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Nigeria leader replaces military, security heads: presidency

by Staff Writers
Abuja (AFP) Sept 8, 2010
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has appointed new military, intelligence and police chiefs, his office said on Wednesday, ahead of January elections in the oil-rich country.

Jonathan, who took over after the death of president Umaru Yar'Adua in May, did not provide specific details on the reason for the moves announced a day after the country set January 22 as the date for its presidential election.

The announcement also came after suspected members of an Islamist sect that launched an uprising last year freed hundreds of inmates in an attack on a prison in northern Nigeria, sparking a fierce gun battle with authorities.

However, there was no indication the moves were in response to the attack.

The president has not yet declared whether he will run in the election, but he is widely expected to do so despite deep disagreement within his ruling Peoples Democratic Party over whether he should be its candidate.

Some in the party say the PDP should abandon Jonathan, a southern Christian, in favour of a candidate from the country's mainly Muslim north.

Two northern candidates, including a former military ruler, are seeking the ruling party's nomination.

One political insider who declined to be named said the moves signaled a "need to have effective control of the armed forces before elections."

"The context is very much influenced by political tectonics and the commander-in-chief is trying to respond to that," he said.

The statement from the presidency said the military appointments would take immediate effect, but also said they were subject to confirmation by parliament.

"Air Marshal O.O Petirin is new chief of defence staff," it said. "Major General O.A Ihejirika is chief of army staff, Rear Admiral O.S Ibrahim is chief of naval staff while Air Vice Marshall Umar is chief of air staff."

The four replaced military chiefs had been appointed by the late president Yar'Adua in August 2008.

"The president thanked the outgoing service chiefs whose tenure expired in August for loyalty and dedication to service," the statement said.

New heads of intelligence and police were also named, it said.

"In a related development, Jonathan today appointed Mr Hafiz A. Ringim as acting inspector general of police and Ita Ekpeyong as the new director general of the State Security Services," added the statement, referring to the intelligence agency.

Some observers said the replacements had been overdue, especially in the wake of the transition from the Yar'Adua era and because of oil sabotage and theft that has continued to plague the Niger Delta region.

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