Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan sworn in with nation divided

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in on Sunday following an election seen as the fairest in two decades, but he faces a divided nation after deadly post-poll riots.

Jonathan was inaugurated amid tight security at a colourful ceremony with full military honours, including a fly-past in the capital of Abuja.

In an oath administered by chief justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, the fedora-wearing Jonathan swore that he will be “faithful and bear true allegiance” to Nigeria and “discharge my duties to the best of my abilities”.

The 53-year-old southern Christian comfortably beat his main opponent, an ex-military ruler from the mainly Muslim north, in the April 16 vote that was followed by three days of rioting leaving more than 800 people dead.

The rioting and massacres spread across the north of Africa’s most populous nation, with victims hacked, burnt or shot to death. Mobs torched churches and mosques, attacked shops and beat people after pulling them from cars.

Security surrounded the inauguration venue, the city’s Eagle Square, with roads blocked for several kilometres. Twin bombs went off outside the same square during last October’s independence celebrations.

A total of 10 000 police, military and state security services personnel were deployed, backed by two helicopters.

As an additional security measure, all cellphone services were suspended in Abuja following a government directive, according to a message sent to clients.

Jonathan, Nigeria’s first president from the oil-producing Niger Delta region, sought to put the violence behind him at the elaborate ceremony attended by about two dozen heads of states, mainly from Africa.

Among those present were newly elected Ivorian leader Alassane Ouattara, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

Former colonial power Britain was represented by Minister for Africa Henry Bellingham.

Suspicion remains in the north of Nigeria, where many accuse Jonathan’s ruling People’s Democratic Party of vote rigging and reject observers’ reports calling the election a step forward for the continent’s largest oil producer, despite some flaws.

Hostility from the north
“Jonathan does not have legitimacy,” said Abubakar Siddique Mohammed, who runs a thinktank in the northern city of Zaria, where a home belonging to the family of Vice-President Namadi Sambo was torched during the riots.

He personally witnessed numerous cases of ballot fraud, Mohammed alleged, calling the election observers liars.

“[Jonathan] cannot lead by pretending that people are not aggrieved,” he said.

Long before the election, Jonathan faced hostility in the north — poorer and less educated than the oil-producing south.

Many in the region accuse him of snatching power away from them as his nomination overturned an internal ruling party arrangement that saw it rotate its candidate between the north and south every two terms.

He took over in May 2010 after the death of his predecessor Umaru Yar’Adua, a northern Muslim who did not finish his first term.

For that reason, many argued that a northerner should be nominated by the party that has won every presidential election since the country returned to civilian rule in 1999.

Many northerners had put their hopes on Jonathan’s main challenger, Muhammadu Buhari.

Buhari alleged fraud in the election, but disassociated himself from the violence.

Because of the circumstances surrounding his election and the fact that Jonathan comes from a minority ethnic group — he is an Ijaw — some argue he will find it difficult to bring about significant change.

Others say progress is possible if Jonathan can deliver on issues such as infrastructure — including a woeful electricity supply that blacks out daily — and begin to tackle corruption.

They point to progress made by the electoral commission, which organised the vote with safeguards that made rigging harder.

It is not only the north that poses potential troubles for Jonathan.

His native Niger Delta has seen relative peace after years of unrest thanks to a 2009 amnesty deal, but questions have been raised over how long it can last.

A deadly conflict between Christian and Muslim ethnic groups in the country’s middle belt region also continues to simmer, while an Islamist sect has been blamed for dozens of killings in the north-east. – AFP

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