ABUJA,Feb 24 – A plane landed at the presidential wing of Abuja airport amid heavy security on Wednesday, after reports that Nigeria\’s ailing president was returning home after three months, an AFP correspondent noted.
A white ambulance and several SUVs with black tinted windows drove to meet the plane, hours after sources in Saudi Arabia said President Umaru Yar\’Adua had left Jeddah and was on his way back to Nigeria.
A second plane landed a few minutes after, shortly before 2:00am (0100 GMT).
Armed soldiers were deployed at strategic points along the airport road and a bus parked nearby bore the "brigades of guard" inscription denoting the elite military unit that guards the head of state.
Journalists were denied access to the presidential wing of the airport, but one of Yar\’Adua\’s close aides, Minister of the Federal Capital Adamu Aliero, was seen entering the airport\’s VIP wing minutes before the planes landed.
A convoy of 23 vehicles — including the ambulance — accompanied by a full presidential escort left the airport and was seen driving towards the direction of the Yar\’Adua\’s official residence, Aso Rock Villa.
Yar\’Adua has been receiving treatment for a serious heart condition in hospital abroad.
The 58-year-old leader was taken ill last November and flown out to Jeddah\’s King Faisal clinic for treatment for pericarditis, an inflammation of the membrane covering and protecting the heart.
He has not been seen in public since then and there has been no official report on his health condition.
There was no immediate official confirmation that Yar\’Adua was on board the plane at Abuja.
Nigeria\’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Abdullah Aminchi told AFP Monday he had visited the head of state at the weekend. "He\’s really feeling better now," he said.
The 58-year-old\’s lengthy absence from the helm of a major oil exporter had caused disquiet.
Amid fears of a political vacuum in Africa\’s most populous country, parliament voted in early February to hand over power to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan until Yar\’Adua recovered.
Yar\’Adua\’s loyalists were reportedly seeking to challenge Jonathan\’s installation as acting president.
A six-men Nigerian cabinet team flew to Saudi Arabia late Monday to try visit him after the divided cabinet failed to agree on a resolution declaring Yar\’Adua unfit to stay in office, government sources said.
Some political activists have called on the government to state that Yar\’Adua is too ill to remain in office following his protracted hospitalisation.