Jonathan promoted former air force chief Air Marshal Oluseyi Peterin to Chief of Defence Staff and named new heads of the air force, army and navy. He also removed the Inspector General of Police and head of the State Security Service.
“Mr president thanked them for their dedication to the service of the nation and wished them well in their future endeavours,” presidency spokesman Ima Niboro told reporters in the presidential villa in Abuja.
He said the tenures of the outgoing service chiefs had expired at the end of August and that the new appointments would take immediate effect, but gave no further details.
Jonathan has not yet said whether he will stand in the January polls but recent announcements, including a major blueprint to end chronic power shortages, have looked more like campaign promises and most Nigerians expect he will.
Nigeria emerged from decades of coups and military rule 11 years ago but the military remains a potent background force, with retired generals reinventing themselves as politicians and businessmen, and still pulling the strings of power.
The last military shake-up in Nigeria was just over two years ago, when then President Umaru Yar’Adua named new service chiefs in a bid to assert his authority and shake off the influence of his predecessor Olusegun Obasanjo.
Similarly, the latest reshuffle suggests Jonathan is asserting his authority four months after Yar’Adua died in office, and ensuring he is in control of the military in the run-up to the presidential, parliamentary and state polls.
“Goodluck Jonathan is roaring like a lion,” said one security analyst in Nigeria, asking not to be named.
TURBULENT TIMES AHEAD?
Nigeria is roughly equally divided between Christians and Muslims and spread across more than 200 ethnic groups.
An election bid by Jonathan, who is from the southern Niger Delta, could be divisive due to a ruling party pact that power rotates between the Muslim north and Christian south every two terms, meaning the next president should be a northerner.
Sensitivities about the distribution of senior military and civilian positions run deep in Africa’s top energy producer.
Jonathan named Major General O.A. Ihejirika as his new chief of army staff, the first time since Nigeria’s 1967-70 civil war that anyone from the southeastern Igbo ethnic group has held the top post in the most powerful branch of the armed forces.
“The appointment of an Igbo as army chief is of symbolic value and a gesture towards those in the east who complain of marginalisation,” said Antony Goldman, London-based head of PM Consulting and a Nigeria expert.
“In the short term, attention is more likely to focus on the new police chief, who will play a significant role in shaping the security environment during the forthcoming elections.”
Jonathan named northerner Uba Ringim as acting Inspector General of Police, but has yet to name a permanent chief.
Previous elections in Nigeria have been marred by widespread voter intimidation, ballot-stuffing and outbreaks of violence in flashpoints including the oil-producing Niger Delta and the Middle Belt between the Muslim north and Christian south.
Hundreds of people died earlier this year in clashes around the central city of Jos, violence which was ostensibly religious and ethnic but had roots in economic and political rivalry.
There have been isolated acts of election-related violence in some northern states including Bauchi, where several people have been killed in disputes over the display of campaign posters, local politicians have said.
There are fears the radical Islamic Boko Haram sect, which wants sharia (Islamic law) more widely imposed across the country, is trying to stage a comeback after gunmen freed as many as 800 prisoners including some sect members from a jail in the city of Bauchi late on Tuesday.