LAGOSLAGOS (Reuters) - Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari told members of his party before he was first elected that he would only seek one term, implying he did not intend at that time to run in 2019, the minister of women's affairs told Reuters on Wednesday.
The comments by Aisha Alhassan could heighten uncertainty over whether Buhari plans to contest the next election. Buhari took power in 2015 but has been absent for much of this year due to illness. He is yet to say if he will seek a second term.
"In 2014/2015 he said he was going to run for only one time to clean up the mess that the (previous) PDP government did in Nigeria. And I took him for his word that he is not contesting in 2019," Minister of Women Affairs Alhassan said.
Alhassan said in the interview she would resign if Buhari seeks re-election and would support former vice president Atiku Abubakar if he decides to run. Alhassan's portfolio ranks relatively low down in Nigeria's cabinet.
Abubakar was vice president from 1999 to 2007 as part of the People's Democratic Party (PDP). He joined the All Progressives Congress (APC), Buhari's party, in 2014. She said Buhari made the comments in 2015 to APC members but gave no further details.
The president's two spokesmen declined to comment on the minister's remarks.
Buhari, 74, returned on Aug. 19 from three months of medical leave in Britain for an unspecified ailment. It was his second stint of sick leave this year following a break between January and March.
Many people say they doubt whether Buhari is well enough to serve another term in Nigeria, which is Africa's most populous country and has the continent's biggest economy.
"If today Mr. President says he is running in 2019 I will go to him respectfully and thank him for giving me an opportunity to serve and then tell him that I have to resign because my political father may be running," said Alhassan.
(Additional reporting by Felix Onuah, in Abuja, and Garba Muhammad in Kaduna; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)