Before becoming the handpicked successor of Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria's new President, Umaru Yar'Adua, was the little-known Governor of a remote northern state. But as the new leader of Africa's most populous nation and its largest oil producer, his decisions now have a global impact. Shortly before his May 29 inauguration, Yar'Adua, 56, spoke with TIME's Gilbert Da Costa about Nigeria's future, corruption, and being his own man.
TIME: Some critics claim you are Obasanjo's puppet.
Yar'Adua:Puppet? You obviously don't know me. I'm nobody's puppet.
How do you react to charges that your election was rigged? E.U.
observers called it "not credible."
Elections in Nigeria have never been without problems. We have made a commitment to review the electoral process. We are keen to correct some of the inadequacies that have created problems for our elections, but I'm absolutely certain I was duly and fairly elected.
What are your priorities?
My priority is the economy. I'm keen to roll out policies that will ensure growth, so there will be job opportunities, and also look at infrastructure, particularly in the energy sector, which I see as a critical element in our quest for rapid development.
Most Nigerians have the impression that very little has been achieved in recent years.
These things take time. The government has signed a contract with the Chinese to generate 2,000 MW of hydroelectric power from the Mambila Plateau worth $1.5 billion, which will take four years to complete. Contracts such as this are being signed in virtually all key sectors of the economy. These achievements are phenomenal. With patience, we will all get there.
What about the fight against corruption? Critics say the outgoing regime has been inconsistent.
There has always been this claim, but I have not seen any evidence of inconsistency. But putting that aside, I will make sure all laws on corruption are meticulously enforced. We have enough laws to fight corruption. All we need is the will and commitment to enforce them.
The Niger Delta appears to be slipping out of control.
The situation in that region is very troubling...but I've declared my intention to make it a priority. The people behind the violence should have the conviction that my government is serious about dealing with their grievances. I have been talking to leaders from that region and am convinced we will succeed. I will launch a comprehensive blueprint that will address the crisis in the Delta once and for all within my first hundred days of taking office.
What sort of relationship do you hope to have with the U.S.?
We have an excellent relationship with Washington and we will seek ways to expand ties.
Do you favor U.S. plans for a bigger military role in West Africa
We have problems in the Niger Delta, but I prefer what I will call a homegrown solution. I think we are on top of the situation and our military can deal with it. We don't have a problem with the U.S. military taking an active interest in the region, but our security forces are competent and can handle any threat, at least for now.