ABUJA (Reuters) – Three decades after he first came to power in a military coup, Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in on Friday as elected President of Nigeria, giving him control of an African giant struggling with slowing economic growth and a raging Islamist insurgency.

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Photo

Nigerian president Muhammodu Buhari addresses a news conference outside his house after he voted in Daura, March 28, 2015. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

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Dressed in traditional Muslim attire, the 72-year-old general stood on the stage clutching a Koran in his right hand as he pledged to “preserve, protect and defend” the constitution of Africa’s most populous nation.

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Moments later, dozens of white doves were released into the air, a symbol of peace against the Boko Haram militants who have killed thousands in the last six years in their quest to carve out an Islamic caliphate in the northeast.

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The formal swearing-in marks a remarkable political turn-around for Buhari, who has gone from military dictator in the mid-1980s to a born-again democrat swept to power on the back of a landslide victory at the ballot box in March.

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However, he inherits a host of problems from outgoing president Goodluck Jonathan, whose five years in charge were marked by massive corruption scandals and aimless or haphazard economic, security and foreign policy-making.

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The collapse in the price of oil has hammered state revenues and economic growth in the continent’s biggest crude producer, and forced a devaluation of the naira. Economists say another devaluation may well be on the cards.

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However, many of Nigeria’s 170 million people hope the country has turned a corner. Much may depend on Buhari’s choice of ministers, particularly in key portfolios such as finance, internal security and oil.

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“Now it’s time for the heavy lifting,” said Bismark Rewane, chief executive of Lagos-based consultancy Financial Derivatives.

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“Nigeria is going to be more visible and more assertive. Do you have the team that is respected by the international community, that has the pedigree and the background to deal with the management issues?”

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Yemi Osinbajo, a Christian lawyer from the southwest region that includes Lagos, was sworn in as vice-president, a deliberate counterpoint in the religiously mixed nation to Buhari, who is from the predominantly Muslim north.

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Although his roots are in the military, not economics, Buhari served as head of the Petroleum Trust Fund under Sani Abacha, another military ruler, giving him insight into the murky world of crude oil production.

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During Jonathan’s time in office, the state oil company, NNPC, was accused by the central bank governor of failing to remit up to $20 billion in oil revenues to the government – an allegation that cost the respected banker his job.

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“NEW CHAPTER”

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Befitting Buhari’s modest style, there was little fanfare in the capital ahead of the swearing in, with security checkpoints leading to Abuja’s Eagle Square and a few green and white national flags lining its main expressway.

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The ceremony was attended by numerous African leaders and foreign dignitaries including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

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A senior U.S. official said Washington, which had strained ties with Jonathan’s administration, was ready to expand military cooperation, including sending military advisors to help train its army against Boko Haram.

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“We have every indication that we’ll be able to start a new chapter,” the official said.

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Buhari has already vowed to spare no effort to defeat the group, which occupied an area the size of Belgium at the start of the year but which has been pushed back dramatically by joint Nigerian, Chadian, Cameroonian and Nigerien offensives.

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Dozens of African countries were represented by heads of state, who stand to gain if Buhari is able to breathe new life into the economy and restore Abuja’s diplomatic credibility and clout.

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South African President Jacob Zuma was a notable guest, a sign of Pretoria’s desire to improve relations with Abuja after a series of diplomatic spats under Jonathan, most recently over a wave of attacks on foreigners in South Africa this year.

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