President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and General Muhammadu Buhari, former head of state and presidential candidate of the opposition All Progressives Party, APC, start their campaign in Lagos and Port Harcourt, respectively, to get votes at the coming presidential election slated for February 14
| By Olu Ojewale | Jan. 19, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
WITH about one month to the Nigerian general elections, the political temperature in the country is getting warmer. As expected, the two major political parties in the country have taken the centre stage with their presidential candidates hitting the road running to canvass for votes. President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, started his re-election campaign at Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos, where he addressed a mammoth crowd of supporters who thronged the campaign venue on Thursday, January 8 for the event. His main challenger, General Muhammadu Buhari, former head of state and presidential candidate of the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, was first to flag off his presidential campaign in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on Tuesday, January 6, where he also addressed party supporters and electorate.
Since the formal start-off, the two gladiators have been trying to sell their programmes and convince Nigerians they should be voted for in the February 14, presidential election. In his about 30 minutes address, President Jonathan took a jive at his opponent that he would not fight corruption by arresting and putting people in crates. This, apparently, was a reference to an attempt by Buhari, as the former head of state to deport the late Umaru Dikko, former minister of Transport in the President Shehu Shagari regime, from Britain through an illegal means in 1984.
Apart from that, Jonathan’s speech was more like reactions to criticisms of his government by some members of the opposition. Although he did not mention names, it was obvious that the president was talking about Buhari when he said: “They said they will start fighting corruption after they have crossed the bridge. And only two days ago, somebody stood in Port Harcourt, Rivers State and said he would catch people that steal and throw them in Kirikiri (prison). I agree that we must stop corruption but I will not do so by catching people and putting them in crates and jailing or killing them. We can’t stop corruption that way.” He argued that the opposition was only interested in using the fight against corruption to lock up political enemies.
In the same breath, the president blamed the past leaders for the level corruption had reached in the country saying, “If they had succeeded in fighting corruption, corruption would not have been with us today. If they had set up structures to manage resources, in this ICT era, we would not have been talking about corruption today.”
Jonathan said his administration was more interested in plugging the loopholes that gave room to corruption than going after corrupt government officials. He said his administration had been able to curb corruption in the civil service and agricultural sector through computerisation of payment system. He said it was the same computerisation measure that shut down the system when it suspected some fraud that led to the delay in payment of December salaries of civil servants. He said, “I apologise to those families that suffered because I believe that for you to fight corruption, you must take some measures such as establishing institutions… What happened on the issue of civil servants is something known as IPIS which is a software for protecting salaries. Sometimes people steal salaries in some federal government agencies and ministries. They tried to divert funds meant for some allowances but since the system is scientific, it shut down. This is the only way that you can prevent corruption.”
The president said during his service as deputy governor and governor of Bayelsa State for eight years and then vice president and president for another four years he got to know that fertiliser distribution was an area where both the federal and state governments spent billions of naira without corresponding result. In fact, he said that less than 10 percent of the product got to farmers while the rest was stolen and sent out of the country, while remaining less than 10 percent was sometimes adulterated. He said the situation prompted his government to assemble young Nigerians who developed the electronic wallet, through which farmers were able to get fertiliser directly. He thus asked rhetorically: “Is that not a way to stop corruption? If somebody tells you that the best way to fight corruption is to come and arrest your mother and father and show them on television, will that stop corruption? In fact, it will even encourage corruption. We are shooting armed robbers but is that stopping them? So, arresting people and showing them on television sets will do nothing. We must set up institutions and strengthen them in order to prevent people from stealing public money. That is what we are working on and we are succeeding.”
He warned that the country would become a jungle if those who did not believe in the rule of law were allowed to take over governance. “Any country that does not obey the rule of law is a jungle. Do you want Nigeria to be a jungle?”
On the issue of security, Jonathan said past Nigerian heads of state including Buhari could not be absolved from the blame because they contributed to it by failing to invest in the military when they were in government. “These people did not buy anything; they refused to equip the military and there were no helicopters; nothing. Ask them what they did with their defence budgets and the whole time they could not equip the military.” Thus, he said when the insurgence started there was no enough equipment on ground to tackle the problem very quickly.
He maintained that $10billion was not enough to buy equipment for the military as it usually took years to boost its capacity. However, he claimed to have been able to curb corruption in the armed forces by eliminating middlemen in the purchase of arms. “They said the military is corrupt. When this insecurity started, we had nothing so to tackle it very quickly, we used vendors to get equipment. But now, we are doing government to government arrangement and so there is nothing like corruption anymore. Is that not the way to fight corruption? You must prevent people from touching public money,” he said.
Jonathan said since his generation had failed Nigeria, it was imperative for the Nigerian youths to vote for those who would invest in their future. He admonished: “Those of my age and above are finished; we are gone. That is why I am addressing those of you that are voting for the first time. We believe it is you that will take us to the moon. My generation has failed; we couldn’t take Nigeria to the moon.
The president said that his government had been dubbed as weak and had no plan. Defending his style of administration, said: “I came in with Yar’Adua (the late Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua) and he advocated for due process. So, I stand by due process. Any country that does not obey the rule of law is a jungle. They said we do not plan and our economy is now the biggest in Africa. Without plan can we achieve it?
“Our trains were not moving for many years but now most of them are moving. Can we achieve that without planning? We have been able to conclude the privatisation of the power sector and our generating capacity is almost doubled. Can you do that without planning?
“The government feels that Nigerians are very dynamic people. Very creative and industrious but most of them do not have money. Having in mind that we are almost 200 million people and we cannot carry everybody at once, we came up with the You-Win concept to give grants to young Nigerians to manufacture things and in the next few years, they will be exporting their products.
“Can you do that without planning? And they say we have no plans for the country. They should come and tell us the plan they have for Nigeria,” he said.
On his achievement in the education sector, Jonathan said he created 12 federal universities – one in each of the states that had non – adding that he built Almajiri schools to give dropouts in the North the opportunity to be educated.
On the report that Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, MEND, had just endorsed Buhari for president, he said: “I read in the newspaper that MEND has dumped Jonathan. I am from the Niger Delta, the leader of MEND is one Okah who is in South African prison. South Africa is not Nigeria else people would have said the president influenced it.
“Okah is in a South African prison because on October 1, 2010, when we were to celebrate our Golden Independence, he was procured by some Nigerians to assassinate me and Okah bombed Abuja. Their plan was to assassinate me but intelligence investigation from South African Intelligence and Nigeria Intelligence systems roped him in while planning to assassinate me. He is now in jail in South Africa and they say ‘MEND dumps Jonathan’. Will Okah that wanted to assassinate Jonathan support Jonathan? And I am told that Okah is supporting some people. I am told that Okah, in a South African prison for killing Nigerians, is supporting some people. Count me out.”
Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State, who spoke at the occasion described President Jonathan as the most criticised, abused and insulted leader in this country. Mimiko, who is the Southwest co-ordinator of the PDP Presidential Campaign Committee, said notwithstanding the unwarranted attacks, Nigerians across the country could still feel the impact of his administration in agriculture, power, education, and resuscitation of rail system.
Ahmadu Ali, chairman, PDP National Campaign Committee, seemed to have stirred controversy when he said the PDP was actually the agent of change. “We fought for democracy when others fled the country. We have remained in power for 16 consecutive years stressing that that is the more reason why Nigerians should vote for PDP in February,” he said.
On his part, Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State and chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, said the nation would be better under Jonathan if re-elected on February 14. His re-election, he said, would enable him consolidate on his achievements. “We cannot afford to hand-over power to those who will send us to prison. Jonathan is a democrat, Nigerians should let him continue in office,” Akpabio said.
Vice President Namadi Sambo thanked the people of Lagos for hosting the take-off of the party’s national campaign. He assured that the PDP administration would introduce more poverty alleviation programmes if re-elected.
The highlight of the event was the presentation of flags to President Jonathan as the PDP presidential candidate and all governorship candidates. Jimi Agbaje, Lagos PDP governorship candidate, said he and other governorship candidates would work for the party’s success at the poll.
At his own presidential flag-off campaign at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium in Port Harcourt, Buhari, in his short speech, said he would transform Nigeria’s ailing economy when elected and would provide jobs for the masses of Nigerians. He also pledged to tackle insecurity in the North-East caused by the Boko Haram sect.
He said: “The fundamental issues facing this country are insecurity and the problem of economy which was being made worse by corruption. I assure you that we are going to finally assemble a competent team of Nigerians to efficiently manage the country. I am appealing to you, the damage done to this country is great. The level of unemployment, level of insecurity is intolerable. The journey has begun. It will take time, it will take patience, it will take support from you to make sure that we succeed.” He did not elaborate, but assured Nigerians that he would not hesitate to prosecute anyone found to be corrupt in his administration. He appealed to the APC supporters to go and collect their permanent voters’ cards and ensure that votes count in February elections.
He thanked Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State for being the director-general of his campaign organisation. Governor Amaechi who narrated the story of how God made him governor said change was necessary in the country. He said change in Nigeria would come through the APC presidential candidate and urged the party supporters to vote for Buhari.
He also said he would stand by Rivers people in charting a course for the state’s political future, stressing that he would not disappoint them.
“Today, I am governor by the grace of God. Today, I have stayed in office till 2015. By this time last year, those who thought they were God thought we would have been out of office. By this time last year, men had collected money to remove us from office but the God we worship never allowed it to happen. Now they are the people struggling. We told them that there will be a time like this, when they will be looking for our votes. Now I want to thank all of you and thank Rivers people for accepting to make me your governor.
“You will agree that when we came, we addressed insecurity. You agree that in the past we could not have had our rally here. We are gradually going back to that. I hear today that members of the APC from Asari-Toru local government area and from Khana were shot at on their way to this place. The PDP believes in gun, we believe in God and man. The argument we have put forward is that currently the government in power cannot protect you and I. If the government could protect you and I, why were they shot at, who brought guns for those people who shot at our members?
“Today is not my day. Today is the day of General Muhammadu Buhari and Professor Osibanjo. It’s their turn to tell you what they will do for Nigerians. All I will assure you is that as your governor, I will continue to stand by you.”
Also speaking, Aminu Tambuwal, speaker of the House of Representatives, said he defected from the ruling PDP to the opposition APC for the progress of the country and because the Jonathan administration was not serious about government business. “When I defected to the APC, many people were surprised and asked how can I leave a ruling party to an opposition party. On the privileged position of the speaker of the House of Representatives that I presided over for three and half years, we oversighted the current government and what we saw and what we are still seeing is mind-boggling and from the information available to us, we don’t deserve the current type of leadership that we have at the centre and Nigeria deserves better leadership and by the grace of God and it will be exemplified by General Muhammadu Buhari. His records speak for him,” Tambuwal said.
John Odigie-Oyegun, national chairman of the APC, on his part, applauded the choice of Buhari as the APC presidential candidate, saying that Buhari was deliberately chosen to move the country forward. He reeled out General Buhari’s achievements to include his fight against corruption and indiscipline in Nigeria which he said during the Buhari administration sanitised most Nigerians.
“Train of change is setting out from Rivers State. Great people of Rivers State (and Nigeria) are you happy, who is your president – Buhari, the crowd chorused. Let me present to you the President-in-waiting in Federal Republic of Nigeria. Do you want electricity, do you want better security, do you want to wipe out corruption?
“Then, take a good look at General Buhari. He is as straight in character as his figure is in figurative terms. Take a look at his vice. These two people were deliberately chosen. Gen. Buhari was ahead of his time. His time has finally come. If you want corruption wiped out, who do you vote for? (Buhari, crowd chorused). If you want discipline in this country, who do you vote for? (Buhari, the crowd again chorused).”
On Thursday, January 8, Buhari was in Bayelsa, the state of President Jonathan, where he vowed to tackle the problems of environmental degradation in the Niger Delta region. The APC presidential candidate spoke at Samson Siasia Sports Complex, Yenagoa, promised that his presidency would embark on thorough cleaning and remediation of degraded Niger Delta environment in accordance with the recommended standard of the United Nations.
Buhari noted that the region and the state had been neglected for a long time with their means of livelihood which he identified as farming and fishing deprived them. He blamed the plight of the people on years of oil exploration and exploitation and lack of will by the government to enforce adequate cleaning and remediation of environment polluted by oil. “I am grateful to Bayelsa and I promise you that we will administer a corruption-free administration. Anybody who steals government money will be made to return it,” he said.
Timipre Sylva, former governor of Bayelsa State and the state’s leader of the APC, appealed to the electorate in the state to cast their votes without tribal sentiment, saying “a bad brother is not as good as good friend.” The former governor thus urged the people of the state to vote out the PDP.
“Bayelsa you are known to lead the way against oppression, against ineptitude. Today, we must take that leadership. Let us as Bayelsa people lead the rest of Nigeria to vote out the PDP. Today, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari is here in person and I want to assure you that I have gone to the east of this country, I have gone to the west. I have gone to the south and north of this country and I bring you good news. One assurance is that Gen. Buhari has won already,” Sylva said.
The governor who was denied a second term by the PDP national leadership, urged his people to vote for the winning team of the APC. “Go and tell your sisters at home. Go to the creeks of the state. In less than six weeks we will have the opportunity of exercising our fundamental human rights of voting. That opportunity we must use wisely. “This time you will use your hands to vote APC and Gen. Buhari into office and welcome prosperity into your home. You will welcome good governance into Nigeria once again,” he said.
Onyekachi Ubani, lawyer and former chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja branch, Lagos, said he was optimistic that the way the campaign was ongoing it would help voters to make up their mind on who to vote for. “But I am rather disappointed that President Jonathan’s speech was rather long and he did not address issues. Instead, he used the whole time responding to what people had said about him and his government. I think the best way to go on this campaign is to make it an issue-based and not to attack personality,” Ubani said on a radio programme on Friday.
Churchill Igbokwe, a public commentator, said it was a sad thing for the country to have a failure as president. “This is the first incumbent president to have publicly accepted that he is a failure, because when you say your generation, that includes you. Anyway, even if you didn’t tell us we know already,” Igbokwe said. However, he said Jonathan could still have the opportunity to rewrite the history if he would redeem his image by organising a free and fair election for the country.
On Buhari’s campaign train in Bayelsa State, Tope Johnson, a student, said the former head of state was just wasting his time in the state because the people of Niger Delta would not vote for him. Besides, if Buhari was really serious about fight against corruption, he should start with Sylva for his atrocity while he was Bayelsa State governor.
Interestingly, Jonathan and Buhari are not the only presidential candidates. Of the 26 registered parties, 11 presidential candidates are going to contest the presidential race. Other candidates with their running mates include Oluremi Sonaiya and Saidu Bobboi of the Kowa Party; Ambrose Albert and Haruna Shaba for the Hope Democratic Party; Ganiyu Galadima and Balarabe Ahmed of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, ACPN; Rafiu Salau and Clinton Cliff Akuchie on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy, AD, and Godson Okoye and Haruna Adamu, for the United Democratic Party, UDP.
The rest are Nani Ibrahim Ahmad and Obianuju Murphy-Uzohue of the African Democratic Congress; Martin Onovo and Ibrahim Mohammed of the National Conscience Party, NCP; Tunde Anifowoshe-Kelani and Paul Ishaka Ofomile for the Action Alliance and Chekwas Okorie and Bello Umar of the United Progressive Party.
Both the Labour Party, LP, and the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, have already adopted Jonathan as their candidate.