Wed, Mar 05
By Felix Onuah
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan appointed an experienced former army general from the Muslim north as his defense minister on Wednesday, as he looks to combat an increasingly bloody Islamist insurgency there.
Jonathan is struggling to cope with
Islamist sect Boko Haram, which has
killed thousands in a four-year
insurgency aimed at carving an Islamic
state out of a country of 170 million
people, split between Christians and Muslims. Boko Haram fighters have been
aggressively targeting vulnerable civilian
populations in the northeast in recent
months and are over-running the army
Aliyu Gusau, who has a background in
military intelligence, will be expected to
play a key role in tempering Boko Haram’s insurgency, having previously
been national security adviser to both
Jonathan and former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Africa’s top oil exporter and the
continent’s second-largest economy is
growing as an investment destination
but persistent periods of instability often tarnish its reputation. Jonathan handed out portfolios to 10 other ministers on Wednesday, filling vacancies mostly created after he fired
11 ministers last September, a move
analysts said was aimed at making room
for figures who would be more adept at fighting what will be closely contested
elections next year.
The defense portfolio had been vacant
since previous incumbent Haliru Bello
was removed by Jonathan in June 2012
after a rapid deterioration in the security situation as Boko Haram stepped up attacks.
New ministers appointed on Wednesday included career diplomat Aminu Wali as
foreign affairs minister. Wali is a former
representative to the United Nations and most recently was Nigeria’s ambassador to China, a country with increasing ties to West Africa. Eight of the new ministerial appointees are from the mostly Muslim north, where southern Christian Jonathan will need plenty of allies to rally support if, as expected, he runs in a presidential election next February.