LAGOS, September 16 – A report Tuesday by Nigeria’s official news agency that President Umaru Yar’Adua may resign because of ill health set off renewed speculation about the leader and brought a furious denial from the presidency.
"There is nothing like that, it is absolutely rubbish," Yar’Adua’s spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi told AFP, adding the report was "false and patently irresponsible".
News Agency of Nigeria said in a dispatch that the leader of the oil-rich nation, who was in a Saudi hospital for treatment in August, was likely to step down after a cabinet reshuffle expected soon.
"President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua may resign after a cabinet reshuffle, on health grounds," the agency said in a one sentence flash posted to clients.
Information Minister John Odey told AFP the report was a "fabrication".
Another presidential aide, who asked not to be named, called the report a "rumour" which he suspected was aimed at causing confusion in the West African regional powerhouse.
"We are also surprised that this rumour emanated from the News Agency of Nigeria. This smacks of deliberate sabotage and an attempt to cause chaos in the country," he told AFP.
"The president does not plan to resign and the issue has never been broached in any way," he added.
The state of his health is a regular subject of media speculation. And the report came on the day that the respected independent daily, The Guardian, carried an editorial entitled "The President’s health and an anxious nation".
NAN later distanced itself from the resignation story. Its deputy editor-in-chief Olusegun Aribike said "we believe that it is a mischief maker at work".
The presidential aide said a probe has been launched into the origins of the report "for appropriate sanction". "Grave fabrication such as this will not be ignored," said the aide.
The information minister reportedly visited the NAN headquarters in Abuja after the dispatch was electronically mailed to some clients including AFP and most of the local media.
Yar’Adua, who turned 57 on August 16, was dogged by ill-health even during the campaign that brought him to power in April 2007.
The president went into hospital in Saudi Arabia while officially on a pilgrimage last month.
Details of his illness have never been officially made public, but he is believed to have a history of kidney problems.
Two days after he arrived back in office from the Muslim pilgrimage last week, Yar’Adua restructured his cabinet portfolios, without naming any ministers.
Yar’Adua created a new ministry to help solve the problems of the strife wracked Niger Delta, the country’s main oil producing region. Militants fighting for greater share of the oil revenue in the Delta have stepped up attacks on oil installations in recent days.
On the eve of his departure for Saudi Arabia last month, the president replaced three top military commanders.
Yar’Adua took on a job he never asked for — hand-picked by his predecessor Olusegun Obasanjo to succeed him in the 2007 election.
The poll was marred by widespread fraud, according to virtually all the observer groups.
A court case brought by Yar’Adua’s two major opponents attempted to have him removed as president. The case has so far failed but further appeal hearings are expected in coming months.