Sunday 18 February 2018

Nigeria starts new chapter as Buhari sworn in as President

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan (L) presents a gift to president-elect Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa in Abuja, Nigeria Credit: Afolabi Sotunde
Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan (L) presents a gift to president-elect Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa in Abuja, Nigeria Credit: Afolabi Sotunde

Felix Onuah and Isaac Abrak

Three decades after he first came to power in a military coup, Muhammadu Buhari has been sworn in as President of Nigeria, giving him control of an African giant struggling with a raging Islamist insurgency.

Dressed in traditional Muslim attire, the 72-year-old general stood on the stage clutching a Koran in his right hand as he pledged to "preserve, protect and defend" the constitution of Africa's most populous nation.

Moments later, dozens of white doves were released into the air, a symbol of peace against the Boko Haram militants who have killed thousands in the last six years in their quest to carve out an Islamic caliphate in the northeast.

Read More: Herdsmen kill at least 96 people in Nigeria

The ceremony was attended by numerous African leaders and foreign dignitaries including US Secretary of State John Kerry.

The formal swearing-in marks a remarkable political turn-around for Buhari, who has gone from military dictator in the mid-1980s to a born-again democrat swept to power on the back of a landslide victory at the ballot box in March.

However, he inherits a host of problems from outgoing president Goodluck Jonathan, whose five years in charge were marked by massive corruption scandals and aimless or haphazard economic, security and foreign policy-making.

Read More: Nigeria female suicide attacks rise

The collapse in the price of oil has hammered state revenues and economic growth in the continent's biggest crude producer, and forced a devaluation of the naira - Nigerian's currency. 

Economists say another devaluation may well be on the cards.

However, many of Nigeria's 170 million people hope the country has turned a corner.

Much may depend on Buhari's choice of ministers, particularly in key portfolios such as finance, internal security and oil.

"Now it's time for the heavy lifting," said Bismark Rewane, chief executive of Lagos-based consultancy Financial Derivatives.

"Nigeria is going to be more visible and more assertive. Do you have the team that is respected by the international community, that has the pedigree and the background to deal with the management issues?"

Read More: Inside Boko Haram's 'caliphate' in Nigeria

Yemi Osinbajo, a Christian lawyer from the southwest region that includes Lagos, was sworn in as vice-president, a deliberate counterpoint in the religiously mixed nation to Buhari, who is from the predominantly Muslim north.

Although his roots are in the military, not economics, Buhari served as head of the Petroleum Trust Fund under Sani Abacha, another military ruler, giving him insight into the murky world of crude oil production.

During Goodluck Jonathan's time in office, the state oil company, NNPC, was accused by the central bank governor of failing to remit up to €18 billion in oil revenues to the government - an allegation that cost the respected banker his job.


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