• Says he never told anybody he would sack Jega
• Promises appreciable progress will be made to defeat Boko Haram before the elections, return of Chibok girls
By Crusoe Osagie, Goddy Egene, Eromosele Abiodun in Lagos and Jaiyeola Andrews in Abuja â€¨
President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday affirmed that come May 29, 2015, a new government would be sworn in to lead the country for the next four years.
Jonathan, who spoke during a televised presidential media chat at the State House, Abuja, stressed that his government was fully committed to overseeing credible, free and fair elections on March 28 and April 11 that would invariably result in the inauguration of a new administration.
The president said he was prepared to hand over to a new government if he lost in a free, fair and credible presidential election in March.
Jonathan noted that just like in 2011 when he expressed similar sentiments, he restated that he would gladly go home if he failed to secure the mandate of the people for a second tenure, adding that no politician’s ambition was more important than the interest of the country.
“If in 2011, I said that I will conduct free and fair elections and if I lose I will happily go home, and it should be recorded that at that time, no African sitting president had lost an election. But within this period, a number of African sitting presidents have lost elections.
“But I wanted to create history by being the first African sitting president that lost an election… I said I would be happy to go, that this nation is more important than any human being.
“So anybody who wants to hold this office of the president or any office at all and feels that he is more important than the nation, that is not quite right.
“If as at that time, I insisted that I was ready to conduct free and fair elections and if I lost I would go, much less now that Nigerians have given me the opportunity to be here for four full years, so if the elections are conducted today and I lose, of course, we will inaugurate a new government. There is no way I will say if I lose I will not hand over,” Jonathan said.
The president also dispelled rumours that there was a plot in the presidency to sack the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, describing the claims as unfortunate rumours that belonged only to “the garbage world”.
“I want to reassure all Nigerians that the elections will be conducted and a government will be inaugurated come May 29, 2015. Let no one be perturbed about the stories that the president wants to send Jega on terminal leave, sack him and appoint someone else. These stories belong to the garbage world, and they are entirely false.
“How I wished Jega were here. I could have asked him to answer that question. One thing about politics or leadership generally is that when you are a leader, you have members who support you. Maybe somebody has been making statements to advance your cause, the assumption is that the person is close to you and is your fan.
“There are too many messages that go out and sometimes I have to call people. But more than 80 per cent of people sponsoring these messages, I don’t even know. So whatever that person says is different from Jonathan.
“And if you ask Jega, he will tell you. I appointed all the commissioners and resident electoral commissioners in INEC. They are my appointees. So if I feel that Jega is not good enough for obvious reasons, then I can by the provisions of the constitution that gives the person who appoints him the power to remove him, do so. But I have not told anybody that I am going to remove Jega.
“Some of these things are creations by interests who want to cause confusion. A lot of people are using the rescheduling of the elections to misinform Nigerians,” the president stated.
Jonathan emphasised that as a sitting president in an election year, his responsibilities were over and above those of other contenders running for the presidency, stressing that while asking for the support of the electorate in order to retain his position as president, he was also very mindful of his responsibility to ensure that the country is protected and properly managed.
“INEC, for example, is my responsibility. If the election is well conducted the credit comes to me and if otherwise, the burden is also on my shoulders. I am not just looking for power. I also have the responsibility to protect the country.
“We have a country and we cannot destroy this country and the buck stops with me to ensure that the nation is intact. I am the one who receives the calls from the international community – the US Secretary of State, presidents and leaders of other countries – all of them call me daily and it is my duty to ensure that the country is moving in the right direction,” he said.
Speaking on the utterances of the campaign organisations of the two leading parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), Jonathan said the utterances were different because there are different characters behind the candidates in comparison to past dispensations.
“For instance, the characters around Buhari in 2011 were different from those around him in the past. But if you look at the situation, the only difference is that I am a sitting president,” he explained.
On the postponement of the election, he said: “People are not being fair to me. I did not want a postponement of the elections. For the international community, I sympathise with them because in Africa there have been a number of cases where governments rescheduled elections in order to extend their tenure. So whenever you talk about rescheduling an election they are a bit apprehensive. This is not the case in Nigeria.
“The law makes it very clear that elections must be held not less than 30 days to the inauguration of a new government and not more than 150 days to the inauguration of a new government. Within this period, elections can be conducted so that it will not affect the inauguration of a new government.
“Within that period, if there is a reason for the electoral umpire to adjust the date, it is allowed. You will recall that in 2011, I was already in my village before I heard that the elections had been postponed for two weeks.”
The president added that INEC did not consult him on the postponement of the polls and did not need to do so, stating that even though the Council of State had discussed the issue of election postponement, government did not put pressure on the electoral body to shift the polls.
He explained that the commission took into cognisance the security advice because it had to work with the security forces for the successful implementation of the elections.
Jonathan was of the opinion that the postponement of the elections ought not to be a vexatious issue but the nature of Nigerian politics had given it a different coloration.
The president also observed that INEC was not fully ready for the conduct of the election on February 14 because of the challenges it faced in the distribution of Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVCs).
“I don’t determine election dates. INEC has to work with the security services like the Air Force and Nigerian Navy that will help to carry their materials and protect their staff.
“There are a lot of security implications in conducting elections in Africa. So it was the security services that advised INEC to adjust the dates. That should not have been a problem if not for the period that we are in. I don’t see the big deal about it, but in this case, people want to make black look like white.
“The National Security Adviser wrote to INEC to advise them, I did not ask him to do so. But as the chief security officer of the country I have an idea about what is happening in the country.
“However, at the Council of State meeting their people did express those concerns. They disclosed a number of things to me that I cannot tell you here – there are several angles to the security matter. The Boko Haram problem is there; there is also the threat aspect of it. But what we wanted to do was to review the security architecture of the country so that these threats will not escalate.
“INEC did say that they were ready to conduct the elections, but when the issue of PVCs arose, it was clear that many people had not collected their cards. This was not the case in 2011.
“In Lagos, for example, only about 30 per cent of voters had collected their PVCs by last week. That means 62 per cent would have been disenfranchised and they are ready to vote. Don’t you think there will be security implication with that type of arrangement? In some states, we had recorded just 48 per cent while others have 78 per cent,” he stated.
The president also assured the Nigerian public that with the intelligence at his disposal, the military would make considerable progress in the recovery of the nation’s territories under the control of Boko Haram before the rescheduled elections.
He however said that he could not state categorically that Boko Haram would be completely wiped out in the weeks preceding the new dates for the elections, explaining that the terrorists, whom he termed faceless, do not need to be totally eliminated before elections could hold safely.
“In 2007 and 2011, when elections held across the country, Boko Haram was already in existence. Nobody is saying that Boko Haram will be totally wiped out before elections can be held but in the next six weeks some serious advances will be made.
“At best, we will retake all the territories currently being threatened by the terrorists and elections will hold.
“Containing the group was tough initially because we did not have the equipment that we needed to tackle them. But now we have been able to get substantial equipment.
“Also, other countries were not committed to the cause. They wanted the African Union’s (AU) approval, which we have been able to get. Before now, Boko Haram occupied seven local governments in Adamawa but they are now in one local government – Madagali, which we will soon recover. Soon that state will be totally liberated, and we will move back the internally displaced persons back to their communities.
“The same thing will happen with Borno State. So with what will happen in the next few weeks, Nigerians will hail the security services, “he said.
Jonathan, who also spoke on the issue of costly campaigns in the country and the fund raising organised by the PDP which fetched N21 billion, said although it is an issue to be regulated by INEC, he blamed the massive amount of funds amassed by parties on the enormous amount of pressure placed on politicians seeking elective offices.
He also stated that the funds raised by the ruling PDP were not meant to finance electioneering alone but for the completion of the party’s headquarters, adding that most of the said funds were largely pledges.
He said what was most worrisome is the level of political desperation which was not as heightened as in 2011, adding that the actors around the APC presidential standard-bearer (General Muhammadu Buhari) are different from those around him now.
He also expressed gratitude to Nigerians for their perseverance amidst the various problems facing the country.
“I want to thank them for their support for government during this trying period. The world is passing through a phase in history, almost every country in the world has one problem or the other. Yet with these problems, Nigerians are going about their business, the economy has not collapsed.
“I also appreciate Nigerians for their interest in the on-going political process. I have been watching the political campaigns and they have been very colourful.
“Their desire to collect their PVCs is also very encouraging. Before 2011, Nigerians did not talk about voter’s cards until we started our one-man, one-vote revolution.
“But some politicians are messing up the process with their behaviour and I always say that for everybody aspiring for political office, there must be a Nigeria, whatever position you are seeking. There must be the people before you can rule. We must not destroy Nigeria because of our political interest,“ he stated.
On the threats by a some people to go to war if he loses the election, the president said: “Everything would be done to ensure that nobody goes to war.
“We will make sure that we do things in a way that nobody goes to war. We have a country and we must protect the country. Without the country, I cannot be president.
“Besides, I am not going to be president forever. If I am relevant at the ECOWAS level, if I am relevant at AU and the global level that is because I am the president of Nigeria.
“The day I cease to be the president of Nigeria, I am just an ordinary person. So we must protect the country. If I want to become the president of the country, I must not destroy the country.”
Jonathan also restated that the Chibok girls would be recovered alive. “I believe now that we are working with Chad and Cameroun, we will be able to change the story about the Chibok girls.
“I cannot say the exact time. But we are working with our neighbour. So just give us some time and the situation will be better. Just give us some time, the Chibok girls will be rescued alive.
“But the interest of the country should be paramount. We expect that those who have international connections should use that to protect the country,” he said.