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Where in the world is Nigeria's president?

Nigeria hasn't seen its president for more than 50 days, leaving the country without effective leadership.

“The decision was hasty ... it will just compound the idea that the U.S. is anti-Islam,” said Hussaini Abdu, an Abuja-based activist who has written several research papers on Nigeria’s Muslim sects. “The U.S. should have instead tried to engage with the Nigerian government and understand the nuances of what is happening here.”

Following public euphoria at the appointment of the first black U.S. president, Nigerians have been disappointed by Barack Obama’s lack of special attention. Obama pointedly chose to visit nearby Ghana, often lauded as stable and well-governed, rather than Nigeria on his first presidential trip to Africa last July. In a further blow, Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, rebuked Nigeria on its lack of transparency when she visited Abuja in August.

As a diplomatic storm grows around the Abdulmutallab case, Nigeria also remains without a leader to defend the country and speak on its behalf. Umaru Yar’Adua, the president, who has a history of medical problems, has left the country adrift. Nigerians have neither seen nor heard from the president since his abrupt departure in November.

“If the president had been around, he could have spoken to Mr. Obama [about the list] on a level — as colleagues,” said Emmanuel Onwobiko of the Human Rights Writers Association, a lobby group that has demanded that parliament compel Yar’Adua to confirm his whereabouts and the state of his health. “But nobody is in charge.”

Sub-Saharan Africa’s top oil producer has edged ever further to the brink of a constitutional crisis in recent weeks, as lawyers and activists say the president must at least temporarily hand over to Goodluck Jonathan, his deputy.

Opposition parties are demanding a Fidel Castro-style video statement, live from the presidential sickbed, just to prove that Yar’Adua is still alive. Meanwhile, members of the ruling People’s Democratic Party are furiously plotting for the post-Yar’Adua succession battle.

Such instability at a crucial time could well have been on the minds of those who drew up the U.S. watch-list, experts say.

“I think Yar’Adua’s absence was a big part of America’s decision,” said Rolake Akinola, a West Africa analyst at Control Risks, a consultancy. “The fact that Abdulmutallab was Nigerian was largely incidental ... and it is wrong to say that Nigeria is a breeding ground for terrorists. But the lack of a leader casts doubt on the country’s ability to respond to any kind of crisis, be it a terrorist event or anything else.”