Nigeria’s president dead at 58

Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua, whose election marked the first peaceful transition of power from one civilian to another in a nation once plagued by military coups, has died, his spokesman said. He was 58.

Yar’Adua’s death comes following a lengthy illness and almost three months after his vice president assumed control of Africa’s most populous nation.

Spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi said Yar’Adua died at the Aso Rock presidential villa with his wife Turai at his side. Adeniyi and other officials did not give a cause of death.

Yar’Adua had a long history of kidney ailments and recently suffered from an inflamed heart.

Yar’Adua will be buried before sundown in his home state of Katsina in accordance with his Muslim faith, said Ima Niboro, a spokesman for Goodluck Jonathan, the country’s acting president.

“Nigeria has lost the jewel on its crown and even the heavens mourn with our nation tonight,” Jonathan said in a statement. Jonathan declared today a holiday as part of seven days of mourning for Yar’Adua.

He failed to formally transfer his powers to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, sparking a constitutional crisis in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation with 150 million people.

Jonathan assumed the presidency February 9 after a vote by the National Assembly while Yar’Adua was still in Saudi Arabia. Lawmakers left open the possibility for Yar’Adua to regain power if he returned to the country in good health. He returned on Feb. 24 but never appeared in public and did not assume power again.

Yar’Adua took office in 2007 in a country notorious for corruption and gained the accolades of many for being the first leader to publicly declare his personal assets when taking office – setting up a benchmark for comparison later to see if he misappropriated funds. But enthusiasm for his presidency waned as time past and little changed in a country burdened by years of entrenched corruption.

However, Yar’Adua sought to end the violence in the oil-rich Niger Delta. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has been attacking oil installations, kidnapping petroleum company employees and fighting government troops since January 2006 in what it called a protest against the unrelenting poverty of people in the Niger Delta.

The unrest had cut Nigeria’s oil production by about a million barrels a day, allowing Angola to overtake it as Africa’s top oil producer.

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