FULL TRANSCRIPT OF THE 5th PRESIDENTIAL MEDIA CHAT HELD ON SEPTEMBER 29, 2013

20131001-181732.jpgFULL TRANSCRIPT OF THE 5th PRESIDENTIAL MEDIA CHAT HELD ON SEPTEMBER 29, 2013

Q. Most people say the President is on a hot seat. How hot is your seat?

A. The seat could be very hot or very cold. Both extremes make it a bit uncomfortable for any human being. Of course it’s hot in the sense that whatever happens in the country, people look up to the President. Just like as I mentioned in church today. All of us slept last night thinking that today, we will go to church to pray and thank God for our 53rd independence anniversary. Just a few minutes after midnight, many students were killed in Yobe State. We got that information about ten minutes after the incident happened. If you were me, as the President of the country, what will you tell the parents of those young students? I asked: why did they kill them? Is it ethnic cleansing? Is it political? Is it religious? Is it poverty? You can ask and ask. When you are confronted with such situations, sometimes you need courage to push ahead. I always say that these are ephemeral challenges. With commitment, we will get over them.

I had a brief meeting with the service chiefs before coming here. I told them that we need to look at different ways of handling the security challenges we have. After I declared a state of emergency, the crises came down, but now, they are looking for soft targets such as students in hostels, places where you will not expect them, just to embarrass government. If the drum-beat changes, of course the dancer has to change his steps too. We assure Nigerians that we will continue to do what is right for this country without ‘compromising the interest of the ordinary people.

Q. Nigeria will be 53 in a few days time. Is the security situation responsible for the low key celebrations?

A. The low key celebration is not because of the security situation. If you look at it, security has improved significantly. If you look at places like Maiduguri, for over four years they never had a durbar, but they had one recently. That shows that even in Maiduguri, which appears to be the centre point of Boko Haram, the whole thing has calmed down. We said that we are not going to do any major celebration until 2014 so 2013 too will be low key. The only ceremony we have as government is the change of guards that normally happens every Monday in State House. Instead of doing it on Monday, we will do it on Tuesday morning. That is the only ceremony we have and of course the Jumaat prayers and the church service. The celebrations being low key has nothing to do with the security challenges. It is just because government doesn’t want a big celebration, but next year it will be a big one and people will enjoy it.

Q. Can you in your national broadcast on Tuesday boldly tell Nigerians that they are better off now than when your party, the PDP assumed leadership of the country in 1999?

A. Definitely, you know they are better off. We have our challenges. No doubt about that. But in terms of improvements in our society, definitely the standard of life of Nigerians now, compared to the past, is better. We are progressing. I have been in charge for three years, few months. Within these three years alone, I made sure that every state has a Federal University. Before I took over, out of the 17 states in the southern part of the country, only three did not have a Federal University. In the north, out of the 19 states, only 10 had federal universities, nine had no federal universities. We felt that one way to emancipate people is education. Without education, you will not see Jonathan here. In basic education, we are building more schools. Ordinarily, in Nigeria, basic education is supposed to be the exclusive preserve of the states. But we are still intervening because of the challenges we have, especially in the north. But when students pass through that basic education, we need to expose them to some level of tertiary education and I said that the way to start is to make sure that every state has a federal university.

Before the PDP administration, even directors in ministries had no phones! As Assistant Director, I had no phone. But with the PDP administration, now my mother has a phone. Now we are talking  about privatisation of the power sector. God willing, before the end of the first quarter of next year, power will be reasonably stable in this country. And you will see what that will do to change our economy. So when you talk generally about the living standards and the way of doing things, it has improved significantly. A lot has changed and the PDP administration has done reasonably well.


Q. Mr. President, at the moment we have a big ASUU strike and you seem not to be saying anything. You are a former lecturer. How come we still have crises like this?

A.  The ASUU strike is very unfortunate. I was part of the system before I ventured into politics. Before now, there has never been a time that a government on its own decided to go and take an inventory of the infrastructure we have in both the federal universities and the state universities. We were not pushed to do that. We felt that look, we have schools and we must know what is there. So we set up a technical team. They visited all the universities. Their report was presented to the Federal Executive Council. I asked that it be also presented to all the governors. We all saw the enormous responsibilities we have as a nation. So we said no, this must change. But you cannot change things overnight. We are committed to improvements in the university system. We are starting with N100 billion and we will continue to progress. We have funds apart from line budget. We also have funds from other agencies such as the Petroleum Technology Development Fund and the Tertiary Education Fund. We are now doing that for the polytechnics and colleges of education owned by the federal government. You cannot do that for fun. No government will want to expose itself. If I want to hide it, I will not expose it. For me to do that and document it means I want to confront it. So we expect ASUU to work with us now that government has come out clearly to identify the problems. Government is ready to make changes.

It is very unfortunate that the ASUU strike has lasted for so long. If I say so, people will misunderstand me, but definitely politics has crawled into so many things we do. When you observe the way people do certain things, you have the feeling that something else is happening. We may be seeing something different but I will use this opportunity to call on ASUU that for the sake of our children, they should call off the strike. Even if we give ASUU 100 percent of what they are asking for, as long as we still manage the universities the way we are managing them, further strikes will come up in one way or the other. University autonomy without responsibilities is a recipe for crises. That is what we are suffering. Because if you talk about earned allowance, it is supposed to come from the internally generated revenue of a university. If the university is unable to generate enough, we say, okay we will help. But they are now making it a key thing by saying that that they will not call off the strike because of that. It is not compulsory. We are only assisting.

Q. You were party to the 2009 agreement as a Vice President at the time.  Why is the government finding it difficult to implement it now?

A. I think there are some issues in the 2009 agreement that those who sat down to do the negotiations did not think through well enough. There are certain things they themselves know and agreed that you cannot implement. How, for instance, can you say that assets of government should be transferred to the universities. Government doesn’t take care of universities alone, so if we transfer assets of government to the universities, what of the armed forces and others?

Q. Why is it difficult to be faithful to some of those things that you agreed with because that is the crux of this matter?

A. We are faithful. This particular strike is beyond the 2009 agreement. I don’t think the issue is the 2009 agreement. Because we have agreed on all the core issues in the 2009 agreement apart from the ones that talked about transferring assets of government. You can’t do that. I don’t know how that got into the so called agreement.

Q. Why can’t we start from somewhere, solving the basic problems to kick start a resolution?

A. Okay what do you think is the key problem that has made them not to call of the strike?

Q. For instance the issue of quality of classroom infrastructure?

A. That is what I just told you. It is not right for them to say that that is the key thing.  I am telling you that the government was not forced into that but we, on our own, decided to set-up a team to go and take inventory of the infrastructure. Even if you have all the money in the world now, you cannot change things overnight. We are releasing N100 billion to start with.  Let us progress. That N100 Billion is extra, outside the line budgeting. This is the first time we are approaching the problem with very serious commitment.

Q. Mr. President, quite a number of tweets are coming in to us and a number of them are asking questions which are on ASUU. How do you intend to put an end to this deadlock and get the students back to classes?

A. The members of ASUU are our own people, our brothers and sisters. They are our friends. We will continue to appeal to them to reconsider their stance and go back to work. They should consider the plight of the young men and women in the universities. And they should look at the commitment of government. We have been quite transparent and we have been very sincere. My commitment to make positive changes is total but we can’t do everything overnight. So ASUU should not insist that except we close down other departments of government and bring all the earnings of government and solve the problems in our universities overnight, they will not go back to work. That will be unpatriotic.

Q. Mr. President, it is you that was elected, we didn’t elect ASUU. So we look up to you to solve the problem of Nigerians.

A. That is what we are saying. Why should a lecturer in a state- owned university go on strike if Mr. President has done something wrong? The state universities are owned by the states. These are questions we must ask ourselves and we must begin to look at our labour laws because of excesses. Why should lecturers in a state owned university go on strike if Mr President is not doing well? In a country where we talk about a federal system, where the states are semi-autonomous components of the federal system, where the President does not control the resources of the state. Why should what happens at the centre affect the universities at the state level?

Q. Is that why you said earlier on that there is politics in all of this? I wonder what politics has got to do with it?


A. Well I won’t comment on that. There is politics everywhere.

Q. Mr. President, the shortfall in revenue allocation seems to be a big challenge to this government. Some opposition members claim that this administration, this government is bankrupt.

A. And of course last month they said they were not going to collect their money. It is not because we never had enough money for August or for September. No. But they said that some outstanding amount must be brought. It is not because we didn’t earn enough money to pay, but when they walked out from FAAC, no money was remitted to their states, so they couldn’t pay salaries. That does not mean that the government is broke. If government is broke, there are parameters you use in knowing. For you to come out and say Nigeria is broke, you must tell Nigerians what yardsticks you used. Even if the federal government does not pay salaries at the time salaries were supposed to be paid, that does not automatically mean the federal government is broke. There could be delays in some revenue arrangements. So making that kind of statement is quite unfortunate. We should be mindful of what we say, especially when we are making statements about your own country. No matter your political interest, you must place your country first. You must show some kind of patriotism.

Q. Is there no better way of fulfilling the requirements of the constitution in sharing revenue that accrues to the federation account without these monthly meetings and arguments?

A. FAAC  has been established. If you stop it, people will raise a number of issues. I agree that not every country has that kind of arrangement. We earn money. We know the figure. We have revenue-sharing formula. So ordinarily you don’t need these meetings. Before, FAAC used to be rotated from state to state. Now, everything is being done in Abuja. But I feel that if states get what is lower than their expectation, they can raise an objection. So they don’t really need a gathering where people will begin to protest as if we are in a secondary school. But those are some of the problems of developing societies that we have to contend with.
Q. Your Excellency, why is the country still battling to secure her oil from massive theft?

A. Unfortunately, we get our oil from all kinds of areas – on land, in the swamps, in the creek and offshore. It is easier to protect oil assets that are offshore. That is why most of the major oil companies are selling their assets onshore and moving offshore. Stealing of crude oil didn’t start today. It started long ago and it started on a very small scale. If government at that time had been able to clamp down on it, it would have been easier for us to deal with. But we allowed it to stay for a very long time, to the extent that Nigerians and non- Nigerians have now invested in the business and made it a big business.

But I assure Nigerians that we are doing everything to bring it under control. Just like the issue of Boko Haram. Boko Haram didn’t start in the last three years. Sometimes people talk about Boko Haram as if Jonathan is the cause of Boko Haram. I was the Vice President when Yusuf was killed, the so called founder of Boko Haram. And he was there before 2009. But it was not handled properly at the beginning. They allowed it to grow into a cancer and become terrible like crude oil stealing. But I assure Nigerians that we will bring it under control. It is a major challenge, but we are working day and night to overcome it.

Q. Our main worry is that you said this some years ago and you are still saying it right now.

A. It is not something you use a magic wand to wave off. I have told you that the level of interest within and outside the country is massive. But we are trying and are bringing it under control. What we are doing is to build a good security architecture that can confront it.  We must have a superior monitoring and intervention system which we are building. It is not something you do with a N100 billion. It is much more than that. It needs a lot of money but we will get there.

Q. Mr. President, many have argued that part of the problem of oil theft in Nigeria is the lackadaisical attitude of the security operatives. How do you intend to tackle that before you talk about doing other things?

A. Those are all the things we are tightening up. We meet very regularly now. We have different committees. Now even the states, at the level of the governors, have formed a committee to complement what the federal government is doing. I have just told you that we are changing our security architecture in terms of monitoring our pipelines and preventing the stealing of the crude oil. A lot of arrests have been made recently. It is not everything that is advertised. People have been prosecuted. So the way we are going, we will continue to bring it down and definitely we will get to the end.

Q. Some of the frustrations that the public expresses over this situation is their belief that many of the Nigerians that are involved in this business are highly-placed people. What is your reaction to that?

A. I agree with you. Crude oil stealing is not done by poor people. Because,  you need a vessel to lift the oil across the ocean to go and sell. And if you are to sell a stolen product abroad, you also need some connections because the refineries abroad don’t take crude oil from just anybody. We also plead with our friends who are heads of states outside Nigeria, in the West and the U.S.A., that they must also check their refineries. They must also help us. There is no reason why they should accept stolen crude oil from Nigeria. For you to sell stolen crude oil, that means that, even in the country that takes this crude oil, you must have a kind of cartel that will bring in the crude oil and pass it through their system to make it look like regularly imported crude oil. So it is not a business that a poor man will do. Senior people must be behind it, there’s no doubt about that. You may see some small boys going to blow pipelines to fix hose, those are just paid labourers. Those who are really behind it are senior people, very rich people. The poor people can just scoop little and pump a little for what you call their local refineries and get adulterated diesel that will damage engines. That is the best the poor people can do. But those who export the crude oil are not poor people.

Q.2015 is around the corner. Are you contesting in 2015?

A. We have laws in this country. The electoral laws give INEC the time to permit political parties and those who are interested in elections to begin to inform Nigerians, because if you do it earlier, you will destabilize government. So any President, whether it is Goodluck Jonathan or any other person, as long as you still have the opportunity to contest or not to contest, if you declare it too early, you create more problems in the system. If you say you are contesting, it creates more problems. So don’t force a President to declare his interest. It is not right. It is even against the electoral law. Even if is not a sitting president. If you now go and declare that you want to be a governor of your state, we will take you to court. You can’t go and declare. The electoral law has a time when political parties start their primaries. That is the time you are expected to declare your intentions. Whatever you were doing before is clandestine. You can tell your friends. A lot of people have been holding meetings silently.

Q. Sir, but your aides, very close aides of yours and senior ones go about mounting billboards all over the country and nobody has stopped them.

A. Billboards saying that I will contest elections or I will not contest elections? I have not seen them. I am hearing that for the first time. I will ask my security people to investigate. After the 2011 campaign, I directed that all billboards should be removed. If somebody, on his own,  has gone to put up billboards, I am hearing of it for the first time. When I leave here, I will definitely ask security operatives to find out.

Q. But would you like to contest again in 2015?

A. It is not yet time, my young sister. It is not yet time.

Q. Your silence, you must understand, is leaving room for a lot of negative speculations.

A. Speculations can be negative. They can also be positive.

Q. Many people out there believe that the political activities we see around these days are actually based on whether you will contest in 2015 or not.

A. Whether I am contesting or not shouldn’t be an issue in a normal society. If Mr A wants to be the next president of Nigeria, whether I am contesting or not, he will contest. My not declaring my interest does not stop him from preparing to contest. You don’t need to wait until Mr. Jonathan says I am not contesting an election. If you are interested, then go and be preparing. You don’t need to wait for me to say I am not contesting. Or, if you want to contest as a governor of a state now where a sitting governor still has the opportunity to contest. You don’t need to wait for the governor to say I am not contesting or I will contest. You go and prepare to contest. So if you want to contest you don’t need to come and say Jonathan must say whether he is contesting or not.

Q. Was there any time you signed or entered into an agreement that you are going to do only one term?

A. No. I have not signed agreement with anybody.

Q. Was there a gentleman’s agreement that after this tenure, you will not seek re-election?

A. With who?  If I signed agreement with anybody they would have shown you. Why are a lot of people misinforming Nigerians? I was in Addis Ababa. That is the time I advocated for a single tenure. I said that probably, if a president has a single tenure of 7 years, it will be more productive than the so called 8 years. And I said that if Nigerians agreed to that seven years tenure, which I believed will be more productive for the country, I may not even be involved so that people will know that I am sincere. I didn’t say Jonathan is not going to contest. I discussed that in the context of the single tenure that I was advocating at that time. But people say that I have signed an agreement. They should show you the agreement.

Q. Mr. President, you recently you sacked nine ministers. While some have applauded the fact that you have re-jigged your cabinet, some others have said that you could have done more. Maybe start from around yourself.

A. Maybe I should sack myself?

Q. Definitely not. Their thinking is that there are people around you that they feel you should have started from. Also, there is a bit of confusion about whether those people were sacked because of the belief that they have an alliance with the G-7 governors?

A. It has nothing to do with G-7 governors. If you look at the ministers that were dropped, some of them are even from the states where the governors are perceived to be very close to me. What of Akwa Ibom? That minister was recommended to me by Akpabio.

Q. It was said that he fell out with him.

A. I don’t know of that. What of my Vice President’s minister? The former Minister of Environment from Kaduna State. Did she fall out with the Vice President?

Q. Did she?

A. I am asking you. You see, government is sometimes like a football team. You have your eleven players. You are the technical adviser or the coach. After sometime, you look at the way the team is playing and you feel that you need to strengthen the strikers. You remove one and put another one in. If you think the pressure is on you, that you need to strengthen the defence, you replace somebody. It is not that the person you are removing is not doing well but sometimes, for some reasons, you will want to do things slightly differently to achieve better results. So reshuffling of cabinet is normal. It is not supposed to be an issue.

Q. Olumide is asking why were they sacked?

A. Olumide should be interested in how the government works. I always tell people that we are building institutions and not individuals. So if Mr. Bottle is there and he is serving Nigeria very well and I remove Mr. Bottle and place Mr. Lantern there and he serves Nigerians better; that is what Olumide should be interested in. He should not be asking me why. It is not right. If a minister commits an offence, I can tell Nigerians that he has done this or has done that. But if the minister does not commit any offence and you just feel that he should be replaced, you don’t need to rationalize it.

Q. After the last substantive Defence Minister resigned or was sacked, people expected that given the enormous security challenges posed by Boko Haram and others, you should have moved to quickly fill that position. Why has it taken so long?

A. A number of people talk out of ignorance. Those who handle defence issues are the four service chiefs. Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, Chief of Air Staff. Being a service chief is a prestigious posting because that is the ultimate for a military man. But the day you are to be dropped, the President will invite you to his office, chat with you, and as you leave his office, a replacement has been announced because there is no provision for a gap. There is no way you leave a gap in the appointment of service chiefs. But you can do away with a Minister of Defence.

Q. Sir, let’s look at security issues. I am sure of course you have been following reports from Kenya where there was a four day siege at the Westgate Mall which killed about 67 people. What are you going to tell Nigerians right now about the security situation?

A. I started this conversation from the security perspective. If you look at the excesses of Boko Haram, Boko Haram was there before I even came in as a Vice President. But the excesses started with bombing of the mammy market in Abuja. After that the UN building was bombed in Abuja. Then, the police head quarters was also bombed in Abuja. At that time, we never had security architecture to really monitor and confront it. But we quickly built up capacity in all aspects and you will agree with me that you have never heard of bombings in Abuja again. I am not God so I cannot say it will never happen but what I can promise Nigeria is that within the limits of human competence, we will continue to do our best. I told you that immediately after Sunday service today, because of what happened in Yobe, I had a little security council meeting even before coming here. I told the security chiefs that they may need to change tactics to make sure that these embarrassing attacks are brought to under control. No President in this world will come and tell you that I don’t expect any criminal activity in my country. It is not possible. Except you are claiming the powers of God.

Q. Mr. President, you declared states of emergencies in Adamawa, Yobe and Maiduguri. The tension eased for sometime but there has been series of attacks again in the last three weeks.

A. That is one of the reasons we had to meet. I agree with you that after the state of emergency, it calm down a little but now issues are coming up again. So we need to be focused. We need to do things differently.  And I have asked the relevant actors to do what is right. I cannot say more than that. Security issues are not issues you over advertise. But we will be working harder.

Q. About one and half week ago in Gudu district, Abuja, 10 Nigerians were killed and there are various stories on what exactly happened. I am sure you have the information. Can you tell Nigerians what exactly happened?

A. I have been briefed about that. People have made confessional statements. When there are confrontation between security operatives and criminals in places where people live, one or two people who may not be criminals may be affected. Some innocent persons may have been affected in the exchange of fire but definitely Boko haram elements were involved. Terrorists have all kind of linkages. The feeling was that in September they were going to bomb many cities across the world to commemorate 9/11, and it has happened in other parts of the world. What happened in Nairobi is even being linked to that. People attempted to also bomb Abuja within September and some of the people that were arrested confessed. In fact they were leading the security operatives to where they suspected that arms were kept only for people to open fire on them. Of course, they had to return fire. Some people died in the process. I cannot say clearly that all the people who died are Boko haram but definitely there were Boko haram elements who had a confrontation with the security people.

Q. You once said that Boko Haram elements have permeated your government. Do you still stand by that?

A. Yes I said that. But if you follow the recent trends you should know that recently something happened in Nasarawa State where a police officer sold information to a criminal gang. There are also cases where some soldiers have been court-martialed for leaking information. In Borno State,  a Senator is being prosecuted. A judge from Kano state had to be retired. These are all government functionaries. When I said that, it was not as if the whole government is infiltrated by Boko haram. But there are examples in the judiciary, in the National Assembly and in the security services.

Q. Mr. President, where does your government stand in revamping the power sector?

A. We are not talking about 4000 megawatts or 5000 megawatts, definitely not. I can tell you that starting from the week we are entering now to the first quarter of next year most of the NIPP generating companies will be ready for commissioning. I will be commissioning them and you will be listening to the speeches I make. You can aggregate all. But we are not too keen about telling Nigerian about megawatts. Nigerians don’t want to hear about megawatts. Megawatts are not the issue because if you generate and you don’t have the capacity to evacuate, then you have done nothing. Our transmission infrastructure has been quite weak. As at the time we were talking about megawatts, we couldn’t have transmitted more than 5500 mega watts but we are now working on the whole chain. With the privatization of the gencos and discos, and using Manitoba to manage our transmission infrastructure, we will be able to provide adequate power for Nigerians. How many hours do the people living in Lagos have power? How many hours do people living in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano, Maiduguri, Yobe and so on have power? That is our interest. It is not to declare I am generating 5000 megawatts. If you are generating 15000 megawatts and the people don’t see the power, what have you achieved?

Q. Mr. President, Government seems to be concentrating only thermal and hydro-power. Why are we not exploring wind and solar energy in this country?

A. Yes in every country you would want to use green energy, wind energy, solar energy. We are using solar energy a lot. If you travel, you will see a lot of solar-powered street lights but the solar technology is still limited. That is why all over the world people are still using thermal, gas and sometimes coal. We are also going into the use of coal. Hydro is a renewable source of energy. In fact Hydro is the ultimate. Countries that have enough hydro-power are blessed. It is costly to build the dam but once you finished building the dam, maintaining the turbines costs much less and rain falls every year so water must constantly enter your dam and drive your turbines. But we don’t have enough hydro-power. The use of solar technology is improving every day. I remember when I was a deputy governor in Bayelsa state. When we installed our solar lights; in the evening, it’s so bright, but by 5 am when you come out they are gone because the batteries couldn’t store enough power to carry those street lights the whole night. So by 4 am, 5 am when you go out everywhere is in darkness but the technology has improved significantly.

Q. The trend all over the world is reducing the cost of running government but in Nigeria we have a kind of duplicity in appointments. We have a minister, a minister has special adviser, and the special adviser has a special assistant and so on and so forth. What are you doing about this because it is part of the problem?

A. When you talk about the cost of running government, we are doing very well in terms of that. Recently we did a review of government parastatals. We wanted to shrink them more than we did but after the review, we still allowed some to stay. Sometimes people complain so much about political appointees as if that is the greatest problem we have in running the government. But when you aggregate the total salaries of political appointees, it is not as much as people seem to believe. Even if you want to run government as a modern business, there must be a proper balance. If for example you are a minister, for you to function efficiently, you must have people that are competent to help you. For you to function effectively as a President, you need a number of people that will do a lot of jobs. That is why I always say that if you build strong institutions, even if the president is sick for one month, you will not even know. The system runs because every aspect of government is manned by an officer of government that will do his work. So it is not SSAs and SAs that are our problem in this country. Definitely not.

Q. But you set up the Steve Orosanye committee?

A. But that has to do with the parastatals. Not aides of the President or aides of the Vice President or aides of ministers or aides of governors. But parastatals have a lot of overheads and of course capital expenditures. So if there are parastatals  that are doing similar things, we felt that they can be merged to save costs. But the people in labour were a bit apprehensive. We don’t have a social security system where people get minimum pay. In fact,  I even asked the minister of planning to take an inventory of how many unemployed people or extremely under-employed people we actually have. While we continue to pursue efforts to create more jobs, I wanted to find out whether it will be possible to for us to pay any little amount to those who remain unemployed and how we can go about that. They are still working on it and the report is not yet ready. You must see the figures before you can make any kind of commitment as a President otherwise you will go and put yourself into the ASUU strike situation and they will say that the President agreed to do this and he has refused to do it.

Q. Mr. President in spite of the fact that President Obama actually praised our business terrain, the real problem the international community has against us is corruption. They say it is business as usual here and some critics at home say that there is not much to suggest that you are winning the war against corruption. Are you really winning this war?

A. When you talk about corruption, perception is often different from reality. It is said that if you say the wrong thing a thousand times it becomes truth. So, if every journalist who wants to talk says that the problem of Nigeria is corruption, if every member of civil society who wants to say something says the problem of Nigeria is corruption, if all our clergy, whether Christian or Muslim, who want to talk, either at a wedding ceremony or burials, talks about corruption, the feeling is that corruption is our number one problem. There was a time we invited civil society people and asked them to list in order of importance the factors that, in their opinion, were hindering Nigeria’s progress. Corruption was not number one, not even number two on any of their lists. The Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance also told me about a study by the World Bank in which they asked people about the challenges of doing business in Nigeria and corruption ranked third.

Q. What were the first and second, Mr. President?

A. When you leave here, ask the finance minister. I know one of the key things was access to finance. I think access to infrastructure is also there, especially power and so on. I am not saying that corruption is not there. Don’t misquote me. I am not saying we don’t have issues of corruption but that is not our number one problem. Sometimes people take common stealing as corruption. A thief is a thief. When you steal money you are a thief. But what we are doing is to make sure that you don’t expose public money for anybody to steal. We have done that in agric sector. The issue of fertilizer procurement was an area in which billions of Naira was wasted every year. The fertilizer was not getting to the farmers. Even the one that got to the farmers used to be adulterated with sand. I have stopped that by using the electronics wallet. We started in the petroleum sector also, although, later, the National Assembly took it on and held all kinds of probes. But even before the National Assembly started its probes, we were already working on corruption in the sector. In fact, deregulation was to completely get us out of that situation but people resisted it. That is why I am amazed when some people say those who are involved in petroleum subsidy scam were those who funded Jonathan’s election. If they funded my elections and I want them to fund my election again will I want to remove subsidy? No. I will continue with it so that they continue to fund my election or whoever I want to support. So what I am saying is that we are more interested in making sure that there is no free money for anybody to steal. I am not a lawyer but what I was told is that it is better for ten criminals to get away than for one innocent man to be punished. So if you go to court, they say you have to prove something beyond reasonable doubt. And if you have a smart lawyer, you can steal billions, hire the best lawyer and get away with it. So I called a meeting. I said, look everybody talks about corruption in Nigeria, the courts must help because matters are going to court and until people are convicted, people will continue to steal. If you steal one billion Naira and you can use N100 million to get yourself out of trouble, you will continue to do it. I set up a committee where myself, the Vice President, heads of the agencies that handle corruption issues, ICPC, EFCC, then the senate president, the speaker, the chief justice of the federation, president of the appeal court and one chief judge from each of the six geo-political zones have been meeting regularly to see how the judiciary, the legislature and the executive can come together to tackle corruption more aggressively.

Q. There is this perception that those who can steal big and have enough money to hire SANs, can get away with it. Is that not a major problem?

A. That is why I initiated that meeting because as a President you cannot gag the judiciary. If you do that the country will be in danger. You must allow the judiciary to be independent. The constitution makes it very clear. There are some countries where there is a lot of presidential influence on the judiciary but when you do that, yes it will help you in solving some problems like we are talking about corruption now, but it could backfire in other areas. So I will not advocate that the President should control the judiciary. But the meeting is to make sure that they, on their own, begin to see the best way to do it. A number of judges are being disciplined but nobody talks about that. In Nigeria you hardly heard about a judge being sanctioned. It used to happen once in a blue moon but now it is more regular. I believe that if they continue the way they are going, some of the so called big people who have stolen big money will pay for it.

Q. Noah Olutunde says, agreed that Boko Haram has international scope. How about Ombatse cult in Nasarawa and the Jos crises?
A.The only thing is that the issues have different dimensions. The issue of Boko Haram became most worrisome because of the terrorist tactics they are using. If you take the Plateau crises, it is more of ethnic rivalry. Ownership of land. Who owns land there? Who controls the kingdom? Is it the Berom people or the group they call settlers? These are the issues. So you can deal with them. You can have some reasonable control. Whether they call somebody a settler or not, they are living there. When there is crises, you know those who are involved. But that of Boko Haram is different. What happened in Nasarawa State is quite worrisome. I always say whether somebody is a criminal, whether he is Boko Haram or he is a cult member, he is a Nigerian. My duty as President is to make sure that these people change and live a decent life. For anybody that dies, whether he is a Boko Haram person, whether he is a cult member or whatever, I feel pained because it is a Nigerian that died.

Q. Tony Balogun said if political campaign is a crime at this time why should Asari’s double statement concerning your 2015 victory be disregarded?

A. When you quote people, I cannot speak for people. That is the problem I have. Whatever anybody says, negative or positive is on me. But I believe and I still say that it is very wrong for anybody to talk about whether anybody should contest election or not especially at the level of a governor of a state or a president of a country. It destabilizes the system. I was involved in elections from 1999 till now. Eight years in Bayelsa State and of course some years at the centre here. So I know what I am talking about. When I was to contest the Vice President’s seat, the state was in trouble. I was always in Abuja travelling. It is not the best. In periods of campaign, governors, the president and everybody thinks about campaign. Development issues are kept aside. So it is not good to start too early. Media people should always condemn people who want presidents or governors to declare too early. I am in fact giving you that as an assignment.

Q. Is that the reason why you want speculation to go on however negative or positive?

A. Speculation is part of life. People will always speculate. So allow those who will speculate to speculate. But I am saying it with all seriousness. I am not playing politics with it. If today you want to contest as a senator, you know somebody is there. You don’t need to wait until that senator says I am not contesting before you prepare.

Q. Onyemakono Charles wants to know if Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau dead? If yes, why didn’t Nigerians see his body?

A. I don’t know whether he is dead or alive. I don’t know him. I have not seen him and I don’t know whether he is dead or alive.

Q. You don’t have information on him?

A. You cannot have clear information on most of these operatives. I am telling you that I, as the President, don’t know whether he is dead or he is alive. I think our sister just talked about speculation. Everything is based on speculation. You journalists would even know more than us because some of you always talk to them. Some journalists always talk to Boko Haram leaders and report about them.

Q. Mr. President, your Federal Executive Council appears to have become a massive contract awarding outfit. What has become of the tenders’ boards?

A. You have different levels of tenders’ boards. At the ministerial level, you have tenders board. What is practiced at the center, as at the we time took over, is that for major contracts, beyond the ministerial tenders board, the ministries still handles them, but they require the endorsement of the federal executive council. So when a ministry, let us say Ministry of Works,  has contract to award, the other ministers from across the country will also have an idea on how you spread these projects. Sometimes the minister himself will not be so informed about a particular thing. The minister from that state will know. So when it is being discussed, we listen to the minister from the state who will give us detailed information that will help us take a decision. So there is absolutely nothing wrong in the Federal Executive Council approving contracts but it is not the only thing the Federal Executive Council does. We discuss policy issues and we are not sidelining other responsibilities of the Federal Executive Council. Those who think that the Federal Executive Council should not have anything to do with contracts are wrong. Some people feel the President should not even know about contracts awards. So as the President of the country who, as you rightly said, if anything happens it is on my head; you want to award a contract of one billion dollars and the president should not know about it? One director will award a contract of one billion dollars and when there are problems, it is the President journalists like you will ask: Mr. President why should this thing happen? How will I answer?

Q. Nigerians are pointing a lot of fingers at the Petroleum Ministry. Are you satisfied with what is going on in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources?

A. The bulk of our income comes from petroleum so everybody’s eyes are on petroleum. When you are heading a sector on which everybody has their eyes – all those who want oil blocks, all those who want marginal fields, all those who want to lift oil, all those who want to get products and so on – whether you go to the left or you go to the right, some people will criticize you. I told you already that even before the House of Representatives set up their committee, saying they are probing, we did a number of in-house things and we are still doing it now. So most of the stories you hear are based on perception and assumptions. Nobody has sat down to do proper analysis. And I always tell people that it is not what you think that is right. During Babangida’s time, somebody I loved so much, late Tai Solarin, raised one alarm. He was called and asked how did you get the information? He said he heard it on a Molue. So we are saying that some of the stories that people are peddling are just like the Molue stories. On the issue of the House of Representatives, we set up a team. The team was headed by Aig Imuokhuede. They did forensic analysis and so on. Initially, the impression we were given was that we were going to get up to N400 billion back. At the end of the day, the recoveries were quite insignificant compared to what was speculated and what was rumoured.  What we pay for subsidy has dropped significantly because we moved from N65 to N97 per litre. While we were paying almost two trillion or thereabouts as subsidy, now we are paying less than a trillion. It is not because of that probe per se. If we did not reduce the subsidy, we would still have been paying almost the same amount. I am not saying there is no corruption in the oil sector. All kinds of things may be happening but the way people are looking at it may not be exactly the way it is. And we are still looking at it. Even recently we have asked another audit group to also look into issues of revenue in the oil sector.

Q. Just quickly sir, are you pleased with the PIB bill still being pushed about in the National Assembly at a very slow pace given the significance of that bill to petroleum sector? In addition to that, Nigeria is celebrating its 53rd anniversary on Tuesday and the designer of the Nigerian flag, Taiwo Akinkunmi is living in abject poverty. What do you do with some of Nigeria’s heroes that are still living and what do you say to Nigerians as they celebrate the 53rd anniversary?

A. Of course the PIB is before the National Assembly. They are patriotic Nigerians and I believe they will do their best. I don’t want to comment too much on that because it is with another arm of government. But I will use this opportunity to congratulate Nigerians for our 53rd anniversary. We have ups and downs. We have challenges as a nation but definitely we will get to where we want to go. Other nations that got to where they are now, passed through challenges too. It has never been an easy ride for any nation. So Nigeria will get to where we want to go. As for heroes of the nation, this government is one government that really appreciates contributions to the nation. You remember that when we celebrated our 50th independence anniversary, we selected 50 Nigerians and gave them presidential awards. In fact we want to gazette it and institutionalize it just like the GCFR, GCON, MFR and so on. I told the Attorney General to do that. For this person who is still alive, it is good you have reminded us. We will see what we can do.

- See more at: http://www.reubenabati.com.ng/FULL-TRANSCRIPT-OF-THE-5th-PRESIDENTIAL.html#sthash.ZWsRWHKk.nOGwG1mi.dpuf

 

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