Inside the Nigerian Cabinet Shake-Up

Yesterday, in a bid to assert his authority, Nigeria’s acting president, Goodluck Jonathan, appointed a new cabinet. Jonathan officially replaced President Yar’Adua in February, after the latter fell ill and had been too sick to govern since last November. In a move Jonathan’s spokesman described as an effort “to inject fresh blood and bring even greater vigour to governance,” the acting president sacked Yar’Adua’s cabinet a few weeks ago.
Riding this wave of political renewal, Jonathan announced today the dismissal of the head of the country’s national oil company, Nigeria National Petroleum Corp. (NNPC). He replaced him with Shehu Ladan, who was himself removed from NNPC by Yar’Adua last year.
What do these political changes mean for Nigeria?
1.Big change…
The cabinet shakeup speaks, first and foremost, to Jonathan’s desire to remove some of the more ardent Yar’Adua loyalists from the government in order to implement his own political agenda. In a controversial move, former mines minister Deziani Allison-Madueke is the first woman to be appointed as oil minister, a key post in the resource-rich country. Her appointment was received with mixed feelings, as some feel she does not have the political clout or experience for the job. Jonathan also surprised observers by choosing a former Goldman Sachs executive with no prior experience in the public sector as his finance minister, Olusegun Aganga. Cast as a reformer, Aganga’s appointment is seen as a move to attract foreign investors to Nigeria’s capital markets, and boost confidence in the country’s financial system. Jonathan also did not appoint an energy minister, preferring to keep this important portfolio under his control, signaling that he intends to take a leadership role on the critical issue of electricity supply.
2….or small change? 
Thirteen of the 38 ministers in Jonathan’s cabinet were members of the previous cabinet, suggesting that the acting president is not seeking “radical reform.” Instead, observers suggest that Jonathan’s new(ish) cabinet is an attempt to create the conditions necessary to act on a few — albeit critical — issues that might not have been possible had Yar’Adua loyalists remained in place for the rest of the presidential term, which ends early next year.
Nonetheless, with one of Yar’Adua’s nephews appointed as deputy defense minister, and 13 ministers from the previous cabinet still in place or with different portfolios, it seems that Jonathan will only have a limited ability to make his mark on the Nigerian political landscape.
3. Little room for political maneuvers

In spite of announcing that he would focus his government’s efforts on key matters — such as corruption, overhauling a broken electoral system, security in the oil-producing regions of the country and fixing Nigeria’s electrical supply — Jonathan and his cabinet have less than a year to implement a new strategy to deal with these issues. With presidential elections scheduled for April 2011 — possibly even as early as January 2011, pending parliamentary reforms — the revamped Nigerian cabinet will be hard pressed to deliver concrete change in these critical areas.
In addition to the limited timeframe that Jonathan and his government have to make significant political, legislative and economic achievements, the acting president will not be able to run in next year’s election. Nigeria’s ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), recently indicated that it wants a Muslim northerner to stand as its candidate in the election (there is an unwritten agreement within the PDP that power should rotate between north and south every two terms). For Jonathan, a  southerner, this means that there will be no presidential bid next year.
It will be interesting to see how Goodluck Jonathan and his government tackle the Nigeria’s most difficult issues, given their short mandate and what some analysts regard as limited political capital.
Image Flickr.  Energy is seen as a key issue, and Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to keep the Ministry of Energy’s portfolio under his control signals a desire to make his political mark on Nigeria.