Nigeria’s acting president removes top minister

Nigerian Vice President Goodluck Jonathan removed the powerful justice minister on Wednesday in his first major step since assuming executive powers in the absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua.

“There was a swap in the cabinet. I am now the minister of special duties while the minister of labour takes over from me as the attorney general and minister of justice,” Michael Aondoakaa told reporters following a cabinet meeting.

Jonathan assumed full presidential powers late on Tuesday to fill a power vacuum left by Yar’Adua, who has been in hospital in Saudi Arabia since late November receiving treatment for a heart condition.

Aondoakaa had been among the group of ministers who held out most strenuously against formally transferring executive powers to Jonathan.

“There were those who had relied on him in Yar’Adua’s absence as an unofficial prime minister,” said Antony Goldman, head of PM Consulting. “He’s still in the cabinet, but clearly the justice minister is a pivotal appointment, particularly at this moment.”

Information Minister and government spokeswoman Dora Akunyili said the cabinet recognised Jonathan as acting president and pledged to support him.

Legal questions remain over the process by which Jonathan announced that he had become acting president of Africa’s most populous nation hours after parliament recognised him as acting head of state.

Although Jonathan’s empowerment means he can sign laws and act as commander-in-chief, alleviating immediate concerns about paralysis in government, political uncertainty is likely to continue as rival factions in the ruling party jockey for position ahead of elections due early next year.

If he achieves nothing else, investors hope Jonathan can maintain relative stability in the Niger Delta, the restive heartland of the OPEC member’s mainstay oil industry, despite the turmoil surrounding the country’s highest office.



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