President Goodluck Jonathan on Sunday fielded questions from a team of journalists on the violent Islamic sect, Boko Haram; the renaming of the University of Lagos, and Friday’s sacking of his National Security Adviser, Gen. Andrew Azazi.
The President also offered explanations on his controversial trip to Rio De Janeiro in Brazil, the 2015 general election and the economy as well as other hot issues confronting his administration.
While Jonathan submitted that he had no regret embarking on the journey, he said the removal of Azazi and Haliru Bello as defence minister was to evolve a fresh strategy in dealing with Boko Haram.
The President stated that those who argued that he should not have embarked on the trip when Kaduna and Yobe states were being attacked by the violent sect , were ignorant.
He spoke during the Presidential Media Chat broadcast live on the Nigerian Television Authority.
Trip to Brazil
Justifying the trip, he said, “I have no regrets going to Brazil. The issue of security in this country, especially relating to the Boko Haram crisis is pathetic, I have lost people and I have lost property. I sympathise with people who have lost property and relations. I feel the pain.
“As President of this country, even if one person dies, I feel sad. But one thing is that if you know the tactics of terrorists, Nigerians who were worried that I travelled got worried out of ignorance.
“One of the tactics of terrorists is to strangle government. If they heard that the President and the Vice-President wanted to travel but couldn’t do so because they struck, they would celebrate it.”
According to him, Presidents of other countries had always encouraged him to ensure that the government of Nigeria does not stop because of terrorism.
The President also dismissed insinuations that Azazi and Mohammed were removed for incompetence.
He commended the two for what he described as, the effective discharge of their duties while in office.
He, however, said the change in tactics by the terrorist group required a change in the security strategy to deal with the growing security challenge.
Jonathan said, “Security is a global challenge now, not just in Nigeria. Just like the economic recession is global, different countries are having their share.
“The issue of Boko Haram which is giving Nigeria the indignity of security challenges which government is dealing with, definitely we will get over it.
“The day the international community gets to know that the President of Nigeria could not travel because of Boko Haram, we are finished.”
“Relating to the changes we made where the Minister of Defence was removed. We have not named anyone yet because that one has to get to the Senate. We cannot announce any name because it is the Senate that has to clear him or her. So we don’t announce until the Senate clears.
“But the NSA, which is a Political Adviser position, some other person has taken over.
“Those two who occupied those two offices have done well. But if you look at the evolution of Boko Haram, they have changed their tactics.
“The interest of terrorists is to destabilise government. If they use one thing it doesn’t work, they want to use another thing.
“So, you too will begin to change your personnel, change your style, (and) change your strategy.
“I also thought it was time some other hands came in to do things slightly differently; it’s not that the people who were there before did not do well.
“They worked very hard. We will continue to adjust our security architecture and where there is the need to change personnel to fit into the new programme, we will surely do that. “
Dialogue with Boko Haram
On dialogue with the sect, Jonathan said there was no ongoing talks with the sect because they had remained in the shadows.
He said, “Security issues are not issues that we are going to discuss in details. The issues of dialogue continue to come up. Some people feel that government should not dialogue with terrorists and criminals. That is the position of some, particularly in the West.
“But to us in this country and to me in particular, the Boko Haram members are Nigerians and I don’t want to lose the life of one Nigerian.
“I will love a situation where the Boko Haram people will stop the rubbish that they are doing so that they can be trained in business skills that will enable them to become productive and contribute to our economy.
“Government will like to dialogue with Boko Haram but presently, Boko Haram has no face. Nobody will come and tell you I am the leader of Boko Haram. “And government will not dialogue with a faceless group. You must have a face; you must tell us the reason why you are doing what you are doing. Then of course, we will dialogue.
“We want them to change; we want them to become decent citizens; to become top businessmen in this country.”
According to him, terrorists all over the world have a common agenda which is to destabilise the government .
The President stated, “They believe that when they attack a church, Christian youths will revolt against Muslim youths, and they don’t care about who dies in the process.
“They also think that government will be destabilised when they are attacking churches. Watch out, if it doesn’t work, of course, we will stop it, but if it doesn’t work, the same Boko Haram will start attacking mosques to instigate Muslim youths to attack Christians.”
He said that the government would encourage those who had access to the group to initiate dialogue with it.
The President said those arrested in connection with the insurgency, especially women and perhaps children, were being investigated and those found clean would be freed.
He said if a child was found culpable of committing a crime, he would be tried and sentenced in accordance with the law.
EFCC and removal of Farida Waziri
The President also explained that he removed the former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mrs. Farida Waziri, because Nigerians no longer had confidence in her.
He said he never interfered with the work of the EFFC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other -Related Offences Commission.
He said, “I give them the latitude, I am one Nigerian who has the privilege of holding this office that gives these people the latitude to do their work.
“When I give you a job, I will give you time to do IT. Assuming somebody, who is heading an agency that is supposed to handle corruption, is not doing that and he says it is because of the President’s body language, that person is not competent.
“But I am happy that Nigerians have confidence in the EFCC. Of course, there was a lady who was there. There were lots of complaints. Some may be right, some may be wrong but perception matters so much when handling matters like corruption.
“The confidence of the people must be there. I had to remove her and that does not mean she is guilty of the allegations but because I saw that Nigerians no longer had confidence in her.”
He also debunked insinuations that the Federal Government was unwilling to fight corruption, saying he gave the anti-graft agencies the latitude to do their work.
He assured Nigerians that the new ICPC would certainly impress all.
“A lot of people misunderstand me, I am calm because we have many mischievous people. If you have the privilege of being a ranking official, you must be careful. The new ICPC will impress Nigerians.”
2015 and I
Jonathan said it was too early to say whether he would contest or not in 2015, stressing that it was not proper for a president to make a pronouncement in the current circumstance the country found itself.
He said, “Let us face the challenges of the country first. If I say I am running, the heat will even be more. Let’s see what we can do in terms of wealth creation. It is too early to talk about 2015.
“When INEC opens the gate, we will know who will contest and who will not. It is too early for Nigerians to be interested in whether Jonathan will run or not. When I came up with the concept of tenure of seven years, people were worried whether I wanted to serve for four years and come back for a single seven year tenure but I said, ‘No, It is not about me.”’
Otedola and Lawan
The President denied being behind the bribery scandal involving an oil magnate, Femi Otedola, and the suspended Chairman, House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee on Subsidy probe, Mr. Farouk Lawan. He said he had no intention to discredit the committee’s report as being speculated.
He said, “Even before the House of Representatives started the probe, Senate was probing the oil subsidy. Conventionally, when one arm of the National Assembly is doing something, one will have to wait.
“But even before the Senate and the House, the Federal Government set up panel that was looking into this; it was published in national dailies. One of them was headed by Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. Ribadu is not a Peoples Democratic Party member; he was an Action Congress of Nigeria presidential candidate for the 2011 poll and somebody who headed the EFCC and the whole world liked him.
“So, if I had something to hide or the ministry of petroleum had something to hide, we would not go and bring Ribadu. We feel that this country belongs to all of us.
“I asked Segun Aganga when he was Minister of Finance to get an international audit firm to audit the NNPC, Petroleum Development Fund and all the major areas where we were losing money.”
Renaming of UNILAG
On the renaming of University of Lagos as Moshood Abiola University, Jonathan said what the Federal Government did was not wrong.
“It is just like declaring a state of emergency. There is no law that says you must first contact the Senate before changing the name. People may like it or not, but we acted within the law. You do not consult the Senate before changing the name of a university.”
On asset declaration, Jonathan said it was not an issue since he had already declared his asset as Vice-President only two years before becoming President.
“I declared my asset when I was the Vice-President; what is the difference now that I am the President,” he said.
He said, “The issue of public declaration I think is playing to the gallery. You don’t need to publicly declare any asset. If I am somebody who wants to hide, it is what I tell you that you will even believe.”
The President stated, “I don’t give a damn about it, if you want to criticize me from here to heaven. When I was Vice- President, I told the then President-unfortunately he’s late. I said, ‘look let us not start something just because we play into the hands of some people and create another situation in the country.”
He explained that if public office holders declared his assets, relevant agencies could investigate how he amassed his wealth.
Jonathan said, “When we say people must do it publicly, it is not only Mr. President and the Vice-President everybody including ministers must do it.
“A minister you appoint may be a top businessman who probably does not want his assets to be declared. That means that if somebody wants to use you as a minister, you cannot because the law says that if she is a woman, assets of the husband too will be declared.
“I was the governor of Bayelsa State, I was investigated thoroughly. I was a governor for about one year before I became Vice- president I have nothing to hide.
“But because I was under someone then and because of the media, my boss, then the President, declared. The Vice-President did not declare and it was becoming an issue, so I declared. It is not because I wanted to.”
“Channels (TV) can talk about that from morning till night, AIT can talk about that from morning till night, all the papers can write about it, it’s a matter of principle.”
“I heard that they wanted to invite me to the National Assembly. I have a good relationship with the National Assembly, it is not as if there are no issues, no doubt about that, especially in a presidential system.
“Inviting me to the National Assembly is not even an issue. In most countries when the president wants to address the nation he goes to the National Assembly to address. But here it is limited to budget presentation. I am even trying to see if I can, outside the budget, have an annual address. In some countries it is even more than two times a year that a President address the nation through the National Assembly.