess and confusion, continuing speculation, especially since President Umaru Yar'Adua is back in the country, but no one has seen him publicly. Which is, of course, leading to even more allegations, accusations that the entourage around the president, including his wife Turai, are still keeping him away from the people who elected him.

INSKEEP: Now, let's remember for the last period of time, he hasn't formally been running the country. Duties were passed over to his vice president Goodluck Jonathan. So who's running the country now that he's back?

QUIST: That's the question everybody's asking. Who is in charge of Nigeria? It was only two weeks ago that the Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, was named acting president by the national assembly.

That came, what, two and a half moths after the president went off to Saudi Arabia to be treated for this inflammation of the lining of the heart in addition to his existing health problems, including kidney problems.

So many people are saying who is in charge in Nigeria. We want some answers. And now we're seeing a tussle between the loyalists to the president, the national assembly, those who support the vice president and many unanswered questions.

INSKEEP: Are you telling me that the president returned to the country without this question being answered in advance?

QUIST: Well, it's a temporary fix, because the national assembly had appointed the vice president as the acting president. But now the senate came out yesterday, voted to amend the constitution.

And they set a 14 day limit within which the president must formally announce his - their words - inability, i.e. whether he's fit or not fit to govern. After which, they - if he declares his absence, so to speak, the parliament will vote to have the vice president take over as acting president.

This is the first amendment, I think, in the constitution in the past ten years. So these are uncharted waters for Nigeria. And questions still need to be answered. It's total confusion there.

INSKEEP: So a confusing situation in the most populous nation in Africa here, a major supplier of oil and increasingly liquefied natural gas to the United States - economically important country. And Ofeibea, do you have any sense of how this controversy is affecting daily life over the past three months in Nigeria?

QUIST: For the month I was in Nigeria it was the talk of the town. It completely consumed not only the political class in Nigeria, but ordinary Nigerians. Lots of people saying, hey, we're meant to be a leader on this continent, but we don't know how our president is.

We, you know, the newspapers were saying is he alive or dead. Is he brain damaged? Has he been struck mute? And that continues. Although the president is back at home now, people are still asking the same questions. Why doesn't he address the nation? Why don't we seem him? The presidency has said he's continuing his convalescence, and until then the vice president will, in their words, conduct the affairs of state.

But, as I say, Steve, many, many, many questions still remain unanswered.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton monitoring the situation in Nigeria, where the president of Nigeria has returned after a three month absence.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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