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Analysis: Jonathan makes his mark on Nigeria

Young Nigerians protest at the state of the nation, 16/03
Mr Jonathan has to deal with widespread discontent

By Peter Greste
BBC News, Abuja

Nothing is more dangerous for Nigeria than a leader without control.

That is the view of a number of analysts, who say acting President Goodluck Jonathan's decision to dismiss the entire cabinet was necessary to assert his authority.

When the national assembly appointed Mr Jonathan to be acting leader just over a month ago, few people believed the former biologist had the political clout to get a grip on the fractious government in the wake of a protracted power vacuum left when President Umaru Yar'Adua went to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.

Goodluck Jonathan, file image
Goodluck Jonathan has been in charge for a month...

But his decision to purge the entire cabinet and start afresh was designed "to inject fresh blood and bring even greater vigour to governance", according to Mr Jonathan's spokesman, Ima Niboro.

He told ThisDay newspaper: "It is part of a larger strategy to frontally confront the core challenges that face the nation at this critical moment of our history."

Political analyst Aderemi Oyewumi agrees.

"Jonathan acted now because he feels more comfortable politically. He feels in a more solid position, and he has to have people he can trust," says Mr Oyewumi.

"Remember, he has got to deal with real problems like electoral reform, corruption and the amnesty in the Niger Delta which looks like it is unravelling and so on."

Time running out?

But there are also risks associated with such a wholesale turnover of the political establishment.

Mr Yar'Adua returned in the middle of the night last month, raising fears that his inner circle of aides, led by his wife Turai, would fight to maintain their influence and undermine Mr Jonathan.

Women from Jos mourning
But violence in Jos has continued...

That remains a possibility, particularly given this latest move to consolidate power.

Mr Jonathan does not have much time. Even under the best circumstances, the business of appointing a cabinet in Nigeria is a fraught calculus.

The president needs to balance the competing interests of the states - under the constitution each of the 36 states must have at least one representative in the 42-member cabinet.

He must also find politically competent individuals and honour traditions that give key posts to certain regions.

Even then, the names have to be approved by the senate in a confirmation process that can throw up its own political challenges.

Mr Yar'Adua took two months to name the cabinet that has just been dismissed; Mr Jonathan has perhaps a few weeks before the power vacuum becomes a problem, according to a number of analysts.

He also has to move fast to achieve anything significant during what is left of the current administration.

On Tuesday, the Nigerian Electoral Commission announced that the next presidential election will take place on either 22 January or 23 April.

That gives about a year to establish his political reputation in readiness for what many assume will be a run for the presidency proper - either in this coming election, or in 2015.

More legal rows

But there is a potential problem: it is not clear whether Mr Jonathan has the authority to toss out the entire cabinet in the first place.

Site of bombing in Warri, 15/03
And oil militancy has resurfaced in the Niger Delta

"It's neither legitimate nor constitutional," says analyst Usman Mohammed.

"Goodluck Jonathan was elected vice to Yar'Adua, who has the mandate as president. He has no political mandate to take these kinds of decisions.

"The National Assembly has only placed him in a caretaker role, so I'm not sure he has the power to make such comprehensive changes under the constitution either.

"What happens if Yar'Adua gets well enough to go back to his job?"

But lawyer Bamidele Aturu sees no problem with the constitution.

"The National Assembly represents the will of the people, and as such it made the decision to confer all the powers of the presidency on Goodluck Jonathan," he says.

Even so, there is still a chance that Mr Jonathan's political opponents and Mr Yar'Adua's supporters will challenge the move in court and delay any attempt to replace the cabinet.

Mr Oyewumi believes that would be a mistake.

"The public is not concerned about constitutional niceties. They just want someone in charge who can get a confident grip on all our problems," he says.

"The current situation is not good for the country, and we can't afford to waste time."



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