Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in for his first full elected term at the helm of Africa’s most populous nation yesterday, faced with the challenge of driving reform and trying to heal regional rifts.
Heads of state from across Africa, foreign dignitaries, religious leaders and traditional rulers gathered in Eagle Square in the center of Abuja for the ceremony and a military parade to mark the start of his four-year term.
“As president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria I will discharge my duties to the best of my ability, faithfully and in accordance with the Constitution,” Jonathan said as he took the oath of office.
The former zoology student won elections last month which, while far from perfect, were deemed to have reflected the will of the people in a nation that had known virtually nothing but military rule and rigged votes for the past half-century.
Jonathan emerged from the polls with a credible mandate, having won 59 percent of the vote, but with his ruling People’s Democratic Party chastened by a weaker parliamentary majority and the loss of several powerful state governorships.
The vote threw religious and ethnic fault lines into sharp relief. Jonathan, a Christian from the south, swept to victory in his home region, but his northern rival, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, performed strongly in the mostly Muslim north.
About 800 people were killed in riots and sectarian killings after Jonathan’s victory was announced, Human Rights Watch said.
Buhari, one of the few living former heads of state absent from yesterday’s ceremony, has challenged the election result.
Jonathan faces the toughest challenge of his career uniting the country after the unrest and his relationship with his opponents will be key if he is to galvanize support for reforms and govern strongly.
Jonathan will also have to deal with the growing threat from radical Islamist sect Boko Haram in remote northeastern Nigeria, which has been carrying out almost daily killings and fire bombings of police stations with impunity.