Thursday, August 21, 2008

Nigerian Leader Replaces Top Military Chiefs

Nigerian leader replaces top military chiefs: official

ABUJA (AFP) - - Three of the top four military commanders in oil-rich but strife-wracked Nigeria have been replaced, President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's office said Thursday.

The move, which follows a rise in rebel activity targeting oil installations across the Niger Delta, was enacted shortly before Yar'Adua left the country Wednesday night for a pilgrimage to Mecca, his spokesman said in a statement.

The shake-up -- replacing the chief of defence staff and the heads of the army and navy -- sees all but one top officer appointed by former president Olusegun Obasanjo removed.

The move was announced shortly after Yar'Adua's ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) said some opposition parties were plotting to topple his government.

The new chief of army staff is Major-General Abdulraham Dambazau, replacing Lieutenant-General Luka Yusuf; Rear Admiral Isaiah Iko Ibrahim takes over as Chief of Naval Staff from Vice Admiral Ganiyu Adekeye; and Air Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin becomes Chief of Air Staff, replacing Air Marshal Paul Dike, who was promoted to overall chief of defence staff.

Nigeria had been beset by military coups until 1999, when Obasanjo was elected into office. A former military ruler, Obasanjo handpicked Yar'Adua as the ruling party's candidate for 2007 presidential election after a failed attempt at seeking a third term.

The election was the first time in the history of post-colonial Nigeria that saw a civilian government hand power to another.

Political commentator Shehu Sani said the changes in the military top brass were long overdue, as it is traditional for new leaders to reshuffle security service chiefs.

"The sackings could be attributed to an attempt by Yar'Adua to reassert himself by placing men in strategic positions, who would be 100 percent allegiant to him... people whom he can trust and rely upon," said Sani.

An alliance of groups dubbed the Nigerian United Front for Democracy (NUD) recently called for a national unity government to be established as ethnic-related tensions over oil have dragged Yar'Adua into a political quagmire.

But Yar'Adua's regime suggested Wednesday that those behind the call could face conspiracy charges.

"The call for an interim government has no place in the constitution of... Nigeria, and is therefore not only illegal, but also treasonable to the extent that it calls for the overthrow of an established constitutional order," ruling PDP party spokesman Ahmed Rufai Alkali told a press conference Wednesday.

Nigeria lost its place as Africa's largest oil producer to Angola, in April, according to OPEC figures.

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