Nigerians upbeat over ailing president's return from London

Sunday, August 20, 2017

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LAGOS, Nigeria (AFP) — Nigerians on Sunday celebrated the return of President Muhammadu Buhari with thanksgiving services after his prolonged absence abroad for medical treatment, a period that stoked tension in a divided nation.

Early morning services were held in churches across the vast west African country, including the seat of government, Aso Villa, in Abuja.

Buhari left Nigeria on May 7 for his second break of treatment in Britain this year for an unspecified medical condition, on the heels of a spell of two months.

The 74-year-old returned to the capital on Saturday to a welcome from thousands of supporters, who lined the roads.

Buhari, a retired general elected in 2015, temporarily handed power to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to allay fears of a leadership vacuum in a country deeply divided along ethnic and religious faultlines.

On Sunday, Osinbajo, a southern Christian, led other worshippers at a thanksgiving service at the Aso Villa chapel to celebrate the return of his boss.

The congregation sang hymns in Nigeria's three main languages of Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo to praise God for Buhari's recovery, local media reported.

"We want to rejoice with our father, acting president Yemi Osinbajo, for the safe return of our president and our father, Muhammadu Buhari," said Reverend Isaac Ambi.

"We also want to thank God on how he has used Osinbajo in piloting the affairs of Nigeria while the president was away."

Buhari's ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) issued a statement celebrating his return and praised his deputy for steering the affairs of the country while he was away.

It urged the two leaders to continue to work together to improve the welfare of Nigerians.

"Buhari returns to hero's welcome," the independent newspaper This Day headlined, while the Guardian said: "104 days after, Buhari returns home".

Buhari's office said he would address Nigerians on Monday morning.

His prolonged absence caused tensions back home where calls grew for him to either return or resign.

Buhari has been dogged by speculation about his health since June last year when he first went to London for treatment of what his aides said was a persistent ear infection.

He then spent nearly two months in London in January and February and said on his return in early March that he had "never been so ill".

Last month members of the ruling party and the opposition went to see him in London and even took pictures in an attempt to ease public anxiety.

The health of Nigeria's leaders has been a sensitive issue since the 2010 death in office of president Umaru Musa Yar'Adua after months of treatment abroad.

Buhari's main opponents in the 2015 election that brought him to power claimed he had prostate cancer. He denied it.

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