US President Barack Obama and the new Nigerian leader have led the tributes for Yar’Adua (58), who passed away at 9pm at the Aso Rock presidential villa in Abuja, with his wife Turai by his side.
The late president, a Muslim from the north, will be succeeded by his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the oil-rich south, who was nominated acting president earlier this year.
Within hours the new president declared seven days of mourning and expressed shock at the death of his predecessor.
“Nigeria has lost the jewel in its crown, and even the heavens mourn with our nation tonight,” a spokesman quoted Jonathan as saying.
“As individuals and as a nation we prayed for the recovery of Mr President. But we take solace in the fact that the Almighty is the giver and taker of all life”.
As a mark of respect, Jonathan cancelled all official engagements, including a three-day visit to southern Rivers State in oil-rich Niger Delta, which he had been due to begin today.
In accordance with Muslim custom, Yar’Adua was expected be buried in his northern home town of Katsina late yesterday, which has been declared a work-free day. During the mourning period, Nigerian flags will be flown at half-mast.
Obama expressed sadness at the death of the Nigerian leader, praising him as a man with a passionate belief in his nation’s future.
“Tonight, we remember and honour President Yar’Adua’s profound personal decency and integrity, his deep commitment to public service, and his passionate belief in the vast potential and bright future of Nigeria’s 150 million people,” Obama said in a statement.
“He was committed to creating lasting peace and prosperity within Nigeria’s own borders, and continuing that work will be an important part of honouring his legacy.”
In the neighbouring African country of Benin, President Boni Yayi also paid tribute to Yar’Adua.
“With the loss of this great statesman… Benin, my country, loses a great friend and I am very upset,” he said.
Yar’Adua had been absent from the political scene since November when he left for medical treatment for a heart condition in Saudi Arabia. He returned to Nigeria in February but remained too sick to govern and has not been seen in public since.
His biggest achievement was bringing peace to the Niger Delta, the heartland of Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry.
However, his legacy will be tainted by his inability to impose policies and push through reform, which earned Yar’Adua the nickname “Baba Go-Slow”.
Jonathan assumed executive powers in February and has since consolidated his hold on power, appointing a new cabinet and his own team of advisers. But Yar’Adua’s death raises the stakes in the run-up to the next elections.
Jonathan now automatically becomes head of state of one of the world’s leading oil producers, and will complete his predecessor’s term of office, which expires in May 2011.
He will then appoint a new deputy in accordance with the Nigerian constitution.The acting president has already promised free and fair elections, but has said little about his own political plans. –– Timesonline/ Rte.