Nigeria Swears In New Leader After Death Of President

Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua died Thursday at age 58 after suffering a long illness. Yar'Adua's ailments had left him unable to govern for months. As a result of his passing, the country's acting leader, Goodluck Jonathan, was sworn in early Thursday as Nigeria's next president. Host Michel Martin speaks with Constance Ikokwu, an editor for THISDAY newspaper, for more on how Nigeria will move forward.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, the U.S. has governed Puerto Rico for more than a century, but now Puerto Ricans are debating whether to move towards statehood or independence. Sound simple? It is not. We'll try to explain it in just a few minutes.

But, first, the president of Nigeria has died. Umaru Yar'Adua passed away Wednesday night after a long illness. He was 58 years old. Goodluck Jonathan, who had been acting president for months, took the oath of office early Thursday. The late president's condition and inability to govern had left many national priorities in limbo. We wanted to talk more about this, so we've called Constance Ikokwu. She is the deputy editor of the Nigerian newspaper THISDAY and she joins us now on the phone from Lagos. Welcome back, thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. CONSTANCE IKOKWU (Deputy Editor, THISDAY): Thank you.

MARTIN: Now, we actually had spoken to NPR correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton about what was going on in Nigeria just yesterday and she told us that the president had been seriously ill for months. He had not been seen in public, he'd given no public statements. So I wanted to ask you, Constance, were people prepared for the president's death?

Ms. IKOKWU: Yes. I think that some people expected this was going to happen. Of course, the true state of his health was not revealed by his family. We only know that he was suffering from acute pericarditis. That was what his doctor told us last time in November when he was flown to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.

So he's been ill since November, up to he died. Nobody has seen the president in public. When he came back to the country in February, he was flown in the early hours of the morning in an air ambulance and he was taken to the presidential villa in an air ambulance. So, we all knew that he was seriously ill, but we did not know the details of what was happening to him. So, in a way, people thought that, you know, something might happen to him. It didn't come as a huge surprise to the nation.

MARTIN: What is the mood there?

Ms. IKOKWU: The mood about what?

MARTIN: The mood, what's the atmosphere in the wake of the leader's passing? Is it is there a sense of sadness? I mean, you mentioned there really isn't a sense of shock because there's been this vacuum for months but is there a sense of sadness, is there a sense, in a way, of relief that at least this chapter has closed?

Ms. IKOKWU: Well, I wouldn't say there's sadness. There is sadness within his own family, you know. It's a great loss. They've lost a father, a grandfather, an uncle and all of that. As a nation we've lost a president. But also, I think there's a bit of relief that it has all come to an end because there was debate on whether the acting president could continue being acting president until next year, when the elections would hold.

You know, there were issues about, what do we do? You know, there were people that were also asking him to be declared incapacitated since he could no longer be president. You know, there have been all sorts of discussions about what to do. So he has passed on now and the acting president has been made the substantive president.

The next step now would be to pick a vice president and then we can begin discuss on the way forward on issues that matter, the power and electricity problems we have in the country and all the other issues that have been in limbo since he was ill.

MARTIN: And as you mention, all these pressing priorities have been in limbo because of this leadership vacuum. As you mention, religious violence, the rebel attacks on oil producing facilities, all the issues around governance and corruption and so forth. But now that Goodluck Jonathan has been has made the transition from acting president to president, has he signaled what his priorities will be?

Ms. IKOKWU: Yes. I wouldn't say - it's correct. I wouldn't say there was a power vacuum. The vice president was made an acting president. So he was given all the power, you know, to do whatever he wished or to tackle the issues of state. But now that he is now the substantive president, we can have a vice president and then we have a team, someone that he can delegate responsibilities to.

Other important issues that we'll be dealing with is the power sector. Electricity is pretty bad in Nigeria and people hope that there will be an improvement. There's the Niger delta issue also, which the former acting president, Goodluck Jonathan, who is now the president, has been working on. We hope to make progress on that.

There is the petroleum industry bill, which seeks to revise or change the way that business is done in the oil industry. There is also electorary(ph) forums. We are going to be having presidential elections next year. And people hope that the acting president would he has made the smart move of changing the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission. So we hope that they will have free and fair transparent elections next year. There are so many issues to be dealt with, so we are hoping that he will begin to work on them now that he is the substantive president.

MARTIN: Constance Ikokwu is the deputy editor of the Nigerian newspaper THISDAY. She joins us from time to time to keep us up to date on all the events in Nigeria. Thank you so much for joining us, Constance.

Ms. IKOKWU: Thank you for having me.

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