March 24, 2010 / 5:24 AM / 10 years ago

Nigerian cabinet takes shape, Senate to vet nominees

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria’s Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has picked a raft of new faces including a Goldman Sachs banker for his new cabinet, a shake-up his backers hope will herald a more muscular period of government.

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

Jonathan sacked the cabinet a week ago in a bid to assert his authority a month after assuming executive powers, and the fast appointment of a new team could ease political uncertainty in Africa’s most populous nation.

Senate President David Mark on Wednesday read out 33 nominees sent by Jonathan for approval, a list which included just nine members of the outgoing cabinet.

Former Minister of State for Petroleum Odein Ajumogobia, tipped as a possible oil minister, and Olusegun Aganga, a London-based executive at Goldman Sachs seen as a contender for a finance ministry post, were among the nominees.

Portfolios will be assigned once the upper house has approved the list, expected before the Easter recess starts next Thursday. The Senate will hold a special session on Monday to consider the list, deputy Senate spokesman Anthony Manzo said.

“All of this will be very closely watched by investors,” said Razia Khan, head of Africa research at Standard Chartered.

“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.

There are more than 40 ministers in the cabinet and a second list will follow to complete Jonathan’s team. But outgoing oil and finance ministers Rilwanu Lukman and Mansur Muhtar, who held two of the top posts in the OPEC member nation of 140 million people, were not among the names read out on Wednesday.

Nominees from the outgoing cabinet include former Information Minister Dora Akunyili, former Justice Minister Adetokunbo Kayode, former National Planning Minister Shamsuddeen Usman and former junior Niger Delta minister Godsday Orubebe.

Among the new nominees are Murtala Yar’Adua, ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua’s nephew whose business interests span banking and oil, and Jubril Martins Kuye, junior finance minister under ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo.

BANKING AND OIL REFORMS

Jonathan took over as acting head of state in early February, ending months of near-paralysis in government due to the absence of President Yar’Adua, who was receiving treatment for a heart ailment in a Saudi clinic.

Yar’Adua has since returned but remains too sick to govern.

The reappointment of at least nine ministers in sectors including oil, the Niger Delta and justice suggests Nigeria’s broad policy direction is unlikely to change.

With his own cabinet, Jonathan could accelerate priorities including electoral reform, reviving an amnesty in the oil-producing Niger Delta and providing more reliable power supply in the 14 months left of this presidential term.

But a radical shake-up also has risks.

“Too much change at key ministries could slow things down considerably, as new ministers will still need some time to get to grips with things,” Khan said.

The presence of Aganga — who heads up Goldman Sachs’ hedge fund consulting services in London — would come as sub-Saharan Africa’s second-biggest economy forges ahead with bank reforms and tries to attract foreign investors to deepen its capital markets, notably with a planned $500 million debut global bond.

It would also follow the appointment over the past year of key reformers, including Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi — who led a $4 billion bank bailout weeks after taking office — and new Securities and Exchange Commission head Arunma Oteh, who has vowed a tough line on transparency.

“Aganga’s relationship with Sanusi will be important and how he handles the government’s plans to issue a sovereign bond,” said Kayode Akindele, a Lagos-based director at financial consultancy Greengate Strategic Partners.

The move from the top end of the private sector into the highly politicised and bureaucratic corridors of power in Abuja, where powerful vested interests have long kept a stranglehold on the pace of reform, may not be an easy one.

“It will be difficult for anyone making that kind of transition,” said Bode Agusto, a former director-general of Nigeria’s federal budget office who himself made the shift from a stellar private sector career as an accountant.

“The most important thing is strength of character to take on the politicians and tell them what you think and what is right,” said Agusto, who has known Aganga since childhood.

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