Yar’Adua’s Return Triggers Nigeria Power Struggle

The return of Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua from three months of medical treatment abroad may trigger a power struggle with Deputy President Goodluck Jonathan that is likely to be resolved within two days, the Eurasia Group said.

“The next 48 hours in Nigeria will be crucial in determining which of the country’s top two leaders runs it,” Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, Africa analyst for Eurasia Group in New York, said in a note to clients yesterday. Eurasia is a global political risk and consulting company.

Jonathan was named acting president by the legislature on Feb. 9 to fill a power vacuum in Africa’s top oil producer created by the president’s failure to formally transfer power when he left the country. Jonathan will remain in charge of state affairs while Yar’Adua continues recuperating, his spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi said on his return yesterday.

The ailing president returned before a cabinet vote yesterday that may have declared him medically unfit and removed him from office, Spio-Garbrah said. The meeting was cancelled after confusion about who should chair it. Yar’Adua will have to appear in public within two days in order to regain the presidency or Jonathan may get the cabinet to rule him incapacitated, he said.

“No matter the outcome, the risk of a major sectarian elite power struggle is high,” Spio-Garbrah said.

Yar’Adua, 58, hasn’t appeared in public since he was flown to Saudi Arabia on Nov. 23 for the treatment of a heart condition.

Jonathan, 52, an ethnic Ijaw from the oil-rich Niger River delta state of Bayelsa, won praise for sending troops quickly to contain last month’s clashes in the northcentral city of Jos. More than 300 people died in the fighting between Christians and Muslims, according to the police.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dulue Mbachu in Lagos at