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Nigerians Ask, "Where Are You, Mr. President?" at Midtown Consulate

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On Friday, a group of Nigerian expatriates gathered outside of the Nigerian Consulate in Midtown to protest the absence of the country's ill president.

In late November of 2009 President Umaru Yar'Adua went to Saudia Arabia for medical treatment. Reports indicate that Mr. Yar'Adua suffers from a kidney ailment and heart disease. In a phone interview with the BBC last week, Yar'Adua claimed that he has been hospitalized in Saudi Arabia for two months and that he intends to return to his duties in Nigeria upon his release.

The chief complaint of the Nigeria Democratic Liberty Forum, the Amityville, NY based group which organized Friday's protest, is that Yar'Adua left Nigeria without officially handing over power to the country's vice president. According to the group's chairman, Dr. Adegboyega Dada, the president has sent Nigeria into a state of political peril and unrest.

"Enough is enough.... We are concerned about his health, but Nigeria has to move forward as a country. A lot of things are happening every week that need serious attention," stated Dr. Dada.

The Nigerian constitution provides for the succession of executive authority to the country's vice president. Attendees at Friday's protest said that the president's unwillingness to temporally suspend his power is indicative of the corruption that monopolizes Nigerian politics.

"They are completely handicapped, there is no government here," stated Esther Onooha as she pointed to the Consulate on Second Avenue. "The government has taken everyone for granted, it has gotten out of hand."

Similar protests took place last week in London and Abuja, the federal capital of Nigeria. The West African nation is the fifth largest oil supplier to the U.S and is home to 150 million people. Nigeria's population is the largest in Africa.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian national who allegedly attempted to bomb an airplane over Michigan on Christmas Day, brought Nigeria to the forefront of the American media cycle. The absence of President Yar'Adua and the lack of a Nigerian ambassador to the US, a position that was vacant for one year until the appointment of Adebowale Adefuye in January, left Nigeria without an appropriate diplomatic voice in the aftermath of the Christmas Day incident. Prior to the attempted bombing, Nigeria's image in the West had been marred by government corruption, religious violence and Internet scams. Adding terrorism to the list provided insult to injury to Nigerians living abroad who were already sensitive to the stereotypes associated with their homeland.

"The response to the very reprehensible and highly condemnable act... is almost a no show. There has been no cognitive response on the part of the Nigerian government, because they all preoccupy themselves with helping themselves to the Nigerian treasury," stated Olubukola Oreofe, Executive Director of Nigeria Democratic Liberty Forum.

The crowd at Friday's protest was small; at its height fewer than 30 people stood behind a green and white banner that read, "Enough is Enough." Several staff people from the Consulate came outside to observe the activities. A few passers-by stopped or lingered to find out what the commotion was about.

Sonala Olumhense spoke at the protest and said Friday's event was just the beginning of a larger movement. "We want to stimulate the consciousness of the average Nigerian, wherever he or she may be around the see themselves as part of this very effort to insure that things change in Nigeria."