Nigeria Puts Woman At Head Of Powerful Oil Ministry

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ABUJA (AFP) – Nigeria’s Acting President Goodluck Jonathan swore-in his new cabinet Tuesday, handing the powerful oil ministry to a woman for the first time and putting a Goldman Sachs banker in charge of finance.

Jonathan sacked the entire cabinet on March 17 as he moved to assert his authority in the African oil giant after replacing ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua, but nevertheless said the new team will continue the policies of the ex-government.

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“Permit me to emphasise the policy continuum of governance and to insist on the imperative of this team to roll up its sleeves, and to redouble the effort so as to meet the expectation of our people who are yearning for good governance,” he said.

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Jonathan, who has slightly over a year before the next elections, told the new cabinet members “you must hit the ground running.”

“Time is of fundamental essence and no distraction in our mission will be tolerated,” he said.

The new oil minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke from Jonathan’s Bayelsa state in the southern oil-producingNiger Delta, was in charge of the mines and steel ministry in the cabinet dissolved last month.

A graduate of Howard and Cambridge universities, she was an external affairs director for the Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell before joining the government in 2007.

Shortly after appointing his cabinet, Jonathan sacked, with no explanation, the boss of the loss-making and corruption-ridden state oil firm Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Jonathan, who replaced Yar’Adua two months ago through a parliamentary vote, retained less than half of the former cabinet in his new line-up.

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He also appointed a top banker from Goldman Sachs in London, Olusegun Aganga, as finance minister and gave the foreign affairs portfolio to Odein Ajumogobia, the erstwhile junior oil minister.

Godsday Orubebe, the former junior minister for the oil-rich but violence-plagued Niger Delta, now becomes the head of the ministry.

Jonathan picked Yar’Adua’s nephew, Murtala Yar’Adua, as deputy defence minister.

The acting president said zero tolerance of corruption remained the administration’s policy.

Yar’Adua only recently returned to Nigeria after three months in Saudi Arabia for heart condition treatment and has not been seen in public since falling ill in November.

He has met with separate groups of Muslim and Christian leaders in recent days.

Jonathan said he was eyeing economic transformation for Africa’s most populous nation, where much of the population of 150 million lives in poverty without basics such as water and electricity despite its oil wealth.

Revamping Nigeria’s decaying infrastructure, with the aim of providing steady power supplies, good roads and better health services, were among the top priorities, he said.

Jonathan will directly supervise the power ministry for the time being, working with a team of experts and a deputy energy minister, his office said.

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Nigeria is woefully short of electricity with many of its people going for weeks, even months without power.

He also spoke of a “commitment to free and fair elections.”

Jonathan had earlier announced the names of the new cabinet, but portfolios were not assigned. Local daily the Guardian said in an editorial that the new cabinet “doesn’t look as technocratic as it ought to be”.

“Instead, it is more political in appearance, which creates the impression that the cabinet is intended to be populated more by loyalists, rather than those who are needed to do the thorough and hard work that the times demand,” said the paper.

University of Ibadan’s Bayo Okunade said expectations were that the cabinet “will be made up of mostly technocrats, who can make things happen”, but many are from the “old clan”.

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