By Charles Kumolu, Gbenga Oke & Faith Olatide
ABUJA — President Goodluck Jonathan, last night, disclosed that he was not consulted by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, before it shifted the dates of the general election even as he admitted that the body was not totally prepared for the polls.
However, his challenger in the polls, General Muhammadu Buhari of the APC spoke on Christiane Amanpour’s programme on CNN, saying it’s unfair to judge him today by his antecedents in 1984 when he was military head of state.
President Jonathan, who affirmed his unwavering commitment to the sustenance of smooth transfer of power on May 29 irrespective of the outcome of the presidential election, also reaffirmed readiness of the military to suppress the Boko Haram insurgency within the six-week window requested by the military.
The president, who spoke in a live television media chat, also flayed what he lamented as the politicisation of the agitation for the liberation of the kidnapped girls of the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok.
The media chat anchored by former NTA presenter, Adesuwa Onyenokwe had Premium Times editor, Ibanga Isine; Blueprint editor, Ibrahim Shima and broadcast journalist, Deji Badmus on the panel.
The president also used the opportunity to address issues concerning corruption, the purchase of arms from South Africa, assertions attributed to him in the past that stealing is not corruption among others.
On the preparation by INEC for the polls, the president who rebuffed claims by INEC that it was prepared for the polls countered by saying that the distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs, in some states including Lagos was below 40 per cent before the polls shift.
He said: “INEC must conduct election but they must work with the security services because they have to provide security. If the security services say there has to be an adjustment within this period, ordinarily there should not be an issue. I see election as any tournament. I don’t see any big deal. I was not consulted and I don’t need to be consulted.”
On Chibok girls
Taken up on the issue of the Chibok girls and if the security push would lead to their liberation, the president responded thus:
“Well, I cannot give you a specific time range, so that you will not say the President said so. I cannot say in two weeks time, but give us some time. We are working with our neighbours and we are combing the whole area, just give us some time.
“The case with the Chibok girls is very unfortunate. That is the difference between the current challenges and crisis we face in Nigeria and that of other countries when they had issues of terror.
“Many nations have experienced terror, even the US has. We know that France experienced terror not too long ago. Other countries, when they have this issue of terror, political boundaries collapse and people work together. But in this case, it is different, we politicize everything. Is that the way we will bring back these girls?”
Asked if the girls would be recovered alive, he said:
“Of course we will recover them alive. We are hopeful, about 200 girls were kidnapped. Because of the condition now, as the president, I am more hopeful than before, because of what we have now and the maximum cooperation of our troops.
“You need to even appreciate the fact that as president, I can still relate and interact with people despite what is happening. Some people do not know the problems I carry because of the Boko Haram menace.”
On ‘stealing is not corruption’
Asked to respond to the assertion attributed to him that stealing is not corruption, the President said the remark flowed from a discussion he had with a former chief justice of the federation who told him of how he had to distinguish straight acts of stealing from other forms of corruption he acted upon.
He said: “People who told you I said stealing is not corruption did not tell you I said stealing is good. That is why philosophers say that the primary reason people disagree is because people use one statement to explain two typical things or vice versa.
“I made that statement because I quoted the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mustapha, (when) I called a meeting then, with the anti-crime organisations and the judiciary.
“The CJN, Mustapha decided to take a look at the files that dealt with corruption and more than 80 per cent of them were just cases of stealing. But people use corruption to cover all. What I am saying is that let us go to the South-West and go to a typical community and they look at you and say this man is corrupt, people will be looking at you. But call that same man “ole”, that is thief, and see what will happen to him. Our people hate thieves more than corrupt people yet most times, we use corruption to cover the lapses.
“A thief should be called a thief and treated as such. In my village, when an adult steals, they strip him naked, humiliate him and his family, but if you say this man is corrupt, they won’t know what you are talking about. We are using corruption to cover it all up.
“So, let us communicate properly. It was not me that said it, I quoted Mustapha. He examined the corruption cases and he saw that they were just cases of stealing.
“We are identifying thieves; we can talk about what the agencies are doing. We have made more convictions in this period than before. But I always say that the answer is not convicting more people. We must make sure that they don’t steal. Do not put the money where they can steal it. That is what we are doing.”
On whether elections will be postponed if military did not defeat Boko Haram within the six weeks window, the president said:
“Nobody is saying Boko Haram must be wiped out before the elections are conducted, what we are saying is that certain security measures must be put in place before the elections are conducted. Definitely, in the next six weeks or so, serious advances will have been made. I am not saying we will wipe out the Boko Haram but we will make serious advances.
“I can tell you that the elections will hold because May 29 is sacrosanct.”
Taken up on statements attributed to some Niger Delta militants that they would cause trouble unless the president was returned, he said:
“I can assure Nigerians that things will be done such that nobody will go to war. Sometimes there is so much pressure on you and Nigeria needs to understand that I will not be a President of another country except Nigeria. I think some journalists are part of the people supporting all these comments.
“We are not encouraging anybody to go to war and we will not support anybody to destroy this country because of politics. Some of the journalists are responsible for some of these statements.”
His perception of Buhari
Asked his personal perception of Buhari, the All Progressives Congress, presidential candidate, the president said:
“If I should assess Buhari under the condition which we are contesting, I don’t think I will be fair to Nigerians and myself. You are not also being fair to me by asking me that question. When you talk about mudslinging, I think garbage that is being poured on me is much more than the ones being poured on Buhari.
“These things have been happening on the social media and other platforms. I see them as the cross we have to carry. I know certain things that happened and the kind of effects they had on me. So many people don’t know that but I know.
“Buhari contested in 2003 against Obasanjo, he did so in 2007 against late President YarÁdua and contested against me in 2011. Even in 2011 which was the closest, the environment was different. The characters around us have changed. APC started its campaign before me and I watched some of the rallies before I started my campaign in Lagos. If you listened to the way I spoke in Lagos at my flag off, you will realise that I was aggressive.”
It’s harsh to judge me by my 1984 record— Buhari
The APC presidential candidate, Gen. Buhari said it would be harsh to judge him against his record as a military dictator in a democratic setting just as he last night welcomed former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s endorsement of his aspiration.
Speaking on a live CNN interview anchored by Christiane Amanpour, he affirmed that the Boko Haram insurgency would be routed by his administration through blocking corruption and other leakages.
Tasked that Nigerians were faced with the difficult option of choosing between a failed president and a former military dictator with a bad human rights record, he said:
“All those things you mentioned were done under military administration; if we did not suspend the constitution then, it would have been difficult for us to operate under those circumstances. So I do not think I should be judged as an individual for those things that happened then.”
Welcoming the endorsement of President Obasanjo, he said: “Well it will certainly bring more supporters to us and more confidence for those who were sitting on the fence because General Obasanjo is highly respected and as far as the nation is concerned, there is no issue that can be deliberated upon without people seeking his opinion.”
Describing the shift of the election dates as unfortunate, Buhari said:
“That is a disappointment because the presentation made by the INEC was that they were ready to conduct the elections on the date chosen a year ago. And for them to be forced virtually by the military that they cannot guarantee the safety of their workers and shift it by six weeks.”