April 16, 2010

We are investigating Police human rights violations, says Jonathan

Acting President Goodluck Jonathan in the course of his visit to the US for the World Nuclear Summit, fielded questions from international media on issues relating to Nigeria, Africa and international affairs. Here is excerpt from the interview as moderated:

Mr. Acting President, it was very reassuring, and I think that the areas that you talked about are certainly the key challenges facing Nigeria at this point.

But, most questions concerning your administration have focused on internal domestic issues, but what about foreign policy? What are your foreign policy goals? And how much of your foreign policy agenda do you hope to achieve over the next 12 months? And are you going to have the time, the political will to actually devote your personal attention to foreign policy issues?

Thank you. Foreign policy is one area that result is always even difficult to benchmark, even for a sophisticated country like the U.S.

And before this time, you know that Nigerian foreign policy centred on Africa, as recently — in those days when most African countries were still under colonial rule, when apartheid held sway in South Africa, and Nigeria was committed to ensuring that African countries — most of African countries are liberated from colonial rule; they govern themselves and so on. But now — in fact, this year — about 16 to 18 African countries are celebrating 50 years of independence, including Nigeria. We are celebrating in October. I hope most of you will come to Nigeria at that time. (Soft laughter.)

So really, that is — the issue of fighting a foreign government running African countries is no longer the issue.

But we still have challenges in Africa. There are quite a number of African countries that we have not a democratic government or pseudo-democratic setting, and we believe that as a continent, all African countries must elect – must have a true democratic society and to elect their leaders.

And that is main focus of Nigeria now — what, with the ECOWAS — of course Nigeria is the current chairman of ECOWAS and a leader in the West African sub-region, working with the ECOWAS and working with African Union to make sure that all African countries where we have crisis — whether in Cote d’Ivoire, whether in Guinea, whether in Darfur — we will come up with a very stable system of government. And that’s why the issues of Niger that just happened were quite disturbing to us, and our position has been very, very clear.

Our main focus

So our main focus now is to see that at least within the continent of Africa we have democratic setting and true democracies, not just false democracy where somebody becomes the president for 10 years, 15 years and maybe hand over to his son, his own in-law. That is a very false setting. We want a system where people will elect their leaders. It’s not a monarchy where a king will hand over to his first son and so on.

So those countries where we still practice what we claim to be a democratic setting  but rather, if you look at it, it’s more like a monarchy — we feel that those institutions must be corrected. So that is the sense there.

Nigeria believes in global peace

But the next most important priority is that Nigeria as a nation believes in global peace, and that is — internationally, that is our strongest focus — but the people in the world must live in peace. We don’t believe that a group of people or one individual, a group of individuals should be a terror to the rest of the human society. And of course I believe that’s also one of the key areas of interest to America. And so our interests kind of — there’s a convergence of interests at that level.

So these are the key areas — drive our own foreign interest.

It’s difficult for you to benchmark. I can maybe talk about elections in Nigeria, and if I conduct election today — and of course there will be international observers, so if all of you from the group give hundred percent to my election, I can say yes, I’ve achieved a hundred percent. If they give 50 percent, I can say, well, I’ve achieved 50 percent. But for foreign elections, it’s difficult to benchmark. But that is our focus as a nation.

Wonderful. Very good. Thank you. (Applause.)

Mr. Acting President, public safety and security are huge challenges facing Nigeria. Public safety and security affect all aspects of your national life, from human rights protections to the attractiveness of your investment climate.

The Nigerian police have been accused of gross human rights violations, including unlawful killing of criminal suspects. What are you going to do about this situation, and what new policies and programmes are you going to put in place, particularly to professionalize the Nigerian police?

On human rights violations by the Police

Thank you. Definitely it’s an area we all know, as Nigerians, that we have challenges — the area of security. And that’s one of the areas that worry us, because the free movement of small arms and light weapons into African countries is worrisome. And it’s one area that we always plead for the developed society that manufactured these weapons to see how they could help us control the movements, because it’s a big challenge in Africa. Every African country you go — or a number of them, you have this kind of ragtag army that carry all kinds of small arms and light weapons, and becomes a security threat to the rest of society. And we ask: Who manufactured these weapons? Why are they shifting to Africa?

And we always feel that is — when we meet a country like the United States — (inaudible) — this is one area you — the American authorities must help Africa.

And that is why, even when we talk about the proposed U.N. treaty on small arms and light weapons, we believe that America must play a key role to make sure that we (can’t let ?) that — because if we don’t control it, most African countries would continue to be under pressure.

(If ?) what we are accusing the Nigerian police (is started ?) — it would be an investigation. There was some kind of — since the — in fact the (RZZRA ?) also (shoot particulars ?) in one of our northern states, and the government is investigating. Well, from the preliminary information we have, if you see how some of these criminals brutalise the police, you need to be a superhuman being not to begin to contemplate vengeance.

So we see that there are some (pockets ?) where the police went a little too far in an attempt or maybe, after senior colleagues (maybe just murdered ?) — an over-reaction and (go beyond ?) their status as law enforcement agencies, which we’re investigating.

But basically what the — the problem we have in the police now, which we have set up (nationally ?) to create a special fund — is that they are not well-equipped scientifically to confront the level of criminality that the free movement of small arms and light weapons have created in Nigeria and indeed most of African countries. So it looks like some of the criminals are a little more sophisticated than them. They carry stronger weapons than them. And in that case, it becomes very difficult  for them to protect themselves.

So we are setting up a fund that both public and private sector will participate. In fact, for the whole of last year, we and the governors were all debating, and the private sector. And we’ve all agreed that we must equip the police very well; we must give them enough equipment, including helicopter gunships, because of the level of criminality in the country.

And if we set up that fund and they are well equipped, both scientifically, using modern methods of detecting crime and fighting crime, and the conventional method, well, they would contain the excesses of the — of the criminal.

We are investigating

But the areas of — we have been accused of human-rights violations. If you go into a deep investigation, you will have even sympathies for some others who have said that — I’m trying — I’m not going — (inaudible) — for them, but as a government we’re investigating. And anybody that is found guilty, of course, we’ll not allow you to continue to be in the police. But this area that — (inaudible) — I believe that the developed societies, including America, can help African countries, if we can control the manufacture and the free movement of small arms and light weapons into Africa.

It looks like presently Africa is a dumping ground for the weapons used in the developed societies. And, of course, if you manufacture the weapons or they were used by the forces in the former Soviet Union and so on, and they have no need again for these weapons, and of course they dump them into Africa. But the criminals use it to terrorize the rest of innocents and distant African citizens.

Mr. Acting President, thank you very much for that response. (Applause.)

I believe that, in order to have the half an hour that we wish to have for audience participation, we’ll stop at this point. I just wanted to make one observation. On the question of police training and cooperation and collaboration between Nigeria and the U.S., we had a very robust programme when I was in Nigeria.

We did not have willing partners. You have to have willing partners on the other side in order to have effective cooperative programmes. This is an area where I think the U.S. would be willing to really support Nigeria. But, Mr. Acting President, we have to have that willingness on the Nigerian side, things like community policing and other things, so that these programs can be effective. But it’s a very good area, I think, for U.S. attention.

We’re now going to ask the audience to join in this discussion. And I would like to ask everyone, raise your hand, please wait for the microphone to reach you, speak directly into the microphone, please stand, please state your name and your affiliation, and please ask questions and not statements or comments, so that we can have a full participation in this very unique session that we’re having this morning.

So let’s start. Here’s a gentleman right there; he’s already got his bid in.

QUESTIONER: Gabriel Pellathy with Westinghouse Electric Company. Thank you, Mr. President, for being here. You had referenced the power sector. Can you get a little bit more specific in terms of what your sense is, timetables? Will nuclear be part of that power source, things of that nature? If you could add a little more in terms of specifics. Thank you.

Thank you. I may not be too specific in terms of a timeline, but presently, Nigeria generates power through two main sources: hydro turbines, using hydro systems through the dams; then we have some turbines using gas to fire the turbines — the ones that use water, the hydro, and the ones that use gas to turn the turbines.

Main sources of power

These are the two main sources of power in Nigeria, and it’s not adequate. Though another problem we had was the attempts of the gas factor. We are just exploring new gas reserves and new gas wells. The gas wells, the results that were — been exploited. We had the arrangement, of course, with the multilateral organisation, and we are selling more of the gas. And so there is not enough for domestic use, except the ones that — (inaudible) — and very difficult to build that. We have to get that to use.

But we are going into two new areas. We also want to use the Tamal (ph) turbines that were fired with coal, because we have quite some coal reserves. We are giving out the coal (blocks ?) now so the people can generate power. But that has not come on board.

On nuclear power

We have plans, but that’s a long-term plan also, to generate power using nuclear. But nuclear power is not the one you can just wake up and generate, because you must follow the International Atomic Energy Agency guidelines. And if you deviate from their guidelines, the rest of the world will begin to suspect you and think you want to use nuclear power for something else.

Presently, Nigeria uses nuclear power for the exploration of the oil industry. That’s an area we use nuclear technology, for the oil industry. But we also want to use the nuclear technology for power generation. But we must follow the guidelines and position of the International Atomic Energy Agency. And we are following; they are giving us the roadmap, and it will take us another — from their own program, this is something that will come up between the next eight to 10 years. So it’s not immediate, and we’re not going to deviate from that. We didn’t want to be suspected by the rest of society as if we want to use the nuclear power for something inimical to global peace.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.


QUESTIONER: Thank you. Maria McFarland from Human Rights Watch. Mr. Acting President, I’m going to follow up a little bit on the ambassador’s question about police violence. Earlier this year, we were happy to hear you pledge to end the culture of impunity in Nigeria, which is a factor not only fueling police abuses and hundreds of extrajudicial executions in recent years, but also this recurring violence in places like the state of Jos.

Can you please tell us, how are you going to break that culture of impunity? In the past there have been arrests, people have been charged, but those arrests have not resulted in prosecutions and convictions. What tangible results, what concrete steps, will you take to break that? Thank you.

JONATHAN: Thank you. I’ve said it all, but you have also almost answered the question, because the issue of impunity is when somebody commits an offense and when no punishment’s meted out. So that basically will continue to do the same thing.

If you take the case of Jos that you just mentioned, the crisis in Jos, somehow it is certain in plateau state in Jos is somehow unique, because Jos is on a very high level — I’ll just call it a plateau, in Nigeria, and the climate there is very, very conducive — in fact, the first set of Europeans that came into Nigeria, most of them preferred staying in Jos than even Lagos, that was the federal capital.

Because Nigeria is a very warm, tropical country, but the climate in Jos can drop off to minus 2 in some parts of the year. So the climate is very, very conducive. So it is a cosmopolitan place. So you have a number of settlers who came in. Some of them came in through our history of what we describe as a jihad, when some of the leaders for the Muslims moved from the north towards the south in terms of expanding the religion.

And within the period, there is that part of Nigeria. I think the whole process stopped, and some of them settled to live there. And so part — some Nigerians even from the south, especially if you go to a place like Jos, you arrive a number of (southeasterners ?). They are very aggressive, these men and traders who have settled in Jos. So you go — you also see high population of the west, or the group — (inaudible) — Ibos. And of course the northern and the Hausi-Fulani group that settled there.

So over the period, there is this feeling of the indigenous population feeling that the settlers are trying to take a better portion of the economic interest in the area. So there is always this special conflict. And this is a conflict that is from the early ’60s, and it continues to come up from time to time. And when we get into government — (inaudible) — 2008, the conflict came up again. And because of — just look at government elections. In Jos, the (most ?) problem is because of this conflict between the settlers and the natives. That has been (the most ?) problems. But they look for every little immediate cause.

They look at our — (inaudible) — election as a — (inaudible) — that the chairman of the council supposed not to come from that sector. It caused a major crisis in 2008, when a lot of people were killed. And of course, this 2009, this crisis came up again.

What has happened in 2008? The central government then wanted to set up a kind of board of inquiry to look into each, what is the causes and to commence appropriate measures to be taken. But of course, the states resisted. In a way, it was — I mean, after the ambassador — (inaudible) — of the states. So we allowed the states to do it.

But what — instead of what we call administrative boards of inquiry or judicial commissions of inquiry — it takes a long time (to/too ?) — so when this thing happened happen again in 2009 — from 2009, 2010, that time the president has been away, and I was then the vice president — I made it very clear that this time around we are not going to set up any administrative or judicial commission. The police will do their work. The police must investigate crime as individual (actions ?). So if anybody that is directly or remotely linked up with the crisis — the ones they arrested and prosecuted — if you go through the courts and the courts announce that you are not guilty and they charge you or acquit you, there you go. But if they — if you have a case to (answer ?), you should be prosecuted — (inaudible) — passed through this commission. And that’s the only way you can.

And the problem is that people expect things to be done so fast. But when you have a major crisis that involves so many people, sometimes, within the investigation — (inaudible) — you are prosecuting more than 500 people that are involved in the massive killing. It happens all over the world. This is not something that the police — they don’t have a magic wand to complete the investigation in a week, because they are not investigating one person who has — committed more than one person — (inaudible) — but you’re investigating over 500 people that are involved in massive criminal activities.

So it takes time. And as you know, the position of the laws in Nigeria and most other countries is that it is better for 10 people — 10 guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to be punished. And because of that premise of the law, for you to prosecute anybody, you go extra lengths to make sure that you are not punishing an innocent person. And it takes time.

But my directive now is to make sure that that culture of impunity is no longer a factor, is that the police should arrest anybody who is directly or indirectly linked up. And whenever we get a — (inaudible) — we can link a text message to your phone, that you (search ?) a text message, that is to get any crisis about — (inaudible) — so they’ll go to the courts and prove that you are not a part of the conspiracy, not us to decide. And that the police are doing. And I believe that if we follow that trend, it will — (inaudible) — law that you cannot commit a crime and get away from it.

And I told my — (inaudible) — that this investigation must continue. It is not something we are going to do it in a month or two months. We will continue until we make sure that anybody who is remotely or directly involved in the — (inaudible) — crisis is prosecuted.

In terms of bringing peace to the area, we are using other methods. So while the police are looking at the criminal aspects of the crisis, we are conducting with the religious leaders in the areas, we are conducting with the — (inaudible) — with us in the area almost every week. And we (used ?) to meet with one group or the other to make sure that what has been happening, this (serial ?) crisis that continues from the early ’60s to date, is brought to a reasonable level of control.

But basically what has been happening in that part is because of the social conflict between the so-called settlers that appears to dominate the economy of the area and the indigenous population that failed at — (inaudible) — change in economic activities. (Inaudible) — this is the (remote cause ?) of the conflict.

But most cases, when does conflict happen? Because some parts of this — some of the settlers belong to the Muslim faith, and most of the indigenous population are Christians. So sometimes where this — when this conflict, which has turned ethnic, comes, people begin to (paint ?) the religious coloration as if the Christians and the Muslims have conflict in the — (inaudible). No, there’s no conflict between the Christians and Muslims. While that is the partition, it’s just because of the groups that are fighting kind of belong to two different religions. So religion more or less looks like kind of the wind that could actually spread a wildfire in one way or the other because of the — (inaudible) — of some of the religious leaders that — (inaudible). But the conflict is not a religious conflict.

The government is now prosecuting; people that are involved in the crisis are no longer taking the option of setting up judicial commissions, administrative panels of inquiry, because (that tried ?) to waste a lot of time and reduces the effect of (trying ?) to protect some people who have committed crimes.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. (Scattered applause.)

Dr. Mikell?

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Gwendolyn Mikell, Georgetown University.

Mr. Acting President, I was heartened by your promise to have credible elections in 2011. My question concerns the independent Nigerian electoral commission. For those of us who were there last time or people who were watching, the confidence in that commission and in the way in which it relates to the electorate is going to be critical. So I’m wondering what has been done, what you plan to do, what kinds of things are going to be put in place so that north, south, east, west, civil society, whatever, there is confidence that that commission is moving along and the election actually will be able to be credible.

JONATHAN: Thank you. The issue of perception is — (inaudible). It’s more psychological than real. They who have the perception that the body cannot do what is right, even if they do what is right, people find it very difficult to believe. And that is (too real ?) over there. Now, you’ve got electoral body, the INEC, because the feeling is that INEC cannot conduct credible elections in Nigeria.

Basically, I am, in a way, a bit lucky now, because most of the commissioners in INEC — especially at — (inaudible) — because we have to — (inaudible) — commissioners in INEC — (inaudible) — and the chairman; then we have — what they call the resident electoral commissioners, that every state has one. We have to have seven of them; that is to have six — (inaudible) — in Abuja that handle the elections at the state level.

At the national level, most of the officers have completed their tenure, or complete their tenure in a couple of months. So we are going to review them individually. And the ones we feel that’s not good enough to be reappointed, we will not reappoint. And — (inaudible). We’ll make sure that we bring people the information, the names of the people — (inaudible) — will be happy that they will conduct clean elections. But that is psychological, because, like I said, it has to do with perceptions. So we have that — we’re a bit lucky in that respect.

Before the 2011 elections, there will be a lot of changes in INEC. And no matter — (applause) — who talked about the chairman — not just the chairman. The chairman himself, the tenure is going to expire by (the end of ?) June. But not just him alone. Quite a number of the commissioners in INEC, their tenure (by the end of ?) June, most of them — more than two-thirds of them — their tenures are going to expire. So we’re going to cross-examine them and also listen to the public opinion (of the society ?).

But even the (present ?) INEC and — (inaudible) — state, they can conduct elections. The perception is — I have admitted that the perception is quite (critical on the human side ?). It’s psychological, not real. At the same INEC-conducted election in those states, the governor was adamant about when that election was to be conducted. The governor was very apprehensive. Luckily, the civil society — (inaudible). (Laughs.)

MODERATOR (?): Fortunately.

JONATHAN: And — (inaudible) — called me, and he was worried whether INEC would manipulate the elections in the states. And I said, look, I’ve given clear directives, and anybody that — (inaudible) — from that, I will fire the person. I’ve given clear directives to the police. And to prevent — (inaudible) — elections. I’ve given clear directives to INEC that we will not accommodate any wrongdoing. We will not (ask ?) the government. We have changed (our thinking ?). We have changed — (inaudible). And Nigeria was sure delayed in that regard. We cannot begin to talk about — (applause) — we cannot begin to talk to other leaders: And look, you must conduct clean election. You will not have a (totalitarian ?) agenda, you must not run your country as a monarchy when you yourself, you have issues that people will raise.

So for you, you have to lead by example. People must lead, we must show clear example. And one area that we must demonstrate to the rest of Africa is our standard of elections. And I — when I truly governed initially was not to show. But at the end of the elections — (inaudible) — to Abuja to express appreciation.

But in the same — INEC conducted elections. We conducted election in a number of states. Here’s where we have logistics problem, has to do with the voters’ registration. But in terms of the pattern of the voting and so on, it was, at least to — for the observers of that election, it gave a clear — they can score it 70 percent on that vote.

We’ve just concluded a local council election in Abuja. It was done on Saturday. I left that Saturday night. By the time I get back home, I will get a clear picture, because they have given some briefing, but not comprehensive enough, because I’m so busy here. But basically, even if you look at that election, handled by the same INEC, the elections are credible. But maybe some of you have gotten a little more information than I have. But elections so far are credible. So all I’m saying is that the issue of INEC not being in a position to conduct elections, I’m convinced that INEC can — even the present INEC — can conduct elections in Nigeria that will be free and fair.

What happened in our previous elections is just one missing link. Because — and it has nothing to do with the laws. That’s why I normally emphasize that. Even if you don’t change any of our laws, we can still conduct elections, if INEC just count and refuse to compromise. The missing link is that our election law says that at the end of voting, electoral results must be announced at the polling unit. The polling unit is made up of — most of the polling unit is — is to handle voters of not more than 500 voters. There are very few polling units that will have a little more than 500. But most polling units vary from about 150 to about 500 voters. That is, by arrangement, a polling unit.

But every person who is contesting election is supposed to have an agent in every polling unit. If you are contesting an election, in every polling unit from within that unit you will have your own agent. You have also observers, both security observer and others. And I will now say that at the end of the elections, the results must be declared, at least of the unit. But it’s always a problem declaring results at the unit level, because of conflicts, sometimes the pressure and so on.

So in most cases, they take the results at the end of the voting to the local vote headquarters, where they collect the results. And during that process, people feel that there are wrongdoings. People may change results. And that has been the problem in Nigeria. And this time we said, look, if you cannot declare the results at that polling unit, that will cancel that result. So all results must be declared at the polling unit. And that is what our poll in Anambra — that’s what our polling, they do.

And if we mention that even with the present laws, even with the present INEC, conducting elections, that globally can score us quite high. And we have been insisting on that. So I have no fear about elections. My conviction is that 2011 elections, you will be happy with those. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: The gentleman in the back. Yes. Yes, please.

QUESTIONER: Mr. Acting President, my name is Ufo Eric-Atuanya with Rimsom Associates. Just following up on the issue of perception, so many times as a person of Nigerian descent operating in diaspora, we are faced with the media. And a lot of times, the media often reports — majority of the times, all we hear about are negative things coming out of Nigeria.

And I’m made to understand that there are some proactive things that the administration has done, and some that you may even be involved in, especially in areas like the Niger Delta, and perhaps capacity-building when it comes to trying to develop the small- and medium-size enterprises. So I’m just curious to hear directly from you, what are some of these proactive things that the Nigerian government is actually doing? Because a lot of times all we hear about are the negatives.

JONATHAN: Thank you. Well, normally — before I got into government, I didn’t know much about the media. But when I got into government, the information that they always tell us is that negative stories sell. (Laughter.) The positive stories don’t sell. So if the governor of Rivers State — even if he’s building the best hospital, it is difficult for the media to tell the world that he’s building the best hospital, so many of these governors. But if anything is minor — (capitalize on ?).

As you mean and observed, the Rivers State government is arrested by maybe ESPC (sp), or ICPC (sp), or the police, so when — even if it’s a fraud of only $500, it will be in all the papers. But that is not only in Nigeria, but that is the issue of the media, so — because, of course, negative stories will always sell. While here in America as acting president of Nigeria, if I do anything that is slightly (a decision ?), I think all the media in the world will flatten me. But no matter the difficult things we do, maybe nobody (really want to ?).

But that is basically — but one thing government will do and intend to do. You know, I’ve just had talks at presidential advisory committee to really look into most of these things and tell us what we must do. And where we are not going right, they will help us. They’ll say, look, you have to go this way, you have to — and it’s made up of quite a number of credible Nigerians, including some who are from the diaspora. Then, I’ve just installed the cabinet last week, and the ministers — we just had our first executive council meeting. The ministers themselves are now just taking over. So the — immediately the ministers start, you will see that most of our programs will become very clear.

The issues of the Niger Delta, that we have somebody who is coordinating, the special adviser to the president on the Niger Delta. And he has his blueprint. In fact, I didn’t come with it, but he just gave it to me as I was coming, and I forgot this room may ask. We did an amnesty program. It divided into three stages. You have the disarmament, which is when they voluntarily surrender their weapons; then the rehabilitation program, that has commenced; and after that, we’re going to the reintegration.

The rehabilitation will expose them to some form of training, and to reorient their thinking, while some of them have been in this armed struggle for years. And all over the world, people who carry weapons, who use all kinds of — (inaudible) — they take the — a little more alcohol than they require. Or some of them, they even gone into drug taking and things like that. So you must change their thinking. So that is the rehabilitation processes. And within these rehabilitation processes, some stipends have been paid as upkeep allows for them to take care of them and make them to pass through that.

When they are fairly — when they are fairly brought out from that kind of a cocoon, then you expose them to some kind of career training; some of the areas who also expect the international bodies and developing partners and countries like the U.S. that is quite helpful to us, to play some role in terms of capacity building. There are quite a number who have to train them all over the world, not — or we are training them in Nigeria. We’re also training them in other parts of other parts of the continent; especially in ceasefiring and the other related areas. So that after that — and of course they have to be engaged in this — in trades, that they will be earning, getting money. Either they will take paid jobs in companies, or probably will be given seed money to start their own business in — you know, the area of business.

So we have a number of things lined up. What may not be so obvious — but I can tell you they’ve let the various committees come up with their blueprints, then they will discuss it. After some months, tends to be clearer. And I don’t really want to begin to guess and to tell you something that tomorrow you take me to task: You said it is ready, and now what have you done? So give us some — a couple of months, and the issues should be clear. (Applause.)