, ABUJA, May 6 – Nigeria\’s Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday took over the reins of power in the oil-rich nation riven by religious and political divisions hours after ailing president Umaru Yar\’Adua died.
He was sworn into office at a brief ceremony at the presidential palace where his predecessor Yar\’Adua died after a long illness.
Jonathan, 52, pledged to "discharge my duty faithfully and diligently," as he took the oath administered by the country\’s chief justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu.
Yar\’Adua died late Wednesday after more than five months battling a heart ailment, a condition that in November took him to a Saudi hospital for treatment.
He stayed there and little was heard from him for more than three months, amid growing concern about the power vacuum at the top until parliament finally voted into office his deputy, Jonathan, as acting president.
In his acceptance speech after taking oath, Jonathan said his coming to power came under "very sad and unusual circumstances", describing Yar\’Adua as a "man of great personal integrity… and outstanding humility".
Jonathan will have to complete his predecessor\’s term, which expires in April 2011, and nominate a vice president who is to be approved by the two houses of parliament.
The new president declared seven days of mourning during which flags will fly at half mast.
Yar\’Adua is to be buried in his northern Katsina State on Thursday.
Since his return to Nigeria from Saudi Arabia in February, Yar\’Adua, 58, had not been seen in public, nor was any information released as to the state of his health.
But there was constant tension between his supporters, from the Muslim north, and those of Jonathan, from the largely Christian south.
On March 17, Jonathan sacked the entire Yar\’Adua-formed cabinet, and then swore in his own team with less than half of its members drawn from the old government.
The new president pledged his "total commitment to good governance, electoral reforms and the fight against corruption".
"One of the true tests would be to ensure that all votes count and are counted in the upcoming general elections," he said. Jonathan has said little about his own political plans.
In an agreement designed to defuse the political and religious rivalries between the north and south, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has an arrangement by which Christians and Muslims alternate in the top job.
Under this agreement, the leadership was reserved for a northern Muslim for eight years from 2007: Goodluck Jonathan is a southern Christian.
Yar\’Adua\’s death comes at a difficult time for Africa\’s most populous nation.
Muslim-Christian violence erupted in central Nigeria earlier this year in which hundreds of people were killed, while in the south there has been renewed unrest in the oil-rich Niger Delta.
Yar\’Adua, Nigeria\’s third elected civilian president, was recognised for his honesty in this corruption-ridden west African country.
But his failing health and a perceived lack of charisma prevented him from enacting his reform agenda.
United States President Barack Obama expressed sadness at the death of Yar\’Adua, praising him as a man with a passionate belief in his nation\’s future, in a statement issued Wednesday.
"We remember and honour president Yar\’Adua\’s profound personal decency and integrity, his deep commitment to public service, and his passionate belief in the vast potential and bright future of Nigeria\’s 150 million people," he said.
"He was committed to creating lasting peace and prosperity within Nigeria\’s own borders, and continuing that work will be an important part of honouring his legacy.
In neighbouring Benin, President Boni Yayi paid his own tribute.
"With the loss of this great statesman… Benin, my country, loses a great friend and I am very upset," he told AFP.