Page last updated at 00:26 GMT, Thursday, 18 March 2010

Nigeria leader Goodluck Jonathan dissolves cabinet

Nigeria's acting president, Goodluck Jonathan, dissolves the country's cabinet

Nigeria's acting president, Goodluck Jonathan, has dissolved the country's cabinet.

Mr Jonathan became acting president in February amid the continuing illness of President Umaru Yar'Adua.

Mr Yar'Adua went to Saudi Arabia for treatment in November last year and, despite returning to Nigeria recently, has not been seen in public.

One outgoing cabinet minister denied there was any power vacuum, saying civil servants would take over.

The cabinet was picked by Mr Yar'Adua and correspondents say Mr Jonathan is now trying to stamp his own authority.

Observers see Wednesday's move as an attempt to consolidate power at the expense of Mr Yar'Adua.

'No reason'

Information Minister Dora Akunyili said after a cabinet meeting: "Today, the acting president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, dissolved the Federal Executive Council [cabinet].

Peter Greste
Peter Greste, BBC News, Abuja
There has been talk of a cabinet reshuffle for weeks now, ever since the national assembly moved Goodluck Jonathan to acting president. But few people expected the wholesale dissolution that came on Wednesday.

Not all ministers will lose their jobs - some will be reappointed, but this kind of sweeping change makes it clear the acting president is trying to assert his control over the cabinet made up largely of President Yar'Adua's appointees.

The president is still too ill to return to his job, but the prospect that he might has prompted some commentators to argue that Goodluck Jonathan has overstepped his constitutional powers. But others say it was the only way the acting president could get a grip on the country's mounting social, economic and political problems.

"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."

Ms Akunyili said that Mr Jonathan would issue a statement soon on the future make-up of the cabinet.

Mr Jonathan will have to submit the list of new ministers to the National Assembly.

It was only on 9 February that the assembly appointed Mr Jonathan as acting president, allowing him to sign legislation, chair cabinet meetings, reshuffle ministers and release oil funds.

Since he assumed power he has been faced with serious communal violence between Muslim and Christian groups near the city of Jos that has left hundreds dead. On Wednesday, at least 10 people were killed in an attack on a mainly Christian village near Jos.

Armed groups who say they are fighting for a fairer share of oil wealth have also continued their campaign in the Niger Delta.

On Monday two car bombs exploded in the oil city of Warri, where officials were in talks over an amnesty for militants.

Election candidate

President Yar'Adua was treated in Saudi Arabia for what his doctor described as acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart. There are no details of his current condition.

Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua (file photo 29 July 2009)
23 Nov 2009: Goes to hospital in Saudi Arabia
26 Nov: Doctors say he has pericarditis, a heart problem
23 Dec: First court case filed urging him to step down
12 Jan: President gives telephone interview from Saudi Arabia
27 Jan: Cabinet declares president fit
9 Feb: Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan made acting president
24 Feb: Yar'Adua returns

Amid the continuing uncertainty over Mr Yar'Adua, it was announced on Tuesday that next year's presidential election could be brought forward by three months.

Mr Yar'Adua's term of office expires in May 2011 but he is not expected to stand again.

The ruling People's Democratic Party, to which both Mr Yar'Adua and Mr Jonathan belong, has a policy of alternating between presidential candidates from the mainly Muslim north and the largely Christian south, allowing each to serve two four-year terms.

Mr Yar'Adua, a northern Muslim, was elected in 2007 after Olusegun Obasanjo, a southern Christian, had governed for eight years.

The People's Democratic Party this month confirmed that a northerner would be the candidate next year to continue this policy, ruling out Mr Jonathan, a southerner.

Nigeria's Nobel Prize-winning writer, Wole Soyinka, a long-time critic of the state of politics in Nigeria, said Goodluck Jonathan's decision to dissolve the cabinet was long overdue.

"I think he's been as delicate as anybody who's in charge of country like Nigeria can be," he told BBC World Service.

"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 added.

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