By Felix Onuah
ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has found 12 replacements for ministers he sacked last year, his office said on Tuesday, as he looks to shore up his support in an increasingly divided ruling party.
Jonathan removed nine ministers on September 11, mostly targeting junior posts in a move that did not affect the key posts of finance or oil for the OPEC member. The defence minister and youth minister had been ousted earlier and not replaced.
Jonathan is facing a crisis within his party centred around his assumed intention to run for another term in the 2015 election. He has yet to say whether or not he will.
Five governors and several lawmakers have defected to a recently formed coalition opposition in Africa's most populous state.
Of the 12 names submitted for approval to the national assembly, eight were from the largely Muslim north where Jonathan faces most opposition - northerners made up only five of the 11 sacked ministers.
The president did not assign his 12 nominees to ministries, meaning he may be creating a new post after only 11 left.
The most high-profile nomination is that of Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, a former army general and national security adviser. Gusau is a powerful northern figure and could be a strong asset there for Jonathan, if he can be kept on his side.
Gusau is tipped to take over the defence minister position.
Two nominations were from the largely Christian oil-producing Niger Delta, from where Jonathan himself hails.
He had been accused, most recently by his former mentor and twice president Olusegun Obasanjo, of stuffing government posts with people from the Delta and of awarding them lucrative government contracts.
"This list is made up of politicians rather than technocrats. They have been chosen to take the fight to the opposition in their states," said Kayode Akindele, partner at Lagos-based Africa consultancy 46 Parallels.
"This should increase the political temperature, as they will be using federal resources against state resources of the opposition." Nigeria is divided into 36 states.
Bamanga Tukur, a northerner and Jonathan ally, resigned last week under a wave of pressure from party members and after mass defections to the opposition, and was replaced by former governor of Bauchi state Adamu Mu'azu, also a northerner.
On the day of that announcement, Jonathan also sacked and replaced his entire military leadership, without giving a reason. Some analysts said it was a move to ensure loyalty from the military ahead of what are likely to be bitterly divisive elections.