Nigeria Leader To Choose New Cabinet Quickly -Sources

Fast appointment of the ministers could do much to alleviate uncertainty in Africa’s most populous nation after Jonathan dismissed the entire cabinet on Wednesday, aiming to consolidate his authority a month after assuming executive powers.

“Twenty of the ministers will certainly come back,” one of the presidency sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity, adding that he expected Jonathan to send his list to the Senate for approval by Tuesday.

Former Minister of State for Petroleum Odein Ajumogobia was likely to be the new oil minister in the OPEC member nation while outgoing Defence Minister Godwin Abbe, who has overseen an amnesty programme in the oil-producing Niger Delta, would be re-appointed, the source said.

Choosing a new cabinet which retains a large number of ministers suggests Nigeria’s broad policy direction is unlikely to change and could let Jonathan push ahead more authoritatively with his agenda in the 14 months left of this presidential term.

“The cabinet dissolution is a bid to inject fresh blood and bring in greater vigour to governance,” Jonathan’s spokesman Ima Niboro said, but declined to comment further.

Jonathan assumed executive powers in early February to try to end government paralysis in the absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua, who had been in a clinic in Saudi Arabia receiving treatment for a heart condition for more than two months.

Yar’Adua has since returned but remains too sick to govern or even speak with Jonathan. Presidency sources say he is still in a mobile intensive care unit and Jonathan’s consolidation of power reinforces the view that he is unlikely to return.

But the acting president’s public statements have shown a will to accelerate, not depart from, the policies of Yar’Adua, with electoral reform, fighting corruption, restoring power supply and reviving the Niger Delta amnesty his top priorities.

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Nigeria can ill afford weak government with resurgent unrest in two of its most volatile regions and key reforms bills before parliament.

These include electoral reforms meant to avoid a repeat of the shambolic vote that brought Yar’Adua to power three years ago, a wide-ranging overhaul of the energy sector, and a bill to create a bad bank sorely needed to revive lending in sub-Saharan Africa’s number two economy.

Violence in the “Middle Belt” between Nigeria’s mostly Muslim north and largely Christian south has killed hundreds of people this year, while militants in the Niger Delta detonated car bombs this week and have threatened more attacks.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which planted the bombs in the oil city of Warri on Monday, said the sacking of the cabinet in itself changed nothing.

“Unfortunately the only signal of goodwill … we will consider is when the issues of resource control are announced to be debated in the Senate or implemented in a constitutional amendment,” it said in an email to Reuters.

The opposition Action Congress welcomed the cabinet dissolution but warned Jonathan that if he gave in to vested interests in choosing his team, the new cabinet would be as weak as the old.

“It was the (former) ministers’ lack of courage, flimsy loyalty and downright selfishness that eventually left the cabinet divided, paving the way for it to fall like a pack of cards,” the party said in a statement. 

The speed with which Jonathan wins approval for his choice of new ministers will be a key test of his political backing.

There is broad consensus on the need for reforms and lawmakers are unlikely to want to be seen to be undermining progress. But other issues could prove more divisive.

The presidency source said former Information Minister Dora Akunyili, the only member of the cabinet to criticise those around Yar’Adua openly for the handling of his absence, would be nominated for Minister for the Federal Capital Territory.

Akunyili’s criticism of Yar’Adua’s inner circle for their efforts to cling to power won her public support but also powerful enemies. Some lawmakers may need some persuading if her return to government is to be approved.

The current presidential term ends in May next year and the reforms could bring elections forward to next January, giving Jonathan a short time to push ahead with his agenda. Reuters