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Nigeria's leader pledges to heal wounds

By Associated Press,
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 30, 2003

ABUJA, Nigeria - Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo took the oath of office for a second term Thursday, pledging to heal the wounds of an election that was marred by fraud but was considered a milestone for democracy in Africa's most populous nation.

More than a dozen African leaders watched as Obasanjo, in traditional white robes, raised his hand before an invitation-only crowd under high security in the capital.

Obasanjo called his re-election "affirmation our leadership is trustworthy," after a first term widely acknowledged to have failed at curbing rampant corruption and violence.

"We will draw on the lessons learnt" to build "a great Nigeria," Obasanjo pledged.

Obasanjo's 1999 election to a four-year term ended 15 years of brutal, corrupt military rule.

He won re-election on April 19 in a vote that opposition candidates rejected as fraudulent.

International observers reported many examples of fraud, but did not question the victory of Obasanjo, a 66-year-old Christian from southern Nigeria, over top rival Muhammadu Buhari.

Ruling parties who control campaign money, and often electoral authorities, rarely lose elections in Africa. African countries that have had transitions from one elected government to another, including South Africa, Kenya, Senegal, Zambia, Benin and Cape Verde, have become icons of peaceful change.

Holding elections at all was an accomplishment for Nigeria. Military dictators have governed the country for most of the 43 years since independence from Britain.

Most people remain poor, despite the country's vast petroleum wealth.

Balarade Musa, chairman of a coalition of 20 opposition groups, railed Thursday at Obasanjo's inauguration as a "celebration of fraud, brigandage and shame."

Obasanjo said healing the "wounds of the election" would be his first task.

"A few have suffered as a result of the bumps along the way," Obasanjo said in acknowledging his critics. "There are more who have gained."

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