Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has begun a government reshuffle by sacking nine ministers. It is his first major reorganisation of his government team since winning the April 2011 elections. Jonathan looks set to create the team with which he wishes to go into the 2015 elections.
He has relieved six cabinet and three junior ministers of their duties.
Jonathan is currently facing a strong political challenge from within his own ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), which split into two factions two weeks ago.
Jonathan is trying to present the ministerial reorganisation as unrelated to this most recent challenge to his power. In a statement earlier today, he said that he wants “to assure every one of you who has taken part in the exercise that this is not a witch-hunt targeted at anybody.” However, with four of those removed coming from the states of prominent members of the rival PDP faction (called ‘New PDP’ by some), it is likely that political considerations played a role in his choices.
Nigeria's federal political system tends to give state governors a large role in determining the make up of the federal government, which must maintain a regional balance. Governors often help allies from their states become ministers. But Jonathan's actions will send a message to the group of rival governors that this system can work both ways, with Jonathan likely to give ministerial office to his loyalists from their states.
The four sacked ministers from ‘New PDP’ governors' states are: Minister of Education Ruqayyah Ahmed Rufai, from Sule Lamido's Jigawa State; Minister for Land, Housing and Urban Development Ama Pepple from Rotimi Amaechi's Rivers State; Minister of National Planning Shamsuddeen Usman, from Rabiu Kwankwaso's Kano State; and Minister of State (junior minister) for Power Zainab Kuchi, from Babangida Aliyu's Niger State.
Three of the other removed ministers hail from states that are run by opposition parties. They are Foreign Minister Olugbenga Ashiru from Ogun State; Minister of State for Agriculture Bukar Tinjani from Borno State; and Minister of State Erelu Olusola Obada from Osun State.
Not all of the now ex-ministers are from states with governors hostile to President Jonathan. Science and Technology Minister Ita Okon is from Akwa Ibom State, which is run by Jonathan loyalist Godswill Akpabio and Environment Minister Hadiza Mailafia is from Kaduna State, which is run by Mukhtar Ramalan Yero, who has remained in Jonathan's PDP camp.
Jonathan is likely to use this reshuffle as an opportunity to place his, rather the rebel governors', allies from Jigawa, Kano, Niger and Rivers in ministerial offices. This will give him powerful point-men in these states for the political fight between now and 2015. If he does, Jonathan's opponents should expect further interference in their states' affairs.
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