President Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday cleared the air on alleged plans to prolong his tenure, saying if the result of the March 28 presidential election does not favour him, he will hand over to whoever that wins.
Jonathan, in a live media chat apparently organised to douse the tension generated by the postponement of the general elections, spoke among others, the alleged plot to sack the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, insurgency and corruption.
Before and after the polls were shifted from February 14 and 28 to March 28 and April 11, there were rumours that the President and the Peoples Democratic Party were nursing a sinister plot not to hand over power.
The rumours were further fuelled by statements credited to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo in far away Nairobi, Kenya.
Obasanjo was quoted as saying, “I sincerely hope that the President is not going for broke and saying ‘look dammit, it’s either I have it or nobody has it.”
But Jonathan told a panel of interviewers that he was not desperate to remain in power. He said such “insinuations and wrong information” were meant to discredit him by his political opponents.
He said, “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.
“The rumour that I will not hand over or that I am scheming to prolong my tenure are insinuations; they are not true. Those are insinuations; it is quite unfortunate that so much wrong information is floating in the system.”
Jonathan faulted the claim by Jega that INEC was ready for the elections. He said the information given to him by security chiefs was that poor distribution of Permanent Voter Cards could have caused a security challenge in the country.
He, however, said he would not sack Jega.
Jonathan said, “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 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, INEC, from what Jega mentioned that day, clearly was not ready for the elections. They said they were ready but they were not.
“The day we held that meeting that led to this adjustment of dates, in Lagos for example, only about 38 per cent of registered voters had their PVCs. That means if we conduct elections in Lagos, 62 per cent of voters not would not have been able to vote.
“Don’t you think there are security implications in that?
“Some other states had slightly above 30 per cent collection while some had 50 per cent and there were some states that had 60 to 70 per cent. The security agencies highlighted the security implications of this but ordinary people might not see it that way.”
On the insurgency in the North-East, Jonathan said he was confident that within the six weeks, the international forces would have been able to regain the 14 local government areas occupied by insurgents.
He however noted that Boko Haram could not be completely crushed within six weeks but maintained that the security situation would be such that elections would hold in the troubled areas without problems.
He said, “In 2011, when the elections were conducted, we had Boko Haram. Boko Haram started before 2007 but became a major problem when their leader was killed in 2009. Nobody is saying we must wipe out Boko Haram completely before conducting elections.
“We said that security wise, there are certain things that they need so that they can consolidate on the security architecture; so that we can conduct elections but in the next six weeks, security advancements will be made but we cannot say we will wipe out Boko Haram. At best we can only regain territories.
“When they started, they were not taking over territories; they were going to markets and using suicide bombers. Elections will hold and I don’t see why we should continue to doubt the inauguration of next President in May.”
Jonathan also berated those criticising him for failing to rescue the Chibok girls who were abducted by terrorists in April last year.
He said he was confident that most of the girls would be rescued soon.
The President said, “I believe now that we are working with Chad and Cameroon, in the next few weeks, the story of the Chibok girls will change. It’s going to get better.
“I believe we should be able to rescue some of them. But I don’t want to be quoted, I don’t want you to say the President said so, that in two weeks time or in four weeks time, I cannot say that because the diapperance of those girls has taken quite some time.
“But we have mapped out strategies, we are working with our neighbours and we will comb all the areas. So, just give us sometime.”
The President denied that he went partying when the girls were kidnapped, saying people only tried to play politics with the matter.
The President said, “People are playing politics with Chibok girls and it is very unfortunate. That is one of the problems that we have in Nigeria. In other countries, when there is an issue of terror, political boundaries collapse and people work together.
“The interest of the country is paramount but in this case when we have terror, then Nigerians believe it is better to go to the United States or the United Kingdom or France and appear on television to celebrate themselves. Is that how we will bring back those girls?
“Let us face facts. When there was 9/11 in the US, how many Americans went round the world criticising their government? Is it by carrying flags and singing around the world that we will bring those girls back? I expected that those with international connections would help the country and not the other way round.”
The President debunked the report that the Federal Government was swindled when Boko Haram sect announced a ceasefire last year.
Jonathan admitted that there was no ongoing talks with the sect as of now because its leaders had remained faceless.
The President corrected the statement credited to him that stealing is not corruption.
He said he only quoted a statement by a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Dahiru Musdapha, during a meeting he held with stakeholders on how to fight corruption.
Jonathan insisted that many social vices were being wrongly referred to as corruption.
He cited an example that people could be easily isolated or lynched if they were called thieves rather than being referred to as being corrupt.
Attacks on his convoy
Jonathan decried the various attacks on his convoy during his campaigns in the northern part of the country.
He said it was a treasonable offence to attack a sitting President in that manner.
Jonathan said he saw those who attacked his convoy and that they were mainly young people who were probably instigated.
Asked if he was bothered by the large amount of money spent during campaigns as against the stipulations of the electoral law, the President said pressures from the supporters of party candidates had risen beyond control.
He, however, said funds being raised by the PDP were meant for the building of the PDP secretariat, adding that the N21bn raised for his campaign was “mere pledges, some of which have not been redeemed.”