Nigeria's Buhari heads to Britain for medical treatment

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari speak to the press in Paris in September 2015 (AFP Photo/BERTRAND GUAY) (AFP/File)

Abuja (AFP) - Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari's office said on Thursday he was to travel to London for health checks -- the second time in less than a year he has gone to Britain for medical treatment.

The presidency said the 74-year-old would "undergo routine medical check-ups" during a short holiday and was expected to resume work on February 6.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo will be in charge during Buhari's absence, according to a statement.

Buhari was last in London in June 2016 for treatment to what the presidency described as a persistent inner ear infection, which caused him to pull out of several scheduled engagements.

Wealthier Nigerians frequently travel overseas for medical treatment because of the poor state of healthcare in the West African nation.

But the president's decision sparked anger, including from the country's medical association, which said it contradicted Buhari's pledge of ending medical tourism.

The health of Nigeria's president has long been a sensitive issue.

President Umaru Yar'Adua died in 2010 from a long-standing, but undisclosed, kidney condition.

Before Yar'Adua, the military ruler Sani Abacha died in 1998, officially from a heart attack, but rumours of a more lurid cause of death persist.

Buhari himself has had to respond to claims about his health: during the 2015 election campaign that brought him to power, his opponents claimed he was "mortally ill" from prostate cancer.

He dismissed the allegations and said a purported medical document used to back up the claim was a forgery.