April 5, 2011

Jonathan is concerned about a legacy- Douglas

By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Mr. Oronto Douglas erstwhile Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Bayelsa State came to national and international renown as an environmental cum civil rights activist. Presently Senior Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan on Research, Strategy and Documentation, Mr. Douglas recently spoke to Political Editors on the issues and challenges ahead of the President in his bid to build a lasting legacy. Excerpts:

After the grand finale of the PDP presidential rally, what is the level of preparation in the President’s camp for April 16?

If you know President Goodluck Jonathan very well, he is not a man who believes in the grand finale being the end of campaigns. In fact, he believes that this is the beginning of the work. Some 15 different committees of eminent persons have been formed to start further consultations. With Jonathan saying that he will do only one term in office, you should know that what is most important to him is the legacy he will leave behind, one of which is strengthening our democracy through credible elections.

What is happening is that a massive campaign of ideas has been launched as t the second phase of the 2011 campaign. He campaign is now moving from zone to zone, state to state, local government to local government, neighbor to neighbor and door to door and because Jonathan emerged from the grassroots, he has returned once again to the grassroots with a view to uplifting the  grass roots to the rooftops of rapid development, equity and justice. We want to urge all other contestants to join the campaign of ideas and take it to all hamlets and villages as Dr. Jonathan has done. This is with a view to allowing the electorate to vote and ensuring that their votes count.

This President is a visionary leader, who believes that today is as important as tomorrow if not more because nations are built brick by brick. If there is glory in today, there should be greater glory in tomorrow. No father would pray that his son or daughter would not be greater than him. So, every President would  Nigeria that is to come to be better than the one he governed.

So, every step you take as a leader, you think of the utmost goal and President Jonathan is so conscious of this and focused on this that nothing will distract him from achieving that. So essentially what I am saying is that this is a new dawn in governance where you don’t need to know whoever is in the office to get a job. So, if appointments are made, let the diversity of our federalism ensure and promote justice and equity, let it touch every section. Let such appointments not be appointments that promote sectionalism and regionalism. So far, Nigerians have seen a President Jonathan, who is a man of few words but heavy in positive actions.

Having gone round Nigeria on the campaign train, what did you see as the general demands of Nigerians?

The general demands are not different from the demands that he captured on the 6th of May when he became President. Nigerians want power; they want electoral reforms to consolidate our democracy so that the power of the people dominates. Nigerians want energy security which is critical.

Nigerians want sound education so that the children of tomorrow will be educated in the way that meets the standard of their pairs anywhere in the world. Nigerians want access to good quality health so that there would be no medical tourism that currently predominates among the elite of Nigeria and even the non-elites. Families now have to assemble and gather money to send sick people to India. Money that should go into very important survival strategies. That should not be the case. To answer your question directly, this president has gone round the country about three times, either by himself or by the team that he has set up, I am talking about comprehensive three times.

First was before the PDP primary, as soon as he gave his indications via Facebook and his declaration, he set up a team to go round, it was not publicized. Then, when the (Sen. Dalhatu) Tafida committee was set up it also went round the country state by state, zone by zone to talk to people, then the main campaign began and then he also went round. You see the PDP is overwhelmingly a national party and he cannot ignore any section of the community. If you do, the repercussion will be huge.

So, he has carefully, calmly and in a very focused way travelled round this country meeting key stakeholders, opinion leaders, meeting ordinary citizens, artisans, labour people. The idea behind all this is broad based consultations and that was done. You saw the process leading to the primaries, his main opponents said they will demystify incumbency and that also challenged those working for him (the President) but Jonathan is not riding on that because if he wants to do that, he will use powers, but he is humble, simple easy going gentleman who has refused to use his power as President to pave way for his presidency.

We were calculating that we were going to win by 65 percent during the primaries and we won by over 70 something percent. A lot of people did not know that even in the North West that they said was a problem, we won by 63 percent of the majority of the vote cast in the North West and again we won four states out of the seven states. If we lost three states out of the seven states in the North West that is to tell you that if election comes today there is no state in the North West that Dr. Jonathan will not get a constitutional 25 percent.

Can you let us into details of this committee, who are the stakeholders chosen to further consult on behalf of the President?

You see I cannot give you readily who the stakeholders are. If you had watched the manner that the campaign had gone, there was time you will say that the North West will not vote for Jonathan but as the campaign moved, all the top leaders, whether it is Sultan of Sokoto, the Emir of Muri, other Emirs and even former President Shehu Shagari, they started coming out on television to douse such claims.

Like the Emir of Muri said South South and North had always cooperated, and that nobody should discriminate against the President from the Niger Delta. He said you (Niger Delta) have always given us support; it is time for us to support you. They are patriots, they do things based on the need for Nigeria to move forward. Those stakeholders will cut across every segments, whether they are traditional leaders, opinion leaders, labour leaders.

Jonathan is not a person that ignores you, even if you are the smallest in the community, if there is the need to talk to you, Jonathan will come and talk to you, check out his background. He went to Ciroma, he could have asked Ciroma to come to one of the guest houses owned by the Federal Government, he said no I want to go there myself, he went there and discussed.

It was alleged that the President refused to sign an agreement with the Ciroma committee. How true is that?

I am not the BOT Chairman; neither am I in the caucus of the PDP that discusses and take decisions. All I can tell you and which you can quote me on is that Jonathan does not close the door of dialogue, never. The door of dialogue remains wide open, however, the governance of Nigeria is not a personal property and you cannot allow the country to derail in the hands of the President because if that happens, then 150 million Nigerians will hold him responsible because at the end of his tenure, he would have to give an account to Nigerian people and Jonathan will want to give a very glorious account of stewardship to Nigerians.

So is the discussion with Ciroma and his Forum still on course?

Like I said, dialogue process takes time to mature, if it has not matured before yesterday, it can mature tomorrow. 24 hours in politics can make a massive difference you know what 24 hours can do not to talk of 2 weeks. Remember these individuals are stakeholders in their various states and in the Nigerian enterprise. They have played roles in the past and I don’t think any of them will want the role they have played in the past not to be seen in the positive light. IBB, Gusau and Atiku that you mentioned will never exclude themselves in the good governance of this country because Jonathan represents good governance.

There is some perception that even do the President has been doing much but that he has not done much to make PDP a good party?

Internal reforms of a party will take time, this party has been in office for 12 years and you look at the way he has gone about it, he has been very focused and systematic. The reform going on in the PDP are beginning to be manifest from the pronouncement of the President. Can you imagine a leader of PDP saying don’t rig for me. Can you imagine a PDP leader saying my ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian.

Compare that statement with any statement that was made in the past. The leadership mirrors the direction of the party the mechanism from Jonathan is that this PDP that I am leader is PDP that is focused on the good of all members of the party, all Nigerians, democracy and justice. If you think that the reform going on has not been as quick as pronounced, they are there in terms of the messages but as you will see of PDP, you can also see of other parties. If you go and ask other parties, they may not have done one quarter of what PDP has done now. Let us be frank.

There are some issues that concern governance, the setting up of nine new Universities, how would this help  development?

In a federal system, for the good of all, it is important that we listen carefully to the small voice of equity and justice. Number two, the practical steps, if you are interested in education and the youths of Nigeria, go and check the total number of people who apply but gain admission into universities, less than ten percent of those that applied to gain access to federal universities get access.

You may want to say expand the existing ones, put money into them so that everyone can now go, that is not the solution. The solution is to ensure that every state that is part of this enterprise gets a federal university. Two, ensure that the development of those federal universities do not take the path of the other ones. Universities ought to have been developed brick by brick. For example, you start with two faculties, specialise in those ones very well, when you are specialised in those ones, you can take another one.

You don’t wake up and set up one university and get ten faculties. When university of Ibadan started, did it start with 10, 20 faculties? No. In 1948, it started with about 2 or 3 and they linked it to University of London. Jonathan is educated, his life is a life spent in the class and with students and young people.

When he came on board, when the result of WAEC was published, when he looked at top security reports regarding education and he reviewed all of that, he said yes, we could encourage private universities to be set up but the time will come these private universities will become sanctuary for the exploitation of Nigerians and people will not have access.

Harvard is private; Yale is private and other big schools abroad, go and check out the cost of admission in Harvard.
Are you saying that these existing private universities that are moving towards elitism will give our people access to good quality education? What needs to be done is to establish universities in every state of the federation and make sure that they are focused and their expansion is not rapid, make sure that the individuals that come to man them are people of high degree and quality.

Don’t forget we are still building that united Nigeria of our dream, everyday, we are contributing towards it. If I am from Kogi, Bayelsa or any of these states that has no federal university, it is important we ensure that everybody gets. To answer the question of existing universities, have you checked the budget? Education, for the first time in the history of Nigeria become number one.

What was the justification for lifting the embargo on the importation of toothpicks?

I am not the economy chief but it is important that they find out what is the reason for that. I don’t think any person managing the frontier of our economy will take a decision without checking. I don’t have the detailed report that may have led to that. I don’t have the information but it is important that the Minister of Finance is engaged and I am going to ensure he gets back to you.

The PDP thinks it will win the election but the opposition thinks otherwise, what are the indices?

I think Jonathan will win by 75 percent of the votes. I even suspect that ThisDay did not give all the information in their opinion poll. I think the opponents would just surrender. What I am sure of is that we will win by 75 percent of the votes. We went to campaign in Taraba, I did not follow the convoy on arrival, I took a Taxi, I asked the driver they said Jonathan. I visit Lagos more than any other State, I go to see my friends in Mushin and Palm Avenue, we go to eat Amala and Bokoto, the ones they use firewood to cook, this is an AC stronghold, they all say Jonathan, Jonathan, Jonathan.

I asked and they said a lot of them who went to register actually registered because of Jonathan. The reality today is that Jonathan as the president and candidate has been able to reach out to the hearts and minds of ordinary people who have the power of the vote and like I said the ballot will defeat the bullet and it is important that that we support this to happen. The bullet represents authoritarianism, violence, denial of the people from exercising their right to good governance, voting and so on. Nigerians will speak with a very loud voice, Jonathan, Jonathan and Jonathan.