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Nigeria Government Reshuffle Sparks Charges of Patronage Politics

FILE - Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (C) getting into his vehicle in Abuja.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has fired the head of the police and other powerful government agencies weeks before he is to hand over his office to incoming president Muhammadu Buhari. Some analysts say the moves are evidence of last-minute score settling and patronage appointments by the outgoing administration.

In the past few weeks, Jonathan has fired the heads of the police, the National Health Insurance Scheme, and the Ports Authority. He also made two appointments at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

But Jonathan is a lame duck president. Former military ruler Buhari bested him in March’s presidential election. Jonathan is slated to step down at the end of May, making him the first president to hand power to an opposition candidate since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999. Analysts say the appointments are essentially futile - there’s not much governing the Jonathan administration can do with just weeks to go.

Rather, firing the heads of powerful government organs like the police and ports authority, and appointing new people to take their place, smacks of patronage politics, they say.

Clement Nwankwo, executive director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center in the capital Abuja, says there can be several reasons behind Jonathan’s moves.

“It’s really directed at the specific individuals, either against or who may have angered him. Or he’s trying to reward people who have been, who have offered some support,” says Nwankwo.

No comment

Press releases from the administration announcing the firings did not give any reason for the president’s actions. Spokesmen for Jonathan and Buhari did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party, or PDP, declined to comment.

Government officials have been forced out of office by scandals before. But Folarin Gbadebo-Smith, managing director of the Center for Public Policy Alternatives in the commercial capital Lagos, says the changes at these agencies seem retributive.

“Up till the point where they were fired, nobody was screaming for the head of the port authority [to be dismissed]. And nobody was demanding that the inspector general of police be discharged. So it wasn’t some sort of uprising against these people,” says Gbadebo-Smith.

Both Jonathan and his party suffered significant losses in the past election, with the PDP failing to win majorities in Nigeria’s House of Representatives and Senate, and winning only a minority of states in gubernatorial elections held two weeks later.

The PDP is now preparing to spend the next four years as an opposition party.

University of Ibadan political science professor Adigun Agbaje says Jonathan may have faced pressure from within his party to shake up agency heads as part of the PDP’s long-term strategy.

“I think it’s a mix of inexperience, partisan pressures from within his party and within his government. And I’m sure, as I said earlier, as time goes on, we’ll learn to do things right,” says Agbaje.

With weeks to go till Buhari is inaugurated, Gbadebo-Smith says the new agency heads are probably under pressure not to make too many changes.

Disagreements are already roiling the Jonathan and Buhari camps over the governmental transition.

This week, a dispute broke out between the Buhari and Jonathan’s parties, with Buhari’s camp saying the incumbent administration is not cooperating with them as Nigeria draws closer to the May 29 power transfer.

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