Nigeria: Insecurity My Biggest Challenge, Says Jonathan
By George Agba, Leadership (Abuja)
President Goodluck Jonathan admitted yesterday that growing insecurity caused by the gory activities of the Boko Haram sect and kidnapping activities in the south was his major challenge.
He, however, denied that there was any dialogue between the federal government and the extremist group, Boko Haram, noting that it was not possible to hold talks with a faceless group.
“The Boko Haram elements, the bombings and kidnapping in the southern part of the country — these are the key security challenges we have,” Jonathan said. “There is no dialogue with Boko Haram because Boko Haram still operates under cover. They wear masks; there is no face and we don’t have anybody to discuss with.”
Jonathan, who fielded questions from a four-man panel of media people, during the “Presidential Media Chat” aired live on national radio and television yesterday night, promised that his government was in the process of quelling the gruesome situation.
When asked whether he was considering the Odi approach adopted by former president Olusegun Obasanjo, Jonathan foreclosed the use of maximum force as an option, noting that the shoot-at-sight order given by the then president only culminated in the killings of innocent Nigerians instead of the militants who were the main target.
The president also promised that Nigerians were the ones to decide what should become law and what ought not to be in the ongoing constitution amendment in the National Assembly.
“The constitution itself states guidelines on how the constitution should be amended, and anything outside that becomes an issue. What the National Assembly is doing is going round the country — no matter what it is, whether it is called public hearing, we expose issues to Nigerians, individual groups, religious groups, socio-cultural groups, ethnic groups, youth groups or all other interest groups”, he stated.
Expressing his desire for a single tenure in office for president and governors, Jonathan said his proposal was borne out of the fact that it would reduce tension and overheating of the polity while those in power are still working rather than seeking a second term.
He added that since Nigerians insist that the status quo be maintained, the executive and National Assembly to would have to meet to address contentious issues in the constitution review process.
On a sovereign national conference (SNC), he said: “When you use that word sovereign, people get frightened, but I believe any issues or grievances Nigerians have in mind can be channelled to the National Assembly; it can be handled at that level.
“Nigerians however think we should retain the two-term system and that we should sanitise the electoral system which we are doing. At the end of the day, one will be chosen, either one term or two terms”, he added.
The president said it was too early for him to make known his intentions as to whether to run in 2015 or not, saying he was just in his second year in office for his first tenure.
Parrying on the question on his 2015 ambition, he said such talk for now would cause distraction and unnecessary tension. “Before the 29th of May, 2015, Nigerians will know that Jonathan and his team meant well for this nation”, he said.
He promised to cleanse the electoral process which, he said, was yielding results, judging from recent elections in the country.
The president also denied saying last week that fuel subsidy must be totally removed, saying there was no way he would have declared that, when subsidy had already been provided for in the 2013 budget.
“We won’t implement complete subsidy withdrawal in January. There is already a provision for fuel subsidy from January to December 2013,” he said, while reacting to statements credited to him last Thursday when graduating students from the Nigeria Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) paid him a visit.
Jonathan clarified that what he did was to draw a comparison between Nigeria and Canada where 16 refineries are working at full capacity whereas none out of four refineries were working in Nigeria. Complete deregulation of the sector is the only way out, he said.
Noting that the subsidy regime was the reason why companies who acquire licences to build refineries don’t build the refineries, he said, “These companies are only afraid of operating in an environment where your chances of getting your money depend on if government has money to pay or not.”
On the contentious crude oil benchmark submitted to the National Assembly, Jonathan said over-rating it beyond 75 per cent will make global rating agencies and foreign investors look down on Nigeria as a country that is not planning for the future.
On power, he said there was remarkable progress in terms of stability, but that Nigerians should expect more in 2013.
He added that total deregulation of the downstream sector “will create jobs and help sanitise the sector”.
The economy, he noted, was on a sound footing with foreign reserves at $33.3 billion, excess crude account $9 billion and Sovereign Wealth Fund to start with $1 billion. He also noted that foreign direct investments (FDIs) were increasing by the day.
Jonathan denied allegation of extravagant spending at the presidential villa, contending that his immediate family alone does not consume all the foods and drinks that are budgeted for because there are guests who must be entertained from all over the world at various meetings.
He said, “Whether we like it or not, Nigeria is a very important country globally and we entertain numerous guests on a daily basis. There is this misconception about the whole thing. Nigerians believe the State House is all about me, my family and the vice president and his family. There are so many parastatals like the Nigeria Boundary Commission (NBC) under the State House.”