Nigeria: Acting president asserts control, dissolves perceived disloyal cabinet

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The Nigerian interim president, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan has moved to assert his authority over the country by dissolving the cabinet put together by incapacitated president Mr. Umaru Yar’Adua, reports have claimed. Observers have described the move as an endeavor to secure power at the expense of Mr. Yar’Adua, but Nigeria’s Nobel laureate has hailed the moved.

According to Nigeria’s information minister Mrs. Dora Akunyili, “Today, the acting president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, dissolved the Federal Executive Council [cabinet]. He did not give us any reason and so I cannot give any reason. There is no vacuum in the government as permanent secretaries will take charge.”

On 9 February the now dissolved cabinet appointed Mr. Jonathan as acting president, allowing him to sign legislation, chair cabinet meetings, reshuffle ministers and release oil funds. Mr. Jonathan is expected to submit the list of new ministers to the National Assembly.

Nigeria’s Nobel Prize-winning writer, Mr. Wole Soyinka, has described Mr. Jonathan’s decision to dissolve the cabinet as long overdue.

“I think he’s been as delicate as anybody who’s in charge of a country like Nigeria can be. In fact, I think he’s erred on the over-cautious side. This should have happened a very long time ago. He has to compel those who have been behind this macabre charade to come out in the open,” Mr. Soyinka was quoted as saying.

The dissolved cabinet is Mr. Jonathan’s first major act since assuming executive powers just over a month ago. Analysts say is has effectively left Mr. Jonathan in sole command of government.

The armed forces will probably be kept at bay, even with Jonathan asserting more power, said Charles Dokubo, an analyst with the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs.

Mr. Yar’Adua supporters “might make noise about it, but I don’t think it will lead to any other upheaval or anarchy in the country,” Mr. DOkubo was quoted by the Associated Press.

According to experts, Mr. Jonathan’s public statements have shown a will to accelerate, not depart from, Yar’Adua’s policies. His priorities include electoral reform, fighting corruption, delivering reliable electricity supplies and reviving an amnesty in the Niger Delta.

Since assuming office, Mr. Jonathan has had to face a turbulent Nigerian society: On Monday two car bombs exploded in the oil city of Warri, where officials were in talks over an amnesty for militants. Armed groups who say they are fighting for a fairer share of oil wealth have also continued their campaign in the Niger Delta.

On Tuesday it was announced that next year’s presidential election could be brought forward by three months. The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have insisted that that a Muslim would be the candidate next year to continue this policy, ruling out Mr. Jonathan, a Christian.

PDP have a policy of alternating between Muslim and Christian presidential candidates, allowing each to serve two four-year terms. Mr. Yar’Adua, a Muslim, was elected in 2007 after Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian, had ruled for eight years, so by these terms, a Muslim must rule the next four years.

On Wednesday, at least 10 people were killed in an attack on a mainly Christian village near Jos. Communal violence between Muslim and Christian groups near the city of Jos has left hundreds dead.

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