Muhammadu Buhari officially became Nigeria's president on Friday during a much-anticipated inauguration ceremony, with the new leader vowing to defeat the "godless" Boko Haram militants during his first address as the West African country's head of state.
The 72-year-old former general's inauguration was marked with celebrations, including singing, dancing, and the release of white doves, in the capital city of Abuja. US Secretary of State John Kerry and America's Africa Command head Gen. David M. Rodriguez were in attendance, with Kerry becoming the first foreign official to meet with the new president, according to the Associated Press.
"Nigeria has a window of opportunity to fulfill our mission as our great nation," Buhari, who briefly ruled as a military dictator in the 1980s and defeated incumbent Goodluck Jonathan in this year's elections, said after the handover of power. "I intend to serve as president to all Nigerians."
During his address on Friday, Buhari touched on issues like fighting corruption, improving the economy, and winning the fight against Boko Haram. Vowing to wipe out the violent Islamist extremist group that has been active in the country for more than a decade, Buhari referred to the militants as "mindless" and "as far from Islam as one can think of."
"The armed forces will be fully charged with prosecuting the fight against Boko Haram," he said. "We are going to tackle them head on."
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The new president also stressed that the government was committed to rescuing the more than 200 missing Chibok schoolgirls, who were kidnapped from their dormitories in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram during a midnight ambush in April 2014, sparking an international campaign for their return.
"We cannot claim to have defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls and all other innocent persons held hostage," Buhari said. "This government will do all it can to rescue them alive."
As Buhari highlighted his commitment to national security in the domestic fight against Boko Haram, he also thanked neighboring Niger, Cameroon, and Chad for helping in the multinational fight against the group, which has successfully pushed the militants from strongholds in their self-declared Islamic caliphate, the AP reported.
Prior to Kerry's meeting with Buhari, a US State Department official said Washington was prepared to boost military assistance to the country in its fight against Boko Haram, including the possibility of quickly dispatching advisers. The top US diplomat was expected to discuss the military aid during the meeting with the president, which was scheduled for Friday.
This would mark a notable parting from Buhari's predecessor, who cut off a US program training a Nigerian military battalion to fight Boko Haram. While Jonathan did not provide an explanation for the move, tensions arose when the US declined to sell weapons to Nigeria due to legislative restrictions for arms sales to human rights violators, according to the AP. Buhari addressed human rights violations on Friday as well, saying he would take "disciplinary steps" against perpetrators, while announcing plans to revamp rules of engagement for the armed forces in order to avoid future abuses.