AP: Ill Nigerian president meets Christian leaders

By JON GAMBRELL, Associated Press Writer Jon Gambrell, Associated Press Writer, April 5, 2010
LAGOS, Nigeria – Nigeria’s ill and long unseen president met briefly with Christian religious leaders Monday, still physically weak but “able to grunt out an amen,” a pastor who took part in the visit said.

Pastor Emmanuel Kure of the Throneroom Trust Ministry in Kaduna state he and three other Christian leaders met for “about five to 10 minutes” with Umaru Yar’Adua at the nation’s presidential palace in Abuja. Kure said he and the other leaders received separate requests to attend the meeting on behalf of the presidency.

The leaders led a prayer to God on the behalf of Yar’Adua, a Muslim from the country’s Islamic north.

“He wasn’t a Christian, so I don’t think he would understand what we said on his behalf,” Kure said. “He was able to grunt out an amen.”

Yar’Adua, 58, hasn’t been seen publicly since late November, when he left Nigeria for treatment in a Saudi Arabian hospital. The president’s chief physician said Yar’Adua suffered from acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart. But kidney problems and ill health long have plagued Yar’Adua, who even left the country during his 2007 electoral campaign to seek medical treatments in Germany.

“I am told that it is a great improvement from his previous state,” Kure said.

Kure declined to offer further details about Yar’Adua’s condition, saying: “We should not overheat the politics.” However, the visit comes after many criticized Yar’Adua for meeting privately with Islamic leaders Thursday without addressing the nation. During that visit, the imam of Nigeria’s national mosque said that Yar’Adua could raise his hands in prayer though he never stood up.

The visit by Christian leaders also may be an attempt by Yar’Adua’s closest allies to quiet criticisms over the religious nature of the last visit as well. The split among Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, a nation of 150 million people, erupts into periodic violence.

Yar’Adua left the country without formally placing Vice President Goodluck Jonathan in charge, sparking a constitutional crisis in a nation that is America’s No. 3 supplier of crude oil. The National Assembly empowered Jonathan to become acting president Feb. 9. A military convoy and an ambulance apparently swept Yar’Adua back into the presidential palace Feb. 24, though his Christian vice president remained in control of the nation.

The nation’s ruling People’s Democratic Party rotates its presidential candidates among the two faiths, though democracy only has existed for a decade’s time in a nation once ruled by coup and military dictators.

Yar’Adua can resume control of the presidency by notifying the National Assembly, but so far hasn’t. Analysts have suggested those surrounding Yar’Adua brought the ailing leader back to the country to keep a check on Jonathan’s ambitions even if he’s not strong enough to lead.

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