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World News

Nigerian cabinet nominees include top banker

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigerian Acting President Goodluck Jonathan submitted a list of cabinet nominees for Senate approval on Tuesday, including an executive from U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs, presidency sources said.

Jonathan sacked all government ministers last Wednesday in a bid to assert his authority a month after assuming executive powers, and the fast appointment of a new team could ease political uncertainty in Africa’s most populous nation.

Presidency sources said the first batch of names included some members of the outgoing cabinet, such as former junior oil minister Odein Ajumogobia, and new figures including Olusegun Aganga, a London-based managing director at Goldman Sachs.

“The list of the ministerial nominees has been submitted to the Senate for their confirmation,” one of the presidency sources told Reuters, asking not to be named.

The presence of an international city banker in government would come as sub-Saharan Africa’s second-biggest economy forges ahead with reforms to its banking sector and tries to attract foreign investors to help deepen its capital markets.

It would also follow the appointment over the past year of key reformers, including Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi -- who led a $4 billion bank bailout weeks after taking office -- and new Securities and Exchange Commission head Arunma Oteh, who has vowed a tough line on transparency.

Spokespeople for Goldman Sachs in London were not immediately available to comment.

Presidency sources told Reuters last week Ajumogobia was likely to be Jonathan’s choice for oil minister in the OPEC member nation, a key post particularly as Nigeria plans wide-ranging reforms to its mainstay energy industry.

The list of names -- which did not include portfolios -- also included Godsday Orubebe, a former minister of state for the Niger Delta, the restive oil industry heartland where government is trying to revive an amnesty for militants.

A Senate source confirmed that Senate President David Mark had received the list. The upper house of parliament is expected to consider the nominees on Wednesday.

MAJOR POLICY SHIFT UNLIKELY

Jonathan took over as acting head of state in early February, ending months of near-paralysis in government due to the absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua, who was receiving treatment for a heart ailment in a Saudi clinic.

Yar’Adua has since returned to Nigeria but remains too sick to govern. Sources in the presidency say he is in a mobile intensive care unit and Jonathan has been unable to see him.

Choosing a new cabinet which retains a large number of ministers suggests Nigeria’s broad policy direction is unlikely to change and could let Jonathan push ahead more authoritatively with his agenda in the 14 months left of this presidential term.

The acting president’s public statements have shown a will to accelerate, not depart from, the policies of Yar’Adua, with electoral reform, fighting corruption, restoring power supply and reviving the Niger Delta amnesty his top priorities.

Nigeria can ill afford weak government with resurgent unrest in its most volatile regions and key reforms before parliament.

Violence in the “Middle Belt” between Nigeria’s mostly Muslim north and largely Christian south has killed hundreds of people this year, while militants in the Niger Delta detonated car bombs last week and have threatened more attacks.

The current presidential term ends in May next year and the electoral reforms could bring polls forward to next January, giving Jonathan a short time to push ahead with his agenda.

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