Nigeria: President’s health and fears of widening north-south divide

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Recent reports on the health situation of Nigerian president Mr. Umaru Yar’Adua pose a problem for Nigeria’s constitution, as a case of a sudden demise would mean, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, who is a southerner, would take over as president.

Analysts fear that were the president to die in office or become incapacitated, thus leading Vice President Jonathan, a southerner and Christian, to succeeded him, Nigeria’s politically dominant northern Muslims, won’t quietly accept an abrupt transition to a southern presidency, and early elections would fuel tensions and the risk of large-scale civil unrest.

According to the ruling People’s Democratic Party, the president, according to their own formula for sharing power among the political regions of Nigeria, must be a northerner.

Presidential spokesman, Olusegun Adeniyi told reporters that the president has acute pericarditis, or inflammation of the lining around the heart. Mr. Yar’Adua who has had a chronic kidney condition for at least 10 years, has been unable to perform a number of official duties because of recurring health problems.

“At about 3pm Friday November 20, after he returned from the Abuja Central Mosque where he performed Muslim prayer, President Yar’Adua complained of a left-sided severe chest pain,” Adeniyi told Reuters.

According to health expert, Michelle Roberts, most cases of pericarditis clear up with rest and medication within a few weeks, although patients will initially need to be treated in hospital to check for complications. Authorities say the 58 year old president was responding well to treatment, and is not seriously ill. Other than his health, the president has been under pressure to fulfil promises to fight corruption.

At the beginning of November, Punch news reported that former Federal Capital Territory minister, Mallam Nassir El-Rufai condemned Yar‘Adua‘s government for having nothing to show for the past 30 months it had been at the helm of affairs in the country and vowed to continue to speak out against the alleged misdeeds of the administration even at the risk of losing his life.

Ethnic and Religious lines

According to Chapter VI of the Nigerian Constitution; part 1, Article 136, If a person duly elected as President dies before taking and subscribing the oath of allegiance and oath of office, or is for any reason whatsoever unable to be sworn in, the person elected with him as Vice-President shall be sworn in as President and he shall nominate a new Vice-President who shall be appointed by the President with the approval by a simple majority of the National Assembly at a joint sitting.

Since its return to democracy, Nigeria has faced the growing challenge of preventing Africa’s most populous country from breaking apart along ethnic and religious lines.

According to reports, political liberalization has allowed militants from religious and ethnic groups to express their frustrations more freely, and with increasing violence. Thousands of people have died over the past few years in communal rivalry. Separatist aspirations have been growing, prompting reminders of the bitter civil war over the breakaway Biafran republic in the late 1960s.

The imposition of Islamic law in several states has embedded divisions and caused thousands of Christians to flee. Inter-faith violence is said to be rooted in poverty, unemployment and the competition for land. The government is striving to boost the economy, which experienced an oil boom in the 1970s and is once again benefiting from high prices on the world market. But progress has been undermined by corruption and mismanagement.

Analysts have suggested that the irony about Nigeria is the prominent role it plays in African affairs and its determination to be at peace with its neighbors (It has withdrawn troops from oil-rich Bakassi peninsula to settle border dispute with Cameroon), in the face of increasing north-south, Muslim-Christian, and ethnic fissures. Competition for resources, large scale corruption and endemic poverty have contributed to the degradation of, what was until recent years, Nigeria’s unique and exemplary history of ethno-religious amity.

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