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Nigeria Names New Security Chiefs

Nigeria has new security chiefs following Tuesday's surprise round of firings. For VOA, Gilbert DaCosta in Abuja reports on the significance of the new appointments and implications for next year's elections.

The appointment of new security chiefs comes barely two weeks after a campaign to allow President Olusegun Obasanjo stay in office for a third term was defeated. Mr. Obasanjo replaced three out of his four most senior military commanders and the powerful national security adviser.

The president apparently made the changes to strengthen his control over Nigeria's security forces before next year's presidential election.

Maxi Okwu, a lawyer in Abuja, says the president may also have been influenced by the political ambition of some of the removed security officials.

"Recently, a newsmagazine analyzed the potential of the national security adviser, Gusau, as a top runner for the presidential slot," said Mr. Okwu. "So I think the adjustment at this time suggest a connection between the two and again the movement of Agwai [former army commander] upstairs to chief of defense staff is largely ceremonial. As far as I am concerned the power really is with chief of army staff, now General Azazi. There must be a reason for that, because this is a crucial time that requires maximum security for the outgoing president."

The 80,000-man Nigerian military is important for the survival of the Obasanjo administration in a country where there is a constant struggle for power and control over its oil wealth.

Clement Wasah, an Abuja-based analyst, says the changes were partly instigated by the defeat of Obasanjo's third-term bid.

"It means bringing the military fully into the administrative system," he said. "So maybe he is trying an experiment to have the military very close to him being the commander in chief. He thinks it will be better if the political constituency is no longer 100 percent with him, he is trying to create a military constituency to be with him."

The re-organization shuffle is considered important in Nigeria, which has been ruled by the military for most of its existence as an independent nation.

Former military rulers have long become political players. Obasanjo is a former military ruler and at least two ex-military dictators are expected to stand as candidates in next year's presidential election.