OBI: What Nigeria Needs Is Change Of Constitution And Structure, Not Another President
Mr. Peter Obi, former Governor of Anambra State and currently, Deputy Director General (South) of the Jonathan Campaign Organisation was in Lagos, last Friday, and interacted with journalists. The Guardian reports.
You have demonstrated strong commitment to President Goodluck Jonathan. What is the basis of your support for him?
BEFORE I go into reasons why I support him, it is pertinent to clarify the attributes of a good leader. Among others, a good leader is humble, straightforward, tolerant, firm, fair to all, accountable, and of strong character and integrity. He or she must be prepared to learn and to acknowledge and respect other viewpoints.
Of course, nobody possesses all these qualities, but you have to admit that President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan portrays quite a number of them. We all have our shortcomings, but any person who really loves Nigeria should appreciate that Dr. Jonathan has been applying these traits in his role as President.
Over the years, we have seen the ways successive leaders have wielded the tremendous powers of their office. But, President Jonathan has exercised commendable humility in the use of those powers. By way of illustration, he has promoted free, fair and credible elections even at the cost of his party losing some important positions – such as in Anambra, Edo and Ondo. These elections were accorded high ratings by local and international observers alike. Nigerians are now seeing that their votes count and their real choices emerge.
On appointments, President Jonathan has ensured the steady elevation of merit. A look at the membership of his Cabinet and parastatal chief executives is revealing. In the same vein, he has gone beyond the expectations of affirmative action for gender equality in his appointment of women as ministers, Chief Justice of the Federation and a number of other strategic positions.
President Jonathan has been committed to freedom of expression, rule of law and fundamental human rights. Soon after his election in 2011, he signed the Freedom of Information bill into law [Act]. There is no restriction on media ownership and media practitioners operate in freedom and liberty – even to throw brickbats at the President himself.
In rejecting dictatorial politics, he strengthened the National Human Rights Commission with an independent board of directors led by an international human rights scholar and lawyer. To the best of my knowledge, there are no ‘political prisoners’ or ‘political detainees’ under this dispensation.
President Jonathan is the first Nigerian leader to convoke a National Conference, comprising delegates of high integrity. Given their value-added resolutions, Nigerians are now looking forward to getting a People’s Constitution.
Indeed, what Nigeria needs today is not to change its President, but to support him to complete the good work he has started. What Nigeria needs is change of constitution and the structure of the country for the mutual benefit of its constituents.
I support President Jonathan, very much, because he represents the unity of our country. This is the first time, by God’s design, that somebody from the South-South (that for over 40 years had produced the wealth of the nation) has emerged the President of the country. We should, with all sense of justice and equity, allow him a second term of four more years that will strengthen the unity of the country; four more years that will consolidate the tremendous progress of the first term. We should not forget the wisdom in permitting the Southwest to produce the President to placate them because of June 12. Let our leaders display that wisdom again for the continued peace and progress of our great country, Nigeria.
On the basis of performance, do you think the President deserves a second term?
President Jonathan has performed creditably in all the sectors of the economy, polity and society. If we have the time, I will clarify each of them.
What about security?
It is ironical that once security is mentioned, people’s minds go to kidnapping in the Southeast and the Boko Haram menace in the Northeast. You recall what Abia State used to be and how Dr. Jonathan co-ordinated security agencies to take on the challenges head-on, and defeated them. Today, you could walk safely on Abia streets anytime. The situation is similar in other South-East States.
We should realise that security challenges, which border on terrorism – such as the Boko Haram and ISIS threats – are global phenomena. With the collapse of some governments in the Arab world – such as Iraq, Syria and Libya- thousands of loose cannons literally spiralled into many other countries.
To appreciate the efforts of the Jonathan administration in tackling the Boko Haram menace, we could take note of how long and complicated it has been for a powerful international coalition to deal with ISIS in the Middle East. These are not combatants engaged in conventional warfare, which is perhaps why it took some time to develop strategies to take them on successfully.
In concert with our neighbours, Chad, Cameroun and Niger, quite a lot of successes have been achieved in erasing the Boko Haram hazard. They have been literally caged, and we are now assured that normalcy would be restored to the affected areas in a few weeks.
It is shocking that the comments of the opposition on Boko Haram give impressions that they are in partnership with the criminals. They variously criticized the President’s “excessive use of force on the cultists” and his “lack of will” to take them on. On the missing girls and others, the opposition talks as if they know where the victims are being held, even as they have fallen short of accusing the President of supervising the abductions. Every sane person within and outside our shores empathizes with the victims and their families. Many across the world have been praying daily for their safe return.
There is a lot to learn from threats to national security. Nations go through tough times and with a united front, they emerge stronger and forge ahead. What could be more traumatic for the Americans than the 9/11 Tragedy, when the Twin Towers and the Pentagon (Defence Headquarters) were attacked? Americans did not blame President Bush, but rather rallied round him. The MF 370 aircraft on an international flight has been missing for over a year, yet Malaysians are not blaming it on their Prime Minister. Recently, 137 students were murdered in Pakistan by terrorists, but Pakistanis did not blame their President. The focus has been on containing the threats. From the inclination of some Nigerians, I know, God forbid, that if earthquake takes place in Nigeria, some Nigerians will say that Jonathan is Poseidon himself.
Alas, in Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan would have been blamed roundly and vilified. It is worrisome to hear APC say that if General Muhammadu Buhari comes to power, he will solve the problem of insurgency. As a former Head of State and a retired officer of the Nigerian Army, General Buhari has direct access to the incumbent President, the National Council of State and the leadership of the Armed Forces – to whom he could have availed his ideas on how to defeat Boko Haram and related threats. That is a patriotic duty; not a political party initiative.
All over the world, people and institutions – in and out government – have been proffering solutions to their countries’ problems, which have been applied in the national interest and for the common good. In the US, for instance, how many people know what roles former Presidents Jimmy Carter, George Bush (Snr. and Jnr.) and Bill Clinton have been playing quietly for their beloved country? Or, what about former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in the UK?
The Opposition has identified corruption as Nigeria’ greatest problem; and that General Muhammadu Buhari has the will and capacity to deal with it. How would you react to this?
I have always maintained that General Buhari is a respected elder statesman; we must acknowledge that the personal integrity of Buhari does not translate to party or corporate integrity. We must note that personal integrity cannot translate into party integrity.
Having observed that General Buhari is a man of integrity, we should be bothered by the antecedents of most of the people around him. The primary characteristic of a corrupt person is greed, always manifested in primitive acquisition of everything for himself, his family and cronies. This is exactly the history of the feudal lords. If we exclude Buhari and one or two others in the APC, you will notice that the party boasts the greediest set of Nigerians ready to acquire the country for their selfish ends – if they come into office.
History is not too remote for us to examine these people and their acquisitions in public office and juxtapose our findings with what they had before going into politics. Good leadership requires humility, honesty, tolerance, simplicity and the ability to work with dedication towards making the society a better place. As somebody who has held public office, I can tell you that the more a person is addicted to conspicuous consumption and primitive acquisition, the more corrupt the person will be.
How true is the claim that the Nigerian Economy is now the biggest in Africa?
Clearly, President Jonathan has achieved more in economic development than any of his predecessors. All sectors have been positively affected since 2011, when he came into office. The rebasing of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product ranked the nation’s economy 1st in Africa and 26th globally; from 3rd and 46th respectively. It also showed that the economy has been more widely diversified than before.
It will bear repetition to be reminded that Nigeria successfully hosted a World Economic Forum in 2014. Foreign Direct Investments were boosted from US$24.9 million as at 2007 to over US$35 billion by 2014; and virtually all quoted companies doubled in size, assets and profit. The marvel is in the road sector, which shows that the Jonathan administration has rendered over 25,000 kilometres of federal road motorable, from barely 5,000 kilometres as at 2011; work is ongoing for a second bridge over the River Niger and on the Loko-Oweto Bridge over River Benue; Onitsha now has a port and the dredging of the River Niger is opening up our inland waterways; Nigerian railways has been resuscitated from a 30-years-old coma, with over 3,500 kilometres of lines now operational.
In the meantime, 22 airports have been remodelled to meet international standards. He is simultaneously constructing five international terminals, as has never been witnessed anywhere in the world, in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu.
President Jonathan’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) has been making waves across the country and internationally. We now export cassava and increasingly attaining self-sufficiency in rice production. Other agricultural products are also witnessing tremendous outputs. With the rehabilitation of 19 dams and construction of 14 irrigation projects, millions of Nigerian farmers are engaging in all-season farming across the country.
Taking the courageous decision to privatize the power sector, President Jonathan has given it the necessary fillip. Power generation has gone up from some 2,000 megawatts in 2011 to some 5,000 megawatts as at 2014. Even as more independent power plants are being commissioned, the administration tackling the menace of sabotage of gas supplies.
Similarly, the oil and gas sector has witnessed tremendous growth developments since 2011. Nigeria now has a strong Energy Policy, and the Nigeria Content Act is being faithfully implemented. When passed into law, the widely acclaimed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) will help instil transparency and accountability in the sector; and give the country and its people greater control of its oil and gas resources. To check the twin menace of oil theft and pipeline vandalism, the President instituted a novel mechanism of collective responsibility, involving the three tiers of government, oil companies, oil producing communities and security agencies.
Education and health have also received concrete support. Aside from investing in primary and secondary education, President Jonathan strengthened the Tertiary Education Trust (TET) Fund. He has since established 14 universities, including a Maritime University at Oron. In the same vein, primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare establishments across the country have been receiving regular support in funding, personnel and equipment.
In exercising the political will to remove a sizeable amount of oil subsidies, the President put a lot of fraudsters and leeches out of business. The monies so saved are being utilized to finance people-oriented projects under the Subsidy Re-Investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P). SURE-P is actively involved in a wide spectrum of development projects & services across the country. These include dual carriageways, rail-lines, maternal and child health, and graduate internships.
What will you say is the problem with the Naira?
The devaluation of the Naira is in response to developments in the global economy. The fall in oil prices has affected Nigeria and other countries, which are heavily dependent on it. These include Russia, Venezuela, Mexico, Iran, Iraq, Lybia, among others, which have recorded high depreciation of their currencies. As a matter of fact, we are cushioning the effects better with the growth and expansion of the agricultural sector, such that our food import bill has been by under 50percent.
Could you give us concrete example of how Jonathan has diversified our economy?
The Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) has really elevated the sector to a pride of place in the economy. As I indicated earlier, we have become self-sufficient in the production of a number of products as over nine million metric tonnes of food were produced last year alone; we now have dry season farming is as many areas with minimal rainfall; and we export some products that we imported a few years ago.
It is under Jonathan that Nigeria started to revamp the auto industry. Today, PAN, VON, ANNAMCO are all revived. New ones such as Innoson Motor Manufacturing at Nnewi and Nissan are doing very well. Other areas of manufacturing are receiving attention. The local content bill has not only empowered local operators, but has led to the local manufacturing and fabrication of components required in the sector, thus creating many jobs.
In the area of Housing, with over 17 million housing deficit and ownership of houses for most Nigerians impossible, the present government has established a Mortgage Re-financing Company to help provide the primary mortgage company the long-term funds. The President will soon launch the Development Bank of Nigeria that will provide finances to our entrepreneurs and the real sector.
The Government has provided various types of intervention platforms. They include the N400 billion and N200 billion MSME Fund as well as the N100 Billion Sugar Intervention Fund.
Nigeria is among the MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) countries – fast-growing economies with immense potentials.
What would you say of the North’s insistence on producing the next president?
All I can say is that fairness demands we allow a South-south man another four years. Like I said earlier, it will do us more good than harm as a country. In all its political outings at the centre, the North received the full support of the South-South. North should support them and in the next four years they have an ample time to prepare younger and more energetic candidates for 2019, who should possess Buhari’s type of integrity. My belief is that for the stability and cohesion of our country and people, Jonathan should be voted in. Let us not pretend to be suffering from collective amnesia.