Nigeria’s acting President Goodluck Jonathan Wednesday 17th March 2010 dissolved the country’s cabinet effectively removing the influence in government of the ‘Katsina Mafia’ loyal to ailing President Umaru Yar’adua.
By dissolving the entire cabinet, Jonathan now has a chance to consolidate his power, cancel out those agents who were standing in his way, and put to an end the tenuous rule of Yar’adua. Thus, he is now able to appoint fresh ministers loyal to him. With elections in the country scheduled for between January and April next year, the new administration will allow him to plan out his strategy.
This factor is important because, according to a complicated power-sharing agreement within the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), responsibility for leading the party and effectively the country is rotated every eight years between two different centres of power. This means that for eight years at a time the predominantly Muslim northern centre will govern party and country, and the next eight years for the largely Christian south.
Crucially, the current, now incapacitated Yar’adua is from the northern faction, while Dr Jonathan hails from the southern contingent. As President Yar’adua, hence the northern group, have not yet finished their planned eight-year term, political tension is inevitable. Thus even if Jonathan were to perform well, nominated as the PDP’s presidential candidate, and perhaps even win the next election, he would have to manage and justify these structural changes to a people used to a particular system.
Regarding the next election, although Jonathan is mandated to rule as substantive President until then, he has been cautious in declaring his intentions to lead the PDP. Instead he has shrewdly announced that he will allow for time to do his job, while effectively gauging the feelings of the country as to his performance before any possible declaration to run for election in 2011. Effectively he is allowing the Nigerian people to make this choice for him, although essentially this choice will be dictated by how well he delivers.
Another equally astute move that will potentially help Jonathan’s case is his intention to step up, rather than discontinue, many of his predecessor (Yar’adua’s) policies. These include electoral reform, fixing problems with the country’s power supply, reviving the Niger Delta amnesty and fighting corruption.
Maintaining a commitment to these policies might well signal to pro-Yar’adua groups and the Nigerian people that at least some elements of the status quo will be preserved. With the political unease caused over the last few months by Yar’adua’s illness and disappearance to Saudi Arabia, and the resulting turmoil of government power struggles, Jonathan’s attempts to project a feeling of stability will certainly do much to settle the country’s nerve and position him well for elections in the first half of 2011.