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For now, Nigerians give Buhari benefit of doubt

"I had voted for Jonathan because I wanted to support my brother but now I think Buhari is good for us," said the 26-year-old, speaking on a central Lagos street where he sells cheap jeans.

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A man holds a framed portrait of Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari outside the venue of Buhari's inauguration in Abuja May 29, 2015. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye play A man holds a framed portrait of Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari outside the venue of Buhari's inauguration in Abuja May 29, 2015. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye (Reuters)

Nigerian beautician Rasheedat Lawal has seen sales at her cosmetics salon plunge since President Muhammadu Buhari came to power but she still thinks the 72-year-old former dictator is the right person to fix Africa's largest economy.

The ascetic, sandal-wearing general's first four months in power have coincided with a renewed slide in global oil prices, which has slowed economic growth in Africa's top crude producer and weakened the naira currency.

For Lawal that means a 20 percent price hike for the imported makeup and other beauty products at her small Lagos salon - an increase most of her customers cannot afford.

Yet after five years of ineffective and corrupt government under former President Goodluck Jonathan, she is pinning her hopes on Buhari's pledge to end the corruption that has kept Nigeria's oil wealth in the hands of a tiny, hyper-rich elite.

"You need to give Buhari some time," said Lawal, standing in a salon almost devoid of customers. "We want changes. We don't want to continue what was left behind by Jonathan."

Buhari made history in March by becoming the first candidate to defeat an incumbent at the polls. Improving security in a country where violence has torn both north and south was one of his key pledges, but since he took over as president on May 29, it has been two steps forward and one step back.

On the plus side, the oil-rich and volatile southern Niger Delta, the back yard of Jonathan, a Christian like most of the Delta population, has stayed calm since the accession of Buhari, who hails from the predominantly Muslim north.

The same cannot be said of the bloody Islamist insurgency in the northeast led by Boko Haram that Buhari vowed to crush.

Since he took over, the group has killed at least 900 people and efforts to find some of the 200 schoolgirls kidnapped in the town of Chibok more than a year ago have come to nought.

However, the army, backed by troops from neighbouring states, has continued a steady recapture of territory from the militants, who have killed thousands and displaced more than 2 million in their six year quest to establish a mediaeval caliphate on the edge of the Sahara.

The military achievement, highlighted in state media, appears to have made people across the country feel more secure.

Metus Maduka is from the Delta like former president Jonathan and, like many Nigerians, voted along religious and regional lines.

"I had voted for Jonathan because I wanted to support my brother but now I think Buhari is good for us," said the 26-year-old, speaking on a central Lagos street where he sells cheap jeans.

"He is trying to fix corruption, and security is better now."

   

SECOND TIME LUCKY?

Buhari first came to power in a 1983 coup, and quickly set about "fixing" a country saddled with corruption and inequality via an eclectic mix of economic nationalism and military autocracy.

Neither approach yielded any results in the 18 months before he was ousted in another putsch.

His expulsion of thousands of Ghanaian migrant workers to try to free up jobs for Nigerians hit the economy, and the jailing of opponents and deployment of soldiers armed with whips to ensure orderly queues at bus stops met widespread criticism.

Three decades later, half of Nigeria's 180 million people still live in poverty and life expectancy is just 52, according to the World Bank.

In the interim, he has declared himself a convert to democracy, losing and conceding three elections, but has failed to appoint a cabinet after four months in office, to the frustration of investors and big business.

The cabinet could be announced this week, political sources say, and Buhari has already taken aim at some of Nigeria's biggest institutions, including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the state energy firm accused of losing $20 billion dollars in Jonathan's time - a charge it denies.

Some senior officials are also feeling the judicial heat, most prominently Senate President Bukola Saraki who pleaded not guilty in court this month to charges of falsification in declaring his assets.

Critics say corruption is still deeply entrenched in Nigeria, but Buhari's plans to tackle graft have gone down well on the streets.

"Buhari is scaring the corrupt people. You notice a difference now," said Adeloa Olabode, who runs a one-room textile shop in Lagos' sprawling Balogun market.

She and others are even starting to think the unthinkable - that since Buhari took over the power supply in Lagos, a sprawling megacity of 21 million people inured to blackouts and the thrum of diesel generators, is getting better.

"We use the generator much less," said Olabode. "I used to pay up to 16,000 naira for diesel every month. But not any more."

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