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Nigerian Leader Marks Difficult First Year

Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua has yet to fulfill some key campaign promises as he marks his first year in office this week. In recent weeks, doubts have emerged about the president's health after he was hospitalized in Germany. Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports on a year of struggle for the Nigerian leader.

Umaru Yar'Adua won Nigeria's April 2007 national election by a wide margin. But the legitimacy of his electoral victory was immediately cast into doubt when local and international observers concluded the presidential, legislative and gubernatorial polls were marred by fraud.

Nigeria's Supreme Court is still hearing challenges to President Yar'Adua's election victory last year.

But the issue is just one among a list of problems faced by the new leader.

A year into his presidency, the Nigerian leader is struggling to deliver on a promise to increase the supply of electricity. Nigeria's 140 million people have less electricity now than when he came to power.

The nation's production of crude oil has been cut by at least a fifth since February 2006, when armed rebels protesting against poverty in the oil-producing Niger Delta started blowing up pipelines and production facilities and kidnapping oil workers. The president's pledge to resolve the insurgency within 90 days of his inauguration has not been fulfilled.

Poverty is another problem. Critics say Mr. Yar'Adua has failed to stem endemic poverty. According to the United Nations, 70 percent of Nigerians live on less than two dollars a day, despite exports of billions of dollars worth of oil every year.

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who ran against Mr. Yar'Adua as an opposition candidate in the 2007 ballot, told VOA the Yar'Adua presidency has been a disappointment.

"We are not moving," said Atiku Abubakar. "Nigeria is such a dynamic country, but I am afraid we are not moving. How many months are we today into the administration? I don't think we are moving. I don't know whether they are too slow or they don't even have the ideas. I have always known him [YarAdua] to be single-minded and independent-minded. What I am not sure is whether he was actually ready to be president, or whether he prepared himself to be president."

The president's health became an issue after he was flown to Germany after collapsing during a campaign tour last year. He was hospitalized in Germany again a few weeks ago. The nature of the president's ailment has not been officially disclosed but some reports suggest it could be kidney-related.

Rumors about Mr. Yar'Adua's health have continued despite persistent assurances that the president is in good health and in control of the government.

Since his election the president has kept his promise to reform elections in Nigeria by setting up a special panel to deal with the issue. Abdullahi Jalo, a ranking member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, says the president is serious about political reform and addressing other critical national problems

The president now by setting it up [electoral reform panel], what has never happened before, certainly credit goes to him," said Abdullahi Jalo. "Even for you to identify that something is wrong, it is itself a remedy….a good intention to reduce the problem. He has identified that what we are doing in this country, particularly our electoral actions, are bad."

Integrity and respect for the rule of law are two key areas even the president's critics admit he has shown leadership. Mr. Yar'Adua is the first Nigerian president to publish an inventory of his property.

Experts say the critical challenge for Mr. Yar'Adua in the months and years ahead will be how quickly he moves to deliver on those things that Nigerians want to see from the presidency; better roads, better security, and most of all, more electricity.