Yes I'm Sick- Nigeria Leader Speaks
SWIFT MOVING rumours that Nigeria's President Umaru Yar'Adua had died were allayed yesterday when the oil-rich country's leader spoke from his hospital bed in Saudi Arabia, admitting that he was receiving treatment.
The 58-year-old President has been out of the country for close to 8 weeks.
Reports claim that the ailing Nigerian leader was unconscious for four hours last Tuesday night at the hospital in Jeddah before the broadcast interview.
Speaking in a weak voice, and with intermittent coughs, the President told the BBC Huasa Service, “At the moment I am undergoing treatment, and I'm getting better from the treatment.
I hope that very soon there will be tremendous progress, which will allow me to get back home”, speaking in both Hausa and English.
BBC Hausa has a large audience in northern Nigeria, where Hausa is the main language.
He said he was in constant contact with Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, but gave no indication of when he might return to Nigeria.
"I wish, at this stage, to thank all Nigerians for their prayers for my good health, and for their prayers for the nation".
He also wished the Nigerian national football team success in the Africa Cup of Nations currently under way in Angola.
"As soon as my doctors discharge me, I will return to Nigeria to resume my duties”.
But the critics say his being alive, but absent, changes little to the power vacuum in the country.
Last year, a statement released in Abuja, by aides to Umaru Yar'adua, admitted that he was suffering from “acute pericarditis,” a heart condition that results from complications of Churg-Strauss Syndrome.
The statement was written by Yar'adua's personal physician, Salisu Banye and distributed by chief spokesman, Segun Adeniyi.
Acute pericarditis is a degenerative disease which causes the inflammation of the membrane surrounding the heart.
The condition could lead to heart attacks and heart failure. Mr. Yar'adua already manifests other symptoms of Churg-Strauss Syndrome, including skin scarring, renal damage and peripheral nerve damage.
In his statement, Mr. Adeniyi stated, “The medical review and tests undertaken at the hospital have confirmed the initial diagnosis that the President is indeed suffering from acute pericarditis.
Yar'Adua did not delegate executive powers to his Vice President Goodluck Jonathan when he left. The law demands he does so in writing.
The main opposition, Action Congress, said while it is happy to hear that the head of state is alive, it was disappointed that he chose a foreign media outlet to speak to his country which has been on edge for weeks.
"While we are happy that he is alive, that he spoke, we are disappointed that he chose the BBC to break his silence. It's quite shameful and a very big disrespect to Nigerians", AC spokesman Lai Mohamed told AFP.
"He has contempt for the local media and no respect for many Nigerians, many of whom have no access to the BBC", he said.
Thousands of opposition and rights activists, led by Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, gathered on Tuesday for the start of protests in the administrative capital, Abuja, as lawmakers were to meet for the first time to discuss the political vacuum created by Yar'Adua's absence.
Sporting white vests emblazoned with the words "enough is enough", the protestors brandished placards demanding "Yar'Adua speak to us" and "What's happening to Yar'Adua - We want to know".
On what impact the telephone interview would have on concerns over a power vacuum in Africa's most populous country and second largest oil exporter, Mohamed said: "It changes very little".
"The fact that he is alive does not say anything about his state of health", said Mohamed.
Yar'Adua's voice sounded weak in the interview, the BBC said.
The president had not been seen or heard from since he was flown to hospital in Saudi Arabia on November 23 to be treated for acute pericarditis.
Earlier, officials of Yar'adua's regime had stepped up propaganda about the severity of his health condition.
Aides had planted stories in several newspapers to the effect that Mr. Yar'adua was well and on his way to the Hajj.
New details about President Umaru Yar'adua's health have emerged, pointing to a carefully-managed power struggle in the Presidency at Abuja.
Saharareporters gather that after suffering swellings all over his body over the weekend of Saturday, April 12, 2008, Yar'Adua was flown out to Germany after he barely managed to perform a widely publicized budget signing ceremony from his private residence in the presence of Goodluck Jonathan and a few officials.
But prior to his departure from Nigeria, according to Aso Rock sources, the President handed over to the National Security Adviser, Major General Sarki Mukhtar (Rtd), the all-time powerful Chief of Staff, General Abdullahi Mohammed (rtd), and the Secretary to the Federal Government, Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe, thus bypassing the official number two man, Goodluck Jonathan.
Though Presidency sources downplayed the latest health crisis as some “allergic reaction”, knowledgeable medical sources claim that Yar'adua's current condition can only be managed for some time, but cannot be cured. It is gathered that his German doctors have communicated this to him since last year.
Yar'adua's medical condition degenerated a long time ago because he was misdiagnosed and treated for Asthma for a long time.
His physician in Nigeria continued treating Yar'adua for Asthma with steroids, leading to further damage to his health and associated mood changes.
His real ailment, Saharareporters was told, is known as "Churg-Strauss Syndrome", a disorder, according to medical journals, "that causes inflammation in blood vessels (vasculitis), which restricts blood flow to various organs".
The disorder is believed to have damaged Yar'adua's kidneys before it was properly diagnosed.
"Although the disease may involve any organ, most commonly it affects your lungs and skin. The restricted blood flow to these organs can cause temporary or permanent damage".
Asthma, for which Yar'adua physicians have treated him for a prolonged period of time, is a common feature of Churg-Strauss Syndrome. The disorder does not have any known cure.
But analysts say a handover of power before the next scheduled election in 2011 - to Vice President Jonathan, a southerner, from President Yar'Adua, a northerner - could disrupt the usual rotation between the regions that has governed Nigeria since the return of civilian rule.
There have also been complaints that important government business has been left hanging in the president's absence.
'We want a telecast'
The interview with President Yar'Adua was recorded late on Monday and first broadcast at 0530 GMT on Tuesday. It has been widely rebroadcast by Nigerian TV and radio stations.
Many Nigerians will be relieved to hear the president's voice, but the calls to hand over power to the vice-president will continue.
The National Bar Association and two other groups have launched court cases calling for power to be transferred to Mr. Jonathan.
Hundreds of protesters have marched through the streets of Abuja to the national assembly, which was to discuss the president's health on its first day back in session after the Christmas and New Year break.
Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka addressed the rally saying the president's continued absence - and the lack of an appointed replacement - was allowing corruption to flourish unchecked.
"There is a small cabal which profits by the hiatus in control, in government, in supervision", he said.
"Heaven knows what millions are going down the sink on the lack of supervision".