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"Servant leader" Yar'Adua wants more moral Nigeria

ABUJA (Reuters) - New Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua promised to be a “servant leader” on Tuesday and encouraged Nigerians to embrace traditional moral values that many feel have been lost in the violent, corrupt country.

In his inaugural speech, Yar’Adua presented himself as a humble man who would work hard to improve living conditions for the poor majority in a nation of 140 million plagued by joblessness, crime and lack of basic services.

“I most humbly offer myself as a servant leader. I will be a good listener and a doer. I will serve this nation with honesty, transparency, accountability and absolute fear of God,” said Yar’Adua, who is a devout Muslim.

“Let us work and strive together to restore our time-honored values of honesty, decency, generosity, modesty, selflessness,” he said.

The stern, self-effacing stance was in sharp contrast to the style of his predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo, a former army head of state with a fiery temper who was as likely to berate his audiences as to charm them with funny anecdotes.

One of the main challenges Yar’Adua faces as he assumes office is to show Nigerians that he is not Obasanjo’s puppet, as many of them suspect. The inaugural speech seemed designed to highlight the differences between the two men.

“Yar’Adua’s presidency will be a total departure,” said political columnist Pini Jason of Vanguard newspaper.


On the Niger Delta, the oil-producing region in southern Nigeria where militant attacks and constant abductions of foreign workers have crippled output, Yar’Adua pledged to negotiate “in a spirit of fairness, justice and cooperation”.

The choice of words, especially the repeated use of the word “justice”, were an olive branch held out to an impoverished region where most residents feel cheated out of the immense wealth being pumped from their polluted lands.

Obasanjo had threatened last year to meet the militants “force for force” and on a visit to the delta earlier this month, he told local activists they should consider themselves lucky to get personal attention from him and stop complaining.

In another sign that he was trying to differentiate himself from Obasanjo, whose time in the public eye stretches back almost as far as Nigerian independence in 1960, Yar’Adua said his own rise to power marked a “generational change”.

He said he was one of the “children of independence” and urged Nigerians to recapture the optimistic spirit of that era.

He challenged them to “set aside cynicism and strive for the good society that we know is within our reach” -- a message that may be hard to digest for millions of poor Nigerians disillusioned by decades of corrupt and incompetent leaders.

Yar’Adua did praise Obasanjo, especially his free-market economic reforms which the new president said had laid solid foundations upon which he would build.

He made a series of pledges to improve basic infrastructure -- addressing a common complaint about Obasanjo’s reforms that they failed to improve the lot of the poor majority.