The full piece, as published by The Guardian, in April 2009
- Editor/Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Debo Adesina
- Editorial Board Chairman, Reuben Abati
- Abuja Bureau Chief, Martins Oloja
It was a coup of sorts when President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua agreed to speak in an interview with The Guardian. It would be the President’s first major newspaper interview since he took office almost two years ago. We had hoped for a short session, given his renowned shyness from such an exercise. But a big surprise it turned out to be when Yar’Adua sat down and spoke for more than three hours.
Looking sharp in a white simple dress, the interview, slated for 2.30 p.m. did not start until well after 4 p.m. But once the session began, there was no stopping him and his passion for Nigeria was palpable in every word.
The President enjoys talking. About Nigeria. His faith in his seven-point agenda was so deep the boundless excitement he exudes when explaining it was infectious. Like the teacher that he was, he wanted every point understood beyond his explanation. Facts and figure reeled off his memory. The result was an almost endless answer to some questions. His voice, though gentle, had a bell-like jingle to it that seemed to emphasise his authority on the subject of discussion.
Comfortable in his skin, Yar’ Adua’s sense of humour was touching.
“You’re looking good, Mr. President” elicited the response: “Thanks. But I know I am also looking trim.” And before the hearty laughter that followed ended, he quipped: “Well, it is not possible for a President of Nigeria to look chubby in the face of the enormous challenges before the nation.”
He claims he enjoys the job, comforted by the knowledge that “Nigeria has all it takes to be great” and energised by the readiness of Nigerians to make the country great.
But can he truly be the leader of that march? Does he have what it takes to lead that journey to greatness?
The Guardian team of Editor/Deputy Editor in Chief, Debo Adesina, Chairman, Editorial Board, Reuben Abati and Abuja Bureau Chief Martins Oloja engaged Yar’Adua on these and many more last Friday. Excerpts.
NIGERIANS really want to hear from you and we hope that you will use this medium to speak frankly and candidly. In a few weeks, you will be two years in office and we must be frank with ourselves that the impression out there is still one of things yet to pick up and a pace still far behind what is expected. We know all the slogans: The Seven-Point Agenda, Vision 20-2020 and so on. But what exactly is going on? Where is Nigeria going? What are you out to achieve and what exactly should Nigerians expect?
Yar’Adua: Well, you see, there is no correlation between the pace and perception; the perception of the pace of our progress is sometimes different from the reality. Progress is a function of a combination of factors which include resources, capacity and planning …Now one of the things we have done is to identify the enablers that will ensure that Nigeria becomes one of the modern economies within a specific time frame. That is why we have Vision 20-2020, which everybody knows about, I hope. Then, the enablers: what are those things that must be done and must be done correctly? So we identified that the economy has to grow by double digit over a period of over a decade and above, which will enable this country to have a modernised economy to fall within the region of 20 developed economies of the world. Unless we are able to achieve that we will not be able to accomplish this objective. And what are those things that we must do? What we have identified first is the kind of system we are operating: the economic system. So we have adopted the free market economy whereby we try to get the enabling environment in place for the private sector to be at the driving seat with regards to production. Now, with slight modification, given the experience of today, which shows that leaving the economy completely to the private sector has its own inherent dangers, which is mostly responsible for what is happening in the world today due to the failure of the regulations or supervision. That is why we have identified seven (7) critical areas that are the enablers: that is infrastructure; we mean critical infrastructure as the most important, without which we cannot achieve any goals. Transport and power infrastructures are critical here. Without power and energy we cannot build a modern economy. You cannot make the economy to grow the kind of growth that is required and that is why power is the highest priority of this administration. The second one is transport infrastructure such as road, railway, waterways, ports and airports. These infrastructure are critical. As at today, inadequate infrastructure accounts for 20% of inflation in the country. You can see the kind of problem that we have in terms of transport infrastructure alone. We just have to be able to move goods and people. Then food security and agriculture is what generates a lot of jobs for the people because the bottom-line is that wealth creation has to do with job creation. The bottom-line in terms of whatever we do is this: we want to grow the economy so that people will have jobs. So, agriculture and land reform come in here. Land administration because, I always said that one of the things that we failed to do in this country is to bring land to play its part in the development of the national economy as a capital asset. And this is why land reform and modernisation of the land administration form part of the 7- Point Agenda because it will have a great impact on the modernisation of the national economy. We feel people should take initiative and get empowered. Nigerians all over the country own lands, farmlands. You go to rural areas, people have lands and houses where they are domiciled both in urban and rural areas. But because the land administration system does not allow these lands to come to the people as assets, as wealth, they cannot use these as exchange for capital to invest. That is why we have included this land reform as a critical issue on the agenda. Now to the Niger Delta: Niger Delta is where we have resources such as crude oil and gas and petrol chemicals as backbones for some of the needs of a modern economy, mostly power and energy. Crude oil and gas are the enablers for power and energy and the crisis in the delta region and insecurity in particular is affecting production and forming an impediment to investment. I have a firm belief that throughout the continent, the Niger region has the greatest potentials for wealth creation than any other region in Africa. If you have peace in the area and you have infrastructure that will enable development to come to Niger Delta, within one and half decade, it will be the petrochemical hub of the African continent. If we lose the opportunity, there are other areas: Angola for example, before the end of the civil war in Angola, Africa South of Sahara, we were about the only one. But now there is peace in Angola. The civil war is over after over 20 years of fighting a war and now they are settling down and if we are not careful, investment that should naturally flow from all parts the world into the Niger Delta will now go to Angola. That is why we have to take this issue of Niger Delta very seriously as part of the 7-point agenda. Generally no investor, domestic and foreign, will want to invest in an environment where their investment is not secure. So security has thus been made part of the 7-point agenda. So, these are the steps, the enablers that this nation must adopt for us achieve a double digit growth rate. Besides, we are carrying out reforms in various sectors. The public sector reform within the civil service to build capacity is related to the seventh one I have not mentioned: Human Capital. Of course, no matter the kind of environment; when you put these enablers on ground, you must have the manpower – educated and skilled manpower – to operate within those sectors, especially education and health that determine quality of human capital. We have a large population, which is an advantage. It will be a disadvantage if the potential and capacity is not developed. But when the capacity and potential is developed, this huge population becomes a great advantage. Now the reforms of the macro-economic system are going on. What we are doing with regards to implementing the seven point agenda is trying to bring in the private sector to come into infrastructure development. At the end of the campaigns, I set up a small committee to work out roughly what we will require in terms of infrastructure development and we require an investment of about $10 billion annually for the next ten years to ensure the development of infrastructure in this country to support the kind of economy we want to grow. And government cannot do that alone because for now, government resources are just inadequate. So, we decided that one of the things we need to do is to bring in the private sector into the infrastructure development. Once we do that the roads, the railways. Already effort has begun with ports and waterways and airports as well as in power. If we get the private sector to come and invest in these sectors, the money released from these areas will now go to fund the social sector such as education and health to enable us have enough resources to produce human capacity that we require while the infrastructure that is put in place will now help resources coming not only from government but from the private sector. And that is why we have decided to embark on the reform of the petroleum sector to make the NNPC a National Oil Company to go and compete with other oil companies like Shell, Aramco of Saudi Arabia and Agip so that we separate production and distribution from regulation and ownership. From the beginning, we have decided that once the National Assembly pass the reform bill, we will allocate some blocks to the national oil company to give it an asset base like other oil companies, where it can use its reserve to get credit so that government will be relieved from funding Joint Ventures from the cash calls annually. These calls will go into infrastructure and human development. This way, the current Joint Ventures we have, we will incorporate them so that each Joint Venture will become incorporated. Government will surrender some of its shares to Nigerians who want to invest in the oil and gas sector so that each Joint Venture is an incorporated company with the NNPC as a national oil company. Nigerians who buy interest will float these shares in the Stock Exchange so that the shares can be quoted. It will now run as an incorporated joint venture and will not depend on government at all for finances. So these are the critical major changes taking place to ensure that we achieve the target of a double-digit growth rate. Even with the recession, we still recorded 6 per cent growth rate by December of last year. I think the figure for the first quarter of this year is also hovering around that figure. So this is the overall strategic plan that we have. And to do this, we need to plan for each sector. And I will tell you the progress that we have made. We take the power sector. I have explained it and other officials have explained that as at today, we have so far managed to sustain our production of electricity to between 2,700 megawatts and 3,000 megawatts. When I say we have managed to sustain, when you know the problem afflicting the power sector you will know that so far this is not an easy achievement. Most of the generating and transmitting and distribution facilities need total rehabilitation as some of them have not been rehabilitated for the past 40 years. For some, the routine Turn-Around Maintenance has not been carried out over time. So, you find the generating plants, the turbines now have short lifespan because of the way they are maintained. Some are at the end of their life-spans. We also have the problem of gas which we are trying our best to tackle now. We have tried to maintain these 2,700 to 3,000 megawatts. Sometimes, we experience system shut-down due to pipeline vandalisation by people who steal condensate, which sometimes results in production cut down to 1,200 or sometime 1,000 megawatts and it takes two to three days or even sometimes four to five weeks before repair can be effected. Now this is the situation as at today.
We have a plan to generate 6,000 megawatts by December this year and also to generate 10,000 megawatts by the end of 2011. Not only to generate this but to ensure that the power generated is transmitted and distributed. These plans we have begun to implement simultaneously by doing all the rehabilitation that we need to do; the critical transmission lines that we need to repair because the transmission lines that we have; the integrity of transmission and distribution lines has been very poor. Over the years; just like generation itself, there has not been major maintenance. So we are doing that now in the programme. Besides, we are constructing new transmission lines to ensure that we achieve the plan of transmitting the 6,000 megawatts and by 2011 the transmission of 10,000 megawatts. These two programmes we have begun to implement with PHCN programme and NIPP programme. What we are doing now is supervising the projects that are on-going making sure that everything is okay. Even with all the problems associated with it, we are tackling them and I am confident, fully confident, that this target will be met. And I have asked the minister and the power committee to work out the period and pace we need to generate not less than 25,000 megawatts by the target period of 2020. I have no doubt in my mind that once we achieve the 10,000 megawatts by 2011, by 2015 we will have another generation of about the same amount. So they are working on another plan covering 2015 and 2020. This is the situation report. Gas projects, Joint Venture projects are going on now. All the time the Cash-calls since the independence, the attention of government has been on the production of crude petroleum every year until this year, 2009. For the first time, we voted $1.5 billion as cash call for the Gas Joint Venture project to produce gas for domestic use. And the projects that have been designed to meet the 6000 megawatts and 10,000 megawatts in the power sector and other domestic needs of gas, the industrial sector especially the Lagos and Port Harcourt axis and Kano…the gas pipeline that transfers gas to all these places is on the drawing board. But for now where we have the gas is up to Ajaokuta, Obajana Cement, Lagos and Port Harcourt and around Benin. We need this gas for power and for industry. We have this programme that we have begun to implement. The Joint Venture Programme has begun. The NNPC is working with oil majors, Shell and Chevron and Agip, to set up more gas processing plants and to set up an extraction plant in Oteregu to drive the gas, which gives us problem now. The specification is the problem. It is wet. It is not as dry as it ought to be. After some time, they had to stop to dismantle the pipes and remove parts that are condemned, otherwise it will corrode. The memorandum for the award of the contract for the extraction plant is ready and I think the plan we have the gas in all right.
On the state of emergency for power:
And this emergency I said I want to declare, I want to look at everything. I think by the end of May, I will be ready by the grace of God to declare the emergency in the sector. Emergency is really to allow government to use any national resource and to set aside any agreement entered into to ensure that the target for the production, distribution and transmission of power targets are achieved. For instance, once the emergency is declared, it will allow government to take any gas from anywhere. For instance now also, some of the transmission lines for which contracts have been awarded by NIPP during the last administration have not begun, not because of lack of payment but because in most cases people in the areas are asking for compensation for the right of way to erect the towers for the high voltage transmission lines. The cost of compensation alone is sometimes more than the cost of erecting the transmission lines. But once the emergency is declared, it will involve government going ahead with construction of the transmission lines even if the issue of compensation has not been settled. Such issues can be settled at any other time. So, we don’t have to waste time. For now, we can’t do much by law until we pay the compensation. But once the emergency is declared, it can be done. We can go ahead and dismantle some structures. These are some of the problems militating against the progress and this power issue is so important to this nation that nothing should be allowed to stand in its way. This is what we have put in place in the power sector.
On Road infrastructure
On the road transport infrastructure, now we have succeeded in giving the first concession, the Lagos – Ibadan Express way. Now we have the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) in place. Besides this, we are working on the concessioning of two other major highways – Benin-Ore-Sagamu and Kano-Kaduna-Abuja. Negotiations and other things are going on. We will soon advertise according to the public procurement regulations and we hope that before the end of this year, concession of the two roads would have been completed. But for now we want to concentrate on three major roads. God willing, we will continue on the policy of infrastructure concessioning in the road sector. For now, we will concession some parts of our roads that are commercially viable. For roads that are not commercially viable, we are working on programmes to see how best to tackle them. When we came in 2007, we met contracts that were already awarded for 631 highways that were worth N931 billion, almost one trillion naira. So we had to step back and look at the entire situation. When we matched these contractual commitments with the income of government that is going into the sector and we asked our officials in the ministry to work out the timelines for the completion of these projects, their report made us to have a rethink. Some had been abandoned, some had started and for almost all of them advance payments had been made…and almost 50 per cent of them had been abandoned at various stages, so we had to stop and re-organise and re-plan them because it will take 13 years to complete those projects assuming we commit all the funds in the sector into the projects alone. We met with some of the contractors … we selected some of the most critical ones and I think I have the list of the 13 which have been completed. I have the list of the 13 which I will give you if you want. Some of the roads are federal roads while some are state and rural roads because so many things happened in the process. All federal roads are gazetted. You find that most often numerous requests are accommodated without budgetary provision. Sometimes, when the President goes on state tours, people ask him to do some things and some of these requests are accommodated without budgetary provisions. And when the budget gets to the National Assembly, they also add new roads from their own constituencies, which are not federal roads. So we have classified all these and I have directed officials to return all these non-federal roads, state and local government roads to the states regardless of the stages they are in because we can’t handle them. We have to match our resources with these extra-budgetary commitments. We then negotiated with the contractors to either terminate the construction of those roads (they have already stopped work in any case because they have not been paid) or negotiate with those responsible, be it local government or state. So this is the exercise that has been going on. As a result, we have those that have been completed, we have others, too: those ones need not to be re-awarded. We have others that we have classified as of economic importance to the nation. They are on-going and we are managing to service them. There are others that we just awarded last month. There are 21 zonal roads, which we have identified as some of the most important roads, of economic importance…some require rehabilitation, others need reconstruction, which will be awarded within one or weeks. And this will form part of our road programme up to the year 2011 apart from this concessioning that we are doing. It is not about new road programmes. It does not help. It only creates confusion. What we need to do is to get back to a situation where when you award a contract, it is serviced to completion. So this is the situation with the road infrastructure.
On the railways, when I came, also I met Railway Modernisation Programme which contract was awarded to a Chinese company to construct a double track standard gauge for Lagos-Kano at the cost of $8.3 billion dollars. $250 million dollars had been paid, I think, in May from the excess crude account. One thing about this contract is that there was no financial plan. It was based on a concessionary loan of $2 billion to be provided by the Chinese government. When the Chinese President visited Nigeria during the South-South’s Summit 2.5 billion dollars was promised: 500 million dollars from the government itself at a concessionary rate and 2 billion dollars from the Chinese Exim Bank also on concessionary rate. And I think the previous government decided that of the $2 billion, one billion dollars will be for this project and another one billion dollars to the Mambilla and Zungeru power projects. It was decided that the $500 million from the Chinese Government would be put in space technology. Earlier, this government signed an agreement with the IMF as part of debt relief measures, not to take any loans that were not concessionary in nature. These loans were to be given in exchange for four blocks of crude oil with proven reserves. When I visited China and we discussed, I was told this 500 million dollars was given on concessionary rate from the Chinese government but the $2 billion dollars was given at commercial rate from the Chinese Exim Bank. That was not what I understood was the agreement. It was to be on concessionary basis and one billion was to be used for the railway project in exchange also for four oil blocks …Now that never happened. Now that situation was unacceptable to me and we are not going to take it because we will not go back to the previous situation before the debt relief. We will not take loans that are not concessionary in nature but we are still working on the project.
What we have decided to do in this administration is that instead of abandoning the existing single track, we will rehabilitate it, get it to work. We are working on a Railway Development Programme. The Council has already approved the contract. Now we will have 25 locomotives running between Lagos and Kano by December this year or January next year. The 25 locomotives have already been ordered and General Electric has begun manufacturing. And we are also working on a PPP Model with General Electric, Nigeria Railway Corporation, African Development Bank to have next year another 75 locomotives so that by the end of 2010 or early 2011, we will have 100 locomotives running across Lagos – Kano rail line and we have given out the contract for the rehabilitation of all the portions that require rehabilitation. The rehabilitation of the stop stations and the signals is on-going so that by the end of this year, this will be completed. Now, we are doing the same programme with the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line next year against January 2011 and also the following year when we are doing this we are working on the Kano- Lagos for the PPP to have a 100 locomotives running. Also in 2011 against 2012, we will have the same 100 locomotives running from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri. So, we are now trying to renegotiate with the Chinese on Lagos – Kano standard gauge. I have directed that we renegotiate with them to have a single track standard gauge from Lagos to Kano. We are looking within the region of three billion dollars. We need to put the railway back on track and really need to modernise the railway to realise the Vision 20:2020. If by the end of this year we are able to reach agreement, when we continue, we will have the double track but one standard gauge modern railway and one narrow gauge modern railway running. We will duplicate another one on North-East axis. We are rehabilitating all the tracks to the ports. We are doing another one to Onne, Port Harcourt to Calabar so that all our ports will be linked to the rail. The central line is almost nearing completion and the standard modern railway from Ajaokuta to Warri is also going to be completed this year. So this is the railway sector we are working on.
On inland waterways
On the issue of the inland waterways, the contract has been signed for the dredging of the Niger and the construction of about seven inland ports. Right now all the contractors are ready. They are waiting for the level of the water to rise and I think this dredging will be completed this year because everything is on course.
Our programme for the aviation sector is to ensure that the entire Nigerian airspace must be safe by 2011.And that the four airports in Ikeja, Kano, Port Harcourt and Abuja we are going to turn them into modern international airports. Our programme will be on total air safety and we are going to ensure that all our international airports reach international airport standards by 2011. A lot of discussions are going on but we are bringing in the private sector for the Abuja airport. Right now we are discussing with Lufthansa to make Abuja the operational hub for West and Central Africa. We have had several technical meetings both in Frankfurt and here in Abuja. They will work on runway, workshop, hangar for aircraft maintenance and also have a PPP arrangement for the school of Aviation in terms of training and capacity building. Concerning Port Harcourt and Kano, we are talking to operators for PPP arrangement and in Lagos, we already have a partnership agreement with Bicourteny and we are going to look at the agreement and modify it. These are the programmes we have going in terms of transport infrastructure.
Another aspect of the 7-point agenda. A committee was set up under a former Inspector-General of Police, MD Yusufu, and the committee has submitted its report on the reform of the Nigeria Police. Government has received the White Paper and it has been reviewed by the Federal Executive Council and we have discussed with other stakeholders especially the governors in the Council of States and those decisions, which were taken by the Council of States we have begun to implement. For example, the most important one is the creation of a Fund, which the federal, the state, the local governments will contribute to for the training of Policemen, upgrading and rehabilitation of training and police institutions because we have identified the building of capacity as the most important factor. They need training and retraining; equipment, communication and then logistics. We have set up a committee chaired by the vice president so that by the end of the year, we have a programme for four years that this Fund will be used to implement. Not just the fund, we must have a detailed programme of what to do otherwise, it will just be frittered away. The MD Yusufu Committee said we will require about N300 billion annually which all the arms of government cannot afford. We have another committee to determine the optimal amount that all the tiers of government can afford annually. This amount we have agreed will be taken from the Federation Account into a Fund and the Fund will have a committee not only of government officials but also representatives of labour, civil society organisations and the police to oversee the administration of the Fund. The implementation of that plan which will begin January 2010 will build serious capacity and aim to reform the Nigeria Police Force to carry out its responsibility for effective policing, maintenance of peace but also carry out some of the recommendations that were accepted like withdrawing police personnel from all those who are not entitled to having it . Because one of the findings of the committee was that about 100,000 policemen and women of the 400,000 we have in Nigeria are engaged in guard duties, guarding government officials, retired government officials, banks, factories and even private individuals. So it was decided that all those should not be there. Even retired government officials like governors will not get but only those that are recognised by regulation should remain. This is being implemented. I think so far; we have been able to retrieve 12,500 men according to the last report I got.. The other thing is that in the budget this year, we have identified six cities we will face critically in peace building and they are: Lagos, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Kano, Kaduna, and Maiduguri and we have voted N50 billion in the budget through the Police Affairs Ministry. By the end of this year, crime in these cities will go down by not less than 40%. So, we are using this as pilot to see what strategies we will use to reduce significantly the level of crime; if it works then we will extend the model to other Nigerian cities gradually. So these are some of the things that we are doing.
The Niger Delta
On the issue of the Niger Delta, it has been protracted. We are doing everything possible to deal with the challenge there. We have reached a stage where we had to create the Ministry of Niger Delta so that we can channel more funds into the region. I told some people that this is the third time in the history of this country when a ministry has been specifically created to address a certain national issue. The first was the Ministry of Lagos Affairs for the development of the then federal capital area and the other one is the ministry of Federal Capital Territory. In terms of development and infrastructure, I believe the measures we have taken both in terms of government intervention and the creation of the ministry I believe will address the major problems mitigating against development of the region. On the issue of security, we have reached a stage whereby we have brought the task force there under one command. We are changing the term of engagement of the task force. I am calling next week or thereabouts the National Defence Council meeting and the National Security Council meeting. Both of them are to discuss and approve measures and strategies for peace in the Niger Delta. We have set up a committee under the Minister of Interior, General Godwin Abbe to work out term of the amnesty we announced. These two councils, especially the National Security Council, will determine the period the amnesty will cover. After that, the task force will get the mandate to ensure it stops militancy in the Niger Delta. The task force will be given a specific timeline and for the first time we are not going to allow the task force to be a permanent feature in the Niger Delta states. So we will give a time limit and say within this time, which will be determined by the National Security Council; after the amnesty period is over, the Task force will get out of the area. These are some of our security plans and I am confident that they are going to work. I think really this is what Nigeria needs and you will be surprised what will happen there in terms of economic activities. Now a lot of divestment has taken place and this has resulted in cost of property and land in Lagos because a lot of people are moving out of Port Harcourt to settle in Lagos. Only last year, Julius Berger moved out of the place, from construction sites because they were brutally attacked and all efforts to get the company back failed because they couldn’t guarantee the safety of their workers. In fact, that was why the council had to re-award the contract to another firm.
On land reforms
Land reform as you can see that the land reform committee is now in place with clear term of reference. Clearly, we have the best minds in land administration in Nigeria on the committee. A bill is being drafted for the committee to become a commission because it has to be a permanent feature of our polity – the land reform commission. This will ensure modernisation of our land administration.
For instance, take the Education Trust Fund which used to disburse everything in the education sector: from primary school, secondary school, polytechnics, universities, scholarships, trainings… all these, we have now said, okay, you concentrate totally and fully on higher education. And even on that higher education, you take one university from each geopolitical zone, bring the facilities up to the minimum acceptable international standard. And we set up the assistance to maintain that standard, to generate the fund for those institutions either the polytechnics or the universities to maintain that standard and then we move to other ones. The same thing we are doing in the health system. We are concentrating on primary health-care. We said all contracts awards from building the clinics, purchase of drugs, we should get out. We should help with the policy, help build capacity, supervise and make sure that those policies are implemented by the state governments. And we concentrate on the tertiary sector. Right now, we have said that the special project fund should concentrate on three teaching hospitals: the University of Ibadan Teaching Hospital, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus Teaching Hospital. To bring these teaching hospitals up to the minimum acceptable international standard so that any research hospital, any university hospital you see abroad, you can compare these three teaching hospitals with those teaching hospitals. We believe by doing this, it may take us say, three or four years to accomplish, we may not use this year to complete this. It may take two years, it may take three years. But won’t move out until we finish this because if we finish these ones, these hospitals themselves will carry along other hospitals and then we can move to other teaching hospitals. So, these are the strategies we are working on. Briefly, these are the thrusts of the administration’s vision, the plans we have, how we have made these plans, what programmes we have evolved to implement, and what stage of implementation we are today. These are meant to give you some insight into why meticulous planning and implementation can look like a slow pace.
Now, there is also 2015, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the issues there are human development issues. You have touched on two of them: health and education. The verdict is that Nigeria is far behind on the MDGs. What are the specific short-term measures you are adopting to make sure that by 2015 when assessment will be done, there will be some things Nigerians will point to particularly in education where the public sector education system has collapsed. Two, you talked about the global financial meltdown and in spite of that, the economy is growing at six percent even in the first quarter of this year. So, how do we address this crisis when there is no real productivity in the economy. I mean, the government has adopted monetary policies, devaluing the naira and all that but Nigeria is till a dumping ground. All the banned items are on the streets of Nigeria and that frustrates production. Even palm oil, government only recently allowed one hundred percent importation of palm oil. Furniture items have been banned but they are on the streets of Nigeria. So, there is a contradiction in terms of this long term issue and the focus on the monetary policy.
Well, let us start with the first one: the issue of the Millennium Development Goals. Last week, I was at a quarterly meeting where we received the MDG quarterly report. If you cast your mind back, at the end of that meeting, we said Nigeria cannot meet the MDG target by 2015, on the issue of child maternal mortality and morbidity and on the issue of poverty and hunger. On these three issues, we said we cannot meet the target by 2015. Even from their report, I included for them the Universal Primary Education because for us, now it is Universal Basic Education because there are policies in the basic education from basic one to nine. Really, there are these four of the eight MDG goals which are unlikely that we meet. At the investment level we are making today in these areas, it is unlikely that we meet them by 2015. But there are others, by the level of investment and efforts we are making today, we are likely to meet those goals by 2015. So what I have asked the Senior Special Assistant on the MDGs and other officials to do is to look at what we need to do between now and 2015 to ensure that we increase the pace of investment in these areas and to determine what additional time do we need to realistically be able to say that we will be able to achieve these human development goals. So this is what we are doing now: they are working it out now. We are aware of that and we are being frank to this nation that this is the position and that we have asked officials to look at these two issues. What we need to do is to raise the level of investment in these four areas between now and 2015 and at what time would we be able to say that we have made progress and achieve these goals. Is it by 2018, 2020, at what point? I told them that by the next meeting which will be in three months time, these are the issues we will be deliberating on.
On the issues of economic melt-down, what we have seen is the function of corruption which is one of the factors that have to be tackled in this country to achieve these goals and this is one of the things. I hope it will work. I have set up a presidential task force on customs reforms. It has been inaugurated. I have asked the customs board to set it up and I have approved it because by the Act establishing the customs board, it has powers to do that-to set up a task force to ensure the implementation of the customs reforms within the next two years. The customs reform is not only to be able to clear our goods within 48 hours target, but also to bring down the issue of smuggling to allow the national domestic economy to grow. Right now, the level is that the economy cannot tolerate the kind of activities that are taking place including smuggling. I think that they have approved that we are on course on a proposal to set up a committee under the former United Nations Secretary, Mr. Koffi Annan to work out and see how to make a case because take the textiles for instance, we have identified, even though we are working on the N70 billion textile reform, we found out that one of the major problems facing the textile and garment industry in the country is counterfeiting from China, counterfeiting Nigerian textile and smuggling them into the country on a massive scale and this will require the intervention of the Chinese government. That is why we are setting up this committee and that is why I am of the opinion that I should take it up in the next ECOWAS meeting. So smuggling is one of the key and most challenging aspects of the customs reform. It is having a devastating effect on the nation’s economy. Now, on the fact that the economy is growing by six per cent per annum in spite of the melt-down: for the entire West African sub-region, the manufacturing sector, if you note, it has had little effect on the growth rate. Of course, you know that the manufacturing sector was down before the financial melt-down in this country. The largest manufacturing industry in this country is the textile and the textile industry has been down since the last six years, even more. So, almost 80 per cent of the industries in Kano, in the last five, six, seven years have been closed down. A lot of the industries had been closed down before the melt-down. That is one of the factors why in effect the manufacturing sector really contributes less than five per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in this country. It is the agricultural sector that contributes about 60 per cent to the GDP. In agriculture, last year, we had a very good harvest. We have made a very serious progress in this sector in this country and we are taking measures, for instance, dedicating the natural resources fund for the next four years to agriculture for research and state governments for production. We are set, however, to go to the Central Bank to get N200 billion for the development of large-scale commercial farming. We have done one thing which has never been done before and which now is helping agriculture. Last year, we subsidised fertiliser and I think that it is about 500,000 metric tonnes. 650,000 was actually planned but I think that about 500,000 metric tonnes was distributed and subsidised to farmers and the state governments added another 25 percent, making it 50 per cent subsidy for fertiliser. The quantity of fertiliser last year, the ones that were successfully distributed on time before the rains was more than that of the last four years put together. So, we had a vote and we have guaranteed a minimum price for all agricultural projects and this guarantee of minimum price has kept the price to the farmers at competitive levels. Farmers get their products very cheaply. Government from this year guaranteed minimum price. The gross in agriculture is really good. It contributes 60 per cent to GDP and about twenty per cent is contributed by the oil and gas and you have the other sectors, financial sector and the service sectors. The manufacturing sector contributes about four (4) per cent. That is why the manufacturing is just coming into the country: there is no much impact on the GDP.
Don’t you still think that some of the things you have mentioned: looking into the customs, trying to jump-start the textile industry, those are still scattered, gun-shot measures towards re-stimulating manufacturing? I do agree that it may not have contributed as much as agriculture to the GDP but in terms of employment which is the major crisis in Nigeria today, we will never be able to have a country which will employ its citizens without a manufacturing and production base. Even the agriculture sector, no value is being added to the products hence we cannot export as much as we should to earn forex. What are you doing in terms of getting things done in the real sector?
This is what we are saying: that one of the critical factors in this is power. This is why we are taking the power issue as the most critical point of the seven-point agenda because the critical factors that causes this close-down is the cost of energy in production. This affects productivity and also you have the cost of transportation because the transportation infrastructure is inadequate like I have said to you, today, it accounts for 20 per cent of inflation. These two issues must be sorted out for manufacturing and production to begin.
In May last year, you said one of the problems in the power sector is that the gas which should be used at the power stations had been committed to foreign interest for a number of years. Now, you said that by May, when you declare emergency in the power sector one of the things you would do is to set aside the existing agreement. Will this include the commitment of gas to foreign interest?
I said that when the emergency is declared, that any national resource, belonging to anybody, that will be required to meet the target of production will be used. You understand! That if for instance we need, let’s say 1 billion cubic feet of gas to generate 6000 mega watts, then all efforts we are making by October, amounts to 800 million cubic feet, the balance of or the remaining 200 million cubic feet will be taken from them: that is as a result of the emergency. So, that is one aspect that we are hoping would help us achieve the 6000 mega watts. When we achieve it, will help greatly and definitely by the end of 2011, if we have 10,000 mega watts generation and it is successfully transmitted and distributed, then definitely, this will help production in the industries because it will help to bring down the cost of energy this year, next year till 2011 we will subsidise the power. That is why the MYTO should be in place and by that time, we are hoping that we will be able to gradually remove the subsidy because I am certain, even without subsidy, once the power is available, steady and uninterrupted, it will bring down the cost of energy in production greatly. So, these are the two things: transportation infrastructure and the power infrastructure. Actually for production in industry, you must have these two.
Are you assuring Nigerians that December this year, this 6000 mega watts is a done deal?
That is why I am taking this measure. Because if not to assure Nigerians, I would not contemplate taking this drastic measure. So, I am aware that these measures are drastic but I am taking them in the interest of the nation to override every other personal interest.
One of the critical areas you just identified, which has so far affected development, is corruption. The perception out there is that this administration is not so committed to fighting corruption like the administration before it. The issue of Siemens came and we had the list and they mentioned past government officials who were involved and your government did not do anything. And during the period, a major bank in Nigeria was said to have been involved in money laundering in the United States and the bank was fined $15 million (USD). Nothing happened to the bank. Now, the Halliburton issue is generating a lot of interest to the extent that the administration’s explanation about $150 million that is said to be in a Swiss bank is incredible. What are you doing about corruption and how can Nigerians be assured that your administration is committed to fighting corruption in Nigeria?
In the case of the bank…? It has not come to me…
(An aide explained the matter was in the past)
Okay, because it (the bank issue) has not come to my attention.
Anyway, I think that it will be wrong to say that the government is not committed to fighting corruption. Because in the case of Halliburton, we have written to the Federal Attorney General of the United States to provide all the necessary evidence, the court papers, documents, on the basis of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty and we are waiting for them to supply the documents or others. There are a lot of speculations surrounding this case… And I think that the most critical step we have taken, which I think the people should take note of, is this issue of having written to the Federal Attorney General of the US as provided by the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty and we cannot take action on speculations. I am not aware that any document as regards anybody anywhere has come to us in this case. The case broke out in the United States of America and we have also set up a committee under the IG to investigate locally any substance of evidence regarding anybody relating to this case. But the most important thing is that, once we have a response from the US authorities, we will take action and I promise this nation that once we have a response, those names that would be mentioned in the response will be made public and we will take actions and direct that the names should be forwarded to the EFCC and those officials and former officials involved will be arrested and prosecuted.
Siemens was blacklisted because of the corruption involving Nigerian officials but your administration lifted the blacklisting and even awarded them more contracts.
The Siemens issue, yes it is true but I must give you some information. When we went for the African Union-European Union Summit in Portugal, the Chancellor of Germany discussed specifically spoke to me on Siemens and assured me that the German government had taken all the steps required and that it had made the company itself-Siemens – to undergo such restructuring and changes. The German government pleaded for the sake of our relationship that we lift the blacklisting because the company now had a totally new management and that the German government was giving the Nigerian government assurance and guarantee that what has happened will never happen again. We accepted this request in the interest of Nigerian-German relationship. We acceded to the request of the German Chancellor because some times, there are things which involve relations between nations ,to maintain good relationship among countries especially at a time when we are engaged in negotiating the Nigerian-German energy partnership. I did not want us to jeopardise that opportunity and that is so far all we have been doing to get investment in the energy sector. The partnership we have been negotiating indeed is the first one that will provide a concrete result because that is the first partnership that we have discussed that has reached concrete agreement for investment in gas production to the tune of about $1.6 billion dollars. Then we have reached a conclusion and they have agreed that part of the partnership will go completely for the domestic gas use. That it is in the second phase of the investment where they will invest about $7.5 billion that will be the liquefied natural gas. I think these were worthy considerations.
Does it not bother you that Nigerians, home and abroad, have this impression that your government is soft on corruption, particularly because of what the two gentlemen who played prominent roles in the anti-corruption campaign under the previous administration, Nuhu Ribadu and Nasir El-Rufai, are going through. Added to that is the belief that, people who are perceived to be corrupt, like some former governors and others, are known to be close to your government. What is going on?
It is not them being close to. Not my government. Not my government. It is between me and them, the ex-governors. You see, these former governors are my colleagues. We had worked together for eight years. Because I am the President, I cannot just jettison people I know. I am always very careful to separate my personal relationship with people from my state duties. What people usually perceive of the leadership does not determine the way I do things, both officially and personally. I don’t know anything else about the fight against corruption that we have not done. Now, how do you link Nasir el-Rufai with fighting corruption?
Well you see, for example, I am not aware of anything so far this government has done against Nasir el-Rufai. I am aware that the Senate has been investigating the activities of the past FCT Ministers. That you demolished someone’s house is not a mark of fighting corruption. It is only okay when you demolish it within the law. So, I am not aware that there is anything. I have not held any investigation into the activities of the ministry of FCT. In fact, since I came into office, I have never directed that something which was done in the past should be investigated because the challenges before me is enough …It is more challenging to face the task at hand than to waste my time trying to investigate what others have done. That is different from when I receive a petition of wrong-doing whether present or in the past. It is different. For instance what the National Assembly is doing, to investigate FCT from 1999 or from 2007 to a certain time, is a different thing. I have never done that. If a petition comes before me or a report comes before me alleging corrupt practices, in the present or in the past, I have a reason to investigate that. But it was the Senate Committee on FCT that investigated the activities of el-Rufai. And as far as I know, I don’t even have the report of the investigation because the committee did not permit one to go out. I think they submitted it to the EFCC. For the EFCC, I give them the independence. So, you see, all these perceptions they shout about! I am not aware. You may not know that in this government, there is a lot of propaganda in the media. Take for example, the issue of Nuhu Ribadu. I don’t know what was wrong with the police asking people to go for training and don’t know what is wrong with the notion that the police asked people to nominate him (Ribadu) to go for a training programme in NIPSS. People have allocation, the police have allocation, the military have allocation, the air-force, the army, the civil service; so they send officials to go and undergo training. That the police asked him (Ribadu) to go, frankly speaking, I do not see why that is something that is making people get annoyed but as it were, people chose to see it in different light: that it was the government that sent people away because it does not want to fight corruption. And I think that no government will allow this kind of cheap propaganda to distract it from working. No government will want its authority to be weakened by any cheap propaganda. The other thing I can see from what people are talking is what led to his dismissal from the police force. The officers, I understand, the Police Service Commission re-graded are about 250 who are working outside the rules and regulations. What is unusual about that? Because something wrong is being corrected? People do not know that the exercise even affected my ADC, Hamza. Hamza and my former ADC when I was governor, Shetima, who is here now were among the ones who were de-ranked, downgraded because the promotion they got was outside the regulations. What is wrong in doing that? And when that was done, Nuhu as a police officer, everybody in this country is aware, was posted and he refused to go. Even if he had complaints, he should go to where he was posted. And what do you think will happen to the institution if action was not taken against such acts of indiscipline? He refused to go on posting. He refused to wear his uniform…. If another person is posted and the person refuses to go, what will happen to the institution? He refused to appear before a panel… what do you think should have happened? Because he did a good job in his previous posting as a police officer to the EFCC is not an excuse to do what as he pleased… he should obey…I hate to hear that he is being victimised because government does not want to fight corruption. No, that is not so say that he is being victimised. All these things are deliberately fabricated propaganda and for me, frankly speaking, this kind of things never bother me because I know all of us will account for ourselves to a higher authority…I mean to God. Those that deceive, they are just deceiving themselves because there is a place, not only in this world, where people must account. This is the issue. I have never asked the police to do anything specifically in respect of that. I didn’t even know that the Police Service Commission set up a panel to correct wrong posting in the last few years… I have never asked them to set up the Police Service Commission to ratify an abnormality taking place in the past years. I have my two officers who were affected in my office. I did not even know that they were wrongly promoted. The Police Service Commission followed the rules and regulations. After that, Nuhu refused to accept that he is a policeman serving under anybody. So the truth is different from the falsehood and perception. I don’t normally tell stories…but I will tell you a story but I want it to be off the record…(he told the story off record).
Apart from this incident, anything concerning Nuhu. Even the thing that happened in Kuru, because, annually, they come to me after they finish the course to discuss the courses they had done that year. Among all the officers that came, it was only him (Ribadu) who was in mufti. I spoke for a few seconds with others but I spent more time with Nuhu that day. I asked him about his family and all that…They even wanted to prevent him from coming to me because he was not in his uniform, but we overruled that…And in Kuru when the incident happened, I saw in the papers that his certificate was not allowed. I queried that action. I told the Vice President that the two of them involved should be given their certificates… I expect the civil society, when somebody has done wrong, you should be able to say that that person has done wrong. If he felt that at the time, he could no longer function in the police, he should have honourably resigned. If I were him, with the kind of powers he wielded, because during Obasanjo’s time, he wielded enormous powers, I would have resigned….
Even when he left for the course, frankly, there was no intention to remove him from the EFCC. He was only nominated to go for a course but the events that followed that made it impossible for him to go back because it was perceived as if it was Nuhu against the Federal Government. If that is what people want to use to judge whether this government is fighting corruption or not, then that it is unfortunate. I believe that firmly, I am not sure it is for me to judge, it is for others to judge, but I believe firmly that the measures we are taking today are the ones that are necessary to fight corruption in this country.
One more question on corruption. This one has to do with the Vaswani case…not just the Vaswanis, it also has to do with the role of the expatriates within the Nigerian economy, Switzerland a few days ago, paid foreigners to leave the country to create opportunity for the Swiss people. But in Nigeria, we have on a consistent basis abuse of the expatriate quota which is one of the issues in the Vaswani case. The other issue is corruption at the port. Now, what are you planning to do, to make sure that Nigerians who help these foreigners to evade customs duties and abuse the expatriate quota are punished to ensure that there is a general audit of foreigners in Nigeria who are exploiting Nigerians and whose major contribution is capital flight. Because of the perception issue that is the problem, out there, the Vaswani issued some releases, they said the issue of rice, it was the federal government that invited them, they were promised that there would be waivers and that if they did not meet this, then the bank will pay them…as there was a bank guarantee to that effect: that it was a blackmail and up till tomorrow, they will still be crying blackmail. And again, would foreign direct investors not query our stance on rule of law because they were in the court at the time they were deported?
I directed that all Nigerians in the Vaswani case must be prosecuted. That is the directive I gave. Not only did I approve the measures but I also directed that all Nigerians involved, both serving and retired because there were some custom officers that were retiring and they are no longer in service, I directed that they must prosecute them. In the aspect of the other complaints raised, I will take note of it. On the issue of waivers, when this food crisis came, on rice, what the government did was to waive the duties and levies on rice but for a period of six months up to 31st of October 2008 because we expected that by September, a new harvest would have come and we gave a clear and specific order that any rice that would be imported into the country that will enjoy that levy must arrive at the Nigerian port, not later than the 31st of October 2008. These ones in focus came in this year and they cannot use the issue of the waiver because government was very specific: all those that brought in who enjoyed the waiver were not authorised… From the information I got, they were from Benin Republic, waiting to be smuggled in. When we gave the waiver, they just began to bring into the country what they had in Benin Republic. Then the prices crashed. The EFCC went to the court for prosecution. You see, that is one of the lapses of our judicial system, it requires a lot of reforms. When the EFCC took the case to the court, no court could have given exclusion because the case is already in court. The actions that were speculated were freezing their account, seizing their assets as the measure towards ensuring the payment of the duties. The last dispensation deported them not because of the issue of lack of payment of duties for nine months but because of alleged capital flight. They were the only people that got the people of Thailand to give them an invoice with $40 per tonne on the price of rice. All prices are falling and everybody knows day by day what the prices of these commodities are. It is not only because of the duties evasion but because they collect used documents to get the correct foreign exchange from the Central Bank with fraudulent invoice which is much lower than the price. What they are doing is worse than these people who are in and around the hotels selling currencies. They contribute in making our Naira to fall. So these are the reasons we say we cannot allow any foreigners to be sabotaging the national effort to this extent.
The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway has been concessioned. What plans have they made to ensure that that road is not shut down and that there is an alternative road. Are there mechanisms in place to ensure that there will be a monitoring process to ensure standard and to ensure that the design is as provided by the government?
I think that even after the approval by the Federal Executive Council, this issue came up. There are alternatives between Lagos and Ibadan through Abeokuta, there are two other alternatives. They may not be as short in distance as the express roads. But we’ll make sure that in conformity with standards everywhere in the world, before this concession takes place, there will be alternatives for those who don’t want to use the highway. Now, on the other hand, I think concessioned Lagos-Ibadan expressway has a standard, that is why we took time to work on it. The content of the concession was signed before we came in but because of this, many issues were raised, that is why we had to renegotiate it completely so that we put in measures for monitoring, to ensure that the Infrastructure Concessioning and Regulatory Commission (ICRC) is in place to regulate and to ensure that proper design is followed and to ensure that it is constructed to standard and ensure that it is maintained regularly so that towards the end of the concession period, the concessionaire would not just leave it, at the end of concession period, may be for five years or tens years without maintenance. It is the authority of the government to determine the right, the regulator who determines the right and reviews the right periodically. For instance, some of the things this review has taken care of is this: the one that was signed a week before I came in costed the road at N150 billion and the contract was for 30 years and this one N80 billion for 25 years. In that one, the concessionaire, during the concessioning period has the right to the use of the land and the high way, measuring for instance, that anyone who wants to construct anything by the side of the road has to get permission and negotiate with the concessionaire. All thee, we removed. Those rights now remain with the government. For instance in the other one, if you want transmission and distribution lines to be erected along the road, you cannot do it without the mandate of the concessionaire. Now, anybody who is a member of the government or any authority or any Nigerian, who wants to use the land is free to do so with government’s permission, so the right is not with the concesssionaire, it is with the government. We have really taken steps to make sure that there is a standard agreement to all concessions in the road sector.
Nigerians also think that we need to sort out the railway to reduce pressure on the roads and you say that by the end of 2010, we have about 100 with the PPP arrangement. We have been on this railway matter for a very long time, the fear is that there is a cartel or mafia who do not want the system to work. Do you think that there is such challenge?
It is the responsibility of the government to face the challenges. I believe that this government has taken the issue of railway as very critical and important. I feel that the PPP will work and we are also in the process of the reviewing the Railway Act to remove the monopoly of the Nigerian Railway Corporation and we also separate operation from regulation and ownership. The regulators will be separate, the operators will compete with ownership. In fact, in the last two meetings of the Executive Council, all these issues were coming into consideration and we are sending them back, now we have sent them back for another four weeks. And I hope that after theses four weeks, all these views will be taken into consideration in the National Assembly. This will break the monopoly in most of the transportation areas.
When you were talking about the railway, you said something about loans, and that the government does not have the intention of going back to the situation before debt relief…
I mean loans that are not concessionary. Loans that are concessionary have a very low interest rate, below one per cent, mostly .4 to .5 per cent and then the service charges all together is not more than one per cent and then you have a moratorium period of not less than ten years. You will not start repayment before ten years and then you have a repayment period of not less than 40 years. And these loans are only applied to sectors that are productive or commercial. So, by the time you start repayment, you should have started to generate money yourself that you can use to pay. These are the loans that really help countries to develop but loans that are commercial and not concessionary do not help countries like ours that lacks the infrastructure for production and manufacturing to develop because by the time you finish what you want to do to start generating money, you have started to pay back and that is why you get into this debt trap. In fact, before the debt relief, this country was merely managing the servicing of the debt annually not to talk of payment.
The reason we drew attention to it is that a month ago, the Minister of Finance was quoted in the papers as saying that Nigeria’s debt portfolio is too low and that Nigeria will need to borrow more money to grow the economy. A lot of Nigerians said they don’t want the government to borrow more money.
That is the government’s policy. The policy instrument that we have adopted and now this government has voluntarily adopted that because the Policy Support Instrument with the World Bank and the IMF has expired But we have voluntarily imposed it upon ourselves because we must be disciplined. We cannot afford to back and mortgage the future of other generations of our children to come. We need to take only the development loans and development loans are concessionary in nature.
There are so many vacancies that are existing, including the one of the Central Bank and because we are before the President who is to take that decision on whether the current CBN governor will be retained. Will you retain the current CBN Governor?
Whoever I send, whether Prof. Soludo or any other person, requires confirmation. If the Senate refuses to confirm, the President will send another nomination. So these two, the President and the Senate are responsible.
Sir, what we are saying is this: there are three Principal Officers in your government whose tenures have either expired or may soon need to go. They are Maurice Iwu, the INEC Chairman, CBN Governor, Soludo and the IG, Okiro. These three, will they go or the President is planning to retain them?
Those whose tenures have expired by law will go. The President has the powers to extend but I believe that that distorts growth, specially in government agencies that are professional in nature. Because once that is the way things work, you have served your time and it is finished, you have reached the age of retirement or your service said you should go. The policy of this administration regarding whichever service is that there should be no extension for any officer in the civil service or any government agency that has reached either the retirement age or has served 35 years in the service. The law provides that they should go and they should go. Those that are by appointment by the President that do not come under this provision and the law says their tenure can be renewed either by a single term or two more terms. That one, the President can either renew the tenure or appoint a new person.
But the issue of Iwu is controversial because by the nature of his appointment, his tenure has expired because the INEC Chairman was a Commissioner before he was appointed the INEC chairman.
As far as I am concerned, this is the first time I have heard this. I am aware his tenure is expiring some time next year. I am not sure of the exact time, but I am going to check.
Even by your own admission, Nigeria’s position and profile in the international community is sliding as evidenced by the G20 saga which you lamented. Were you really expecting Nigeria to be invited to the G20 meeting. What are you going to do to reverse the perceived sliding of Nigeria’s profile in international circle?
You see, on the G20, I said that as the President of Nigeria, I feel very sad that Nigeria is not among the 20 most developed economies of the world. When the G20 was to meet, I did not expect Nigeria to be invited because we are not among the 20 most developed economies of the world. I think that we are somewhere between 40 and fifty, and that is painful. There is something which is global in nature, and when we talk of Africa, Nigeria is seen as the most important country in Africa but we cannot be counted among 20 most developed economies of the world. And that is enough for all Nigerians to be lamenting. It is not that I was expecting any invitation to G-20. It is that we have never been among the best 20. It is not that we slide, it is that we have never been there. It is now that we as a nation are making a conscious effort to be there by the year 2020. South Africa is among the 20 most developed nations of the world. That is why they were invited. The prime minister of Ethiopia was invited in his capacity as the chairman of NEPAD, not that Ethiopia was invited. The President of the African Union Commission was also invited. There are other bodies like the World Bank , the President of the IMF, the President of the African Development Bank. But you are right that in other aspects we are dropping in rating. If you go to the United Nations now, there are more Ghanaians in official positions than Nigerians. If you go to AU, you will find that the last time Nigeria fielded a candidate Commissioner for Peace and Security of the African Union, we were not elected in the election. These are indications that we need to wake up regarding our stand in the world. We need to re-work on our foreign policy. That is why I created this Presidential Council under Chief Emeka Anyaoku and I have already given them a task to look at the foreign policy. Anywhere you go, the missions are a reflection of Nigeria. Our objective here is that when we are through with that, whenever you go, you will be impressed by our missions abroad. You will get a positive impression in Nigeria. You are to look at why we are behind in terms of representation in the international bodies although recently we got a good one by getting a Nigerian to be elected as President of IFAD which is a good achievement. We are taking measures for them to make recommendations to me on that aspect. I believe that by the end of three months, they will be ready. Nigeria has been paying a great deal in terms of money and material things in the maintenance of world peace especially in Africa and Nigeria really contributes a lot in terms of human resources more than any other African country and we should occupy a pride of place in the international community. I think that we need to work hard to ensure that we place this nation where it can get the respect that it deserves, commensurate to its sacrifices in peace keeping.
As a corollary to our sliding profile, it was noted that at a time, Nigeria was being reviewed at an AU summit in the African Peer Review Mechanism but because of one curious factor, the review at an AU Summit was abandoned. What is the position now?
The peer Review Mechanism has been completed. They are now on the next topic. What happened was that at the summit you talked about, they put critical things to be peer reviewed in that meeting. I think Uganda, Nigeria and one other country. The host, where the NEPAD was meeting, Egypt was peer reviewed. Everything there was time-dependent: that meeting had a time-line, was time-dependent. After that time, there was another event. There was another meeting. We finished peer review of Uganda. We were about to finish peer review of Nigeria and the country review committee made a report. I responded and then it was time to ask questions. The first question was asked, while I was already responding, it was time for another meeting so our meeting had to stop and so another meeting was called. But we were in Benin Republic for NEPAD where the peer review of Nigeria was completed.
Now, the Niger Delta. When you were talking about the Niger Delta, you said you were going to direct the Joint Task Force after the period of amnesty to do whatever it takes to put an end to militancy. Now, what does it mean in real terms, because when people refer to the JTF in the Niger Delta, they complain of the Nigerian government using oppressive model and the people of the Niger Delta continue to complain of militarisation of their areas. This directive to the JTF, does it imply the use of maximum force?
There has never been an attempt. It is by the rule of engagement of the Joint Task Force. I am sure that the rule of engagement was approved by the National Security Council. Now there is a chance of amnesty for those who lay down their arms and there are plans to rehabilitate those who do so. And relevant agencies in the area try to teach them skills and give them capital: various kinds of skills acquisition schemes will be set up. There will be a period during which we will order the Task Force into the creek to dismantle the militant campaigns because this militancy cannot continue. At the end of that, we will walk the troupe out. For how long now the Task Force has been there and unfortunately, the criminality arising from the militancy has to be stopped. You cannot eliminate criminality anywhere in the world but things would have taken normal shape. The situation that we have today whereby we have the Task Force constant there is because of skirmishes all the time. It is this today, it is another tomorrow. When this is finished, we will want the military out except the normal military formation that are within there. And we will want the Niger Delta States to live a normal civilian lives so that we can maintain law and other. So, the Task Force will not be a permanent feature there. This is a significant decision. It is becoming a permanent feature and gradually, it will continue to grow as the militancy continues to grow.
When you direct that the Task Force should go after the militants when the amnesty has expired, it will amount to a declaration of a showdown. As Commander-in-Chief, do you think that the Nigerian Armed Forces have the capacity to take on such insurgence?
Well, it is just that you don’t know what the Nigerian Armed Forces is. That is why you are thinking like this. Look, we don’t have a rebellion in the Niger Delta. We do not have a situation where the Armed Forces will fight a war or something. Those people are criminal elements. Don’t look at all this propaganda of theirs. They are really criminal elements. Even this plan we are having is not a full military operation. I think you don’t know what a full military operation means. If we are to launch a full military operation on the camps, I assure you, it is a matter of days, with the capacity of the armed forces. They are criminals like others everywhere in the country, the only difference is that these ones have taken up arms and they established camps and there has not been any authority for the Task Force to go to their camps. I think you have noticed for instance how the governor of Rivers State, when he talked to the Task Force to go into Ateke Tom’s camp last year, how long did it take? The entire camp was demolished and dismantled. It is not a policy and it has not been a policy. Even now, this plan is not to fight them as if the Army is going to war.
Next, the issue of your health, you gave an update and history before. What is the condition of your health now? What are your doctors telling you and are you really strong enough to go for the second term, as some of your party men are canvassing?
Well, I have even told my party that the issue of the second term should be put aside. So as far as I know and as I said before, I am a normal human being. I am not a supper human being. There are some people who enjoy good health throughout their lives but most people go through life being sick today, being well tomorrow. I don’t have any reason myself why I cannot do my job. And I cannot really predict what my health will be in the next year or in 2011. It is when the time comes that I will be able to tell. This issue of health, life and death does not fall within the realm of what people can speak with certainty. For instance, I just lost my immediate older sister. She was just with my mother and other family members. She was hale and hearty. A few days before, she was here with me. Also when I went to commission a University in Katsina, she had nothing wrong with her. They boarded an aircraft to Egypt there in Kano and they ate on the flight. After they finished eating, there were sisters and brothers, after they finished eating, suddenly, she started gasping for breath according to report and within ten to fifteen minutes, she was dead. Before they left Kaduna for Kano, if you had asked her what would be her health condition, let’s say by the end of this year, what would have been her response? You can see the difficult thing about life and death. Really, there is no point talking about this issue. There are people who like to play politics and they play politics with everything.
The first lady enjoys a high public profile and there are speculations on her role in your government. How much power, how much influence does she really wield in your government?
As far as I know, my wife is never a part of any decision making in this administration. This is not the first time I have been in government. I had been a governor of Katsina State for eight years. For the long time I stayed in Katsina, she never interfered in my state duties. Never. And as far as I know, even here, she never interfered in my state duties. People continue their perception outside, again it amazes me. Sometimes, the type of publications I see outside amaze me. I respect my wife. The reason I respect her is that she has never interferes. You can find out from the Ministers or anybody if she has ever talked to anybody among them on anything that is official.
On Saturday, Ekiti will go to the polls for a rerun. How much do you think this will count for the various statements you have made about electoral reform? As you said soldiers will not be drafted to that place. Today, papers are saying that they have sighted soldiers. And what is that one thing that you will like to be remembered for?
On the electoral reform, one thing, I abstain from Ekiti and other elections that have been conducted. I have never interfered. I have never directed the INEC chairman or any other person to do anything that is unlawful. I know politicians very well. For instance, the election is taking place in Ekiti tomorrow. I know that politicians from the AC and other opposition parties are there doing their best to bribe officials of the INEC and other security officials to rig the election. It is not only the PDP. I have never done it as governor and I will never do it as President. Now, I have done my best to ensure that these bye or re-run elections that are taking place are done in free and fair manner. We have had meetings with INEC Chairman and the security agencies on the integrity and sanctity of elections. As much as possible, let them get the NYSC members as polling officers. These are graduates of higher institutions who are idealistic, who are taught the importance of having a free and fair election in the country. That is why in other re-run elections, they used the NYSC. On the issue of security, I advised the IG, a day or two before the election, post other units from other states and remove all those that have been there to oversee the election so that politicians will not have the opportunity to infiltrate them and influence them to do the wrong thing. I advised the INEC chairman to try as much as possible to see that the election is free and fair. On the electoral reform proper, sometime, I see the things that amaze me. For instance, on the day of my inauguration in May 2007, I pledged to undertake this electoral reform. I was not under pressure. It was out of my own free will because I genuinely believe that the nation requires this. That this nation requires a genuine electoral system that will form the basis of its democracy. Secondly, I set up the electoral reform committee and everybody knows, even those people that have been in the government that when the government sets up a committee, the report of the committee goes to the government and the government normally issues the White Paper, and it examines this white paper, may accept or reject recommendations of the committee. And people are saying, because of cheap politicking that the reports should be implemented without consent of the government. They are also saying that the Executive Council has doctored the recommendations of the committee. This is the routine government procedure. Any report, which the government has to set up a committee to produce, government has to go through the recommendations. On this one too, after the Federal Executive Council had done their recommendations, they also sent it to the Council of State because the report has some faults. It is not for the government to implement. I am certain that some people who are criticising the report do no know what the report is all about. The main things about the report are recommendations concerning making changes in legislation. So, it is not government that will implement that. It concerns changes in the constitutional provisions or amendment of the Electoral Act 2006. This is what it is all about. That is why I took it to the Council of State so that it will get the agreement of the 36 states governors because before constitutional amendment, it has to through the State Houses of Assembly and we must get two-third majority in the States Houses of Assembly to effect amendment. It is when we have made this amendments that the agencies will now function according to the new laws. This is the state it is now. The first stage. This first stage of the Uwais report has to do with the constitution and the Electoral Act. Other stages have to do with the functions and behaviours of the agencies and other stages have to do with the attitudes and behaviours of the politicians themselves. It is an entire process. It involves attitudinal change. I am sure that 80 per cent of the recommendations were accepted by the FEC and people are saying that their recommendations were not taken. They recommended that three commissions should be established, we accepted two. The party regulatory commission, there was the constituency delimitation commission which the FEC said there was no need for because the delimitation of constituencies in the constitution is done once every ten years. We cannot set up a permanent commission just to perform once-in-a-ten-year duty. The process is going on now because the last delimitation was done in 1999. Right now, the responsibility is with the INEC but the law says all the members that are involved in the committee recommended to form a commission, they are to do it in consultation with the Boundary Commission and Population Commission so that once every ten years, the INEC should do the right thing, call these people and then together they do it, and there will not be another exercise until after another ten years. The other recommendation is that the burden of proof in an election dispute should be shifted to the INEC and the FEC said no. Anybody who alleges must prove and you can -not shift the burden to the accused because even if it is proved that yes, the INEC did not conduct the election according to law, the officials who are responsible are liable to criminal prosecution. So how can you ask somebody who is liable to criminal prosecution, that the accused now has the burden to prove that he is at fault?
The reason the committee gave was that some of the litigants ask the INEC to give them documents and they refused until the court ask for the documents. Well, you can’t shift the responsibility of the political party and put that responsibility on the INEC. All the documents you need to prove are the documents that the INEC has conducted the elections not according to law. You need the form EC8a which is from the polling stations and every candidate and political party is supposed to have an agent and they should have copies: the INEC retains the original, political parties’ agents and the candidates retain a copy, the police retain a copy, the security agent also retain a copy. There are four copies and this is how they are given. Others are collation, ward collation, local government collation, state collation, for president and senatorial elections, the federal collation and every political party and candidate is supposed to have an agent. At the end of every election, every agent should have the documents intact and what we do as politicians who go to court, we say that the INEC has refused to give the documents because they didn’t send agents or they didn’t pay agents or their agents just go away because they didn’t pay them. It is their responsibility to have those documents. To transfer this responsibility to the INEC is unfair. What you need is not to shift the burden of proof. Instead of that we should amend the Electoral Act to say that any person who goes to court alleging rigging or malpractices if he applies to INEC for any document he need, let INEC avail such person the copies. That is sufficient but you cannot shift the burden of proof to the INEC.
Then the issue of the National Judicial Council (NJC) to appoint the Chairman of the INEC and the members of the commission and the commission to be set up, the FEC said no. Really in a democracy, you cannot be trying to solve one problem and then you create another.
Still on the post election petitions there have been several schools of thought. The general template is: within a period of six months: four months for the period of tribunals and two months for the Appeals. When we began at the Federal Executive Council by examining the first point, we said no. The issue is that nobody should be sworn in, until the case is over, we said we cannot attempt that. We said that is totally unacceptable. We cannot compromise on that because there are mandates. We said, these mandates are given for four years. And at the expiration of the mandates, there must be the person who has a mandate from that date must be sworn in, other wise, we risk a case where a vacuum could be created.
If for any reason, the case could not be completed and the mandate expires, what are you going to do? Some suggestions said (this is not from the electoral reform committee), but this came from the reform committee report, this came up as a result of the examination of the committee report. So, one suggestion was that at that point, the Chief Justice of the Federation should be sworn in as the Acting President until the case is over. Then in the states, the Chief Judge of the state should be sworn in until the case is over.
But this recommendation is not from the committee report. But their recommendation gave rise to the possibility of this vacuum and in trying to find out what to do, we said no: no matter what happened, whoever has been declared stands duly elected until proven otherwise and must be sworn in after the expiration of the mandate of the first person sworn into office so that under no circumstance must we have a vacuum.
Now on the matter of the six months, if the case is not completed after six months, what do we do?
Now, some elections have been after two years. Some are still going on. If you say you give time limit of six months, then also you are denying other people. Because if this was the case, Oshiomhole would not have been governor. And Mimiko would not have been governor because six months would not have been sufficient for the case to be disposed of. The best thing is to leave the system just as it is.
We even asked the Chief Justice whether it was possible, like in the Second Republic, and he said it was not possible to conclude it within those months.
It is not possible, because there is need to give opportunity for the case to be exhausted and once you put a time limit, there are possibilities that that cannot be achieved. So, to serve the purpose of justice and ensure that there is no vacuum created; that no matter the short- comings of the federal system, we will continue with the federal system. What we need to do it is to ensure that we improve on the performance of the tribunals, improve on the conduct of the tribunals themselves. And that we hope that the electoral reforms will take care of many aspects that will give rise to so many cases.
For example, this year, there were many cases arising, because in the parties, especially the ruling party, PDP, there have been a lot of violations of internal democracy. And once the government is also not prepared to look at that, there will be enough grouse. I am the President and if I see electoral results being counted, and I see my party losing, and I interfere and tell INEC to declare, no matter what, that my party is winner, this will give rise to litigations.
So once a government is not prepared to do that, and the politicians themselves at the next stages of the reform are able to begin to correct their attitudes, with the party ensuring internal democracy, the number of cases will reduce. Also, the judiciary should look at the process and see how to make things faster.
Take, for instance, this issue of documentation. People are not responsible enough, they are irresponsible not to collect the documents that belong to them. Now they want INEC to give them. INEC refused, now they have to go to court. Now, if you just correct the electoral law, for instance, mandating INEC, that once somebody applies, give him photocopies, to comply, you cut three months from the procedures. So, all these reform in the administrative procedures and all that will improve the pace. Let us try it and see our efforts in 2011, after the 2011 elections. Then, we consider other issues which are administrative: having more tribunals or asking the high courts in the states to transform into tribunals because you have them so many in the country and there is no need setting up special tribunals. We can remove that from the constitution, and use the normal high courts. For instance, in a state, where we have three branches of the high court, instead of one tribunal, you will have three sitting!
All these administrative changes will hasten the process.
Thank you, Mr. President. Please tell us one thing, one legacy you would want to be remembered for?
Frankly speaking, one thing, one legacy I would want to be remembered most for and I know it is very, very difficult to achieve, but I am determined to achieve it, is the establishment of respect for the rule of law. Because all these problems this nation is facing, whether it is in the electoral process, the economy, corruption, or others, are as a result of disrespect for or violations of the rule of law. So, restoring respect for the rule of law is honestly one thing I would want to be remembered for.