The Information Minister, Mr. Labaran Maku who also oversees the Defence Ministry had an exceptional meeting with a team of editors in Abuja last week on the state of the nation. It was an opportunity to give explanation to issues ranging from the economy to defence, power, agriculture and politics, etc. Here is a citation from their discussion:
Question: When you were made the Supervising Minister of Defence, did it come with any new challenges? If that was the case, how have you been able to tackle those challenges?
Response: Taking responsibility for Defence at this time is a major challenge for anyone because of the lingering problems of insecurity in our country, particularly in the last two to three years. So, when I was asked to supervise Defence, pending the reorganization of the Federal Executive Council by the President, I took up the challenge with all the seriousness it deserves, knowing fully well the times we are into. And so far, I must tell you that I have been able to settle down in both places (Information and Defence Ministries), to do all the things that I need to do to keep the two ministries running. You know that information is also defence; you will eventually see that they are related in a sense. One is about defending with knowledge, enlightening citizens and getting them to know what is happening around them.
That is about giving them knowledge that will equip them to participate in governance,participate in the daily activities of society and also contribute their own quota to national security. In all of these, you need to have a lot to do with information. Defence is a different kettle of fish altogether because there, you are dealing with matters of physical enforcementof security across the country and managing the security architecture as well as the problems that have occurred in our society recently.
So, since I have been there, we have done a great deal of work in the last four months to deal with insurgency, manage it and fight, while preparing and equipping the armed forces for better successes in the months, hopefully to come. So far, we have been able to contain this insurgency to about two states, generally speaking. You would recollect that at about two years ago, the insurgency was almost spreading across the North-West as well as the North-East of Nigeria.
We had strikes occurring all the way in Abuja, where the Police Headquarters, the UnitedNations Building and Thisday Newspaper’s Corporate Head office were battered. In Kaduna, there were fairly regular explosions. We had some incidents in Zaria, Sokoto, Kebbiand Kano. It was almost a running battle a year and a half ago with insurgents striking in different places.
‘Hit and run tactics:’
Today, with consistent law enforcement as well as intelligence gathering, we have been able to largely contain the insurgency in Borno and Yobe States. People may not really see the significance of this. If you take a look at a country like Pakistan that has been under this kind of environment for almost eight years as well as Iraq and even Afghanistan that has been under this kind of situation…even to a certain extent, we can look at Russia, which is more highly sophisticated than we are in terms of capacity, you will find that they are still having lingering problems. Only last week, there was a strike in Russia. But in the case of Nigeria, our armed forces have risen very rapidly to the occasion. We have increased intelligence capacity as well as the deployment of forces across the North. Today, I can confidently say that by the cooperation of citizens and the hard work of our security agencies, insurgency has been confined largely to Borno and Yobe States. Before the state of emergency, there were regular strikes in Adamawa, particularly in Mubi which is the boundary between Adamawa and Borno.
In the specific case of the insurgency we are facing, we also unfortunately have elements crossing international boundaries into Nigeria, particularly from Cameroun, Chad and NigerRepublic. We believe that some of those elements may be coming from some of those far flung territories beyond these nations. So, because of the transnational nature of the insurgency, it makes things a bit more difficult in the sense that you could deal with a group, which is then replaced rapidly by another that would filter through the boundaries. So far, I must say that we are proud of what our armed forces have done and would continue to work with them to give them leadership, direction and support to fight this insurgency.
For a very long time when the nation was at peace, security was only provided for that zone from Jos which is the Third Division of the Nigerian Army. That was the headquarters that was looking after both the North-Central and the North-East. Recently, with these challenges, we have seen the need to establish a new division of the Nigerian Army in the North-East ofNigeria which is the seventh Division that has now been established. It is now unfolding its network across the States of the North-East. The idea is to ensure that we create security infrastructure and architecture around the entire region to be able to put in place a permanent security structure that would be able to deal with any situation that would occur there, even beyond the present emergency.
Question: Is it over?
No! In every guerrilla’s warfare, you would have surprises where you may think it is over andelements may hide somewhere and strike on you. So, we are not underrating the danger posed or the capacity of the insurgency because this insurgency is well supplied with sophisticated weapons. Also with what I consider to be fairly well trained fighters, who we believe don’t necessarily come from within the Nigerian territory alone, there are elements that are Nigerians. There are those who we believe are foreign. And so, given the sophistication in terms of their supplies, it is clear that they have an international network, so we are not taking it lightly and we are increasing our capacity.
Question: The issue of the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau would have to come up here. Do you now have concrete information on Shekau and the Boko Haram leadership? I ask because it is said that if you want to kill a snake, you must go for the head…How much does the government now know about the Boko Haram leadership?
When I see some newspaper headlines, it gives me the impression that they think that the insurgency should have been over. The mere fact that we have been able to clear much ofMaiduguri does not mean that you cannot have a surprise attack because it takes just one person tying a bomb to his chest and coming to the street to explode it.
You will find cases of suicide bombing in this insurgency, although it has largely been curtailed, you cannot rule out any surprise in a terror network of this nature. So, it is not correct for the media to think that when we are making successes and progress, and something then happens, you now say “ah, maybe government or the armed forces is not doing enough.” That is not the issue. Compare what we are doing with every other country with similar problems. It is not an exclusively Nigerian development. It is a global phenomenon and I am saying that the Armed Forces of Nigeria have done much better than those of other countries in dealing with this insurgency, in terms of how we have been able to largely contain the situation. This is tremendous work, but the way we report these things discourages the Armed Forces at times.
I honestly think that our attitude must change. All over the world, when you have this kind of situation, the media must align with the Armed Forces. I know that negative news is a good story any day for any media around the world, and that was how Osama Bin Laden was advertised to us and he became a role model for criminals around the world.
I think we should report them from the point of view of arousing national consciousness to confront them, not to make them look like some iconoclasts or great role models or fighters or impossible people that others need to look at with awe. These are criminals in networks that are determined to kill and maim. If you see some of the videos we have had of these people killing and sucking the blood of people, you will know that we are dealing with serious monsters. They are not the kind of people that the media will want to treat lightly.
Do we have challenges, yes we do. The recent strikes at the Air Force Base in Maiduguri and Bama remind you of the kind of surprises that could occur in a war of this nature. So, we need to be permanently alert and not take anything for granted, even when we are succeeding. They nearly came back again to strike in another base around Maiduguri, and this time, they received a bloody nose. The people that came were virtually destroyed. It is a battle that the media needs to understand.
Theorising on Shekau:
Now on Shekau, we have always said it…Is Shekau dead? We believe so, but it is not confirmed. Until we see the grave of Shekau and verify that here lie the remains of Shekau, we cannot make a declaration that he is dead. We have quite a great deal of information to the effect that he may have died. But at the same time the Armed Forces, the Defence Headquarters has not been able to confirm and confirmation in this case must be definite…When Osama Bin Laden was killed, the Americans were in a position to confirm it.
So long as we don’t have that confirmation, we will work with the theory that he may have been killed. However, the issue is not about Shekau; Osama is dead, but the Al Qaeda is not dead. The mere fact of Shekau being alive or dead is not the issue. Well, maybe if you kill the leader of a criminal gang, you will have a psychological victory to the effect that somebody has been taken away. The issue however, is that you are dealing with a network, not an individual because the organisation can also produce a next set of leaders to replace Shekau.
So I am not looking at the death of Shekau as the death of Boko Haram. Shekau could die and Boko Haram would not necessarily die because it must have a network of leaders that can replace him. So, we are dealing with it as a network and as a group, not just the leadership. We are studying the network, how it operates and how we would eliminate it. By the time we take this larger war in that direction, we will be able to focus our strategy ondealing with it as a network of members and leaders.
The Amnesty Option:
If we go on thinking of removing the leadership alone, then we will have something like what the Americans have done by using drones to remove a lot of leaders of terror groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But, it has not necessarily eliminated the threat. So, we are going beyond that. At any rate, our objective is not to kill people; our objective is to stop the insurgency. Our major objective is not that we want to kill the members and their leaders. We are fighting them because they are killing and threatening the lives of other people. They have taken up arms against the nation and we have to defend the country and its innocent citizens. And that is why we have proclaimed the amnesty offer for those who want to lay down their arms and be rehabilitated.
We will be ready to take them out of the bush and rehabilitate them. We will not kill anyone who is not killing Nigerian citizens. We are compelled to act against them because they are physically involved in the elimination of citizens and are taking up arms against the Federal Republic of Nigeria and its people. If, today the insurgents lay down their arms and take up the amnesty offer of the government, we will not go about killing them. We may try those who have committed heinous crimes and the law will take its course. But the objective is not about killing Shekau or anybody, it is about ending the insurgency and that is our focus.
Question: Before the attack on the Maiduguri Air Force Base and Bama, we heard that there were intelligence reports that these would happen, but not much was done to prepare and these guys came and made that impact. So, I don’t know how the intelligence works to the point that you hear that things are going to happen and nothing is done?
Also, why is it that Cameroun cannot help because we keep hearing that Shekau was there receiving treatment and the insurgents also come in from Cameroun, and we are supposed to have a deal with them? The other side is the morale of the soldiers; there are several complaints by personnel that in spite of what they are facing, nothing is done for them. Some talk of being given N1, 000 per day and that if the State Governors were not helping, theywon’t be able to survive. The Governors of the States are also saying that they carry the burden of the fight more than the Federal Government. Yet, there is a one trillion naira budget. These are very disturbing assertions…
First of all, there are so many rumours going round. There will be lots of rumours in any venture of this nature. People will tell you stories and say this and that is what they have heard. They will even make telephone calls to people. If you are in your newsroom and somebody calls to say he is an SSS, fine. The point I am making is that intelligence is the core of every fight against terror. If you don’t get your intelligence right, it will be very difficult to deal with the situation, since you are not fighting a standing army. It is a game of hide and seek that goes on out there.
If you look at the number of arrests, and the planned attacks that have been foiled in the last two years, even in the last one year, you will not but appreciate the high level performance of our intelligence. I am just telling you this, not because I am in government or in the Ministry of Defence. I think that, fairly speaking, our intelligence has been very successful. That is why when they came to Apo, some of their elements were arrested. And this is the problem, there is too much politics coming into this because your last question is about the politics now, whether it is the State or Federal Government that is funding the effort. That politics, we must keep out because if we don’t keep it out, it will haunt all of us. It is not about political parties and all of that. If you notice in this insurgency, we have decided and ensured that it is the (Defence) Headquarters that is talking about it, so that we take politics out of it.
In the area of intelligence gathering, I believe that we have done a great job. I don’t know what your source has or his sources. But, I want you to be careful with some of the information you have. I can tell you that it was believed that Americans had intelligence before September 11. Have you read those insinuations? There also are believes that Americans had intelligence before 911 and that it could have been stopped. So intelligence follows different channels. First you have a source, you get the information, and then you distil it.
There is also intelligence with which someone wants you to go in one direction so that he can strike in another. All these things happen, so I think we should limit ourselves to the area of expertise that we have. And I want to assure you that there is no way the Army would have intelligence that there is going to be an attack and will just sit there to be attacked and killed.
Does that make any sense to you? It doesn’t make any sense to me that when I am being told that I am going to be killed; I just sit down in a place, waiting to be killed? No, I don’t think so. I doubt this source very seriously and also, I am hoping that we become careful with every little information that we get.
The other thing is about Cameroun. We have a cordial relationship with Cameroun. This insurgency is a threat both to Cameroun and Nigeria and we have different approaches tohandling it. I have a feeling that the insurgents tend to have more space across the Cameroun border. We don’t have the same capacities, so we are working together with Cameroun to ensure that we are able to push from both ends and eliminate the threats across the border. Cameroun is not immune; the mere fact that you have criminals in your territory is a great threat. We are working to ensure that we have increased cooperation to deal with the insurgency across the Cameroun border and across Chad and Niger.
Question: A cross section of Nigerians find difficulty in understanding the image management challenge of the President and why it is the way it is. As the Information Minister of the country, what is the cause and what would you be willing to admit as failings on the part of government?
I cannot say that any government or leader is perfect. We are all human beings with our foibles and weaknesses. But, one can only assess a government based on what it has done and the environment in which it is doing it.
Sometimes we have a good government that is doing a good and great job in a very bad environment and that environment continues to impact negatively on the leadership, which is exactly what has happened in the case of the President. I continue to tell people, not because I am in government, I am also a journalist in this government. If I take a look at what the President has done so far, in terms of his mission and his development programme as well asthe actual deployment of policies, I can just say: ‘look at the indices internationally’.
When he came to power, it was in controversial circumstances because of the long drawn ill –health of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. He also came to power in a period of a polarized polity over the issue. The moment he came in and settled down, he unfolded a transformation programme.
I have continued to say it that I am ready to debate with anybody. Within the last three years, if you look at what the President has done with the Economic Management Team, the Transformation Agenda and his policies, you will find that in terms of the macro-economic management of the economy, we have never had it better than what we are having now in the last 20 years. And we have been seeing the results coming. The deep reforms that he has unfolded which are about converting deficits into opportunities for investments through creative policies that would attract investment and generate more goods and services in those areas.
Consistently, for the last six to seven years, the economy has grown between six and seven percent. That is GDP growth which is higher than Egypt and even South Africa which is not suffering from the insurgency you are having in parts of the country. And this is in spite of the violence that greeted the elections and the continuous explosion of bombs that give us negative attention around the world.
Despite all these, the President has continued to achieve that high level of economic growth of about seven percent in Nigeria. Again, if you look at the stability in the exchange rate, it has been the same for the last three years. If you look at foreign reserves, it was about $33 billion when Yar’Adua/Jonathan Presidency came to office in 2007. Today, we are between 45 and $48 billion…
But that went down recently…
The truth is that foreign exchange is not constant. When you place orders for services such as construction and deployment, of course, it will come down. But, somehow even if it goes up and down, we have moved from $33 billion to between $45 and $48 billion. It is not that it must remain constant. No country’s foreign reserve is constant. What I am saying is that we have grown it, in spite of all the inactivity in the economy. We have grown the foreign reserve of this nation, as a landmark.
When you look at the capital market, those of us who are buying shares, we all know that in2008, it was a complete crash, a total crash. Nigerians should ask themselves what happened in the last two years that has made the stock market which was so down to grow by more than 80 percent between 2012 and now. Today, the capital market has recovered and capitalization has come to over N13 trillion from about N8 trillion from 2010 to 2012. That growth is significant the way it is in the money market.
You have also noticed that in this period, the highest influx of Foreign Direct Investment has come to Nigeria rather than countries that don’t have insurgencies or the other problems we are having… It is because the economic policies of the President have attracted those investments and made people develop confidence in the economy because they look at the ratings from Standard and Poor’s. The rating agencies consistently found that the macro–economic management of the Nigerian economy under the President has been such that it gives the global players and the international community the confidence to invest. So, we have been receiving the highest Foreign Direct Investment in spite of Boko Haram.
People keep asking what GDP growth is, when there is still poverty? That is politics that people talk about. I remember that during the last Ministerial Platform, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala demonstrated this using a piece of cake. If you question what the big deal about GDP growth is, it will be having to find solve your problem more easily with a bigger size of your cake. For the first time, the Nigerian economy has been growing faster than the population growth and in the coming years, the resources available for us to solve some of the problems in the country would increase.
‘Negativity from politics:’
Look at cement production! We are producing 28 million tons now and we need only 20 million metric tons, so the rest has been exported. We are now exporting cement for the first time. If you look at telecoms, cement and petrochemicals, what Dangote alone has been able to achieve is phenomenal. He has deployed a lot to build the largest refinery here in Ondo State, that is $3.5 billion and the investment will go up to $9billion with other networks of fertilizer companies.
Also look at what Indorama is doing in Port Harcourt with over $2 billion in investment. Then, consider Ogedengbe, the Petrochemical Complex which is funded by a network of international investors. The construction work has commenced and they are employing more than 100,000 people on the building of that place. We can also talk of the Nigeria LiquefiedNatural Gas which has increasingly become one of the best on the continent with exportsreaching Asia and other parts of the world.
In agriculture, suddenly there is now in place an agricultural policy which is attracting investors, both foreign and domestic. Dangote is developing a network of factories in Kano to process tomatoes and other vegetables for the domestic market. Go to the Ebonyi Rice Mill and the Labana Rice Mill in Kebbi State. Go to the Rice Mills in Lagos and Kano, all of these have grown up. If you look at the steel sector in Ogun State, you will see that the steel plants have come up there. So, why are we having the negatives, which are coming largely from the politics of our country?
Somehow, Nigeria unfortunately has a much fractured political class that continues to look at the country only from their own side of its geography. There is the other faction of the political class that thinks it is their right to be in power presently. No matter what the President does, he will be denied and attacked, a lot of which is partisan.
Initially, people said that the President has not performed a dime. I was compelled to go on the national good governance tour to physically demonstrate and verify that these are things that the President has done. In Kano alone for example, you will see a lot of work going on the Maiduguri-Kano Expressway. We are dualising Kano-Katsina and have reconstructed the Aminu Kano International Airport. We have rehabilitated the entire expressway from Abuja, through Kaduna to Kano. I am not talking about other projects like what we are doing in the University in Kano and other places.
The President has established ten universities in the North in the last three years, including the Police University in Wude, a new University in Zamfara, Kebbi, Katsina, Jigawa and then there are others, I think in Gombe, Taraba, Nassarawa and Kogi. I am talking about the North only. There are ten universities already established in the North and somebody will ask you what the President has been doing in the North? That is ethnic, religious and sectional politics!
When you finish here, come let me take you to the huge railway project that we are constructing between here and Kaduna, standard gauge, not narrow gauge. We are building it between Abuja and Kaduna, not between Yenegoa and Port Harcourt. The dredging of the Niger was in the works since the 1950s, nobody did it. Under the Yar’Adua – Jonathan Presidency, we have finished dredging the Niger. The North is having access for the first to Warri by sea, to take goods up the North.
Now, if you look at the power projects, there have been ten power plants in three years. This is a land mark. I have not seen it happen in this country in the last twenty or more years that the government in three years would build ten power plants.
Let’s note that when the President came to power, no train was moving between the North and South. The whole railway system was broken down. Today, we have rehabilitated Lagos-Kano route and we are completing the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri this year. Trains will move this year from Maiduguri to Port Harcourt, in addition to completing the standard gauge from Warri to Ajaokuta which is moving now inland from Warri to Itakpe hills.
I challenge you, in spite of all the noise of ASUU strike, go to the universities in Nigeria today or polytechnics, if you see less than five, six, or ten federal projects, huge projects, come back and ask me. In the University of Benin for example, we inspected thirty seven new projects – Senate Buildings, lecture theatres and whole complexes for bone – marrow transplant. So, the quantum of work that this President has done in three years is awesome.
And then, we are changing the entire transmission infrastructure. Look at the Zungeru power plant that was earmarked since the Tafawa Balewa era. We are the ones building it now. Nobody thought of it. So, if we look at the work this President is doing for Nigeria, I challenge anyone among the journalists, civil society or politicians to a debate.
On threats and inflammatory comments by politicians….
Part of the problem we have is our politicians. If a politician should say that if the President contests election, there would be violence…. then truly, it is a power game in which people are supposed to struggle with one another. But, it should be about the country first? In the current debate, I have increasingly seen bitterness and hatred, based on sectionalism and geography, and the whole mantra of it has been ‘our time to rule.’ The debate in this country needs to improve. I don’t know how the media would help us to improve the debate, but this problem comes from the political class, which is too fractious, divisive and sentimental. This political class is not grounded in the realities about what the future of the nation should be.
The President’s belief is that this democracy must grow. It is the only period in this dispensation where candidates from the opposition win election and the President is the first to pick the phone and congratulate the winner that defeated his own party. The President appointed someone that he didn’t know personally as INEC Chairman and this is someone that all of us acclaim as an independent person. And because of the President’s intention that this democracy must grow, the opposition today has grown under his leadership, more than ithas been in the previous dispensations.
Who remembers that in no state in this country was any election properly held? They stage elections in States that are supposedly now claiming to offer alternatives because they areclaiming that they have a new way of running Nigeria. That is good; but when they hold elections, everybody that wins from Councillor to local government Chairmen are from the party of the Governor. Whether they are progressive or not what matters is the trend.
It is only President Jonathan that has allowed free and fair election in this dispensation because he believes there is a need to clean up the electoral atmosphere to give Nigerians confidence in the democratic process. In addition to what is in the constitution, the Presidenthas further opened up the media by signing the Freedom of Information Bill into law. But, what does he get in return? People are saying that the President is weak, he is not courageous, and is clueless. What do we want? Do we want dictatorship or democratic governance? There are many who still believe that for a President to look strong, he should go about with a horse whip.
What is this weakness that they talk about? Is it because he does not shout at people or because he is tolerant of those who criticize him? Then, should we all condemn him, including the media? I see columns written, and if somebody does not abuse Jonathan, it is like he is not yet a journalist. If we really want the country to run properly, we should judge a leader on the basis of what he is doing and what we think is good enough for our country.
When I look at the elections conducted in all the states now, I am worried that if any of these people become the President of Nigeria, we would not have free and fair elections? I say so because we have had elections where results are announced even before the voting materials are yet to arrive at the polling centres. They just stay at the State capital and announce it and all of the winners would be from the same party, while nobody questions it. In one of theincidents recently, there were some issues as a result of the rowdy protests. But, in all theother occasions, so long as it was not the President and his party that did it, it was consideredright.
I recall my statement not long ago that it appears to me that there have been no elections in any States in Nigeria. It is only the federal elections which are organised by the President. Yet! Imagine the way they have been attacking INEC, these same people who rig elections in their States and make sure that there is no due process. Go to any State today and see if any major opposition politician can access a radio station and run a programme against the State Governor. I am telling you that they will fire the head of the management of that station on the same day!
Question: We know about these things you are talking about, but why is the opposition on top in terms of telling Nigerians what the situation is in this country?
Response: There is nothing we have not done here to push what we are doing. We toured most of the newspapers, granted interviews, ran programmes and have decided on havingparticipatory activities. That was why we did the National Good Governance Tour which was live on television and radio. We got all the journalists with us to show them programmes for reporting. We held some ministerial platforms where we rendered account on regular basis to everybody. However, you can only penetrate some of the media houses with money that is by advertising and buying space. That is what we are resorting to doing now.
Question: It seems there is disconnect between the perceptions of the Presidency and what you as the Ministry of Information is doing…?
Response: Talking about the perceptions of the Presidency, we Nigerians must really ask ourselves this important question: what do we want from the Presidency? It seems to me that we have become used to dictatorship, so much so that we have unfortunately become unable to recognize a democratic leader. It was the same problem we had in the second republic when people were always attacking Shagari as a young school teacher back then. We almost believed that Shagari was the worst leader ever produced in this country. But as I grew up to see the progress which the second republic was making when it was being condemned, I came to the conclusion that if that coup didn’t take place, this country would have gone farahead and perhaps we would be would have been on the same spot as some of the Asian Tigers.
We celebrated the coup in the press, with some even saying that God was a Nigerian when Shagari was overthrown. I never knew what Shagari was fully doing until I went to Ajaokuta. He laid the foundation stone for Ajaokuta in 1980. By the time he was overthrown that project was 87 percent completed. He built the main steel mill, the workshop and the rolling mills. The only remaining thing was to develop the mines and connect with the railways and power, so that when you start the plant, it would work for ten years non–stop. And that plant is the Sub-Saharan Africa’s first and largest steel plant.
Today, if Shagari had not been overthrown, we will be making cars and sorts of machines in Nigeria. This economy would have been a highly industrialised one. But what happened, the man was run down by the media and overthrown. He was run down because of the negative politics of geography and those who took over said that their priority was not Ajaokuta. Look at what Jakande did in Lagos; I stayed in Jakande Estate, Isolo when I was a journalist and virtually in every part of the city, shelter was provided for people.
You can go to Imo and see what Sam Mbakwe did. In Kano, Abubakar Rimi had already wonthe United Nations Global Award for adult literacy…a lot of good works went on. So,democracy works on different parameters. It does not work with one man carrying a whip.
The truth of the matter is that we are in a democracy, but we don’t want a democrat as leader. Who will do it like it is in those States where the House of Assembly are in the pockets of Governors. If the President was to do that at the national level, I don’t know what to expect. If you look at what has happened in this government as a result of the fact that the Presidenthas that we should help the growth of democratic institutions and the National Assembly was offered free will to do its work, sometimes every issue raised at the National Assembly is considered a huge uproar.
Don’t forget that an investigation engaged by the National Assembly does not mean that people are already guilty of it, no! It is only a process. But sometimes, it is reported as if somebody has done something wrong already. It is not so. If somebody says Maku has committed murder, it does not automatically make me a murderer until you have investigated and found out that the person is saying the truth.
‘Polluting the atmosphere:’
Many alleged issues in the National Assembly are presented as if they have already taken place and because of this constant pollution of the atmosphere with partisan allegations, it has become the greatest immunity against prosecution. The best way to be safe in this country today, no matter the crime you commit in government is that immediately you leave, join the opposition and start abusing the government. And if anybody tries to touch you, it will be said that the President is fighting the opposition. So, anybody in the opposition today is clean; a saint, no matter what he did yesterday. The media will quickly forget this completely as if this country has no records of everybody and what each one does in time past.
I think we have an attitudinal problem as a nation in transition, from the long drawn dictatorship into this democratic dispensation and we don’t know what yet to expect of a democratic leader. I think too that the President has demystified the power stable because there is a need to do that. He has tried to make us understand that the leader is one of us and not a masquerade that people should see and run. That has become a problem and he has thus been described as weak. Even illiterates will write in newspaper columns, saying the President is clueless. This is a man that is a PhD holder and has worked across different levels with concrete achievements as the President of Nigeria.
Look at the way the President has been administering the foreign policy of Nigeria right from the time he came into power. At the moment, Nigeria has exercised more influence on this continent than it did previously. In Cote d’Ivoire, the President said that the election results must be announced and that there would be no annulment. When Gbagbo left, democracywas restored in Cote d’Ivoire. There was a coup in Niger and the Nigerian Presidentproclaimed that no coup would survive in West Africa and perpetrators departed. There wasalso a coup in Mali and the people decamped because of the stance of the Nigerian leadershipin the matter. Even in the Central African Republic, Nigerians are already being airlifted. This is the first time we are talking about citizens’ diplomacy, where government is deploying its resources to rescue its people from trouble spots. We did that in Libya and now in theCentral African Republic. Three times in this dispensation, this country has been in the UN Security Council.
Let’s take sports because when people say government is not performing, I say it is purely sectional religious partisanship. We came back from the London 2012 Olympics with no medal and it was only in Paralympics that we won eight or so medals. The President said this was not acceptable and he called for a presidential retreat on sports and sat with all the stakeholders in sports, the private sector, State Governments and agreed on the article and policy that must be implemented. Immediately after the retreat, what did happened? In 2013, which will go down history as Nigeria’s most successful period in sports, we won the Africa Cup of Nations, the Catalonia Cup, the Mandela Challenge and the Under 17 World Cup with four world records. Before then, we won the Senior Africa Athletics Championship, the Junior Africa Athletics Championship and then qualified for the World Cup.
How do you want to access a leader and his successes; if these things do not constitute success and indices of a good and competent leader? All these have happened in the presence of everyone, yet nobody talks about it.
What kind of country do we want to run? There is no State anywhere that can generate money to pay its own salaries. I am not talking of social services, I am talking of salaries. There was a survey done recently by the ‘Trust Newspapers’ and it showed that Ogun andKano would not be able to pay. It is only Lagos that can pay, yet all the monies are coming from the Niger – Delta. Everybody comes to Abuja to pick their own money to go and pay salaries and do what they are doing and they turn back…..
Some of the negatives that have accumulated also come from the lower levels of government. I give you an example in Nigeria today. There are nine to ten million children out of school inthe Northern Nigeria. If you look at Nigeria’s education policy, primary education is the preserve of local and State Governments with federal support directly through the Universal Basic Education Board sharing money to States. Since 2001, this has been the policy.
How would the President today be the one to go to every local government and ask the chairmen and hamlets to carry their children to school? Rather, this has become the problem of the President. What he has done today is in building one hundred integrated almajiri schools, which he has handed to State Governments. He has asked them to pick children off the streets and take them to schools. However, Government has not been able to physically enforce that without the motivation and interest of people at different levels playing their own roles. Why will a Nigerian child as of today be out of school with all the money we distribute from here?
There are some States that were discovered to still have less than twenty percent school enrolment, when we were reviewing the MDGs. And you know that level also determines the quality of secondary education, which is also controlled by the States. Yet, because of our attitude to this democracy, we are not holding different levels of authority responsible for national problems. We just see it as the President’s fault because we are used to one military dictator who was always sitting in Abuja or Dodan Barracks and giving orders.
This democracy is different, power has been dispersed. What people are doing now is that they just lump everything together and think everything happening in this country is about the President. No! Presently, everybody involved is in the hiding and it is the President thatevery other person is concerned about. The other layers of responsibility have been overlooked and only Goodluck Jonathan, who is a perfect President, has been in the open for having been a very good President.
Question: What is your take on the crisis in the PDP as well as the one in Rivers State where tension has been growing by the day?
On PDP, it has been a largely successful party, the only one that has been able to run a central government for 14 years. The first republic lasted six years and the second lasted four. But the PDP has mustered the muscle to sustain our democracy for this period, which is a record for the party. It has been so because PDP is a multi-national party in a highly diverse environment. PDP is the only party that was able in 1999 to put together all the differentfactions of the ruling elite, including the former UPN, Action Group, NPP, NEPU and PRP.
All of them collapsed into the PDP in 1999. It is really an experiment of how political factions can coalesce into one group to run the country. It stabilised the system and allowed us to overcome the kind of early challenges that the second republic faced. Now, afterfourteen years, we are beginning to see tendencies in the party. These tendencies also have todo with the nature of the party. Sometimes, ideological issues don’t disappear overnight. What we are beginning to see today is the fruit of the elements in the party who have placed regional politics above national politics. They are thinking that the time has come for them to have power and have decided to attack the party, despite the good it is doing for the country.
This is again part of the problem with negative politics because usually a party would celebrate its successes. But, what you hear today is somebody in PDP attacking the party. Like the political leader who handled its affairs until the last convention is now saying thatPDP is a failure. He discovered PDP as a failure only in the last few weeks of his leaving and nobody has challenged him for further explanation.
My attitude to this is that while some have left and gone into the opposition party, when a party looses a member, it is not something to celebrate and be happy about. Rather, we would wish that everyone is in one place because that gives us numerical capacity. But like I keep explaining to people, sometimes and over time, one loses weight to gain strength. As onegrows older, one will find that putting on weight can also weigh one down. I think what has happened in the PDP in this period is that after fourteen years, the party has begun to losesome weight to gain strength.
It may not look so to you now, but wait and see. By the time the party resolves its internal crisis over the leadership, it will be less over – weight than it used to be. Once it unites behind the leadership and a mission, it will do well. If you look at some of the elements that have left, they are the most rancorous, petulant people in the party who have been creating the problems which has made PDP look so bad.
Some of the tissues we have donated to the opposition will start causing problems in those places before long. I am sure you are beginning to see already the tempers in the places they have gone to and the kinds of problems they are causing in the places they have gone to. Some of them cannot stay in one room with other people until day break, without the roof blowing off.
Watch it, when a man shamelessly leaves his party and condemns it the following day, you will know that it is not an easy thing and you must look at his philosophy of life and what he is looking for. In this country, we don’t even care to give account of people’s attitudes and temperament. Today, they have migrated and we are already beginning to see the kinds of problems they have migrated with into their new party. For the rest of us who believe in the PDP, which remains the only party in Nigeria today that is multi-religious, multi-ethnic and national, we are looking forward.
If you look at the crisis in the country, the religious violence and so on, none of them is in a PDP State and it cannot be an accident. Check it out; I don’t want to mention names. You will see that none of the places where we are spending money to fight insurgency and extreme violence resulting from politics is a PDP controlled State.
Question: How about Adamawa and Kano?
Kano was ANPP, but it blew up during PDP’s reign. It has returned back to base now. I think the media has not studied the link between political philosophy, human liberty and peace. There are people who have very violent disposition and we have seen that across from the first republic. In several of the instances, when you look at what has happened in this dispensation, most of the violence with all the intensity is outside PDP States. So, if people are saying that they want to offer an alternative, we must ask what do they have now? What are they bringing to the table because an alternative party must show from the way it is running its State and affairs that it really has alternatives for Nigeria. The PDP is multi- ethnic, multi-religious and largely peaceful. It has had its problems because it was an all-comers affair. Now, it is sorting itself out and I believe with time the people who remain in PDP will run this party more peacefully and more democratic way such that we will have more commitment and unity of purpose. And what is important is that it is not just about numbers, but the health of the party. By the time we resolve our problems, PDP will be stronger. We may even win more in the next elections because Nigerians are wiser. All this plenty noise in the atmosphere does not translate to electoral victory. Nigerians are watching and they are seeing that everyone who leaves PDP becomes a progressive. Everyone who wasabused by the opposition in the PDP previously has become a saint in the new opposition.
It is not about values or principles, its all about the power game. For example, the PDP is left of centre, a social democratic party. What is the new party that has emerged? It is also saying it is left of centre. So what are we saying?
There is no ideological counterpoise for citizens to choose from. In fact, INEC says the PDP is the only party with a coherent programme for development. The other parties are simply factions where if you lost election in PDP you move there. Now that they have assembled every person they used to abuse in the PDP and are now moving, watch what will happen.
Let’s take two States for an example of what the sense of justice is like. The issue in Kano in the last eight years has been the opposition between Shekarau and Kwankwaso. Shekarau, out of that anger as a civil servant because of an alleged persecution, the people of Kano said to him, ‘come out and we will make you the governor’. Shekarau came out, joined the opposition ANPP and won the election against Kwankwaso. By a twist of fate at the end of his second term, Kwankwaso won back Kano. The division between them is what has shaped the politics of Kano.
In the urge to defeat PDP in Kano, Shekarau went into the dissolution of a larger opposition party to gain strength. But what has happened? The new party has now handed over the structure that Shekarau took all his life and resources to build to his enemy. Where is justice and democracy? You can say the same thing in Sokoto between Bafarawa and Wamakko.
So, it is not about principles, it is all about power and is that the purpose? If those who left are accusing PDP of doing these kinds of things and have now left to recreate another PDP, what is the alternative for Nigeria? That is why in one of my outings, I called their party the APDPC. You can go and digest it because it is in-descript and has not offered Nigerians anything new, no platform, nothing.
Honestly speaking, the PDP has remained the only party on ground for Nigerians. I have not seen ant different values, programmes or superior principles and attitude anywhere else. Time will tell Nigerians.
We are all worried about Rivers State because we don’t want to see political disagreements go violent. The President has said it during the Armed Forces Remembrance Day church service that his ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian and he has proved consistently that he is very civil and respects human life because that is the first reason for hisbeing President anyway. So, we are appealing to all politicians in Rivers State, no matter their party affiliations to understand that the greater peace of the State is beyond the ambition of any politician. We must have an attitude that shows that despite playing from opposite sides of the political game, we are not enemies.
This interview was moderated by the Editor of Sunday Vanguard, Jide Ajani.
Federal Republic of Nigeria Press Release
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