President Goodluck Jonathan has doused the tension resulting from the shift of general elections to March 28 and April 11 during his presidential media chat on Wednesday, February 11, by re-assuring Nigerians that the hand-over date of May 29 is sacrosanct irrespective of who wins the presidential election
| By Olu Ojewale | Feb. 23, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
IT WAS somewhat a damage control exercise. At a presidential media chat on Wednesday, February 11, President Goodluck Jonathan doused the tension in the polity by assuring Nigerians that his government was ready to hold a credible election and hand over to whoever wins March 28 presidential election. Jonathan, who assured the nation that the May 29 handover date remained sacrosanct in a live telecast, said that he was not planning to either prolong his tenure or rig election.
President Jonathan also dismissed the allegations that he planned to sack Attahiru Jega, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. He also addressed issues on security, corruption and characters of politicians among others.
Indeed, prior to shift of the polls from February 14 and 28 to March 28 and April 11, there were rumours that the president and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, were nursing an idea to prolong the president’s tenure through the backdoor. The rumours were given more impetus when former President Olusegun Obasanjo in far away Nairobi, Kenya, was quoted as saying: “I sincerely hope that the president is not going for broke and saying ‘look damn it, it’s either I have it or nobody has it.”
But Jonathan, who said such “insinuations and wrong information” were meant to discredit him by his political opponents, assured his audience that he was not desperate to remain in power. “Let me assure Nigerians that a new government will be formed on May 29. They should not be perturbed about rumours that we are planning to send Jega on a terminal leave and other rubbish that is being circulated.
“In 2011, I said I will conduct a free and fair election and that if I lose, I will happily move on and that it should be recorded. Then, I just concluded the late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s tenure. I said I will be happy to go if I lose. I said this nation is more important than anybody. Anyone who wants to hold the office of president and feels he is more important than the nation is not right.
“So, if as of 2011, I made a commitment that if I lose I will go, it should tell you more about my stand on free and fair elections. But now, Nigerians have given me the opportunity to be here for four good years and so if the elections are conducted and I lose, of course, we will inaugurate a new government.”
According to the president, the security situation which necessitated that the shift in elections dates was grave and the president said he was not going to take the risk of allowing the country to go in flames. “During the Council of State meeting, the issue of security was emphasised and there is no way security chiefs would have disclosed all the details to everybody but they disclosed some things to me which they did not mention to others. There are two aspects to the issue of insecurity. The first is Boko Haram and the second is the threat factor in the country.
“When the INEC picked the dates for elections, the threat level was not high until we started the campaign. So, it was important for the security chiefs to review the security architecture otherwise the country would have gone up in flames. In election, a lot of problems are involved. When the issue of PVC was being branded as a problem, the INEC, from what Jega mentioned that day, INEC clearly was not ready for the elections. They said they were ready but they were not,” Jonathan said.
“The day we held that meeting that led to this adjustment of dates, in Lagos for example, only about 38 percent of registered voters had their PVCs. That means if we conduct elections in Lagos, 62 per cent of voters would not have been able to vote. Don’t you think there are security implications in that? Some other states had slightly above 30 percent collection while some had 50 percent and there were some states that had 60 to 70 percent. The security agencies highlighted the security implications of this but ordinary people might not see it that way,” he said. Nevertheless, the president said Jega would remain in his post.
But the president described the allegations that he would direct Jega to proceed on compulsory leave as “stupid things”, adding: “It belongs to the garbage world.” He insisted: “I have not told anybody that I will remove Jega.” He said if there were reasons to remove Jega, he would rely on constitutional provisions that empower him to remove whoever he appoints.
“I appointed him. If I feel he is not doing well, there are constitutional provisions on how to remove him, but I have not even contemplated it,” he said, adding: “I have never thought about removing the INEC chairman, though I have the constitutional power to do so.” He agreed that those who were asking for Jega’s sack could be close to him but it was their own entire opinion that Jega should be removed from office.
Asked if he has confidence in Jega, he said he wished the INEC chairman were seated by his side to answer the question. “I wish Jega were here, I could have asked him to answer whether I have confidence in him. Yes, those who called for his sack may be close to me, but they express their own opinion. More than 80 percent of those who sponsor messages on our behalf we don’t even know them. People use the rescheduling of elections to misinform Nigerians,” Jonathan said. On the postponement of elections, the president said he was not consulted before the decision by the INEC was taken. He said people were not being fair to him by insinuating that the elections were postponed for sinister purposes.
Also, Jonathan expressed confidence that there would be improvement in the security situation in the North-East within six weeks, more so with the support of international troops fighting along with the Nigerian army. “Our neighbours were not too committed, but now Chad and Cameroun have moved in, so there will be no hiding place for Boko Haram,” he said. He said though he was not envisaging that Boko Haram insurgents would have been wiped out by then, he said the situation would have been so conducive to allow conduct of elections in the three troubled states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. “No one is saying they must wipe out Boko Haram completely, but what they want to do is to configure the security architecture,” he said.
On the Chibok schoolgirls, the president said: “I believe that in the next few weeks, the story will be better. We are working with our neighbours; we will comb the whole of that area. I am more hopeful now than before. It’s unfortunate that people play politics with the issue of Chibok girls. It’s not like that elsewhere. In other countries, political boundaries collapse in the face of terror attacks, not so in Nigeria.”
The president, however, did not give any guarantee that the girls would return alive. “About 200 girls were kidnapped over a period and you want the president to tell you they will be rescued alive. Of course, we will recover them alive. I’m not God, but as president, I’m more hopeful now than before because of maximum cooperation we are getting from other countries,” he said.
Jonathan used the medium to explain a statement credited to him that stealing is not corruption. He said he was in fact quoting Justice Dahiru Musdapher, a former chief justice of Nigeria, CJN. He said Musdapher explained to him that his analysis of corruption cases in Nigeria showed that most of such cases in the files before him were on mostly about stealing. He argued that referring to stealing as corruption would minimise the crime.
“Ole (thief in Yoruba) should be called ole and given that treatment. It is not actually my quotation. I quoted the former Chief Justice,” he said. The president insisted that many social vices were being wrongly referred to as corruption and cited an example that people could be easily isolated or lynched if they were called thieves rather than being referred to as being corrupt.
On his supporters who threaten that Nigeria would boil should Jonathan lose, the president said some people get carried away, adding: “We will make sure things are done so that nobody goes to war.”
Although a lot of Nigerians welcomed the president’s media chat, many of them said he dodged issues on threats by former Niger Delta militants, corruption and even the shifting in elections dates. For instance, Oludotun Onakoya, a public commentator, said the president’s way of answering questions could be likened to the dribbling of Maradona, former Argentine famous footballer. “The president was just dribbling and dodging. He did not answer most of the questions satisfactorily, which shows that the questions were tailor-made for the occasion,” Onakoya said.
Kayode Kolade, an information technology expert and social commentator, on his part picked holes in the president’s statement that he was not consulted before the shift in the dates of elections. Kolade said: “The president was not forthcoming enough. I was not impressed with the media chat.” Also, Onyekachi Ubani, a lawyer and former chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Ikeja Branch, Lagos, said the president could not say he was not briefed about the postponement because the decision to shift the elections dates were already on the internet by 2:00 pm on Saturday, February 7, several hours before Jega’s announcement. Ubani said the president was only trying to play smart to give impression that the INEC was truly independent. “The president has been going from churches to churches; let him just tell us the truth whether he was not aware of that shift about to be made,” he said.
The human right activist, however, appealed to Nigerians to channel their anger in a proper way by obtaining their PVCs and vote in the general elections. He also appealed for proper conduct and asked that the president should be believed to honour all the promises he made. He vowed: “If the president does renege on any of his promises, I will be one of those who will lead the campaign against him all over this country.”
Contrarily, Victor Okhai, a lawyer and social commentator, said he was impressed by the president’s media chat, adding that he appeared more relax and confident than when he appeared on campaign trips. Okhai also said he was confident that President Jonathan would honour all his promises. “I commend him because he answered more than 80 percent of questions I would have loved to put to him. Although he may not have answered the questions most satisfactorily according to some people, I don’t have any problem with him. His conduct was not only presidential, he has shown that he knows what he is doing and that he would want to take Nigeria to a greater level.” The lawyer would want the president to hold more of the media chats in future so that the nation would be better enlightened about programmes and achievements of the government.
The president similarly got kudos from Hadiza Labaran, a business woman based in Abuja. “Only a humble man with a good heart will speak in this manner in which our dear president has answered questions put to him. I sincerely believe that our president is humble and benevolent. He has the love of the nation at heart but I am sure the demons that combat him in politics are all out to frustrate all that he does. Why do we join men of low reputation as well as men who do not have the love of the nation at heart to say negative things about someone we should all encourage. This man is not all out to rule by all means. He has good intentions and he has proven that even though his intentions are good it is not a do-or-die affair. Don’t we all think that someone with this kind of heart and disposition is worth supporting? Let’s help the nation. Let’s help Goodluck Jonathan to succeed.”
In the same vein, Maryam Audu, a university undergraduate, expressed support for the president, saying he had done well with the media chat and should be encouraged. “He is a true democrat and kind hearted. We will surely vote for continuity,” Audu, the Kogi-born lady, said.