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Nigerian President Seeks Approval Amid Continued Questions About Election

It has been just over half a year since Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua was elected to power in elections marred by violence and widely viewed as fraudulent. Analysts say since that time Mr. Yar'Adua has gone to great lengths to show himself as a credible leader, capable of tackling many problems in Africa's most populous nation. Kari Barber reports from our West Africa bureau in Dakar that while some Nigerians are optimistic about what Mr. Yar'Adua is doing for the country, others say he will never be accepted as a legitimate leader given the way he came to power.

Businesswoman Anna Olabiyi says although Mr. Yar'Adua's presidency has been tarnished, she hopes for the best.

"Nobody is an angel," she said. "We just believe - we keep on praying for him - that he will try his best. It is not easy to be a president. And for the kind of country that Nigeria is, he will have to try."

Despite an election observers say was rife with vote rigging and intimidation, Mr. Yar'Adua is enjoying a good deal of popularity. Effiong Sunday of Lagos says he is happy with the new president.

"Really Mr. Yar'Adua has made a great impression in so many ways," he said. "I like his government because it is a democracy. I would like him to help me."

Just how democratic the elections were is still in question as some opposition groups press forward with court cases challenging election results. Spokesman for the opposition All Nigeria People's Party Ibrahim Modibbo says his party is working alongside Mr. Yar'Adua's ruling party, but that does not mean they accept the government or support his policy.

"In the interest of peace and democracy over anarchy they decided to go into a government of national unity, but that is not to say the party has stopped our presidential candidate from seeking his rights at the court of law," he said.

Chidi Odinkalu of the Abuja-based Open Society Justice Initiative says Mr. Yar'Adua is fully aware of his need to enhance his legitimacy inside and outside the country.

"I think Yar'Adua will always have a legitimacy problem in some form," Odinkalu said. "It is not insurmountable in the short term. I think he is certainly aware he does have a legitimacy deficit or a damaged mandate."

However, Odinkalu says Mr. Yar'Adua's has made popular economic decisions - possibly winning him some support. Soon after being inaugurated, President Yar'Adua reversed the quick sell-off and privatization of the nation's oil refineries - a last minute controversial move by outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo. He also broke up the country's petroleum company, which many say suffers from endemic corruption, into smaller parts so it could be better managed.

Mr. Yar'Adua gained praise for halting a scheme by the Central Bank to change the denomination amounts on the country's currency without consent. To improve his image outside the country Mr. Yar'Adua recently hired a new U.S.-based public relations firm to lobby for him within the United States. But Odinkalu says for many Nigerians, Mr. Yar'Adua's best character is that his leadership style bears little resemblance to that of former President Obasanjo.

"He is more understated, he is less brash, he appears more respectful of procedures," Odinkalu said. "Having said that it is a bit too soon to say if he is less beholden to the forces that have brought him to power."

Former President Obasanjo became widely unpopular by the end of his term for pervasive poverty, rampant corruption and ongoing violence. In his inauguration speech, President Yar'Adua made peace in the violence oil-rich Niger Delta region his priority.

Militant groups there have been staging attacks on oil facilities and kidnappings - they say for a bigger cut of the region's oil wealth. In efforts to quell the violence, Mr. Yar'Adua released from prison key militant leader Moujahid Dokubo-Asari - a longstanding demand of militant groups.

"Non-Violence in the Niger Delta" peace group head Kennedy West of Port Harcourt says this was a positive move and although fighting has continued, West says things are moving in the right direction. "You cannot expect that something the militants have been doing consistently for two years or there about can stop over night," West said. "No, it cannot. But there is peace in certain quarters and certain areas."

Despite early signs of optimism, many are still cautious about what Mr. Yar'Adua's rule will bring to the nation which has in the past suffered harsh military rule.

Nassir Abbas of the Human Rights Forum in the northern state of Kaduna says corruption is still a problem and Mr. Yar'Adua needs not only to examine himself, but also those around him. Many in Mr. Yar'Adua's government, Abbas says, came from the former administration and do not have the clean record Mr. Yar'Adua does.

"At this point in time he is correcting things, at the same time but he is bringing other bad hands into the system," said Abbas. "I think if care is not taken, these bad elements will come back into the system and we will go back to what was happening in the past."

Human Rights Watch recently released a report blasting Nigerian government officials saying their actions more resembled criminal activities than democratic governance. Lagos student Babtunde Sadiq says he believes in President Yar'Adua.

"I do not want him to allow anyone to be directing him. He should do what is in his mind and what is right to us, the masses," he said.

Mr. Yar'Adua has acknowledged shortcomings in the election that brought him to power, and he has formed a panel to examine the nation's electoral process.