Pres. Jonathan on state of the nation

Ques: How come Azikiwe is one of your names as an Ijaw man from Bayelsa State? You are Goodluck while your wife is Patience. What is the significance of it? Should Nigerians be patient to await you to deliver the good luck?

Ans: In terms of my names, all the names you mentioned are actually names I bear. If you look at my certificates, it is Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. But indeed, when I was a child growing up in my community I was more known by the name Azikiwe. It is the name my maternal grandmother gave me. It is not because we are Igbo, but for those of us that were from the eastern region Zik was a name that was known by everybody and people liked naming their children after known figures. It was until I was to write my first school leaving certificate that I changed it to Goodluck which was a name my father gave to me directly. Some of them are names I used but Azikiwe didn’t appear in any of my certificates. My father knew why he called me Goodluck. But I know that even in my small community I have some other peers who answer Goodluck.

Ques: Will you run for the 2011 presidency?

Ans: I am not in a position to tell Nigerians whether I will contest now or not because we have a political environment that gets too heated up when people are now preparing for elections. If you travel across the country and at the state level, things are a bit calm.

The governments are working but immediately I declare now that I am contesting, then it is a signal and all the incumbent governors will want to declare; even for the states where the governors are completing their eight years tenure, people will begin to declare; and, immediately people declare and political activities come up strong, it affects governance. I have been in the system since 1999 to know what I am talking about.

Even at the Federal Executive Council (FEC), it will disrupt activities of ministers. People will be going to their communities to deliver their wards, local governments and states to the President. Functions of government will suffer. If I also say I am not contesting now, the story will be different; some people will begin to behave funny and it will also affect the output of government. So we feel that the best thing to do is to keep our mouths sealed until the appropriate time when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will release the time-table for elections based on realities after Professor Attahiru Jega’s confirmation by the Senate.

The last INEC Chairman had come up with two programmes-if they will amend the law, the programme will start this time; if they will not, it will start this time. You know that once the time-table is announced, there is the period for parties to do primaries. I have advised my party, the PDP that those with intentions should declare very close to primaries so that the process will not heat up the system. I will make my intentions known close to the primaries.

Ques: What is your attitude to the zoning and rotational presidency?

Ans: Anything I say on zoning now will be misunderstood but at the end of the day, I will encourage public debate because it is becoming a topical issue.

Ques: Will (Attahiru) Jega have both economic and political independence to conduct free and fair elections?

Ans: It is one appointment every Nigerian accepts and (every Nigerian) believes he will do what is right. INEC has budgetary provisions for its operations and because our elections have been controversial and most societies feel Nigeria is a leading country in Africa, we must conduct clean elections to give our leaders credibility and acceptability globally. So the governments of the United States of America and the European Union (EU) have promised to assist. I am committed to clean elections and I mean it because whenever you travel out, sometimes envoys that come to discuss with you on behalf of their countries, sometimes officers that are quite low, but they will raise the issue of elections.
I feel very humiliated each time and I promised myself that if I am in a position to conduct elections in this country, no other Nigerian President will explain at the end of your election to people who are lower than you, who, ordinarily, are not supposed to talk to you, but who will begin to raise issue of elections. It is annoying and I feel bitter.

Ques: Some of your PDP members use language as ‘capture’ this or that state. How can you address that?

Ans: Whether I run or not  is immaterial to the 2011 elections and I have made it clear in my three addresses to my party that we must put our house in order because the elections must be free and fair and the votes of Nigerians must count. I am not the only one thinking this way.  The new National Chairman of the PDP, during his formal address after inauguration on Thursday, last week, expressed the same position. He is a stronger advocate of free and fair elections than me. You know his coming was also controversial; so, I think it was quite courageous to make the pronouncement he made. It shows he is totally committed… The usage of the word ‘capture’ to me does not mean as we know in the military terms of using weapons to take over but by working hard.

Ques: Do you believe in kitchen cabinet and do you have one?

Ans: I do not believe in kitchen cabinet or cabal. I do not also believe in godfatherism. I know that in nature, nobody just wakes up and does what he or she likes. Along the line people help you one way or the other; it could be younger people; it could be older people; I also have helped people. Even the people I helped politically as a deputy governor, I was instrumental to some people becoming local government chairmen. But after installing you, I leave you alone to do your work.

Ques: So, you don’t have godfathers?

Ans: I don’t. I don’t have. But I respect all elders, Nigerian elders. I interact with elders. If you look at it, for example, there is no former head of state that I do not discuss with. I discuss with all of them. Most of the leaders that are willing, I discuss with them, traditional rulers and religious leaders.

Ques: Don’t you hear that former President Olusegun Obasanjo is your number one godfather and people like General TY Danjuma are your godfathers…?

Ans: If they say that Obasanjo is a godfather, TY Danjuma is a godfather that is okay. (laughs)

Ques: What is your wife’s position now…?
Ans: …I don’t expect my wife to be that powerful because the Nigerian Constitution does not state that and I don’t encourage that….

Ques: I just want to follow up with what Sam Nda Isaiah was saying because it is a sensitive issue, especially this question of the First Lady, especially given the nature of the end of the previous presidency.

Ans: I think what Sam was not saying was that it became very clear towards the end of the last presidency that the First Lady was playing such an outsize role that is not visible in any law and the question then is whether you are sensitive to that and whether you have made up your mind to try and correct that perception that an unelected person should not play such a direct role in the affairs of the state?

The issue of the (former) president’s health that made so many Nigerians a little bit uncomfortable about the First Lady is beyond the issue of being powerful in government. If the (former) president were to be healthy enough, then one can make deductions and certain statements. But you see the (former) president had health challenges and he was not in this country.  He was in Saudi (Arabia), which you know and he was there with senior government functionaries but they were not political office holders; they were security personnel and personal physician. So, it was not the First Lady alone per se that prevented Nigerians from seeing the president. It was the security and because somebody is (was) sick and you would not want to force yourself on the person and the person was not even in the country; so, the issue is not as if it was the First Lady.  The First Lady was not even there at the hospital twenty four hours to prevent people, but it was the security people that worked for the (former) president. So, I expected the security agencies to look into the conduct of those security officers that were with the president. It was not only the First Lady per se; I did not believe that it was the First Lady alone, but I put it down to some reasons, probably the family did not want people to…. We know as a practice in other countries today, if anything happens to me, I am public property of this country even if I have fever, Nigerians will want to know if it is malaria, but when somebody is seriously sick and the family position tries to take the leading position and that is why even me as Vice President then I could not force my way to see him.  Supposing I forced my way in to see him and after seeing him, something happened, won’t they begin to make insinuations and say that I was part of the problem. The security agencies should find out if their actions were normal to prevent it in future.  You said you expected the security agencies to look into the conduct of security personnel of the former president. How precisely?
I expected them to… I believe they must have looked into it. Away from politics, Mr. President, let us look at the seven-point agenda, which is the roadmap of this government to achieve success.

Ques: Could you say more to Nigerians about the seven-point agenda?

Ans: I would not want to say much about the seven-point agenda because I remember when I was acting as President, a number of leaders who came to see me were saying, look, we are tired of hearing about seven-point agenda. They said the time was short that I should look at what I could quickly do in those areas.  Nigerians are worried about and the emphasis was that okay, power is critical. Without power, we cannot do most other things. The security of the country is critical. Some parts of the country, you cannot move easily. The local economy is almost dead and, of course, for you to even develop the land, you must elect people properly.  The people know that their votes count and again making them believe they would do better than now maybe a few people using their own machinery to take over. I do not really want to talk about seven point agenda. I do not want to go and start recounting what agriculture, food security, power, road infrastructure are all about. I do not think it interests Nigerians, but I believe if you talk about the seven point agenda, it is a matter of emphasis and I used to be very, very frank.
There is no government that would say that I am taking only three points or I am taking only seven points and will not allow other points…. If you look at our budget, are we not budgeting for everything? We budget for everything. So, we expect every department of government to function. It is a mere emphasis and that is why I will not belabour you or suffer Nigerians for any recitation about seven point agenda.

Ques: You are interested in the power sector. You have set up the Presidential Task Force on Power and the Presidential Action Committee on Power. In between these two bodies, there is this media report that there are some bickerings going on. Are we not being hysterical about the power situation because of the problems that are also connected to it and are we not going to end up like in the previous regime which identified it as a big problem where so much money was thrown at it without any roadmap as to how the money would work for us…?

Ans: The problem of the power which, of course, you know was…You (journalists) are quite informed and on top of most issues of government. The power issue, just like you mentioned, we are not taking on new major projects, no new investments because presently the power issue is almost like a chain that has so many weak links. It is just to fix those weak links to give us the minimum that we need. If we fix all the weak links now, at least, we will be able to get 10,000 megawatts.

That is why there has been this projection that we are supposed to get 6,000 megawatts by December. But, yes, we can generate 6,000 megawatts, all things being equal, but all things are always not equal. The people came and they said they wanted to install gas turbines and I said, look, the only generating project we think we can embark on are two major dams in the North; but in terms of gas fired turbines or coal fired turbines, government is no longer interested.

The problem of Nigerian in the power sector is that we stopped investing. Governments of Nigeria for so many years stopped investing in power until Obasanjo came on board. Just like what is happening now, because of the need to come up with this NIPP, so many turbines were imported, but at the time the turbines were being imported, they did not look at doing our transmission infrastructure, even where you would install the turbines.
There were so many things that were not properly examined. I think it was just like the Berlin Conference where Africa was partitioned. People did not really come down to know whether there was a family in Cross River or Adamawa that you are putting one of their cousins in Cameroon and leaving the rest cousins in Nigeria. So things were not properly done…. I was talking about our procurement process. If you want to fast track something, there are certain things that you take for granted.
It is now we realize that even if you now install all these and all of them are generating power, you cannot even transmit. So many other transmission projects have been awarded, but these projects are ongoing. These are not projects you can complete overnight. I am used to telling people whenever they are commenting on power infrastructure that power is different from road. For road, immediately you clear the areas, some categories of vehicles begin to use the road. You stabilize it. You put the cross-rocks or hardcore. Some categories of vehicles will begin to use.

Almost all vehicles will begin to use; it is just that there will be dust before you put the asphalt. But for power, until you complete the tiniest knots, the bulb will not glow. No matter what government is doing, until it completes the process, the bulb will not glow. But if you ask me, I will say our plan for Nigerians to have stable power is to really complete the reform in the power sector.
The idea is that if other countries around us, private sector is playing a big role, why not Nigeria? The feeling that government will do everything is another thing that is impoverishing us and there were certain things that the private sector could have done. We are spending more money because we are waiting for government to do everything; and, anything that government has to do, the leakages are so many; maybe probably the way government functions.

I remember when I was a Deputy Governor, I visited Donald Duke who was then Governor of Cross River State and he was talking about the farm project he was into…and that he decided not to use government functionaries to run the farm because he had realized that if he budgeted any amount of money and left government functionaries to manage the farm, more than fifty percent of the money would go into allowances and at the end of the day, the money would go and people would ask: what have we done with this money, the billions? And the money is gone.
But as long as they are government functionaries; as long as the law says that they have to take allowances whenever they are travelling, they would take the allowances. So, he used private sector, NGOs. So, just like this issue, we believe that generation must be completely privatized. No matter what, if you bring government to continue to generate, you would never get anywhere. Distribution must be completely privatized because there have been some leakages through one way or the other.
Government can concentrate on just transmission and even that transmission, government can still give it out to consultants at a particular arrangement. When we get to that point…but for now, we are trying to see if we can complete some of the transmission projects that are going on, the generation projects that are going on; and, of course, …the gas supply contracts that are going on.

Ques: How decisive is the government on the power issue and what are the timelines for delivering on the project?

Ans: In fact, it is not as if the immediate past president, my boss then, was not serious on the power sector reform. I think when we look at all the issues, I think that government needs to do certain things otherwise you would begin to sell the power state service as scraps. We are awarding power contracts, quite a number of councils if you had followed council deliberations. It is not as if the monies were not spent, especially to the NIPP projects. Monies were being spent but there were certain things that we needed to properly fix. We even came with MYTO, this gradual subsidy on power; it was a three-year programme so that by the end of the third year, we would expect that we would be generating and distributing enough power and Nigerians would begin to see that they would gain more by paying a little more on public power dam than getting their private generators; and, especially with this pay-as-you-go metres.
So, it was not as if Yar’Adua was not interested in that but it is just that things do not move as fast as one always expects because you may have the best intentions but these are hi-tech things. We do not manufacture the machines here. We have to bring them from abroad. There was one of these projects that after…we realized that the bridge could not carry the turbine. So we had to award a fresh contract… So, it is more complicated but what I can tell Nigerians is that, at least, we are on course. We are meeting weekly and we set up two committees.  You did mention initially there was a bit of confusion; in the first place, Ministry of Power normally has a traditional minister that drives the process. When I came on board, based on the advice and I have mentioned that some of the decisions one takes may not even come from close friends or staff members in the office. But based on the advice from somebody who is outside but who is a well known person that to drive things fast, we should take it out from its normal tradition of a Ministry and that I should overlook it on a weekly basis, not as a minister, I am not the Minister of Power, but set up a Committee made of so many professionals.

But along the line, to change from some kind of tradition to a committee; we witnessed all these Task Forces before and, in most cases, they never worked. One is that the civil servants are also looking at that; you want to go in one area, they would begin to say that the Financial Regulation does not say so; the Procurement Act does not say so. This person has no powers to spend government money. We are at the basis of sorting out this complication…Now we have got two sets of committees-the one I am chairing, which is made up of myself, the Finance Minister, the CBN Governor and other key holders that can take decisions.  We meet weekly so that if any programme comes up, at least, one of us must have the responsibility of going back to his office and making sure that thing is addressed immediately. Also, the other committee could also meet either two times a week or as decided by the professional, somebody who will be the Special Adviser on Power, which of course, by Monday (yesterday) I will make those pronouncements. It is not easy for something good to start. People would just think that it is magic that you just hit your staff at the red sea and you pass…

Ques: Let us talk about the security situation, particularly in the South-east zone of the country. Is it of concern to you, particularly when we are moving towards electioneering period?

Ans: The security of the country as a whole must be a major concern to whoever is the president of Nigeria and the situation of the South-east is becoming terribly embarrassing to all of us, a situation where you cannot even drive through some parts of this country. In those days when you had one orderly, you thought you were safe; but now, you put one police officer there with a rifle, they would come, kill the police, kill your driver, take you away and at the end of the day, ask for some N5 million or N10 million or N1 million. I am beginning to see that it is becoming ridiculous because the security people are picking all kinds of information when sometimes people are kidnapped, people will come in from Lagos to negotiate for payment. Some lawyers are even involved. So, you are beginning to see that there is a big cartel. It is beyond these boys sleeping in the bush coming to harass people because some information we are getting, and we are getting on; and, by the time we take so many senior people, some professional bodies, I hope they will not complain because the information we are getting, I must say, we cannot continue that way.  However little resources we have, we must bring this issue of kidnap to an end. Take the issue of South Africa for example. We were gunning to host Commonwealth Games and one of the reasons that were used against Nigeria was that security/kidnapping. South Africa is hosting the whole world and in terms of petty cries South Africa is worst than Nigeria. But the issue of kidnapping is not there. People have the confidence that you can go to South Africa and come back. So, you can see the impact of this kidnapping on us in terms of our image as a nation.
In fact, the economy of a place like Aba is almost wiped out. The whole of Aba is a big market. Now, at a time, all the banks in Aba closed down. As a nation, we cannot continue that way.
We want you to address a somewhat different issue which is how expensive our government has become to the Nigerian public and I think the most flagrant example of that is the almost unrestrained way which members of the National Assembly compensate themselves.
The numbers that have been bandied about are just outrageous, some of them announced by the members themselves. By our calculations some of them if you put the total package together are now in the region of N200 million a year. There is no government on the surface of the earth that maintains such an expensive group of people for doing so little. I wonder, even though it is a separate arm of government, whether you do not have overall responsibility of people of our country as president of our country to find ways where this thing can be reined in. It is frankly an embarrassment to our country, Mr. President.

Just like you said, whether I have power over the National Assembly, really I do not have powers over the National Assembly. But I agree with you that in every country that practices separation of powers in a presidential system, there is always one president, which is known globally as the leader of that country at that time. Even the Judiciary, though you do not control them, they relate with you and give you respect as president of the country.
So, members of the National Assembly relate with us and they give us that respect as the leader of the country. In terms of when you say they are doing little, I think within the laws of the land, they are doing what they are meant to do.

I think some people will come and say our National Assembly members are not performing and I ask, performing what? Do you expect them to go and build roads or water or build schools? Those are the responsibilities of the Executive arm of government as long as we do not run a parliamentary system of government.

The ordinary people expect from the National Assembly is not what the National Assembly is set out to do. But in terms of remunerations, the only body that can query whatever their take home pay is the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). They have the statutory responsibility to tell us what we earn. Not too long ago, the Chairman of the RMAFC (his tenure has expired) said that the Nigerian President was the least paid president, but then our late President then felt that this was not the time to increase wages and remunerations because people would misinterpret it.
The problem is not the executive branch. The problem, largely, is the Legislature. You are the leader of the party and your party dominates the Parliament. Yes, you do not have control over them but you can talk to the leaders behind closed doors to moderate their demands because they have shown clear insensitivity to the Nigerian public… We discuss; the leadership of the National Assembly and I meet from time to time. Sometimes, we meet at the level of the Executive and sometimes at the level of the party. They are informal meetings, not based on any constitutional provisions. If this is issue is becoming so topical because you have emphasizes so much on it and all of you are so interested, definitely, I will discuss with them. But I also believe that probably, there may be misconception.

I think people are looking at the entire budget of the National Assembly and dividing the entire budget per head and that is a very, very wrong way. I have seen all the money they require is for them to spend on themselves. No! The National Assembly, even though they are not meant to do roads; they are not meant to handle capital projects, but little, of course, they follow their offices, they buy some operational vehicles, communication equipment.  Their capital budget maybe…but the overhead which of course they travel a lot and quite a number of their operations has to do with their oversight functions. They travel outside and within the country. In fact, they sit from Tuesdays to Thursdays. Mondays and Fridays, they do not sit. The committees sit at will; the committees travel. Probably people are beginning to take funds for overheads and say they are funds for allowances. That is my ordinary thinking.

Ques: Mr. President, what are your final words…

Ans: On such occasions as this, what we can tell Nigerians is that we feel your pulse because we read the newspapers and whatever comments we get, we analyse them. Though, in Nigeria today, it is difficult to tell the difference between comments that are politically motivated and the very comments that come from the people, if we look across and we see that something is very central and of interest, we have to react.

It was just like we came up with the list of people that would be in INEC and people raised some issues that some of them had played key roles in political parties. It is difficult to say that this man is not in a political party, but if he plays some key roles in the political, then, of course, there is no way he would not be biased. We said look, we are going to withdraw those people and we have written letters to withdraw them. So, we feel the pulse of Nigerian and we promise Nigerians that we will do our best to make sure that their votes count. In terms of governance, for the remaining period we will be in office, we will do our best in the area of good governance.

Courtesy of Thisday Newspaper

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