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Nigerian acting president keeps full powers for now

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigerian Vice President Goodluck Jonathan will keep full executive powers for now, the presidency said on Thursday, in an apparent bid to ease fears of a power struggle after the return of ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua.

Yar’Adua’s surprise arrival on Wednesday after three months in a Saudi hospital raised concern that a cabal around him was fighting to sideline Jonathan and retain influence in Africa’s most populous nation, a major oil exporter.

His return in the early hours was so shrouded in secrecy that even Jonathan and most ministers were unaware he was coming.

Yar’Adua’s spokesman announced in a special television broadcast that Jonathan remained Nigeria’s acting leader and commander-in-chief.

“The Acting President has already called us for a meeting tomorrow to brief us on how things will work, that is how he will run the presidency including everybody so it is just one presidency,” Yar’Adua’s spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi said.

Any return to uncertainty could again paralyze government decision making in the OPEC member of more than 140 million people and endanger hopes of cementing an amnesty for rebels in the oil-producing Niger Delta.

Fears of a power struggle were fanned by the role of Yar’Adua’s wife Turai, who controls access to a leader not seen in public for three months.

Presidency sources say Yar’Adua is in a mobile intensive care unit. Jonathan has not spoken with him since his return.

“Who is in charge here?” said the Action Congress party.

Ambulance conveying Nigeria president Umaru Yar'Adua drives through the Nnamdi Azikiwe international airport in Abuja February 24, 2010. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

“The president, as the father of the nation, should address the country on local radio and television to enable the citizens to assess his state of health,” the opposition group said.


Jonathan assumed executive powers two weeks ago in Yar’Adua’s absence and quickly set about reviving state business that had been in paralysis for months, pledging to push ahead with electoral reforms, restore power supply and fight graft.

Officials at the Aso Rock presidential villa said there had been frustration in Jonathan’s camp at not being involved in decisions apparently driven by Turai, and uncertainty as to why Yar’Adua returned if he was unable to resume work.

Information Minister Dora Akunyili said the atmosphere was tense as ministers waited on Wednesday for a cabinet meeting that was finally canceled.

“I simply want to admit that most of us don’t have information. We collect information in bits and pieces and you can sit down and put them together. But proper briefing? We don’t really have it, and definitely that type of situation can affect government,” she told Reuters.

If Jonathan appeared to be sidelined, it could increase the chances of a new flare-up in the Niger Delta, his home region, where militants have threatened attacks on Africa’s biggest energy industry if there is no progress on an amnesty program.

Thousands laid down weapons under the program last year but promises of stipends and training have been slow coming.

“It is my strong feeling that if this situation continues, I guess it is not going to take more than one week, things will turn,” said Jonjon Oyeinfe, ex-leader of the Ijaw Youth Council ethnic rights group who sits on a government amnesty committee.

“In Nigerian politics, no matter how you look at it, the ethnic factor plays a deep role. An Ijaw man is (in the presidency) and the freedom fighters have looked on his presence and tried not to carry out actions that will make his position difficult,” he told Reuters.

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