Monday, September 01, 2008

Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua Says Reports of His Death Are Exaggerated

Yar'Adua - Reports of My 'Death' Exaggerated

This Day (Lagos)
1 September 2008
By Simon Kolawole

Like the classic humourist, Mark Twain, who had the distinction of reading his obituary while still alive, President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua yesterday described reports of his rumoured death as "grossly exaggerated".

The whole country had been awash with rumours of the president's "death" since Saturday following reports that he had undergone a surgery and had gone into coma.

However, speaking with Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, Chair-man/Editor-in-Chief of THISDAY, on phone late last night, the president echoed the words of Twain, saying there was an exaggeration in the wild rumour.

The conversation went thus:

THISDAY: Mr. President, good evening.

Yar'Adua: Good evening.

THISDAY: Where are you, Your Excellency?

Yar'Adua: I'm in the Land of Palm Trees. If you want some dates, I'll bring for you (laughs).

THISDAY: Is everything all right with you, Mr. President?

Yar'Adua: All is well. I'm very okay.

THISDAY: I'm surprised that despite the rumours, your voice is sounding strong.

Yar'Adua: It is always strong. It has always been so.

THISDAY: So when should we expect you back in Nigeria?

Yar'Adua: Well, Ramadan fasting will start here in Saudi Arabia tomorrow (Monday). You know as a true Muslim, I will certainly observe the Ramadan from tomorrow (Monday). So I will return to Nigeria anytime from Tuesday (tomorrow).

THISDAY also learnt that the president spoke with key government officials, including Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, and his aged mother in Katsina yesterday.

THISDAY checks revealed that although the President traveled to Saudi Arabia ostensibly to perform the lesser Hajj, he might have received medical attention, leading to speculations on the state of his health.

Also yesterday, the Federal Government said the President "is very well and in good health to steer the affairs of the state".

Minister of Information and Communication John Odey dispelled the rumour about Yar'Adua's health in a two-paragraph statement in Abuja.

He said: "The Federal Government wishes to appreciate the concern that has been raised in the newspapers and some sections of the media over the past few days on the state of health of Mr. President, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar Adua, and to restate here that Mr. President is very well and healthy.

"He is in good health to steer the affairs of the state to bring about better livelihood for the generality of the people of Nigeria. He is expected back in Nigeria soon after his trip to Saudi Arabia where he has gone on lesser hajj."

The statement was, however, silent on reports in some newspapers that the President underwent surgery in a hospital in Saudi Arabia.

The matter of Yar'Adua's failing health has become an issue since the days following his nomination as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in the April 19 2007 presidential election when he was rumoured dead.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had to publicly call Yar'Adua at a presidential campaign rally in Abeokuta where the latter who was then receiving medical treatment abroad dispelled rumours of his death.

But speculations about President Yar'Adua's ill-health were rekindled again in the wake of his trip to Saudi Arabia last week shortly after approving the appointment of new service chiefs.

Following the trip, the rumour mill had it that Yar'Adua had gone to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.

But the Federal Executive Council (FEC) after its weekly meeting last Wedn-esday told Nigerians that contrary to rumours making the round, the President was performing Umrah (lesser hajj) in Saudi Arabia.

The rumour about Yar'Adua's ill-health and possible death, however, thickened following the cancellation of the scheduled state visit to Brazil.

Government again denied that the change had anything to do with the President's poor health.

FEC said the president was still performing the lesser hajj in Saudi Arabia, and would return whenever he concluded the programme.

Some media reports even alleged that the President underwent surgery suspected to be kidney-related ailment at King Fahd Hospital in Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, the Action Congress (AC) has accused the Federal Executive Council (FEC) of deliberately feeding the public with lies over the health of President Yar'Adua.

AC's National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who made the accusation last night in a statement, said the President's health could not be treated as a private affair, "because as a public official - and the foremost one at that - whatever happens to him is of interest to the citizenry and affects the entire country."

He said: "As the President, Yar'Adua is the father of the nation. The health of the father cannot be kept as a secret from his children. It is as simple as that. That is why we are very worried that the FEC could stoop so low as to engage in cheap lies over the President's health.

"Don't they know that the world has become a global 'glass' village where nothing is hidden?

"If the FEC's statement was made out of ignorance or lack of information on the President's health, it is bad enough! If it was made to deceive the public, it is even worse and calls to question the sincerity of the council's members."

The party wished the President full recovery and prayed that God would grant him good health to enable him steer the ship of state in the right direction.

AC, however, commended the Nigerian media for unearthing the truth, which according to him, is that President Yar'Adua is undergoing medical treatment in Saudi Arabia rather than being there for lesser Hajj "as deceptively disseminated by the FEC".

He said the government's information managers had again failed the nation and shown that they were anything but professionals, "by their inability to manage the information concerning the President's health."

"What should have earned the President the sympathy and prayers of his countrymen and women has again become a matter for wild speculations, no thanks to inept information machinery. The state of the President's health is an important issue. It should neither be politicised nor trivialised," he added.

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