THE PRESIDENT JONATHAN INTERVIEW: HOW I FELT WHEN OBJ TORE HIS PDP CARD

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President Goodluck Jonathan
speaks  at the State House, Marina, Lagos, on Thursday on burning national
issues, his relationship with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Boko Haram and the 2015
general election.
MR
President, in recent months, there have been several scathing statements and
remarks from former President Olusegun Obasanjo against your candidature in
this forthcoming election and there have been so much scathing criticism of you
on the fact that you agreed that you will just spend one term in office. Also
some days back, he alerted Nigerians to a grand plot whether by people acting
on your behalf or you also working in concert with them to foist the Gbagbo option
on Nigeria. How do you react to this. What exactly is the problem between you
and former President Obasanjo?

Thank
you. First and foremost, Obasanjo is a father to me. By divine providence and
the Grace of God I am the President of Nigeria today. It is not by my strength.
But God uses human beings to actualise His own blessings on human beings. And
He used so many Nigerians, including former President Obasanjo to play one role
or the other for me. I became the deputy governor of a state, became the governor,
the vice-president and president. I have no issues with him and I really don’t
want to join issues with President Obasanjo. I think it is not necessary. 
But I will use this opportunity, because you asked, to just plead with my
father that he is a leader, a former president of the country. He has led the
country more than anybody; eight years of democratic governance and almost four
years of military governance. No other person has that kind of record. The
stability of this country is critical in terms of the economy of this country.
Rating agencies downgrade countries that are going into elections, because the
feeling is that there would be crisis. When you paint the colour of instability
for your own nation, you are doing so much injustice to the country, because it
affects the economy of the country, not just in terms of security and social
issues alone. It affects the economy directly. So, I plead with very senior
citizens to remember that Nigeria is dear to us. We don’t have any other
country than Nigeria. So actions and inaction or utterances should be guarded
so that we don’t expose our country to the International community as if it is
a country in danger and one that is about to collapse. You are frightening the
investors, especially those who invest their cash, who may begin to pull out
their money from the country and that would affect the stock market and it
would affect the economy.
For one
reason or the other, former President Obasanjo may disagree with me as his
first political son; you can even disagree with your own biological children as
a human being, let alone disagreeing with your political children. So he can
agree or disagree with me, but the utterances have to be managed in a way that
they do not affect the economy of this country and the security of this
country.
Comparing
me with  Gbagbo is quite unfortunate, because I spearheaded the push by
other African countries to fight Gbagbo. Then I was Chairman, Heads of States
and Governments of ECOWAS and I knew some of my colleagues  were a bit
worried about the fate of citizens  of their countries in Cote D’Ivoire.
But I said no, the right thing must be done.
Let me
assure you again, because you asked, that we will conduct this election as
scheduled by INEC and  a president will be inaugurated. There is no reason
for anybody to insinuate that I want to  frustrate elections. So that I
would stay for how long? Will I stay forever? Am I a military head of state?
You and I know that in the Nigerian Constitution, there is no provision for a
president to stay beyond four years once you are elected. So if I  stay
without conducting election after May 29, what would happen? An illegal
president? There is no basis for it. There is not just any basis for it and
it’s quite unfortunate.
How hurt
were you when former President Obasanjo tore his PDP card on national
television?
 I
don’t feel any difference, because the bullets have been coming over and over
for a very long time. So you see, it gets to a situation you become hardened.
That is why even in those days when corporal punishment was in vogue, parents
were advised not to be flogging their children for all flimsy excuses. If you
have children you shout at over smallest things they do, then your shouting at
some points will become meaningless; even when they have not really done
anything wrong, you shout, they would just say Daddy or Mummy has started
again.  They will not feel guilty again, because they don’t know the
difference between when they have done wrong and when they have not done anything
wrong. They just feel that Daddy or Mummy is always shouting.
When you
are making comments, they must be targeted at events. But when they become
serial, or a daily affair, then they are no longer relevant; then they are no
longer helping anybody.
There is
this advert running on TV in which it was claimed that you signed a one-term
pact with PDP elders. The clip showed ex-president Obasanjo reading an
agreement that you signed. Did you actually sign a one-term pact?
I did not
sign any document with anybody and I am not someone who signs documents
carelessly. I don’t even make promises to people. I am not somebody who, if you
want to work for me, for example, will promise to make you a minister. Some
persons can promise three people they will make them ministers. They can
promise another three they will be Secretary to Government, another four
persons Chief of Staff and promise another 10 the Minister of Petroleum slot.
Some people do that to recruit people. But I don’t do that.  I don’t
believe in it. I have never signed a pact of one term. I never even mentioned
it anywhere that I will do one term. Yes, former President Obasanjo spoke that
way, I think the day of our primaries, and he used that to market me and I
listened and I kept  quiet. It was not proper for me to go there and
counter Obasanjo, because I wanted the ticket. I felt that he spoke like an
elder statesman and I left it like that.
I think
people are misquoting me and I always say that people should play the whole
statement that I made in Addis Ababa. Then, I had been elected president. But
I  told Nigerians in Addis Ababa, when I was addressing them, that I have
looked at it  that the money Nigeria spends every year on election is
enormous, for candidates and INEC. I know what it takes on the side of
government to conduct elections; there is the security aspect of the election
people don’t even know. Right now, our eyes are red on how to get enough money
to meet up the needs of security, especially when you see the way people are
behaving and intimidating others and so on. There are some kinds of red spots.
So I feel that the nation will benefit more if we have single tenure of seven
years for elective position.
When I
was Vice-President when the late Yar’Adua came up with the political reforms, I
headed the committee where the whole political parties came together to submit
memoranda. We advocated a single tenure of seven years. That time, we also
agreed that a single tenure would be more productive than double tenure of
eight years. Because the president would be focused; he would not be
distracted. This four-year tenure, if you are completely new, it takes you
almost a year to adjust. Then you work for two years. The next year, you waste
on elections. The country is losing.
But if we
have a single tenure of seven years, yes somebody who is not good may not make
the difference, but some people would want to make names. People like me will
want to make a name and concentrate on governance issues. By the time you
adjust, you have like six years to concentrate on governance. I know what we
have done within this space of time. If we have an opportunity to probably add
two stable years to that, and you happily walk away, this country will develop
more and the tension we are witnessing today will not be there. People say this
election is an ill wind that is coming to this country. If the left wins, there
could be crisis. If the right wins, there could be crisis and people are
painting all sorts of scenarios. I advocated a single term of seven years. Then
I added something that people are misquoting now. I said that I had won the
election then. I used one year to complete Yar’Adua’s tenure and I had won
election for four years. I said if Nigerians agreed to a single term of seven
years, it would not be proper for me to contest. That would mean if I win, I
would serve as president for 12 years. I said that people would question that.
Why do you want to serve 12 years and incoming presidents would serve seven
years? Morally, I cannot defend that. So, if the country agrees to a single
tenure of seven years, then I will not contest. I would rather not contest so
that Nigerians would know it’s because of my sacrifice, because it is something
I believe in. I also believe  that the interest of the country is more important
to me than my individual interest. And I said five years is okay, and that even
if I stay here for 100 years, if I won’t work, I won’t work; that five years is
okay, if the country agrees to a seven-year single tenure. I believe it will
bring stability, the struggle for power, especially at the presidential level,
would be less, and the country will spend less money, because what you spend
every four years, you spend every seven years. That means in 14 years, you will
spend what you currently spend every eight years. Everything would be better
for this country. That was my argument.
They now
took off that tape and remove that area where I said if the country agrees to
seven years single tenure that I will not contest. They removed that and they
are just spreading the aspect where I said I won’t contest.
There is
so much propaganda and falsehood that has come to play in our body politics.
This is very unfortunate. But like in the game of football, if the referee is
not good enough, you can use your hand to score a goal and they would count it
for you. That is what is happening on the field and it is quite unfortunate.
But we will also not allow that.
Mr
President, with all these situations you have painted about the country, what
you call the propaganda which has tried to rubbish the efforts of government
and even the insurgency in a part of the country, why do you want another term
sir?
If you
listen to one of these Reggae artistes, I think it is Bob Marley, he said if
you fight and run away, you live to fight another day. War is politics, even
international politics.  If you see intimidation and you say because of
that you run, then you don’t mean well for your people. I was very reluctant to
get involved in politics as Deputy Governor, but that is a story for another
day. When I was approached I said I was not prepared to run for elective
office. I was still working as Assistant Director at OMPADEC then, and  I
said I was not ready but I was persuaded and the day I decided to go into
politics, I said okay, I am going in fully. So I have come in fully, at
whatever cost.  So if I am convinced that what I am doing is right, I will
not just surrender because of intimidation.
I believe
this government is doing well; I believe probably because we failed to
advertise what we are doing, the opposition is cashing in on this and trying to
becloud the judgement of the people.
Only
today [Thursday] I commissioned four naval ships and the Chief of Naval Staff
said this is the first time in the history of the country that four naval ships
would be commissioned in a day. He said that the last time we did something
close to that was when Shagari was president; he commissioned three at the same
time.  And these are not the only ones we have commissioned. I was here
sometimes in 2012; we commissioned Andoni, and some other ones we bought
through the Americans also.  So this is not the only Naval platforms we have
commissioned. It is historic that this is the first time the Navy would
commission four at the same time.
But
people are telling Nigerians that we have not done anything. Even in the Army,
I am quite happy now. Yes, there are people sneaking into places to detonate
explosives, to kill people, but in terms of the war area, in Borno, Yobe and
Adamawa, the idea of Boko Haram pursuing our soldiers is no longer there.
Aggressively, we are  taking back out territories, because we have
acquired quite a number of Army platforms and weapons that we were looking for.
So we have equipped the Army much better than it used to be. We have equipped
the Air Force much better than it used to be and we have equipped the Navy much
better than it used to be.
You know
of our Agriculture programme. Will I stop the programme that is helping so many
Nigerians because somebody is blackmailing us, or because somebody is busy
intimidating people?
I was
surprised last night when the owner of Chisco, the company that runs transport
business between Lagos and the South-East, told me that 18 of his luxury buses
were burnt down in Lagos by youths of a rival political party because my
billboard was close to his facility. Is it proper?  Is that the kind of
people that want to take over the running of this country? Is this country
going to be managed by people with that kind of background? And will I be
intimidated when I mean well for Nigeria?
I feel
that things must be done properly. And we are improving on all fronts.
Take the
road infrastructure, when I took over, only about five, six thousand kilometers
of roads were motorable. I mean roads owned by the Federal Government. Of
course, you know that most of the major roads across the country are Federal
Roads. Now we have added 20,000 kilometers of motorable roads. At least, now we
can say we have about 25,000 kilometres of motorable roads in the country. And
I believe that in the next four years, we will be able to complete the
remaining 10,000kms and open new arteries.
Are you
saying I should chicken out because some people are telling lies about the
government?
I have
given freedom to Nigerians. Before now, Nigerians don’t talk about voters’
cards. It is from 2011 that we brought that awareness, that a voter card owned
by Nigerians must be the potent tool to be used and Nigerians must decide who
governs them at all levels. And we tried to stop the old ways of manipulating
and rigging elections at all levels, so that Nigerians become relevant in the
voting process. But the way some people are saying it, it is as if they created
it. Before 2011, who cared about voters’ cards? You go to a community, one big
man has carried away the voters’ cards and other people would go about their
businesses.  So many senior citizens told me that they never rested until 2011.
So we have reformed the electoral process and freed Nigerians. We have now
given Nigerians the power to decide who governs them and you want to say I
should chicken out so that we go back to the old ways?
Look at
the freedom Nigerians enjoy. You abuse the President and I smile. In some
countries, you abuse the President, they deal with you.  In so many
countries, including African countries, you cannot abuse the President and go
to sleep with your two eyes closed. It is only in Nigeria that you can do that.
Well, but
some people will say that your inaction in such instance is a sign of weakness
Well,
people are abusing it. But sometimes if you want to move, the same people who
say it is a weakness will come and beg and say Mr President, please, leave them.
It is like this story of a man riding a horse with his son. If the two of them
climb the horse, people will abuse them, ‘why should the two of you climb a
horse. Do  you want to break the back of the horse? This man is a foolish
man.’
Then the
man would say let him ride the horse; let the boy trek and they would say, this
man is a foolish man. He is the old man; the boy should be on the horse and he
should trek. When the man carries the boy on top of the horse and they would
say, which kind of man is this?
So,
however you put it, people will have something to say.
But one
thing people clamour for globally is freedom. The whole essence of democracy is
freedom. If you have a democratic environment and people are not free, then it
is pseudo-democracy and that is why I frown on intimidation.
If
Jonathan is bad and PDP made a mistake to present Jonathan, the duty of a rival
political party is to bring a credible candidate whose credentials are okay,
that it can market freely and can beat Jonathan any day, any where. And the
electorate will decide.  It is not by going to intimidate people. It is
not by abusing Jonathan. Jonathan is not claiming that he is the best person in
Nigeria. No, never.  I used to say that even in the University, I made a
Second Class Upper. I didn’t make a First Class, but there are  so many
First Class graduates in this country. I don’t have the best brain. I didn’t
study a prestigious course. I am not a lawyer or a doctor; I am not an
engineer. So I cannot say I am the best. But if Jonathan must be changed, get a
better material that you don’t need to intimidate people or tell lies to
market. I have not seen anybody that has been presented among the 14
presidential candidates that can run the country better than me. If I have seen
any, I would say yes. So if Jonathan is bad, give Nigerians a better
alternative. It is not by blackmailing Jonathan. It is not by abusing people.
That is no longer democracy. If we are practising democracy, then there must be
freedom of choice, freedom of speech. If you take these ingredients out of any
government, then it is not democracy it is pseudo-democracy, false democracy.
I am
coming from a background of a government that stood by the rule of law. I came
as vice-president to the late Yar’Adua who advocated the rule of law and I
agreed. I cannot now say that since Yar’Adua is late, I would no longer believe
in that philosophy of the rule of law. It is easy if you write something
against me for me to ask my security agents to come and arrest you and throw you
into a dungeon for 24 hours, so that you know that there is government. Yes,
one can do it. But is that what you use power for?
Yes, if
you write something we feel you should not have written we can caution you or
take you before the law court, but we should not lock you up for one week in an
underground dungeon.
It is
costly, yes. I am the one receiving the flaks. But you need that for you to
move the country forward. Nigeria is a country with a high degree of diversity
in terms of language groups, in terms of tribal groups and in terms of
religious groups. Within the two major religions, Christianity and Islam, you
have major sects and all that. So when you are managing that kind of a country,
when you are practising true democracy, you may be perceived as a weak person.
But I told Nigerians the issue is not whether Jonathan is weak or not, the
issue is that within these five years, including the one year I used to
complete Yar’Adua’s tenure and the four years of my first tenure, what have I
put on the table?
I used to
tell people that human memories are short. In 2012, we experienced the biggest
flood in this country. The biggest flood I witnessed was in 1969; that was the
year I wrote my primary six examinations. It was before the Kainji Dam was
completed. Since the completion of Kainji Dam, there was no such flood again.
In my community, even in the place where I built my house, in those days,
nobody would have built a house there, but since that time [1969] there was no
flood again. In the 2012 flood in my compound that was sand-filled before the
building, if you stand on the floor nobody would see your head. That was the
extent of the flood. People thought we would have food crisis, we never
had.  That didn’t come by chance.  Because of the fall in oil prices,
in a number of countries that depend on oil like we do, people are queuing up
for essential commodities. Here, even though the value of the Naira has gone
dow, because of the drop in oil prices, food prices are relatively
stable.  These things don’t come by chance. By now we would have been
queuing up to buy bread. And people would have been angrier with government.
Because of our agric programme, we are producing much of our food requirements.
We have been assisting farmers and encouraging them in various ways.
Fertilizers are getting to the farmers; other agro input are getting to the
farmers; real seedlings getting to the farmers; lots of financial assistance.
These things don’t happen by chance. We mean well for this country. So I can’t
succumb to any intimidation. It would be a failure on my own part. If you have
something to offer your country, you will want to do it.
You said
that none of the presidential candidates can do better than you in running this
country. I am sure that includes General Buhari, your main challenger. How do
you rate General Buhari?
I said
that none of the candidates from their history, from what we know, can do
better than me in terms of governing this country. General Buhari has governed
this country before for 18 months. It would not be fair for me to comment on
one individual, especially the number one contender. So, I will not want to
rate him. But what I will like to say is that out of the 14 presidential
candidates, none of them can do better than me in terms of running this country
and I have listened to statements, speeches, interviews and  I have not
seen any of them offering anything new.
I have
not seen any of them saying that in agriculture, this is what the present
government is doing, I want to do it this way. I want to do things this way and
it is a better option. I have not heard any of them saying anything about
Railways. Railway was dead in this country for over 30 years; I remember in
those  days when Buhari was Head of State, I was doing my Master’s degree
programme and there was this screaming headline in one of the national
dailies,  ‘weeds overtake Rail lines!’ That was what we got.
But now
we have rehabilitated 90 per cent of this old narrow gauge and we are adding
the standard ones.  Even in the power sector, we have not reached where we
want to go but you can see the progress we are making. Be it in education or
aviation, name it, I have not seen any new idea from my opponents.
A lot of
people have been presidents in this country before I came. I came on board and
some states have degree-awarding institutions while 12 states had no
degree-awarding institutions. I did not create those states but I felt it was
not good. I opened 12 universities in the 12 states that had no federal universities,
in addition to the one specialising in Maritime studies, the Maritime
University, because we have the longest coastline. Apart from the Maritime
Institution in Oron in Akwa Ibom State, we don’t really have an institution
that can train the highest level of manpower in the maritime sector. So, we
said we must have a university to take care of that.
Look at
primary and secondary education. By our laws, it is not the responsibility of
Federal Government, but I looked at the North, the rate of school dropouts is
so high that some states had as high as 70 per cent. Some states had 40 to 50
per cent, some 30-something per cent while the rate in the South was about two
per cent. The average in the North was about 35 per cent; that is from primary
to the first three years of secondary school education. So, I said the Federal
Government must assist. And there is no state we have not built at least five
schools to assist. I also built the Almajiri schools, primary schools to assist
the downtrodden, the children that are underprivileged, whose parents cannot
cater for them. Nobody has done that before.
You said that
none of the other presidential candidates has better ideas on governance than
you. But General Buhari has been campaigning on two major fronts. He said he
can fight insurgency better and he will fight corruption. How would you react
to those two points he has been using to campaign?
 You
see, I laugh when I hear these things.  To us Nigerians, the word
corruption is very painful. When you tell Nigerians you want to fight
corruption, people will be happy. It is like a dummy that you can use to
deceive people. I don’t know how old you were when General Buhari was Head of
State. He used the same corruption-fighting ploy to chase the politicians away.
He said this country was too corrupt; he was going to deal with them and he
took over. Some people were given 300 years imprisonment, 200 years
imprisonment. But did that stop corruption? Even the report of Transparency
International that has been analysing corruption from that time till date has
not exonerated that government. And for 18 months, the country was going down;
people were queuing up to buy essential commodities. I was doing my Master’s
degree then as I said earlier. Some nights, I couldn’t even read, because I had
to go and queue up to buy one tin of milk and one packet of sugar. If you
didn’t queue up overnight, the items won’t get to you when they open the
warehouse in the morning. By the time they open the store by 8 a.m., the items
would have finished before it gets to your turn.  So if he had defeated
that corruption then, it won’t be with us today.
To me, if
somebody says he wants to fight corruption, you must tell me how you intend to
fight corruption. Look at what we have done in the Agric sector. We stopped
fertiliser corruption. We are going to make that cut across all sectors. The
next sector we are going to is petroleum. That is a sector many people have
raised all kinds of issues. We are doing quite a number of things in that
sector, which I will not say because if you say it a number of people
benefitting from the slease could create all kinds of scenarios and block it.
If you take the Agric sector, for instance, the first thing a Minister of
Agriculture would ask from the President is money to buy fertilisers. And at
the end of the day, the fertilisers and agro inputs would not get to the
farmers. Less than 10 per cent get to the farmers. We have cleaned up all that,
using the electronic wallet.  The corruption in that sector is gone. Look
at the payroll system, in December where some departments of government
couldn’t receive salaries. It was because people started to divert the money
meant for salaries to pay other allowances and the system shut them off. 
So we are building a system that, even if a person wants to steal, he will not
be able to steal.  First, you must prevent stealing before you talk about
enforcement. It is just like when you are in the Customs and they tell you to
prevent smuggling, you enforce it also.  All over the world, prevention is
more potent than enforcement, because in enforcement, there are lots of limitations,
because of our legal system. We operate a legal system that says it is better
for nine criminals to get away with a crime than for one innocent man to be
punished.  The concept of proving beyond reasonable doubt comes in. 
How reasonable is that reasonable doubt.
So, if
Buhari wants to reduce corruption, he will have to tell Nigerians how he plans
to do that.
General
Buhari was Head of State in a military government and when they set up
tribunals, the tribunals did all it wanted to do, just like the one that ruled
on the death of Ken Saro Wiwa. But we are in a democratic setting, where you
must obey the law. Yes, you can disobey the law by locking up people for a very
long time, but people will go to court and the courts will tell you what you
are doing is wrong. You can only continue to disobey the law for as long as
possible.  Even on the question of arresting and prosecuting people, we
have done a lot. We have even arrested and prosecuted more people than the
previous governments. Maybe, you will go and interview the chairman of EFCC. I
used to tell him to talk to the press because the tendency is for Nigerians to
think we are not fighting corruption.
Ibrahim
Lamorde was Director of Operations at the Economic and Financial Crimes
Commission (EFCC) under Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. When I came on board as
vice-president, Ribadu was removed, Lamorde was posted out and Farida was
brought in.  When I took over, a number of people clamoured to bring
Lamorde back, especially from the international community, the people who
trained him.  They said they have trained him very well and that if we
brought him back he was going to do well. So, luckily he had not been retired.
I brought him back.  And I told him the whole world appears to believe in
you, come and head EFCC. And he has been doing well. But because some people
want to bring Jonathan down, the good works of Lamorde too must be brought
down.
Don’t you
think that the lull in the fight against corruption is as a result of the fact
that during the administration of President Obasanjo we saw more trials and the
media was very well used. But this is not so at this time. Would you also
consider a change in strategy?
I agree
with you that the media publicity helped to paint the picture that that
government was fighting corruption. Society behaves in a particular way. So, by
the time you arrest some people and show them on television, people are
happy.  If you are somebody who will play to the gallery, that is what you
will do and that is what we don’t want to encourage. So a government that wants
to take the populist option may not achieve much, but it would be celebrated.
Probably,
we may have a kind of balance. We will not go to that extreme, because if you
suffer from that you will not want to encourage it. I was a governor in Bayelsa
State. I took over the governance of Bayelsa on the 12th December, 2005 when we
had crisis in the state. During that time, we had a bit of unstable governance
in the state and I was just paying salaries and I said contractors should wait.
That lasted till February 2006.  And by that time we had accumulated about
N25 billion debt but the total income of the state was below N13 billion. In
February as I arrived Abuja, I saw a headline ‘Bayelsa Gov in N50 billion
whatever,’ I said what is this? I have not even awarded contracts. I started
calling everywhere to make sure they correct the false allegation. In those
days, if you don’t like a local government chairman, you wrote an anonymous
petition to EFCC and the EFFC would, chain him and show him on
television.  At the end of the day when they got into the matter nothing
came out of it. Would you prefer such a situation? Those who arrested and
disgraced you would not even come and apologise to you. So it gave a false
impression that corruption was being fought but that extreme is not the best in
the circumstance. Probably, we must do a little of letting the media know what
we are doing, but we must select cases we are sure of. We do and not want
expose innocent people and make innocent people look like ordinary thieves on
television. Because the day you announce that this person has stolen money,
that impression is there forever. And on the internet, whenever you search
through google, you get that story despite the fact that that person was not
even tried. So, there is no way the court can say the man did not steal any
money. When you investigate the case, you just ask the man to go. No statement
is issued to clear the man, that the man is not a thief. But in the media
system, especially these days of social media, whatever goes in there is
permanent.
So these
are the issues. I believe we may begin to do things slightly differently, but
not to that extreme. The emphasis is that all these areas where we have
leakages have to be blocked so that nobody will steal money through payment of
salaries. Nobody will steal money through award of contracts. That is why we
have the Bureau of Public Procurement and, of course, this fertiliser issue. In
fact, arms and ammunition now are being procured from government to government.
People say oh, because the Army is corrupt or because the government is
corrupt, that is why we couldn’t recover the Chibok girls. That is not so. Look
at what is happening all over the world. People underrate terrorism. Now, with
what we are doing with arms and ammunition, we are no longer procuring through
direct contract. We are doing it government to government, because most of
these companies that manufacture arms and ammunition have links with their home
governments; these are not just businesses you just operate without control.
So, we are going through the states to buy.
Despite
the stories that America is not doing this or that, we are buying through the
states. So, by the time we get over this Boko Haram debacle, which certainly we
will get over, major procurements, would be through the governments so that
this issue of corruption would be reduced. Assuming that people were padding
contracts, by buying through the countries directly, you cannot do that. And
that is what we are doing in major sectors and even with our procurement at the
Federal Government level. If we are buying things, we buy directly from the
manufacturers. We don’t approve the payment through contractors. Except some
manufacturers who don’t sell directly, that have agents either for your country
or the sub-region, we get through those ones, so the prices are standard. Any
addition would just be for logistics and so on. So these are the areas we are
using to reduce corruption. If somebody tells you I will fight corruption, I
have fought corruption before by arresting somebody and jailing somebody for
300 years, such is a big lie. Were those people really corrupt? Most of the
people involved are South-Westerners that you know very well.  I don’t
want to mention names. Were they really corrupt people that deserved 200 or 300
years jail terms?
Mr
President, talking about elections, the INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega,
was before the Senate and he refused to confirm that the March 28 and April 11
dates for elections are sacrosanct, saying that it was the military that could
confirm. As the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, do you
assure Nigerians that those dates are sacrosanct? And are you not worried that
Jega continues to pass the buck?
I appointed
Jega. If I make any statement on INEC either negatively or positively, it will
affect the whole process. As the sitting president, who appoints INEC
leadership, I must be mindful and I cannot be dragged into making statements or
utterances that are unguarded about a body set up by my government. INEC as an
arm by government, just like any other agency of government, might have its
limitations; that does not mean it has issues. As at that time, the military
felt that we had security challenges that we must properly handle, otherwise;
the elections would be inconclusive. Even outside core security areas, in a
place like Lagos, only 38 per cent of the registered voters had Permanent Voter
Cards (PVCs). By global standard, you will see that only 60 to 65 per cent of
voters turn out to vote. So assuming that 38 per cent of Lagosians had PVCs; if
65 per cent of that 38 per cent turns out to vote, you will have only 30 per
cent of the electorate in Lagos electing people for the public offices. If you
write exams and you score 30 per cent; that is a failure. So, will you describe
that kind of election where 30 per cent voted as a credible election? INEC had
some issues; issues of PVCs, issues of card readers and all sorts. But then,
the security people had their own issues. You and I may not know what they
know; they run intelligent services and they also know the thinking of this
evil group called Boko Haram. Of course, you know that Gombe was attacked on
14th of February, which was supposed to be the day of the Presidential and
National Assembly elections and I called the governor after we were able to
repel the attack. He said when the insurgents came into the city they were
chanting anti-election sentiments, which means that their real purpose of
coming was to disrupt the elections.
I want to
believe they were living somewhere in the forest and didn’t know that elections
were no longer holding; I also believe other groups would have gone to places
like Bauchi, Damaturu and so on, and maybe those ones knew about the
postponement. Therefore, when the military said that for security reasons, the
election should be postponed, I expect Nigerians to know that, at least, these
were serious people who had intelligence at their disposal; that it is because
the military has been working that they can sleep. So, some of the statements
made about the military are quite unfortunate, very unfortunate. But I am quite
pleased with the progress we have made within this period; and my conviction is
that in two to three weeks time, what will happen in the North will make all
Nigerians happy that the military made that suggestion and that, at least, INEC
listened to them. I believe Boko Haram will be depleted to the level that even
if we don’t rout them out completely, we would have overpowered them and
reclaimed our territories. You cannot claim that you have won a war against
terrorism just like you cannot claim to have won a war against stealing; even
in the house, someone can hide and take something. But we may be able to take
over many of our territories, if not all, so that the insurgents will not have
that kind of strength to come in their numbers to disrupt elections across so
many states that will affect the overall result of maybe the presidential
election. At least, the military will be able to do that. So, I am convinced
that we will conduct the elections as scheduled.
You
cannot blame the INEC chairman; it will be difficult and improper for him to
say, ‘yes, elections must hold.’ He has to be careful, because he is not the
Chief of Defence Staff or the Commander-in-Chief. I can say that and defend it,
because I have the information about security that does not go to him. So,
don’t blame him; he will be a bit careful. He will tell you that he is ready
but he does not control all the aspects of the election; he does not control
the security aspect.
So, there
is hope for March 28 Sir?
Yes, of
course. Those of you here, I hope you have your voter cards, because my
commitment is that all Nigerians must vote. And I feel sad when people say that
only this percentage has collected PVCs, and it sometimes makes me get angry,
because I feel that we cannot practise democracy well if people who want to
vote are prevented from voting. If you register and you get card and on that
day you feel like not going to vote, it is your right. There is nowhere in the
world that 100 per cent of resident voters vote, but the decision to vote or
not should be that of the individual. Nobody should be prevented from voting.
Those willing and active voters should be able to vote and I want a situation
whereby 100 per cent of registered Nigerians will have their voter cards,
because that is democracy. Without that, you are not practising democracy and I
don’t want anything that will have the symptoms of pseudo-democracy in Nigeria.
We want something that will make the whole world see and know that we are
practising total democracy; it is costly and easier for countries that are
ruled by kings and queens. But if you are practising democracy, though it is
costly and painful, it should be total.
But Mr
President, apart from the local challenges you have with your critics here,
there is this impression being created that quite a number of the Western
powers are not happy with your government. The impression being given is why
‘will you vote for someone who is not even in good terms with the major powers’
and they are quick to cite the instance of when the United States refused to do
anything concerning the Ebola Virus Disease, the procurement of arms and when
they said they were coming to Nigeria to help us fight Boko Haram and train
personnel, they were not forthcoming. Now, when you connect that impression
with what is being written by some international magazines such as The
Economist and the New York Time the impression given to Nigerians is that you
are not in good terms with quite a number of these Western powers and that a
vote for you will be confining Nigeria to becoming a sort of pariah country.
How will react to these?
No, no,
no; Nigeria cannot be a pariah country and there is no problem between Nigeria
as a state and other nations. Of course, we are in the United Nations and
before the last UN’s major voting, I think I was called by the vice-president
of the United States and the Secretary of State, who calls me regularly. The
vice-president visited us not too long ago and there were some areas we raised
issues, that you need to do this and that. So if somebody gives the impression
that Nigeria and the US have major problems,that is not true. Even in the ongoing
fight against terrorism in the North, they are still supplying us with a lot of
intelligence. I think the areas that became pronounced was that we wanted to
acquire some attack helicopters that were based on American technology, with
some produced directly in the US and some in Israel. Of course, because of the
global practice on platforms for war, if a technology is American-based,
wherever you are producing that, the US must agree before it can be sold to any
client. But the US had the feeling that our military had issues of human rights
abuse regarding fighting Boko Haram and they felt they would not allow the sale
of the attack helicopters, because the helicopters were strong platforms, and
the they felt that the military would use them wrongly and the US would be
indirectly dragged into human rights abuses, which will make the congress
harass the government. That was the issue; it was not as if we had major
problems with the US. We never had any major problem with them and as we speak
now, they are still supplying us with intelligence. So also are France and the
United Kingdom. So, Nigeria cannot be a pariah state.
Of
course, you are journalists. There are some countries where the heads of
governments come out and quarrel with the superpowers and often insult them,
even on the UN floor. Go and read about it. They will go to the floor of the UN
and attack US, attack Europe and all the G5 and their countrymen vote for them.
So the issue of Nigeria and the US fighting is non-existent and no one should
create an impression that I am not in good terms with the Western countries.
The only thing is that if you look at the media outfits, we have not been
managing the media well. As a government, we have been doing well, but we have
not really managed the media outfits, especially the international ones very
well, even the local media. Probably, our Ministry of Information is
poorly-funded. I believe we must review the funding of the ministry, because
image-making is a key thing and we have not really invested enough money in the
aspect of image-making and the opposition parties knew our weakness in that
regard and keyed in very well. By so doing, they have been able to change the
perception. And what are they doing? They are using the Chibok girls’ issue and
Nigeria is now being defined by the Chibok issue, which is very unfortunate.
There is no country where only a terror attack is used to define the state;
they said because Jonathan was unable to recover the Chibok girls, then that he
is a failed president. Is that proper? If you are a failed president, that
means you are running a failed state; is Nigeria a failed state?
Within
this period, our economy became the biggest in Africa, worth more than half a
trillion dollars; it has never happened before. In terms of Foreign Direct
Investment, Nigeria is still number one in Africa; can you say this is a failed
state?
If a
state has not failed and I have been president for five years, and we are
improving in all aspects; how can you say I am a failed president? You cannot
define Nigeria by Boko Haram for God’s sake.
But there
are consultants working for the opposition parties, who penetrated the Western
media and paint the colours and scenarios they want. Just as I said, we failed
to invest in media; we failed to invest in propaganda and we failed to invest
in the Public Relations aspect of government and you know that even big
corporations have strong PR consultants, because no matter what you did,
detractors can paint you black.
That is
what is happening to this government. So, now we are receiving the reward of
poor investment in Public Relations. That is one area that, God-willing, when I
get back into office, we will have to strengthen the PR side of government.
Otherwise, nobody can stand and debate with me in terms of concrete
achievements of government.
We must
compare what we have done within this period with what was done by other
administrations, be it in agriculture, roads, aviation, housing, education and
the health sector.
Take for
example, when Nigeria was confronted by the Ebola Virus Disease, if we had
slept, we could not have routed it. I was in the US for the UN General
Assembly, when I got the information. Immediately left the US, when I landed in
Nigeria, I went straight to my office that morning. I went to the office and I
started calling the ministers. I summoned all the key ministers, including the
Minister of Health and we took certain key decisions, which was why we
announced restrictions, that corpses should not be moved around and that people
should avoid crowded places, unnecessary handshakes and so on. That day, we
took certain decisions that helped us to overcome the challenge. I also called
all the state governors and asked them to come with their commissioners for
health for a meeting and we sat for almost the whole day. I did not allow the
governors to talk. We called the commissioners of each state to tell us what
they were doing and I wanted them to listen to their contemporaries so that
there could get a peer review. So that when state A goes back, he can learn
from what state B was doing right. I wanted the governors to listen to the
health commissioners. All the commissioners for health in the 36 states,
including the Federal Capital Territory spoke and I said go and implement all
these policies; we must not allow Ebola to spread in Nigeria. We did everything
we could to make sure that did not happen. In fact, when I went back to the UN
the following trip, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr
Margaret Chan, was so elated that she wanted to lift me up. But here in
Nigeria, I am just like  refuse to be dumped in the trash can. The way
Chan was speaking, if it was her duty to appoint the next president of Nigeria,
she would just have appointed Jonathan that day without election. She was
impressed with Nigeria’s effort.
Look at
something like Guinea worm, we have eradicated it. These are intangible things
but nobody sees them. Look at polio, the last case of polio was in June 2014,
in Kano. God willing, we will eradicate polio this year. In 2011, after the
election, I went to Australia where there was a programme on polio eradication
and there was polio in Nigeria; India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other
countries. But I said ‘look, we must eradicate polio.’ Today, I have to
appreciate Bill and Melinda Gates; they worked with us greatly to achieve that
objective. And that is the lower level of health issues. At the biggest level,
where talk about health tourism and so on we have also made great improvement.
When I was a deputy governor, my late younger sister, who I buried not long
ago, had problems with her heart and I asked my personal physician ‘where we
could take the lady for open heart surgery in Nigeria?’ But he replied that the
closest place was one hospital in Ghana, where some expatriate doctors usually
came to handle such cases. I was sad that with all the big teaching hospitals
and federal medical centres everywhere, we had to go to Ghana. Of course, I
later sent her to India and that’s a long story. She had been suffering until
she finally died. That was when I was a deputy governor. Today, University
College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan is doing open heart surgery; other teaching
hospitals are doing kidney transplant. In fact, the University of Benin
Teaching Hospital started work on stem cells, but because of the human rights
issues involved in stem cells work, they suspended it and so many countries are
no longer doing the stem cell thing. These things did not come by chance. You
must get the relevant equipment and funding for these kinds of breakthroughs.
So, even at the top level, we have improved. We have not reached where we want
to go, definitely not. At the lower level, our experiences with the prevention
of Ebola spread, the eradication of Guinea worm and polio show that we are not
sleeping.
You have
mentioned the issue of perception and how it affected your government
negatively, with the issue of Chibok girls and other issues at the national and
international level portraying your government as one that has no action. Sir,
can you give assurance that your government will get the kidnapped girls out?
God-willing.
Insha Allah, we will get these girls out, because as I told you earlier, that
very soon, in two to three weeks, we will be able to take over all the lost
territories. Luckily for us, we have not heard that these girls have been
killed; we have not. The stories we have been hearing are that they have been
married out but they are alive. By the time we take over these territories, we
will get them out. We are also cooperating with Central Africa; so if some had
been moved out, by the time we clear out the whole of Nigeria’s territory;
wherever these girls are, we will rescue them.
But I
have to plead with Nigerians that the whole world is facing terrorism; look at
what is happening in Pakistan; Egypt; Libya and even France. Egypt and Libya
may go to war, because Egypt had to go and bomb Libya territories after some
terrorists slaughtered innocent Egyptians. So, the success of this government
or its failure should not be defined by the Chibok girls, because that is an
incident that people have used to paint us in bad light, taking us across the
shores of Nigeria to paint us in bad light. And it is whatever you tell the
world about your country that it will take. So, if for political reasons, we
are telling the world stories that will affect the country negatively, that is
dangerous. And that is why I am pleading with people: we have only Nigeria as
our country. No matter the contest, we must have a nation before there is an
office of the president. Without Nigeria, no one can contest to be president of
Nigeria or the governor of any state. So, we must come together and ensure that
we have a Nigeria of our dream. And the sanctity of Nigeria should not be
compromised on the platform of a political contest. We must not destroy our own
country.
Some
groups in the South-West have complained that your government marginalised the
region. Why is this feeling pervasive in the region?
The
South-West is one of the areas of this country that is dearest to me, perhaps
because of my strong belief in education. If you talk about education in
Nigeria, South-West is the hub of education. In fact, the time I graduated; we
had more professors from the South-West than the rest of the country; we had
more professors who were Yoruba. The figures must have changed now. I came from
the wretched of the earth, without education I could not have been where I am
today. So, I am persuaded about education. What created the perception you
talked about was that people look at top people in government; the president,
the vice-president, the senate president, the speaker of the House of
Representatives, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and probably
the Chief of Staff to the president and saw that out of all these posts, not
even one came from a very important zone like the South-West of this country.
Then, the Lagos-Ibadan road was also a big problem. Otherwise, if you look at
it, one can say that every state of the country that did not have a federal
university when we came on board, we have cited one there and that affected
Ekiti State. We cited one university in Ekiti State. In fact, the Federal
University, Oye in Ekiti State is the only one with two campuses, because we
tried to discourage a multi-campus system because of the cost-implication.
However, because of the peculiarity of Ekiti, we opened it with two campuses.
In order
to correct the perceived marginalisation, when I dropped the Chief of Staff, I
said this is the opportunity to make sure that the South-West gets that
position.
But I
must explain again that I did not cause the problem of perceived
marginalisation of the South-West. If you recall, the PDP usually zones its
positions across the six geopolitical zones. And at the end of elections, when
the president and the vice-president come from different zones, then the
president would be asked where his SGF would come from and then the Senate
President; Speaker and National Chairman of the party to each of the three
remaining zones. However, in 2011, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) had
many members in the House of Representatives from the South-West and the PDP
members in the House who had done more than one term were about three; Mulikat
Akande-Adeola; Ajibola Muraina and one other person. So I said ‘the party’s
zoning policy must be followed,’ and that was why we picked Mulikat. The
pressure was much, but I insisted that we must follow the policy, because if we
take away the Speakership from the South-West, it will affect so many other
positions. If you talk about Board appointments, all these six positions I
mentioned earlier have a quota; the president has the biggest quota and though
the South-South must benefit because he is from that region, other zones must
also benefit. The same is applicable to the vice-president. The president has
the biggest quota, followed by the vice-president and the senate president and
then speaker. So, I said if we do not comply with that policy and the speaker,
being a core person when we are discussing issues affecting the country. it will
affect the distribution of things in the country. I fought and fought but I
know what happened and I do not want to raise them now; some of you also know
it. Some people from the South-West did not want PDP to have a stronghold in
the region, so they scuttled it. That was the problem. People saw that I
started having problems with the Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, even before he
defected to the APC, because he felt I did not support him. I am the one that
is suffering the pains for insisting that the South-West must get the Speaker’s
seat. That is still affecting me till date.
So, I was
not the one that caused the problem in the South-West.
But in
terms of what I have done in the region, we established a university in Ekiti
State, the only state in the region that did not have a federal university and
we also established a polytechnic in Ondo. Of course, we have started the
reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan road and the Benin-Ore road was also
reconstructed by this government. The Ibadan-Oyo section of the Ilorin-Ibadan
expressway was also completed by this administration. These and other roads
have been done or are still under construction in the South-West, because the
region is key and very important in the country. I just told you that Lagos and
the industrial part of Ogun State contributes about 15 per cent or more to the
economy of this country. So, we cannot play with the South-West.
Mr
President, for some time now; there have been cases of violence, shootings and
bombings in Rivers State. Another one happened this week. How worried are you
about the situation in that place?
Incidentally,
violence is not only in Rivers State. I feel sad that we are embracing a
culture of violence that was not there before. At least, I contested as a
deputy governor in 1999; I was governor for some years and also contested and
became vice-president and then president; I have been at the top level of
leadership for some time, but things were not like this. The scenarios that we
continue to witness are quite different. In 1999, immediately we finished the
election and we were sworn in, for some of us who were deputy governors; you
would not know the difference between two deputy governors from different
political parties. We related freely. If your ward is going to another state,
you just call your colleague that ‘my ward is coming’ and he will take care of
that ward and the same thing applied to governors. We continued that way up
till 2007; the governors related well irrespective of political parties, until
people developed unnecessary ambitions and created crisis and began to move to
parties. Cross-carpeting started taking place even at the level of executive
and then we began to see all these dangerous trends of violence.
Now, some
people believe that if you are in PDP, the governor from another party is an
enemy. No, we are not a mono-party system. That is why we have many parties and
we expect the different parties to produce public officers based on the
parties. We are not enemies. Within this period, you would have heard the case
of a presidential convoy being pelted by some young people instigated by
adults. Even the campaigns; the PDP started its campaigns much late but some
people began their campaigns with abuses, insults and so on. That was why when
we launched our campaign in Lagos, I spoke the way I did, because I felt it was
not fair to make campaigns based on insults. Campaigns should be based on
issues. There is so much venom, bitterness and these are manifesting in all
kinds of ways.
When I
heard about the shooting in Okrika, I called the Inspector-General and the
Director-General of the Department of State Security; I even called our
governorship candidate about the situation in Rivers. It is sad.
The
Rivers State case is sad. It is extreme, because guns were fired. Campaign
vehicles and our offices had been burnt down in some parts of the North. In
Lagos, as I informed you earlier, Chisco just told me some youths burnt down 18
of his luxurious buses. Is this proper?
The
Rivers State’s situation is quite sad but I don’t like to join issues with a
governor, because it is not fair. But that state is becoming one bad example.
By the time we leave offices and people want to write the history of our
periods in government, it will be a very bad example. The House of Assembly has
been closed down in Rivers State for about two years. One arm of government has
not worked for two years. The judiciary was also shut down for over one year.
When they closed down the House of Assembly, they said ‘Jonathan wants to
impeach Amaechi, because he is opposing him.’ But out of the 33 members in the
House, only about five of them were in the PDP. Can the five people impeach the
governor?
Maybe the
conduct of the five PDP legislators showed that Sir…
Let us
face the truth; which conduct? The whole arm of government has not functioned
for two years. Okay, what happened to the judiciary? Am I the one that controls
the National Judicial Council (NJC) and if the problem was with the former
Chief Justice Aloma Mukhtar, who has now gone, why was the Rivers State
judiciary still under lock and key? Is that the kind of democracy we are
advocating in this country? So, are we saying the day the president gets angry
with the judiciary, because it gives a judgment that does not favour him, he
should go and close down the judiciary and close down the National Assembly?
Then, only the president will be running government. You, the media people,
should help Nigeria. If one wants to do something about Rivers State, you hear
noise; ‘oh he is this and that.’ The Rivers State situation is sad and it is a
very bad example.
Mr
President, at this point, do you regret losing the five PDP governors,
including Amaechi?
We did
all we could to bring them together. I had several meetings with these
governors. I am sorry to use this comparison, but it is like marrying a wife
and for some reason, either the size of your pocket is not big enough or you
are weak in some other areas or in-laws are harassing her, she makes up her
mind to leave. If another person eyeing her is around the corner, no matter
what you do, she will leave. After leaving, it will not be too long after,
before you hear that she has remarried. As the president, I scheduled meetings
for 9 p.m and I would be there before that time, but these governors would come
one hour after. We had several such meetings, because I wanted the unity of the
party. As the leader of the party, I did not want to preside over the
disintegration of the party. But as a president, I would be there to wait for a
governor for one hour and we had several such meetings. It was obvious that
there was nothing we could do to stop them from leaving. It was like doctors
saying we tried our best to save the patient but we lost him. Doctors cannot
save all the patients. So I have no regrets. I would have had regrets if it was
possible for me to stop them from leaving and I did nothing to stop them. But
this one, it was not possible, because they had their reasons. We know the
reasons now, because we have all followed the political process so far. 

Source: Tribune

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