Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua has died at his presidential villa following a long illness, prompting fears that his death could rekindle political-ethnic divisions in the federal country.
The government announced seven days of national mourning.
Yar’Adua was elected in 2007 and was credited with making strong progress in tackling unrest in the Niger Delta.
Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan has been running the country during Yar’Adua’s long illness and is due to be sworn in as the new head of state. Yar’Adua spent more than three months in a hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
There are now fears that the longstanding mutual suspicion between the different ethnic and religious groups in Nigeria could cause difficulty in electing a new leader next year.
Already this year, several hundred people have been killed this year during clashes between Muslims and Christians in central Plateau State.
And since the country returned to democratic rule in 1999, sectarian violence has claimed more than 10,000 lives, particularly in the northern regions.
Of the country’s 30-odd political parties, the PDP looks favoured to return to power in 2011 because the south appears to have failed to find a candidate strong enough to face a northern presidential hopeful.
Yar’Adua will be buried in a Muslim ceremony later today in his home state of Katsina, in the north of the country.