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Nigeria first lady returns after mystery illness

Wednesday - 10/17/2012, 4:49pm  ET

By JON GAMBRELL
Associated Press

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) - Nigerian first lady Patience Jonathan returned home Wednesday following a mystery illness that kept her abroad for weeks as the nation wondered about her health.

The state-run Nigerian Television Authority cut into its programming to show Jonathan waving from a presidential jet on the tarmac of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja. Wearing a purple traditional dress, Jonathan slowly walked into a crowd of singers, drummers and supporters, surrounded by police officers.

Addressing the nation, Jonathan denied she had a "terminal illness or cosmetic surgery." However, her voice sounded strained by speaking and she appeared slimmer than before.

"I believe that God has saved me," the first lady said.

In September, Jonathan disappeared from public view after hosting an event for African first ladies. Authorities refused to say publicly why she left the country. An official later told The Associated Press the first lady fell ill with "food poisoning" and needed to be hospitalized in Germany. Yet as her absence lengthened, rumors began to swirl around the country that she had a more serious medical condition.

Nigeria has had leaders die in office before, like military dictator Sani Abacha in the 1990s and late President Umaru Yar'Adua, who her husband Goodluck Jonathan later succeeded. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo's wife Stella died in Spain while he was in office after what some have said was a botched cosmetic surgery.

Seeking to halt questions, the state-run television network aired footage a week ago showing the president visit his wife with their children in Germany. However, the video only fueled speculations about her absence, as well as criticism of government leaders who seek medical care abroad as hospitals in Nigeria routinely lack electricity and life-saving drugs.

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Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)