By Samuel Ogundipe
President Jonathan sat down with a team of journalists from Tribune Newspapers at the State House, Marina, for an extensive interview which is excerpted below:
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  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.