Mohamed Bazoum's inauguration as president marks first-ever transition between elected presidents in the African country's six decades of independence from France.

Niger's new President Mohamed Bazoum is photographed during his inauguration at the International Conference Center in Niamey on April 2, 2021.
Niger's new President Mohamed Bazoum is photographed during his inauguration at the International Conference Center in Niamey on April 2, 2021. (AFP)

Niger's new President Mohamed Bazoum has said he will make education and security a priority as he took the helm of a country racked by political tension and an insurgency that has killed more than 300 people this year.

His swearing-in on Friday took place two days after the government said it had foiled a coup.

Bazoum's inauguration marks the first democratic transition of power for a country that has seen four military coups since its independence from France in 1960.

Bazoum, 61, was elected in a February run-off poll that was contested by his main opponent Mahamane Ousmane, a former president who was toppled by a military coup in 1996.

Bazoum succeeds president Mahamadou Issoufou who is stepping down after serving two terms, in accordance with Niger's constitution. 

Issoufou's decision to respect the constitution has been widely hailed and paves the way for Niger's first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since its independence from France in 1960.

Fears of renewed violence 

Fears, however, have been mounting that the inauguration could prompt more violence in Niger. 

The latest massacre killing at least 137 people came on the same day the constitutional court certified Bazoum's electoral victory.

 And at least 100 others were killed in villages near the border on the day that Niger announced the presidential election would go to a second round on February 21.

Security was tight on Friday in the capital, Niamey.

Bazoum is Issoufou's chosen successor and a longtime Cabinet minister who is from Niger's small ethnic Arab minority. 

He was a former interior minister in Niger and is also a teacher by training.

Ousmane has contended that the latest vote was marred by fraud. 

Niger's top court confirmed Bazoum's victory in March, but the ruling sparked protests in the capital Niamey in which at least two people were killed.

READ MORE: Niger thwarts 'attempted coup' ahead of presidential inauguration

Climate crisis, security on agenda

Taking office in a ceremony attended by several heads of state, Bazoum said the West African nation's mineral riches could help it reach annual economic growth of around 8 percent over the next five years.

But climate and security challenges are hampering development, he said.

"Our country is vast and arid, not only suffering these past decades from the effects of climate change... from recurrent severe droughts, but paradoxically also, from more and more catastrophic and unpredictable floods," Bazoum said.

Bazoum also hit out at "terrorist groups whose barbarity has exceeded every limit."

These groups "carry out large-scale massacres of innocent civilians, and in doing so, commit real war crimes," Bazoum declared.

Niger's southeastern region has been destabilised by Boko Haram attacks.

The north is affected by organised cross-border criminal activities due to the instability in Libya, while attacks from militant groups linked to Al Qaeda and Daesh have hit its western border region with Mali.

READ MORE: Several dead as armed bandits attack Niger's Tillaberi region

Strengthening education system

Niger's main problem since independence, however, has been the weakness of its educational system, Bazoum said, adding that he will prioritise education reforms as much as security.

He said the country was recording low school attendance and high dropout rates.

Only round 25 percent succeeded in the final high school exam last year.

"This explains the early marriages of young girls, 77 percent of whom are married before the age of 18, 28 percent before the age of 15. This also explains the high prevalence of polygamy," he said.

He added that with a fertility rate of around 7 children per woman, Niger held the world record and fastest rate of population growth.

To end this "vicious circle," Bazoum said he plans to create boarding schools for young girls closer to their villages among other policies. 

READ MORE: Niger votes in presidential runoff to usher in first democratic transition

Source: TRTWorld and agencies