Friday February 20, 2015. The venue was The State House Marina, Lagos. Sitting on a cream-coloured sofa in one of the rooms on the upper floor of the colonial building, which hitherto served as seat of government, and wearing a dark blue Fila on a dark grey and green embroidered Agbada , President Goodluck Jonathan was in a relaxed mood.
He was calm and easy: showing no sign of serious pressure, at least as far as next month’s election is concerned. He had just returned from the inauguration of the 750 megawatt capacity Olorunsogo Power Plant phase 2, one of the projects lined up for commissioning during his few days stay in the South-west since wednesday. The South-west visit was part of the strategy to put him in good stead in the zone ahead of March 28 presidential elections, projected to be the most closely contested since 1999. And for about an hour or so, the 56-year-old PhD holder in Zoology, who is the presidential candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, fielded questions from THISDAY Board of Editors in the 3rd part of the THISDAY Presidential Election Interview Series.
Having been Head of State for five years following the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua, and then elected President after winning the 2011 election, Jonathan believes he is seeking re-election on a strong record, that is, however, largely under-reported. The President took the Board on a voyage into how his second term would look like, if re-elected. The issue of discipline and the fight against corruption, especially in the oil sector, will also be a top priority to consolidate the work and convictions already accomplished.
And in a clear indication that he had learnt vital lessons on how an unprecedented level of goodwill could be burnt within four years by negative reports, he said he would rein in any member of his team or inner cycle that drags his government into unnecessary controversy. He also spoke on the renewed onslaught against Boko Haram, the work-in-progress towards stable power supply, the audio tape in circulation on how politicians allegedly plotted with the military to rig the Ekiti governorship election, and how he had come to realise the importance of better communications and a positive image building for a government, among other issues. Excerpts:
MR PRESIDENT, Elections have been postponed following the security advice of the military who have said they need to secure the North-east. But the question people are asking is: ‘what had not been achieved in six years, how is it going to be achieved in six weeks in the fight against Boko Haram’ ?
In the Council of State meeting when the issue was raised, after the INEC chairman spoke, they asked the Chief of Defence staff to speak. He did not actually specify that the elections should be postponed because of the fight against Boko Haram. He said for the 14th February election, we could not guarantee the security; he did not tell us that it was only because they wanted to rout Boko Haram in the North-east.
You know Gombe was attacked on the 14th; that was the day we were to have presidential and the National Assembly elections. When the army repelled their attack, they started to investigate the attack. When the terrorists came into the city, they were kind of chanting anti-election slogans. The conclusions were that these people came to disrupt the elections. I believe that group was in the forest areas and didn’t know that the elections had been postponed. My conviction is that probably if we had gone on with the elections, similar groups would have attacked Bauchi, Yobe, Borno… The military said look, for security reasons, even outside the North-east, before the campaign started, there were no serious clashes but during the campaigns we’ve seen some dangerous flash points around the country, that for any head of the security in any country, we must prepare.
In 2011 we did not experience such, but at the end of the elections, tens of young people were killed; property destroyed even when we had no fears before the elections, but this time, what is happening? Recently in Rivers State, there was the incident of attack on a campaign rally, leading to the death of a policeman. And then to the situation that people were even encouraging young people to attack the president’s convoy. Any attack on the president’s convoy in any country is very serious and could be treasonable. Certain things must be done to fully prepare for the elections: the security architecture must be well positioned to tackle election violence. The issue of the North-east is also a factor, because as it is, if we had allowed the election to hold, Boko Haram could have really disrupted it, but not the whole country. But at the end of the day, if we conduct elections in the country, maybe four states, because we are talking about Gombe, Yobe, Adamawa and Borno, and even Bauchi. We have to be careful.
Assuming they disrupt elections in these four states, it will be difficult for INEC to declare a winner if the results are so close. And the nature of this country, if we have inconclusive elections, it could lead to anything. And we believe that within the next three to four weeks, the Boko Haram issue will be handled in a way that, even if they still exist, but they will be so weakened to a level that they may not be able to massively disrupt the elections in these main five states. Luckily, within this period, you have seen what is happening. We were looking for equipments before for the army. We had issues getting some military hardware from some countries.
Sometimes we got it in a different way and ran into some challenges. That was a major factor in the timing, in trying to rebuild the military capacity… but the government is not saying that they must rout Boko Haram before Nigeria conducts election. No one has said that. In 2011 when Nigeria conducted elections, we had Boko Haram. Boko Haram was there before I became vice-president. It predated my being a vice-president in 2007, but it became worrisome in 2009 when the leader, Yusuf, was killed after they slaughtered an Assistant Commissioner of Police. So they’ve been with us, even in 2011, but the elections were conducted. So nobody is saying that we must win the war against Boko Haram hundred per cent. We cannot expect to win the war against such terror hundred per cent before the elections anyway but we will not allow them keep all the territories they hold. Holding unto our territories is like a civil war. We will take over those territories, but that doesn’t mean that terrorism is over in Nigeria. We are not saying we must finish Boko Haram to conduct elections, but we should get to a point where they will not cause havoc if they make an attempt. My belief is that by 28th of next month, when the elections will be conducted Boko Haram may not even be in a position to attack any town, God willing.
The question keeps arising: why did it take an election to checkmate Boko Haram?
You are aware of how we’ve been struggling to get the military equipments and hardware required to fight Boko Haram. These weapons are needed. Before this time you heard of stories about soldiers running away from the battle field. It’s not as if Boko Haram came with superior weapons. It was just because they were ready to die. The soldiers are not suicide bombers; they are trained to defeat their opponents. So when they see the situation of suicide fighters being so difficult, there is the tendency for them to retreat and replan. At least within these past few days, we have been making progress with the right equipment for this type of warfare. It’s not as if we have received all the equipments that we ordered, but we have received significant quantity that will enable us prosecute this war.
There is this issue of a recorded audio from a meeting where the Minister of Police Affairs, former Minister of State of Defence, Ekiti State Governor, a former Senator and an Army General were allegedly discussing how to rig the Ekiti election. The audio has been posted online but you have dismissed it as a fabrication without conducting an investigation into it, even though the Minister of Police Affairs admitted that the meeting did take place?
I have not watched the video. I said that it was a fabrication because, you see, people now, especially with the social media; we could be here and discuss issues and somebody will hack some of our voices and create a story that never happened. Not too long ago, I read a report where we had an extended caucus meeting. It was a normal PDP caucus meeting but it was presented like we had a secret caucus meeting which was being held in the State House. They said that EK Clark also attended that meeting, but EK Clark did not attend that meeting, and is neither a member of the Board of Trustees or caucus. It was a normal caucus meeting, and it was presented like it was a secret meeting and then someone was smart enough to go and listen to what happened. Therefore I am not saying that a meeting in question was held or not held, but the issue of conspiring to rig, I said it was a fabrication.
In fact, when this story came up, I asked the DG Department of State Security Service if they had investigated the matter, and he told me that they had some investigations, and then called for the person who claimed he recorded it and that he disappeared and nobody can reach him. There was no formal petition before them, but because of the general interest, they wanted to have him interviewed to know where this was coming from. If someone comes up with a spurious allegation that has no substance and the person disappears, of course, what do you want me to do? Definitely, anytime we get him, he’ll have to substantiate his allegations. There is a lot of false stories being circulated and it is very sad.
Are you not worried about the role of the military in recent times and how they are being involved in politics? I mean the military issuing statements that may be considered as political even against their former bosses?
I have never been in the military, I am not a retired military man. I cannot speak for the military. I probably do not know their tradition. But, I have a mixed feelings when adults tend to confuse Nigerians. I may not say much about what happened in the First Republic; I was born (then) but I didn’t know much about it. But I have a reasonable information about the Second Republic. And this very one, I participated fully, as the deputy governorship candidate and later deputy governor of Bayelsa State, another volatile territory.
Elections in 1998 in all the states of the federation, elections were conducted in December 1998. In Bayelsa State, because of the restiveness, the military couldn’t guarantee elections. Our elections were deferred for one month. We wanted to make sure that they moved security personnel from both Rivers and Delta States to Bayelsa to conduct elections; and the military were involved. So if someone wakes up and says military… I look at some of them, who are governors and I wonder. Up till this time and throughout my period in Bayelsa State, moving INEC materials is done by Air Force, sometimes police. In terms of monitoring elections, no soldier or a naval officer or air force goes to the polling unit. What they do is that they station them in areas where some people mobilise criminals to come with superior weapons to disrupt the elections.
Police during elections are not meant to even carry arms; they are not meant to intimidate people, but if we expose them and there is no protection at all, you know what can happen. In the riverine areas, there will be the naval boats blocking every creek, so that if you want to move youths with weapons, they will intersect you. Soldiers are not coming to the polling units for God’s sake. People just play politics with this issues. As if the present administration wants to use soldiers to rig the elections, and people believe them.
From 1998 and 1999, there has never been elections in this country, especially in volatile areas like Bayelsa, Rivers and Delta, I don’t know much about Lagos, that the military has not been involved. But when you talk about the army issuing statements; probably you are making reference to the former president. Normally I won’t want to comment, but, I would also want to use this opportunity to plead with Nigerians to respect the military. In other countries they don’t disparage their military because some of them are dying for us and it is not proper for us to continue to rubbish them by the kind of statements some of us make. It is not fair to the military, we must appreciate them. In other countries they adore them, but in Nigeria, ours is to bastardise them. That, people take delight in doing.
Are you happy that Obasanjo has left PDP?
I don’t like to comment on Chief Obasanjo, he’s my father. I am here because God wanted me to be here, but God used people to do the work.
First and foremost, Nigerians voted for me; at least I got the majority vote and that’s why I am here. So many people played different roles. Obasanjo also played some roles in my life from my days as a deputy governor to get to where I am. today So I wouldn’t want to make comments about Obasanjo. I believe overtime, over the years, Obasanjo himself will begin to speak differently on some of these issues that are at the moment being controversial.
A lot of people see your misreading and poor handling of the Boko Haram insurgency and your soft stance on corruption as having played a role in driving Buhari’s growth in stature and giving you, an incumbent President, a serious run for your money. Do you accept that as President there are certain things you did not manage properly?
Yes, of course, I’ve been the head of government for about five years now. I remember when I was the vice-president, my commitment was how to stabilise the country and conduct free and fair elections. These were my keen interests. Yes, the country stabilised and we conducted elections that people, both Nigerians and non-Nigerians, recognised as the best so far in the political history of the country. I can say a large part of my initial plans for Nigeria have been achieved, and so my second administration will focus on other issues. I think the thing that has brought this government down with both Nigerians and non-Nigerians, is the issue of Boko Haram. One thing is that terrorism is all over the world, but they believe that we did not handle it the way we were supposed to handle it. Probably at the beginning, we and I mean myself and the team, we underrated the capacity of the Boko Haram. Capacity not in terms of what they have in Nigeria, but their international linkages, we underrated that and thought that we were dealing with some local elements that we could overrun.
Many of the security chiefs had made statements that later on you people took them up on. That shows they underestimated their capacity. We’ve now realised that the handshake had gone above the elbow and so we have to move fully and that’s why we are running round to get the right military equipments we need. Somehow we could not get them early enough, and now it has moved too close to the election. But with what is happening now, in the next two weeks, that is three weeks into the six weeks, God willing, Nigerians will be happy with what the military has done in the North-east.
On whether there is anything I would have done differently, yes. I think one thing about the government is that we have done quite a number of things. At times many of us in the government don’t even know what we have done. People tell us. I remember in the beginning of this campaign, if I wanted to visit a state, I will ask those in my office to list out some of our projects in some of these states so that we can tell them what we’ve done. Sometimes when I go to the states, people from the host governments will give me a longer list than the ones prepared for me in my office. That means that even some of us in the government don’t even know all of what we have done to impact positively on Nigeria. Probably we did not put attention and resources on media and public relations. Public relations is a major thing and that is why companies have departments for this. No matter what you do, you must have a team that would manage your image. Shell doesn’t need anybody to advertise their crude oil, they’ve sold it already, but they still have image makers. I think we downplayed the issue of image for the government, and of course making our achievements known.
Also probably the issue of corruption, because these are the two areas people tackle us – corruption and security. For security, God willing, that will soon be a thing of the past. The next thing is the issue of corruption, and I used to tell people: if I don’t want to fight corruption, I wouldn’t have brought in (Ibrahim) Lamorde as chairman of the EFCC. I came on board as the vice-president of Yar’Adua, (Nuhu) Ribadu, you all know the story, was removed. Lamorde was Ribadu’s second in command, he was the Director of Operations, and was removed from the EFCC back to the police. Farida was appointed and she was trying her best, because she used to brief me from time to time. We had to drop her because of reports from both within this country and outside. And given that Ribadu was Lamorde were well- trained by the west, they argued that if I bring Lamorde back that EFCC would improve. If I am someone that don’t want to fight corruption I would not have listened and brought back Lamorde because he once investigated me. My in-law was detained here in Abuja for weeks. But I sent for him and told him that Nigerians and non-Nigerians believed in him, so we would bring him to help EFCC, because he was the backbone of Ribadu. So we asked him to come and be the head of the agency.
But people often say that my body movement encourages corruption which is not true. Lamorde told me about their limitations, being in court and the court compromising. I then came up with some innovations again. Though constitutionally, the three arms of government are not supposed to meet; there is no platform for the three to meet, even though the executive and parliament do meet because we are all politicians, but I said look we must, for the image of the country, come together. I then called for a special meeting with myself, the vice-president, then the head of corruption agencies, EFCC, ICPC and the Senate president and his deputy, then the speaker and his deputy. Then for the judiciary, all the judges of the federation, the president of the court of appeal, the chief judge of the federal high court and (from) each of the zones, we nominated a state chief judge each. I told them that the executive, legislature and judiciary must work together in the interest of the country to fight corruption.
I called the meeting because of the issue of court delay, and we discussed and everybody showed concern. But the judiciary operates like a university setting where every lecturer behaves like he is 100 per cent academic freedom .Every judge has some level of autonomy, and if they don’t operate that way there will be issues. So there is a limit that even the chief judge of the federation can control a judge. The only thing is that if they misbehave they will be punished under their guide book, but other than that, the judge can decide to ignore any decision. We had several meetings, and it was in one of those meetings that the question came up about the difference between corruption and stealing based on the laws. We are doing our best to see that corruption is reduced. You can see that in the payroll system, we have eliminated corruption and theft including the agric sector. One major area that we will go into is the oil sector. So we are going to sanitise all the sectors, but I always believe that fighting corruption is not just about first arresting people and celebrating the arrest on television. We have to investigate and procsecute before publicity.
The negative perception on corruption in your government is principally from the oil industry, and the perception increased when former CBN Governor, Lamido Sanusi made his allegation of missing monies. And then the issue of oil subsidy thefts. These were what led to the poor image on corruption you are talking about. So how are you tackling corruption, especially in the oil industry?
Take for example where we talk about the subsidy issue. I was told that if we carry out audit, we were going to get up to N400 billion, and my eyes were lit up. Government is looking for money to spend on projects: we have Lagos-Ibadan expressway waiting for us, we have second Niger Bridge, we want to fix railway. But at the end of the day, what did we get? Nothing. Sanusi came up with his statement that $48.9 billion was missing. Not long after (he said) $12 billion, then $20 billion. Those were the three figures that came up. The Senate Committee headed by former governor of Kaduna State, Markafi, used a consultancy and at the end of the day they didn’t find more than $2 billion as unreconciled. This figure of $20 billion kept hitting the papers until we had to bring the international firm, PWC to do forensic audit, and still they came up with a discrepancy of about $1 billion. Even at the time Sanusi mentioned the money, $49.8 billion. Can somebody steal that amount of money? Where is the money? If we lose that kind of money, government would collapse; how much are we owing?
So you’ll see that there is a lot of politicking about some of the serious issues. Not too long ago I read in one of the papers, I think Vanguard, that former chief economic adviser to President Obasanjo who also went to become a CBN governor… Soludo is a professor and first class material. Yes, making a first class in economics, he is a brilliant person. His secondary school records are fantastic. So by all standards he is a brilliant person. So the Vanguard wrote that he accused Ngozi; that N30 trillion was stolen under the watch of Ngozi in four years. Ngozi became a finance minister, let’s say from 2011 till date. From that time till now, our annual budget is between N4.3 trillion and N4.9 trillion. So even if you put all together, it is about 18 plus trillion naira, and not 30 trillion. The budget for these four years is less than N20 trillion, but Soludo said that under Ngozi’s watch they stole N30 trillion. This is in the papers, social media, stored in the clouds and will continue to be there. And when you type it in it will come out that during President Jonathan’s time they stole N30 trillion.
We asked Ngozi how her colleagues in the World Bank saw the accusation and she said they were laughing and couldn’t believe it. There are certain things that you just cannot believe and if that is coming from somebody considered to be cerebral like Professor Soludo, then of course you know what the ordinary person would say. It is all political.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy but the strength of her military does not correlate with that of her economy. We know that a nation cannot be seen to be powerful unless it has a strong army. Why has it been difficult to build a strong army? Given the fact that we are experiencing difficulty in getting military hardware to prosecute the fight against terror, why is it that Nigeria’s military has not started manufacturing some of her equipment?
In terms of Nigeria manufacturing equipment, I totally agree with you. Concerning the military strength being not at par to that of Nigeria’s economic development, there are some countries that don’t have powerful military. I don’t think Switzerland has a very powerful military. There are some countries that were even doing away with their military until this issue of terror, and now some of them are reconsidering. What happened in Nigeria is that after the civil war we had no reasons to buy sophisticated weapons. Since after the civil war, all what we have been doing is peace keeping, apart from stabilising Liberia and Sierra Leone, where our soldiers really fought war to stabilise those countries. Back home, we were at peace with our neighbours. It is now that we are witnessing Boko Haram that we see that fighting them is not what we do with AK 47, and now we have to look for money.
I totally agree with you, if Brazil can manufacture commercial helicopter, what stops us from going into manufacturing. Recently, we wanted to buy teargas from a country and they were bragging and saying that Nigeria has human rights abuse issues. I kept wondering what is teargas? I vowed that God willing if I return, Nigeria must produce teargas. What is the technology of producing teargas for God’s sake? What is the technology of producing APCs and armored tanks? I agree with you that in terms of manufacturing, we must and we have no choice than to get into it as a nation. That is why we are emphasising about local content in production; that you can witness in the automobile industry which has come back.
Just last week a company that bought over the machine tools in Osogbo came to show the bulletproof vest that they produced and I asked them, can’t you produce weapons and they claimed that they can manufacture weapons, if they could be patronised and there is a guarantor. Yes we have our own DICON, but DICON alone cannot produce all our weaponry. We must have more than two, three companies in a big country like Nigeria. I told the company that immediately after the elections, if I’ll be here for the next four years, before they start going for weapons, all the teargas that we’ll use in Nigeria, will have to be produced in Nigeria
Shekau, in a video, just threatened to disrupt the elections. What is your government doing about this?
God willing we will catch Shekau before the elections. In 2011, you contested and defeated General Buhari with a margin of about 10 million votes. Incidentally, four years later both of you are running again, and analysts have said that the two of you are running neck to neck. A man you defeated four years ago with over 10 million votes is now running neck to neck with you. How did you get to this level? If you ask other presidents globally, though not 100 per cent, but a majority would tell you that most of them had more challenges during their second tenure, and they always win with smaller margins. In Nigeria, what worsened my case was this issue of insecurity with the Boko Haram. And you cannot blame citizens who didn’t feel so safe. If we build good roads, the people must be alive to drive on them. Yes, I built nine universities in the North and so ordinarily I should be celebrated but when people are dying every day, they will not value the universities.
So this insecurity was a challenge. Yes, the issue of corruption came up but the steps we have taken, if people do a proper analysis, they’ll give us a higher percentage in terms of the fact that we have come up with concrete steps to suppress corruption, because in terms of corruption, you have to suppress and prevent it. Prevention is stronger than the act of suppression. The e-wallet is preventing corruption in the purchase of fertiliser in the agric sector. The EFCC is prosecuting corrupt offenders, probably because I don’t support parading someone who is still a suspect on television, maybe that’s why people are saying that the president’s body language encourages corruption. But I see it that if you catch five million Nigerians today, prosecute and jail them, it does not stop corruption. Practically, this is the first government coming up with scientific methods to make sure that we protect what belongs to the public.
Let us talk about communication. You are doing a lot in terms of tackling corruption like you see it. But, there is a difference in terms of what the people want and what you are doing. People want to see thieves prosecuted and jailed and you are doing scientific long term thing which can take up to five, ten years to manifest. But the quick wins are the differences the people want to see. We are doing both. I told the EFCC chairman to address Nigerians and give them the statistics of the number of cases that have been reported to the EFCC, how many have been prosecuted and the number of convictions recorded. We have so many convictions.
Maybe the confusion and misconception is in my saying that we must first strengthen the institutions if we must win the war. We have secured more convictions within this period than before. We are prosecuting people only that it is not properly covered like before. I believe the EFCC should start publicising from the period when they have concluded investigation and are taking people to court for trial. But where I don’t support is for someone to be suspected and then the next thing will be to handcuff them and show on the television. That is not good.
I remember when EFCC just started, someone will go and write a petition to the EFCC and the next day they’ll go and handcuff the person and show on television, and then afterwards the case dies without a conviction. But the thing is that with that, if the person did not commit the offence, ridiculing him like that on television, the person has been messed up. You cannot go back and announce that you did the wrong thing. But those cases where the matter is in court that I think we should publicise so that at least people can know that we are fighting corruption.
Based on our research, as the South-west goes, so will Nigeria go. Whoever wins the South-west is likely to win the election. So, what do you have for the South-westerners?
Over the period I had several meetings with South-western leaders. I can really see two key things we used to talk about. First was the issue of National Conference. South-westerners were passionate about the National Conference, and clearly the issue of sovereign was used but I said that I was not going to have anything to do with sovereign and it almost created problem between me and my South-western brothers. Luckily, we’ve done that conference, and we have the document, and as a government we are ready to implement that document 100 per cent. But the limitation we have is that we are running a country that is based on Constitutional democracy, so you cannot run away from the constitution. So the parliament must be involved.
Right now, we have a parliament that is so polarised and that is what worries me about the change people are talking about. If we really need change in this country, then we implement the report of the National Conference. That is what will bring real change, and not the artificial change.
My fear is that the party (APC) don’t believe in that report; in fact they boycotted it. So where are they bringing the change? I believe there is a lot of misinformation about the South-westerners. The average westerner wants that report implemented, and if we need change in Nigeria, then that report will bring the change we want. It was not decided by Jonathan but by Nigerians. So if we really want change, not the type, when I say clean the room with a vacuum cleaner and you say no you want to use a broom. If we really want change, and the South-west say they want change for