NIGERIA: IRIN Background Report On New Cabinet [19990701]

NIGERIA: IRIN Background Report On New Cabinet [19990701]

NIGERIA: IRIN Background report on new cabinet

LAGOS, 1 July (IRIN) - President Olusegun Obasanjo's cabinet has finally been sworn in, one month after he took office as Nigeria's first elected leader in over 15 years.

With a fairly large (47-member) cabinet dominated by veteran politicians, the signal appears to be that he will run a conservative government with the primary aim of stabilising a polity whose foundations were badly shaken by the years of corrupt military rule.

Offering an early defence for the size of his cabinet, Obasanjo said he wanted to accommodate as many interest groups as possible towards achieving national reconciliation in the country, whose 108 million people belong to over 200 ethnic groups.

"We are coming out a situation where everybody has been bruised, wounded. We needed to provide the balm for the wounds to heal," he said on state television on Wednesday. "If it is going to cost more to run the government, I'd rather have that than have a situation where doing otherwise won't allow us to run the government."

The appointments also reveal a delicate balancing act.

The key portfolios of finance, foreign affairs and communications have gone to Hausa-speaking Muslims from the north, which has produced most of Nigeria's civilian and military rulers since independence from Britain in 1960. There were signs of unease from that region when important early appointments by Obasanjo in the military and civil service went to people from ethnic minorities.

Finance minister Adamu Ciroma, a former head of the central bank in the 1970s, is a respected political veteran who also served as minister of agriculture in the past. Foreign minister Sule Lamido is from the radical wing of the northern establishment and an outspoken critic of late dictator Sani Abacha, while Mohammed Arzika, who will run the vital communications ministry is likely to bring to bear his rich political experience.

All of Nigeria's 36 states are represented in the cabinet, including appointees from the opposition parties. No minister was named for the contentious petroleum ministry with Obasanjo opting to make do with Rilwanu Lukman, former OPEC secretary-general, as petroleum and energy adviser.

"It seems to me a balanced cabinet in terms of ethnic and regional composition, an important factor in a country like Nigeria," political analyst Aderemi Oye told IRIN. "But the impression I get is that it is going to be a nationalistic government which will resist Western dictates for economic reforms," he added.

With Nigeria weighed down by an external debt of about US $30 billion, Western governments as well as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have called for urgent economic reforms - including privatisation of state firms and monetary reforms approved by the two Bretton Woods institutions - as a condition for much-needed debt relief.

But Obasanjo has stated in the past that while he is not averse to privatisation, he will not accept it as a dogma nor "rush" into it without ascertaining its likely benefits clearly. This is reflected in the composition of his government in which no radical reformist has been appointed to any key post.

Two new positions created by Obasanjo indicate that African affairs will be a major concern of his government as was the case when he was military ruler in the 1970s.

Mustapha Bello was named Minister for Commerce in Africa while Jerry Gana will act as Minister for Cooperation and Integration in Africa -- two novel positions. Also new is the environment ministry, headed by Hassan Adamu, former ambassador to the United States, whose main concern will the environment in the main oil-producing Niger Delta.

The Delta has seen an upsurge of violence in recent years among restive communities that accuse the partnership of oil multinationals and government of massive ecological damage and denial of benefits from the huge wealth extracted from their land.

The environment ministry will also have to tackle creeping desertification in the north, tidal erosion on the coast and gully erosion in much of the rainforest in the southern belt.

A condition for success will be the direction of crude oil prices, the source of over 90 percent of foreign income and most of government revenue, and peace in the oil region to end the disruptions faced by oil companies which have severely hurt output in recent years.

"If Obasanjo can bring peace to the Niger Delta and oil maintains its recent price rally, then the process of turning the country around is likely to be a success," said Oye.


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Item: irin-english-1147

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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 1999

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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