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Nigeria's President-Elect Visits Neighbors

Nigeria's president-elect, Umaru Mussa Yar'Adua, has started formal visit to several African countries, but critics say he should focus his attention first on problems at home following his disputed election. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our West Africa bureau in Dakar.

After meeting with Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe Monday in northern Togo, Nigeria's president-elect brushed aside recurrent criticism he is getting about his election victory.

He said it is not the first time an election is controversial in Nigeria, and that it happens across Africa. The U.S. State Department has said the election he won in late April was marked by serious flaws.

International observers have said it was not credible, and did not respect the will of the people.

Earlier Monday, Mr. Yar'Adua was in Benin, where he met President Yayi Boni, who spoke of the high value of regional cooperation.

He said Benin and Togo depend on Nigeria for their electricity, and that it was important to work together to create what he called a sphere of prosperity.

Nigerian human rights activist Nasir Abbas says it is no time for the president-elect to go visiting foreign countries when so much needs to be done in Nigeria to reassure the disillusioned poor.

"What he should do right now is try as hard as possible to consolidate the issue of democracy, for one, and, two, to make sure that all the necessary mechanisms are there to address the deplorable conditions of Nigerians," said Nasir Abbas.

Jennifer Cooke, an analyst with the U.S-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, agrees, but says Mr. Yar'Adua may have other motivations as well.

"It does seem a little bit early," said Jennifer Cooke. "He has got a lot of contentious issues to settle at home first. I imagine he is very anxious to cement his legitimacy in international circles, and may hope that this kind of trip will help build his international credentials and credibility at home. But my thought is, his first priority should be to be working to confront some of the big difficulties he is going to have at home in the near future."

Outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo has said the election was, in his words, not perfect, but that it generally reflected the will of Nigerians. His earlier attempts to seek a third elected term were blocked by parliament.

The opposition has said it will fight the results in court and protest the scheduled handover May 29.

The little-known president-elect, formerly a governor in northern Nigeria, will continue his foreign visits this week with scheduled trips to Niger, Senegal, South Africa, Algeria and Libya.