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Nigeria's Succession Jitters With Ill President: QuickTake Q&A

Muhammadu Buhari.

Muhammadu Buhari.

Photographer: Drew Angerer/Pool via EPA
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Nigeria is awash in nervous speculation over the health of President Muhammadu Buhari, who returned to the West African nation Friday after being in the U.K. since Jan. 19 for treatment of an undisclosed ailment. Buhari, 74 and a Muslim, has formally designated his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, acting president. The prospect of Osinbajo, a 60-year-old Christian, serving out the remaining two years of Buhari’s term raises the specter of sectarian tension in a country that has seen plenty of it in the past. Succession jitters also heighten concern about government paralysis at a time when the economy is in recession and the stock market is near a one-year low.

Because Nigeria is divided between a mostly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south, there’s been an unwritten agreement among the political elite since the end of military rule in 1999 that the presidency is rotated every election or two. So if Buhari dies or steps down and is succeeded by Osinbajo -- as the constitution dictates -- many in the north would probably feel shortchanged. They might insist that Osinbajo promise to step aside at the next elections in 2019 and allow his deputy -- who would probably be a Muslim from the north -- to run instead.