A funeral will be held Thursday for Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua, who died after battling a heart ailment that has kept him out of the public eye since November.
Yar’Adua died Wednesday, the country’s information minister said. The funeral will be in his hometown of Katsina.
The 58-year-old leader went to Saudi Arabia for treatment last year after an inflammation of tissue around his heart and eventually was diagnosed with acute pericarditis.
He returned to Nigeria in February, but remained out of sight. Vice President Goodluck Jonathan has served as the country’s acting leader.
Yar’Adua took office in 2007 in an election mired in controversy and accusations of vote-rigging.
“There was ballot snatching, voters were molested, voters were beaten … and also payment inducement to vote for certain candidates,” said Eneruvie Enakoko of the Civil Liberties Organization, a human rights group in Lagos.
Despite the accusations, the president — a soft-spoken and unassuming figure who did not bask in the media spotlight like past leaders of the West African nation — pledged to fight to improve the country of 150 million people.
“Our collective goal is to deliver for our children a Nigeria better, stronger, more peaceful, more secure and more prosperous than we met it,” Yar’Adua said.
U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement late Wednesday expressing his condolences to Yar’Adua’s family and the Nigerian people.
“President Yar’Adua worked to promote peace and stability in Africa through his support of Nigerian peacekeeping efforts as well as his strong criticism of undemocratic actions in the region,” Obama said in the statement. “He was committed to creating lasting peace and prosperity within Nigeria’s own borders, and continuing that work will be an important part of honoring his legacy.”
Yar’Adua’s election followed wide support from his predecessor, leading critics to label him a “puppet” of the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo.
After he was elected, Yar’Adua replaced some of Obasanjo’s top officials, including the head of the army, a move analysts said was aimed at shedding off his predecessor’s influence.
One of Yar’Adua’s biggest successes was offering amnesty to militants in the troubled oil-rich Niger Delta region, a move that brought fragile peace to the area after years of conflict. The well-armed Niger Delta rebels have been battling Nigeria’s armed forces over oil profits, which they say are unequally distributed.
While he was hospitalized in Saudi Arabia, the militants called off the truce, dealing a blow to plans to end violence that has crippled oil production in the nation.
Analysts say he did little to institutionalize reform in a country where two-thirds of the population lives on less than a dollar a day.
“Because many people feel disillusioned economically and as long as they have those sentiments — I think the risk of radical uprisings in places like northern Nigeria and certainly southern Nigeria in the Delta will continue regardless of who is in power,” said Rolake Akinola, an analyst at Control Risks West Africa.
Yar’Adua, a former chemistry teacher, was married twice and has nine children.