Nigeria's acting president removes top minister

Wed Feb 10, 2010 5:50pm GMT

By Felix Onuah

ABUJA (Reuters) - 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.

Jonathan assumed full presidential powers late on Tuesday to fill a power vacuum left by the ailing 58-year-old leader, who has been in hospital in Saudi Arabia since late November receiving treatment for a heart condition.

Outgoing Justice Minister and Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa had been among the group of ministers who held out most strenuously against formally transferring power to Jonathan during Yar'Adua's absence of more than two months.

"There was a swap in the cabinet. I am now the minister of special duties while the minister of labour takes over from me," Aondoakaa told reporters after a six-hour cabinet meeting.

Former Special Duties Minister Ibrahim Kazaure will replace outgoing Labour Minister Adetokunbo Kayode in the reshuffle.

Aondoakaa had been a key figure in the Yar'Adua-appointed cabinet and was embroiled in a public row with Information Minister Dora Akunyili, who last week tabled a motion that Yar'Adua should formally hand over powers.

"There were those who had relied on him in Yar'Adua's absence as an unofficial prime minister," said Antony Goldman, a Nigeria expert and head of London-based PM Consulting.

"He's still in the cabinet, but clearly the justice minister is a pivotal appointment, particularly at this moment."   Continued...

<p>Nigeria's Vice President Goodluck Jonathan lays a wreath during an Army Remembrance Day ceremony in the capital of Abuja Janaury 15, 2010. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde</p>
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