Page last updated at 22:48 GMT, Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Ailing Nigeria President Yar'Adua 'held phone talks'

President Umaru Yar'Adua (file photo)
President Umaru Yar'Adua has suffered ill-health for several years

Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua, who has been in hospital abroad for the past 44 days, has spoken on the phone to key officials, a minister says.

Information Minister Dora Akunyili says Mr Yar'Adua spoke to the vice-president on Tuesday.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe told the BBC he believed Mr Yar'Adua - being treated for a heart condition - was recovering in a Saudi hospital.

The comments come amid growing fears about a power vacuum in Nigeria.

'Getting better'

"The vice-president told us at the cabinet meeting that he spoke with the president at about 2000 (1900 GMT) on Tuesday," Mrs Akunyili told reporters, without giving further details.

Those who are around him give us a very optimistic assessment
Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe

Nigerian officials also said that the 58-year-old president spoke to Senate President David Mark and Speaker of the House of Representatives Oladimeji Bankole late on Tuesday.

Separately, Mr Maduekwe told the BBC that, as far as he knew, the president was conscious and was recovering in hospital.

He admitted that he had not spoken to Mr Yar'Adua since he left the country, but said the president was "getting better".

"Those who are around him give us a very optimistic assessment," he added.

He stressed that there was no crisis as Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan was "doing a great job".

The BBC's Will Ross in Nigeria says Mr Yar'Adua has suffered from serious health problems for years and has been absent before.

But this time more than six weeks have elapsed with no clear proof of where or how the president is faring, and many Nigerians feel they deserve to be better informed, he says.

Several legal cases have been launched to try to ensure that power is transferred officially to the vice-president.

But Mr Maduekwe said the vice-president automatically stood in when the president was away, although he could not perform all of the president's functions.

Our correspondent says some Nigerians regard the president's absence as a dangerous state of affairs - especially for a country which turned its back on unpopular, turbulent military rule, only a decade ago.

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