Nigeria's acting president included some surprises in his new cabinet one week after sacking the entire Government in Africa's leading oil producer. Goodluck Jonathan included a newcomer from Goldman Sachs and promoted the junior oil minister in what was seen as an attempt to return to a reform agenda after months of drift and paralysis in the crisis-stricken nation.
Only nine former ministers look set to be reappointed, among them Odein Ajumogobia, previously junior oil minister, who looks likely to be promoted after his former boss Rilwanu Lukman was omitted.
The acting president moved to assert his authority over the fractious Government, which has been paralysed since November, as President Umaru Yar'Adua has been suffering from a mysterious illness and has not been seen in public. Mr Jonathan has had to struggle for control with a cabal surrounding the first lady, Turai Yar'Adua, amid fears that a political crisis could worsen sectarian violence and undermine efforts to extend a ceasefire in the oil-producing Niger Delta.
Mr Jonathan produced a list of 33 names for the Senate to consider, and his only obvious concession to the powerful northern block around Mr Yar'Adua was the naming of his nephew Murtala. Further names are expected to be announced to bring the Government back up to its full complement of 42 ministers. No portfolios have been announced. Senate approval is expected before Easter.
"All of this will be very closely watched by investors," Razia Khan, head of Africa research at Standard Chartered, told Reuters. "Appointments will be key to determining whether the aim is to kickstart reforms ... or whether this is just politics returning to centre stage," she said.
The power struggle between supporters of Mr Yar'Adua, a Muslim northerner and Mr Jonathan, a Christian southerner, has dangerously mirrored north-south sectarian tensions in the country itself. Yesterday's list of names was a reminder of the complexities of balancing interest groups across 36 states and numerous ethnic groups in Africa's most populous country.
In addition to the sop to the Yar'Adua clan, was the inclusion of Sanusi Daggash, a minister of planning in the administration of former president Olusegun Obasanjo – another kingmaker in the background of the power games in the capital, Abuja.
Early interest among analysts focused on the choice of Olusegun Aganga, a London-based managing director at Goldman Sachs. His inclusion appeared to signal the acting president's intent to move ahead with critical banking reforms and bring in new-blood to what was seen as Yar'Adua's failing administration.
The nomination of Mr Agang – who heads up Goldman Sachs' hedge fund consulting services in London – comes as Nigeria is set to test its strength with foreign investors with a planned $500m debut global bond.
The extended power vacuum has seen renewed violence in the Niger Delta where last week car bombs set off by the region's leading militant group MEND signalled the end of a fragile ceasefire. It has also come as sectarian violence in the central city of Jos has claimed the lives of at least 400 people in two bouts of mass killings this year. The central Plateau State has become an explosive fault line in the deeply divided country with Christian and Muslim groups caught in a spiral of violence.
The first head of state from the Niger Delta, Mr Jonathan has attracted strong support from the US and Europe, which are both heavily reliant on Nigerian oil.
With Russia and China stepping up their involvement in Nigeria's massive oil and gas reserves, there is cautious support for the former vice president and Washington has put behind-the-scenes pressure on key figures in the country's political elite to allow Mr Jonathan to govern for the next year ahead of polls, expected in 2011.
However, the ruling PDP Party has called on the acting president not to run in future elections, and he faces strong opposition from the majority of powerful state governors should he be tempted to try.
The number of ministers, out of 42, from the old administration that Goodluck Jonathan has retainedReuse content