BY DAPO AKINREFON, GBENGA OKE & LEVINUS NWABUGHIOGU
LAGOS—PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan yesterday vehemently denied signing a one-term agreement either officially or unofficially with any individual or group in 2011 as has been widely speculated.
Jonathan, who spoke during his periodic media chat with a team of journalists, said: “I have not signed agreement with anybody. If I have signed agreement, they would have shown you.”
Similarly, the President refused to clear the air on his intention to re-contest, saying that it was early to comment on 2015.
According to him, early politicking was against the spirit and letters of the Electoral Act and could also destabilize the polity.
His words: “We have laws in this country. I quite appreciate that Electoral Laws tend to regulate political activities. If you do it earlier, you will destabilize the country. Don’t force a President to declare. It is against the Electoral Law. It has time.”
He, however said that any Nigerian, who is seeking to contest the office of the President in 2015 should not wait for him to declare before making his or her intention known.
“Don’t wait for me to declare before you declare your intention if you want to contest”, the President added. A lot of people are misinforming Nigerians. I was in Addis-Ababa, that was the time I advocated a single tenure. The way you look at the politics of Nigeria now, the country is just developing, in terms of the political evolution, this is about the first time; if you look at the way our polity is, I suggested that probably if the president has a single tenure of seven years running without interference, it will be productive.”
He said that politicians declaring early for various respective positions are bound to over-heat the polity.
His words: “I know that our electoral laws give people time to campaign but if you start early, you will create more problems for the system. I know what it takes to campaign, for you to go round the country, you will spend a lot of money in campaigning. The electoral law gives INEC the power to set time frame for politicians who are interested in elections to begin to inform Nigerians. If you do it earlier, you will destabilize the country.
Any president, whether it is Goodluck Jonathan, as long as you still have the opportunity to contest, if you declare it early, you will create more problems in the system than solving the problems… So, don’t even force a president to declare his interest. It is even against the Electoral Act, even if it is not a sitting president. The electoral law has a time for political parties to conduct their primaries. Whatever you are doing is clandestine. You can tell your friends. A lot of people have been holding meetings silently, who has declared?”
On Apo killings
Speaking on the recent killings in Apo, President Jonathan said ‘though innocent persons may have died, there were confessions from arrested Boko Haram operatives that there were arms in that building. “Some of the people that were arrested confessed and they were leading them to where they said arms were kept and there was an exchange of gunfire. In the process some people were arrested some died. I cannot say clearly that all those who died were members of Boko Haram but definitely there were Boko Haram elements there” he said.
FG is committed to education
On the continued face-off between ASUU and the Federal Government, he said: “Some of the issues in the 2009 agreement with ASUU, maybe those who sat down to do the negotiations were civil servants, there were certain things that some of them know and agree that cannot be implemented. How can they say that assets of government should be transferred to universities? The Federal Government has so many assets, government cannot take care of universities alone. So if we transfer all the landed property of government to the universities, what about the armed forces?
“We have been faithful to the agreement because after the 2009 agreement there have been other strikes. So this strike is beyond the 2009 agreement because it is apart from those ones that talk about transferring assets of government to universities. You cannot just do that. Talking about infrastructure, the government was not forced into that but we on our side decided to go and take inventory of the infrastructure. So they should not capitalize on it, you cannot change this overnight but we are looking at this with serious commitment. We still have our challenges but you have seen the commitment of government.
On how the government plans to resolve the ASUU logjam, he appealed to ASUU to call off the strike saying that government is committed to effecting the changes.
“Members of ASUU are our brothers and sisters, they should look at the country, they should look at the young men and women and they should also look at the commitment of government. We are very sincere and my commitment is total to make changes but you cannot make this overnight. If you see the sincerity in government and given the extra things government is doing, we are committed. You should not expect us to close down other sectors of government and bring all the money to solve the problem over night.
We’re not bankrupt
Clearing the air on whether the country was bankrupt or not, the president said, “People play politics because for anybody to say that Nigeria is bankrupt, there must be some indicators. You just don’t wake up from your sleep and say Nigeria is bankrupt. Nigeria, as a nation, in terms of foreign direct investment, shows that the business environment is viable. More than 90 per cent of those who invest in our capital market are non-Nigerians. If Nigeria was bankrupt, the investors will remove their money overnight. Anybody who talks about Nigeria being bankrupt is just playing politics. If Nigeria is broke, there are parameters you use.”
Commenting on the high rate of corruption in the country, he said: “When you talk of corruption in Nigeria, it is all about perception and index. Perception is like when you say something is wrong 100 times, it becomes true. There was a time we assembled civil society people and asked them to compare and contrast what the major problem of Nigeria was, I think corruption came third. I am not saying corruption does not exist in this country, corruption is existing and it is as old as the human race. What our administration is doing is to ensure that public funds are not exposed to people to steal.”
Sacking of ministers
Explaining the rationale behind the sack of nine ministers from the Federal Executive Council, the president said the sack had nothing to with the G7 governors.
Said he: “It has nothing to do with the G7 governors. I can tell you that some ministers dropped from different states are ministers nominated by governors very close to me. The minister dropped from KadunaState where the Vice President is from did not have issues with my Vice President. Sometimes, you just want to do something differently and since as president, you have the power to hire and fire, you just have to do it to reposition your government.”
From 1999 during ex-President Obasanjo and during Yar’Adua, was there no time ministers were not dropped? So I am surprised people are reading meaning to this sack of ministers. If they have committed an offence, that would have been a different thing but they have done nothing wrong, I just want to retool my government.”
On why he refused to re-appoint another defence minister, he said, “people talk out of ignorance sometimes in this country. Those who handle defence are the four service chiefs and not civilians. I don’t envy service chiefs because if they are to be sacked, the President just call you in and brief you and before you step out, another person has been appointed. There is no provision for gaps in the office of service chiefs. You can do away with Defence Minister but not service chiefs.
Cost of governance
Speaking on the cost of running government, he said: “We are doing well in terms of that. Recently, we just reviewed that in the parastatals. I can tell you that political appointees are not that much as people think. As a minister, you need competent people around you to function properly. Government doesn’t sponsor plenty people anytime we are traveling out of the country for events, so I wonder where people get number of people they seem to claim anytime I travel out for events. People don’t compare notes. For you to function well as president, you need competent people around you. I can tell you that there are many African presidents that travel with many more people when they attend events than me. In many countries, even when the President is sick, you won’t know because there are technocrats running the government.”