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Nigerian president sacks ministers in new shake-up - source

Source: Reuters - Wed, 12 Feb 2014 16:02 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Controversial minister of aviation removed

* Nigeria to hold hotly contested elections next year

* President facing crisis within ruling party (Adds quotes, details, background)

By Felix Onuah

ABUJA, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday sacked four cabinet members including aviation minister Stella Oduah, a close ally, in the latest of a wave of government changes ahead of elections next year.

Jonathan also dismissed minister of police affairs Caleb Olubolade, minister of the Niger Delta Godsday Orubebe and deputy finance minister Yerima Ngama, Information Minister Labaran Maku said, hinting that some of them may have been removed because they want to seek other political posts.

"He (Jonathan) said the ministers have been asked by him to step out to further their own interests in their own political or private purposes," Maku told reporters.

Existing ministers will take on their portfolios.

Africa's second largest economy and biggest oil producer is advancing as an investment destination but political instability is a concern for investors, especially as wasteful government spending tends to spike ahead of elections.

Jonathan is trying to temper a bitter divide within his ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) over his assumed intention to run for another term in the 2015 election. He has yet to say whether he will.

Jonathan dismissed his chief of staff on Monday, after overhauling his military high command last month as it struggled to cope with bloody Islamist militant insurgency in the country's remote northeast.

He has been defending his record on corruption this week after a series of graft allegations in recent months.

Oduah stirred public outcry last year after her ministry spent $1.4 million on two bullet-proof limousines, far more than their market value. Opponents have been calling on Jonathan to remove her.

The aviation ministry is one of the most senior cabinet posts and manages large amounts of government revenue.

"I think many changes recently show Jonathan is repositioning government to make himself saleable for elections," said Clement Nwankwo, a political analyst at the Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre.

"Some of these changes could reflect positively on the perception that he is willing to bring about change."

STILL FAVOURITE

Five powerful state governors and dozens of lawmakers have defected to the recently formed coalition All Progressives Congress in the last year. Last month Bamanga Tukur, a Jonathan ally, resigned as chairman of the PDP under a wave of pressure from party members.

Political wrangling is eroding the will needed to push through a number of much-needed reforms, including to Africa's biggest energy industry, analysts say.

The presidential, parliamentary and governorship votes next year are expected to be the most closely fought since the PDP swept to power at the end of military rule in 1998. Analysts say Jonathan is still favourite to win a second term, if he runs, in a country where incumbents rarely lose.

Jonathan in January nominating 12 ministerial appointees to be screened by the national assembly, some of whom are expected to fill vacant positions left by nine cabinet members who were dismissed in September last year.

He has launched an "Industrial Revolution Plan" which would enable the manufacturing sector to grow to 10 percent of GDP over the next five years, from four percent currently, the trade an investment ministry said on Wednesday. It gave few details about how his ambitious goals would be met. (Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by John Stonestreet and Andrew Roche)

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