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Nigerian President Yar’Adua sacks army chiefs in shake-up

Times Online
Times Online
August 21, 2008

Nigerian President Yar’Adua sacks army chiefs in shake-up

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(David Bebber/The Times)

President Umaru Yar’Adua of Nigeria

President Umaru Yar’Adua of Nigeria has replaced the country’s military top brass, in the first big military shake-up since being was installed as President last year.

Unrest in the oil-rich Niger Delta continues to disrupt production in the world’s eighth-biggest oil exporter. Attacks by militant groups have cut oil production in the West African country by a fifth since 2006, helping to push world crude prices to historic highs.

Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, last month announced a military “training and advisory support package” to curb the violence and sabotage of oil pipelines in the delta.

The dismissal of Nigeria’s top generals will be seen as both punishment for the military’s failure to tackle violence in the delta and a further skirmish in the battle between the President and his predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo.

The sacked generals, including Andrew Azazi, the former Chief of Defence Staff, were loyal to General Obasanjo, who has been an influential figure in Nigerian politics since leading a military junta in the 1970s, and remains head of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Rolake Akinola, senior West Africa analyst at Control Risks private security company, said, “Yar’Adua is trying to assert his authority and needs a constant cycle of change to undermine coup threats and power struggles.”

Since winning independence from Britain in 1960 Nigeria has undergone eight military coups and has been ruled by generals for most of the past 47-years. In a move that one observer called “a sign of supreme confidence”, Mr Yar’Adua sacked the generals shortly before leaving the country on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

The new Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshall Paul Dike, like his predecessor, hails from the Niger Delta and his priority will be to ensure security in the restive region.

Numerous militant groups in the delta claim to be fighting for political autonomy and a fair share of Nigeria’s vast oil revenues while criminal gangs indulge in kidnapping and theft. The coastal region is home to some of the world’s biggest oil companies including Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell and produces millions of barrels of oil every day, yet the majority of people live in poverty on the polluted wetlands.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/africa/article4581551.ece

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