LAGOS (Reuters) - A Nigerian cabinet minister said the return of President Umaru Yar’Adua had stoked confusion and that a cabal around the ailing leader was seeking to benefit from the uncertainty to maintain its influence.
The surprise arrival on Wednesday of Yar’Adua after three months in a Saudi hospital has raised fears of a power struggle between his powerful allies and his deputy Goodluck Jonathan, who took over as Acting President almost three weeks ago.
“The cabal (around Yar’Adua) wants to continue with their usual statement of ‘the President said and you must comply’,” Information Minister Dora Akunyili was quoted as saying by the This Day newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.
“They want to continue dishing out instructions even when the President did not say so ... They sneaked him into this country in the night ... I think it’s something that is unnecessary and uncalled for,” she said.
Jonathan assumed executive powers on Feb. 9, ending months of state paralysis and allowing him to set priorities such as implementing an amnesty for rebels in the oil-producing Niger Delta, restoring power supplies and preparing for elections.
Renewed uncertainty over Nigeria’s leadership could again hold up decision making in Africa’s most populous country and risk a return to attacks by militants who have in the past shut as much of a third of the OPEC member’s oil output capacity.
Britain and the United States have both voiced concern that Yar’Adua’s surprise arrival could lead to confusion and government deadlock.
Akunyili said she would continue to take instructions from Jonathan and would take orders from Yar’Adua again only once he had recovered and returned to work.
Asked if she would follow instructions from his aides without seeing him, she said: “I will not oblige”.
Jonathan briefed presidency staff on Friday on how he intended to work to bring them all together as one team, in an effort to calm fears of rivalry within the presidential villa.
But he has yet to see Yar’Adua, to whom access in a mobile intensive care unit in the presidency is closely guarded by his powerful wife, Turai.
The 58-year-old leader was brought back from Jeddah without the prior knowledge of Jonathan, the country’s acting commander-in-chief, raising concern about who ordered the deployment of troops to bring him from the airport.
“The President’s return in the early hours of Wednesday, Feb. 24, has actually exaggerated uncertainty, confusion, anxiety, fear and concern,” Akunyili said.
Asked if she would resign, she said:
“If anybody comes up tomorrow to explain to me why it is necessary for me to resign so as to help stabilise the polity, I will not waste one minute.”
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Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by Myra MacDonald