Nigeria's Senate President Denies Plot to Take Over Presidency

Saraki, Buhari and King of Morocco
Nigeria's Senate President Bukola Saraki (left) Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari (center) and King of Morocco Mohammed VI (right) pray at the Nigerian National Mosque in Abuja, December 2, 2016. Saraki has denied he is trying to take over the presidency while Buhari is out of the country. PHILIP OJISUA/AFP/Getty

The head of Nigeria's Senate has quashed rumors that he is plotting to take over the presidency while Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is out of the country.

Bukola Saraki, the president of the upper house of the Nigerian National Assembly, holds the third-highest political office in the West African country, behind Buhari and his Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.

Buhari, 74, left Nigeria on January 19 for a vacation in the U.K, where he would undergo "routine medical checkups," according to his spokesman Femi Adesina. Osinbajo has been the acting president while Buhari is on vacation.

Saraki issued a statement Wednesday on his website addressing social media speculation that he had held a meeting with Osinbajo and other Nigerian governors in a bid to force Osinbajo to vacate the role of acting president.

"My first initial reaction was to ignore this empty rumour but after being inundated with calls from across the country and abroad, it became necessary for me to make clarifications from our own end," Saraki said in the statement.

"Such suggestions as contained in the speculation can only bring ill will, disunity and crisis to the country, and I therefore advise the sponsors to desist immediately."

The Nigerian presidency has also been dismissive of the reports. The political adviser to President Buhari, Babafemi Ojudu, said Wednesday that the story "is simply not true" and urged media outlets not to be "purveyors of fake news," Nigeria's Premium Times reported.

Saraki, 54, is a member of Buhari's All Progressives Congress and a former governor of the western Kwara state. He is currently facing trial on multiple charges of false declaration of assets, which he denies. Nigeria's Attorney General filed the charges in September 2015 but the trial has suffered multiple delays.

Though his advisers have stressed that Buhari is in rude health, the trip is the second time in less than a year that the Nigerian president has undergone medical treatment in the U.K. During a June 2016 trip to London, Buhari sought specialist treatment for an ear infection, angering medical professionals who felt that the president should have patronized the Nigerian health system.

Nigeria's Information Minister Lai Mohammed has urged the country's population to disregard "subversive messages" being circulated via social media and text messages, claiming that the president is unwell.

"There is no iota of truth in the messages being circulated on the health of the president, who is hale and hearty, and the purported emergency meeting of the State Governors in Abuja or anywhere," said Mohammed in a statement reported by Reuters on Thursday.

Buhari is expected to return to work on February 6, according to his spokesman Adesina.