BY BEN AGANDE
ABUJA—President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday blamed last January’s protest over the removal of fuel subsidy in Lagos on manipulation by certain Nigerians who wanted the retention of the status quo of corruption in that sector.
He spoke at the 52nd Independence anniversary lecture with the title, Nigeria: Security, Development and National Transformation where the former President of Ghana, John Kufour, identified imbalance in development as the bane of the security situation in Nigeria.
According to President Jonathan, the situation where citizens abuse the privileges guaranteed by government as detrimental to the development of the state was worrisome, noting that because of the interest of 2015, the media were being used to abuse the privileges of the Freedom of Information Act to the point of overheating the system.
The President said: “The key issue we are discussing is about peace and development and of course we all know that there is no way you can talk about development when you have a lot of crisis. In fact some people make more money when there is crisis and when there is crisis it is like a country is in a state of emergency, anything goes.
“Crisis is one aspect but generally if there is no peace, it is extremely difficult for the ordinary people to survive though big players in the economy may survive. Ordinary citizens having small and medium enterprises cannot come out to do business during crisis and of course it affects the economy. So you must have peace to develop.
“Peace is one of the cardinal marks of a leader. In the monarchy in the olden days, the king had maximum power but for your kingdom to be stable you must have the military strength. So without stability of any state we cannot develop.
“I agree totally with President Kufour who really gave us the break down of the kind of security situation that we have.
“When you talk of insecurity of using bombs and guns to kill people that has been described as physical security but in terms of social security, food security, health and the justice system, all have to do with the security of the individual.
“But I believe what we face in Nigeria though not peculiar to us, one of our greatest problems is what I described as political security. Government can continue to provide physical security but also very important is the political security. When you have unending political conflicts in Nigeria, the country cannot develop.
“I believe political security is a big issue. There is this axiom that the pen is mightier than the sword. The sword is used to kill and destroy but what we use the pen to do is also very critical. When you have society with these unending political conflicts on the media whether print, electronic or social media, it brings a lot of insecurity to the system and some times people begin to doubt your government.
“For example when we were contesting election we promised it will be free and fair. I was convinced I must do that even if I will lose the election. After our election in 2007, even the presidents in our neighbouring West African states were finding it difficult to congratulate us because the observers felt the election was not properly done. That hounded us even when we travelled out and I promised myself that if I have the opportunity to preside over election, I will do something different even at my expense at least for the sake of the country. And we did that but unfortunately, though there were crises in some parts of the country, observers felt the election was reasonably free and fair compared to others. But immediately after that election, not quite six months, the kind of media hype that started hitting us made us to stop and ask where is this coming from?
“I said I did not just come out from the blues to contest the election, I was deputy governor for six and half years, I was a governor for one and half years, I was a vice president, and before election, I was the president up to April when the elections were conducted, people knew me. So within this period including when I even acted, if I was that bad would people have voted for me? So for Nigerians to have voted for me overwhelmingly that means there must have been something they were expecting and definitely six months would have been too short to pass any valid judgement. But the media condemned me.
The media abuse use of FOI Act
“And I believe it is not just the media. When we talk about the Boko Haram, we have political Boko Haram, religious Boko Haram and criminal Boko Haram. So also in the media, you have the professional media and the political media. That is why I talk about the political media. Because of the interest of 2015 whatever you do is immaterial, the government must be brought down. And that mentality cuts across most African countries and even outside Africa.
“So addressing insecurity is critical in developing African states. When you have this unending political conflict, especially in a country like Nigeria that is highly religious and with high ethno-tribal sentiments, it becomes very potent to even create a lot of problems for government.
“So I will plead with us as Nigerians that whenever we elect government into power at whatever level, at least for the sake of the country we should allow the government to work before going into unnecessary overheating of the system.
Advises Nigerians against overheating the polity
“When you talk of providing infrastructure whether power or water, there is nothing you can use the magic wand to provide for the preople. It takes time to build your personal house, it must take a good number of days not to talk of infrastructure like power in a country like Nigeria and with the challenges we have.
“I believe our greatest problem is political conflict. For a typical politician, the day you win election is the day you start the next election.
“So as government we are committed to creating the enabling environment. I’m quite pleased with the way President Kufour spoke on the issue of transformation. I agree that the leader must be the key actor for transformation but those who will implement are the citizens. For instance, during the election, we advocated one man one vote, we were totally committed and I said it that nobody should rig election for me. But Nigerians believed that we were sincere and because they knew we were sincere, that took the life of its own. No I don’t need to go and preach again.
“We have monitored elections in Edo and other places, nobody wants to compromise with his vote. It is government that created that environment but it is not government that will enforce it, it is the citizen.
“That is why we are a bit worried that sometimes when government creates the environment, whether economic, social or even the media, how the citizens use those privileges matters so much.
“Take the media environment for instance, we signed the Freedom of Information bill into law, it became the Freedom of Information Act, but are we using it in the way we are supposed to use it? Are some of us not abusing the privileges? The media environment that should have helped our transformation agenda are being used negatively, these are some of the issues we need to address.
“The way Nigerians challenge and abuse me, yes the president has enormous power but if you use that enormous power to some extent you will look like a dictator. In a democratic setting, you want to create an environment where people can create their opinion and that is why people are allowed to talk freely and demonstrate. But are we doing so properly”.
Responding to the January subsidy protest, the President said “the citizens were right, in a way they maybe right, in a way they were also misinformed. If you had followed the last Earth Summit in Brazil, about two countries came out to condemn the issue of subsidizing hydro carbon all over the world. They stated that subsiding hydro carbon does not bring development?
“Look at the demonstrations back home, look at these areas this demonstrations are coming from, you begin to ask, are these the ordinary citizens that are demonstrating? Or are people pushing them to demonstrate.
Nigerians are being manipulated
“Take the case of Lagos, Lagos is the critical state in the nation’s economy, it controls about 53 per cent of the economy and all tribes are there. During the demonstration in Lagos, people were given bottled water that people in my village don’t have access to, people were given expensive food that the ordinary people in Lagos cannot eat. So even going to eat free food alone attracts people. They go and hire the best musician to come and play and the best comedian to come and entertain, is that demonstration? Are you telling me that that is a demonstration from ordinary masses in Nigeria who want to communicate something to government?
“For me, if I see somebody is manipulating anything I don’t listen to you but when I see people genuinely talking about issues I listen. I am hardly intimidated by anybody who wants to push any issue he has. I believe that that protest in Lagos was manipulated by a class in Lagos and was not from the ordinary people.
“Government everywhere must create environment for development and transformation, so I agree the lead must come from the government but the people must be the implementator if we must transform our country.”
Earlier in his lecture, the former President of Ghana, Kufour, said, “Naturally, imbalanced development that involves horizontal inequalities is an important source of conflict and that is costing Nigeria the opportunity to be the giant nation that it can and should be.”
He said the continued stay of government in office is dependent on its delivery of security and development.
He observed that despite their diversity, Nigerians as individuals are proud, intelligent, industrious and entrepreneurial regretting however that this resourcefulness had not yet impacted fully on the nation or to the rest of the continent which expects Nigeria to become a major growth pole.
Kufour said: “The challenge is to accelerate the pace of development by using the Nigerian Constitution as a nursery ground for producing leaders who are national in outlook and with a missionary zeal to transform this nation.
“This will help to mold the contending ethnic and religious groups into harmony and help to remove the perceived mutual distrust among them.
“Leaders so emerging would not be limited to championing the causes of their home state, tribe or religious group, but rather focus on deeds and pronouncements which convincingly and positively impact on the entire citizenry of the federal republic.
He added that, “Nation building is the systematic evolution of the political, economic, social and cultural well-being of all the component parts of the state.
“Indeed the transcendent factor should be the common citizenship of all the stakeholders no matter the tribe, gender, religion, economic or social status as your Constitution stipulates.”
Kufuor identified history, tribe and religion as factors that conspired to put a major stumbling block in the path of Nigeria’s destiny.
Kufour canvasses national identity for Nigeria
He advocated the cultivation of a national identity based on shared values, tradition, history and aspirations.
He said Nigerians should develop a high national consciousness where they consider themselves first as Nigerians before anything else.
He added that those in leadership should also share in the vision of one nation and one people.
The former president said political leadership must collaborate with businesses, public organisations and institutions to ensure that public security is guaranteed to maintain a stable environment for development of both the people and the state.
“If there is no security, there is no liberty and if there is no liberty, life is not meaningful and society reverts back to the law of the jungle i.e. the survival of the fittest and man’s primary objective of forming a state is defeated,” he added.
The Secretary to Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, said the lecture markd another critical milestone among programmes of independence.