Nigeria's Jonathan starts handover to president-elect Buhari

Ola Awoniyi , Benjamin Simon
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Muhammadu Buhari was the first opposition candidate in Nigeria's history to beat a sitting president in elections

Muhammadu Buhari was the first opposition candidate in Nigeria's history to beat a sitting president in elections (AFP Photo/Pius Utomi Ekpei)

Abuja (AFP) - Nigeria's outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday showed Muhammadu Buhari around his new quarters, as the former military ruler prepared to take over as elected head of state.

The 57-year-old took Buhari and his vice-president-elect Yemi Osinbajo on a tour of the presidential villa, Aso Rock, in Abuja, before submitting his formal handover notes.

Buhari, 72, defeated Jonathan in March 28 elections -- the first time in Nigeria's history that an opposition candidate had beaten a sitting president.

He takes over as head of Africa's most populous nation, top economy and leading oil producer as it limps back to normality after fuel shortages that brought the country to a near standstill.

Buhari's All Progressives Congress (APC) accused Jonathan's Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of orchestrating the fuel crisis to scupper the transition.

But Jonathan told him: "Our administration has done its best to intervene robustly and impact positively on key aspects of our national life."

Expectations are high, some say too high, that Buhari can fix Nigeria, with corruption seemingly entrenched in public life and decades of mismanagement.


- 'Victory in sight' -


The enormity of his task includes not just preventing further fuel supply problems but bringing an end to the Boko Haram insurgency, which has claimed at least 15,000 lives since 2009.

"Victory is now in sight and within our reach," said Jonathan, referring to a military offensive that has driven out the Islamists from captured towns and territory in the northeast.

"However, the cost in blood of citizens and heroes and the diversion of national treasures from urgent needs for development have been very high."

Hundreds of kidnapped women and children have been freed in recent weeks and Jonathan said it was his "sincere hope" that 219 schoolgirls held since April last year would soon be rescued.

Jonathan was criticised for his response to the mass abduction but nothing has been seen or heard from the schoolgirls since May last year, when many of them appeared in a Boko Haram video.

Buhari has said he cannot make promises for their safe return but his government "will do everything in its power to bring them home" and vowed to lead from the front to end the violence.

"What I want first is for him to fight Boko Haram and corruption," said psychology student Stephen Anongo, 25, as he got his hair cut at a roadside salon in the capital.

"Tomorrow I'm going to spend the little money I have to celebrate with my fellow brothers."


- Security tight -


Heads of state, including South Africa's Jacob Zuma, and Western dignitaries such as US Secretary of State John Kerry, are to attend Friday's inauguration, which starts at 9:00 am (0800 GMT).

Roads have been closed around the Eagle Square inauguration venue, where dozens of international flags have been hoisted alongside the Nigerian green and white triband and soldiers patrolled.

The venue was surrounded by barbed wire and giant posters of Buhari had been hung, alongside vice-president-elect Osinbajo, as workers rolled out red carpets and arranged flowers.

Nigeria's federal police chief Solomon Arase said the security measures were imposed "to ward off possible plans by insurgents to carry out widespread violence and coordinated attacks".

Boko Haram has hit Abuja before, while in 2010, 10 were killed during bomb attacks claimed by militants from the oil-producing southern Delta near ceremonies to mark 50 years of independence.

On the streets, traders were gearing up for Friday's event, selling watches, badges, hats and green and white polo shirts emblazoned with his campaign slogan "Sai Buhari" (Only Buhari).

"I voted for him. He is my candidate because he is going to help the masses. He is a very great man," said Zuberu Yakubu, a state-sector driver.

"I believe Buhari can make my life greater," said the 42-year-old father of five, who admitted he didn't have the 800 naira ($4, 3.65 euros) to buy a t-shirt.