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Nigerian President Faces Many Challenges in Second Term - 2003-05-29

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo faces many challenges as he begins his second term as president of Africa's most populous nation. Mr. Obasanjo says he intends to get Nigeria on the road to prosperity and stability.

His critics say that, during the past four years, President Obasanjo spent too much time traveling in an effort to rehabilitate Nigeria's image. They say he should have stayed home and focused on internal issues that affect most Nigerians; poverty, communal violence, and corruption.

Political scientist Dan Fulani Mohammeda, who is based in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, says Mr. Obasanjo's frequent visits to other countries eventually earned him the nickname of absentee president.

"At a particular time, the outings were becoming too much and the opposition was the first to highlight that those outings were too much," he said. "It is not in the interest of the nation and you can observe that he stopped for a while. If the president can reduce the overseas trips this time around and concentrate on solving the basic local problems that would be extremely nice at least to make sure that democracy takes its roots."

Another political analyst, Tunde Martins, who has been an adviser to previous governments in Nigeria, says the president's first priority should be alleviating poverty. Despite the country's huge oil wealth, most Nigerians live on less than one dollar a day.

"The major challenges that will be pressing President Olusegun Obasanjo in his second term is the issue of the Nigerian economy, which needs to be revamped in view of the very pathetic standard of living of the ordinary Nigerians, even though the president has promised he will do more in terms of boosting the economy in the rural areas," he said.

Mr. Martins says despite reports of vote rigging in certain areas during the April presidential election, Nigerians are ecstatic that democracy is taking hold in the country. Unlike in the past, Nigeria's military remained on the sidelines.

"Most of the banners that I have seen that have been hoisted in various parts of the city, they are saying that democracy has come to stay in Nigeria," he said. "We showed that the civilians are prepared to ensure that, not to scuttle democracy in Nigeria."

Professor Mohammeda says Mr. Obasanjo must take the initiative in tackling corruption and violence.

"The president should make efforts to clean whatever he has to do with his own operations of government and it is on that basis that if you look at the question of poverty and the question of violence that the question of helping the social economic policies now arises," he said. "Does the government really have the will to do it? Are we really serious about fighting corruption?

Are we ready to help the ordinary man on the road to appreciate the dividends of democracy? These are the basic things that we will have to fight for in the four-year term that we have; hoping that everything goes very well."

Mr. Obasanjo, a former military ruler during the late 1970s, says it took him some time to "know the depth of decay" when he took power as an elected civilian four years ago. He says his next administration will be more aggressive in pursuing reform.

According to the constitution, this will be Mr. Obasanjo's last term as a civilian president. But opposition parties say he is not entitled to a second term. They say that because of his previous experience as a military ruler, he shouldn't be allowed to serve another four years.

Some opposition leaders say they won't recognize the new government. But observers say most Nigerians are eager to see if Mr. Obasanjo can improve their lives in the next four years.