President Buhari Returns Home

FILE PHOTO – Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari speaks during German President Joachim Gauck’s visit to the State House in Abuja, Nigeria February 11, 2016. 

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari returned home on Friday after nearly two months of medical leave in Britain during which his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, stamped his authority on economic policy in Africa’s top oil producer.

Dressed in a black kaftan and Muslim prayer cap, the 74-year-old former military ruler walked stiffly but unaided from his plane after it landed at an air force base in the northern city of Kaduna.

After greeting a handful of provincial and military officials, he boarded a helicopter to Abuja for meetings with Osinbajo and his top military commanders, a government official said.

Buhari, who first came to power in a military coup in 1983, is a northern Muslim while Osinbajo is a lawyer from Nigeria’s predominantly Christian South, a political arrangement that reflects Nigeria’s broad geographic and religious divisions.

He left Abuja on Jan. 19 for 10 days of treatment in Britain but extended his stay on the advice of doctors.

Details of his condition have not been disclosed. In images released by his office this week, he looked painfully thin but was smiling as he greeted Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in London.

Prior to his departure, Buhari made a point of conferring acting presidential powers on Osinbajo, seeking to allay concerns of a void at the helm of Africa’s biggest economy.

Osinbajo played a prominent and active role in Buhari’s absence, chairing cabinet meetings and finishing work on an economic reform plan needed to secure a World Bank loan to help plug a deficit caused by low oil revenues.

The central bank also devalued the naira for retail customers, suggesting a wider devaluation of the currency may be in the offing despite Buhari’s entrenched opposition to such a move.

The transparency over the temporary handover to Osinbajo stands in marked contrast to the secrecy and confusion that surrounded the illness of President Umaru Yar’Adua, who died in 2010 after a long period of medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.

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