Despite the inability of the Federal Government to pay three months allocations owed the 36 states of the federation, President Goodluck Jonathan on Sunday denied suggestions that the country is bankrupt, saying those who have been making the insinuation have only been playing politics with an important national matter.
Huhuonline.com findings reveals that the Jonathan administration has continued to fail in its fiscal obligation to state governments. Some state chief executives who did not want their names in print told our correspondent that they last received their state monthly allocation in June 2013.
“We have not received allocation for July, August and September; the fact that we are able to pay salaries is a miracle,” one noted.
In spite of the president’s stance, several financial analysts familiar with Nigeria’s current financial doldrums and who monitored Sunday’s media chat, insist that the president is being economical with words.
“If the country is not broke, why has Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala not been able to disburse funds to the states for the past three months?” one said.
Speaking during a presidential media chat ahead of the country’s 53rd Independence anniversary on Tuesday, the president urged politicians to always place the country’s interest above inter-party politics.
“Sometimes, people just play politics with serious issues. Or how can anyone just wake up from sleep to say Nigeria is bankrupt?” Jonathan queried.
“Anybody who talks about Nigeria being broke is just playing politics out of ignorance. In July, due to excess vandalism of pipeline, crude oil sales dropped significantly, and it affected the revenues of the country, so states didn’t get their usual allocation. That was the issue.
“So, it is not that we have never had enough money. It is not that the government did not generate enough revenue. So, if Nigeria is broke, a senior citizen who comes out to say that must come out to give the parameters. And that is why no matter your political interest, you must mind what you say, especially about your own country. This is not about whether you like the president’s face or not.”
Jonathan also commented on the ongoing industrial action of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, offering not the slightest hope that the government would bend over backward to get the youths back to school.
“Crises in developing countries will continue, either at the primary secondary or tertiary level. There was a time during Jerry Rawlings’s tenure when Ghana closed down all universities. I am not saying that is what we will do but it happened somewhere else,” the president said.
“So for ASUU to go on strike and say that government must spend so and so amount is unfair. This administration is the first ever to conduct and inventory of infrastructure lacking all over government tertiary institutions. If we didn’t have it in mind, we would not have taken the inventory. We have started with N100bn. But all these changes cannot happen overnight. So we expect ASUU to come and work with us.
“This particular issue is beyond 2009. We cannot change this thing overnight. We told them, go back and we are releasing N100 billion. This is the first time we are looking into it with serious commitment. Just like the roads. The members of ASUU should look at the commitment of government. We are very sincere. You can’t get it overnight. But to say we must close down the other arms of government is not possible,” he said wondering why lecturers from state universities would take part in the strike despite knowing that they do not owe any allegiance to the Federal Government. He said it was time for the government to look at the labour laws in the country.
Jonathan lamented the duration of the strike, and urged ASUU to suspend it in the interest of students.
“It is very unfortunate that ASUU strike has lasted for this long. I want to use this opportunity to call on ASUU to call of the strike,” he said. “They are asking for an allowance of ninety-something billion; and these allowances are supposed to be paid from the internally generated revenues of these universities. Until we get to a point where universities that claim to be autonomous are also autonomous in terms of funding, I don’t think all these will stop, because autonomy without responsibility will eventually lead to crisis; and this is what we are experiencing.
Asked why the government would not just acceded to the demands of the 2009 Agreement with ASUU, which it signed, Jonathan said: “Those who negotiated that agreement didn’t know the implications of certain things they agreed to.
“For example, how can you say assets of the government should be transferred to the government, and universities do not have asset management companies. There are certain things that they themselves know cannot be implemented. How can they say we should transfer assets of government to the universities? What happens to the Armed Forces?
On his contentious re-election ambition, the president maintained a reticent stance, saying his decision or otherwise to run should not be allowed to define the 2015 elections.
“It is not yet time. In a normal society, whether I am contesting or not should not be an issue,” he said.
“If anybody wants to contest, Jonathan’s decision to contest or not should not be a factor. If you want to be president, you can begin your preparations towards achieving it, whether or not I will contest. Anyone who says Jonathan must tell us whether he will contest or or anyone who says Jonathan must step down before he can decide to contest is not serious about the Presidency.”
Jonathan, who spoke on a wide-ranging number of national issues, also refuted claims that the recent sack of ministers was connected to loyalties to the G-7 governors or sympathies for the breakaway faction of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He explained that the sack was borne out of the need to inject people with fresh ideas to meet his electoral promises to the people of the country.
Illustrating his action with a football team and the coach, he said all that concerns the coach is scoring goals and when that is not happening, he changes his players. He also recalled that he had sacked some cabinet members in the past.
“It had nothing to do with G-7 governors. I dropped the minister of defence before. What of the minister that was recommended by Godswil Akpabio or the minister of environment, who is from my vice president’s state?
“Some of the dropped ministers are from states where the governors are considered to be favourable to me. I always says it is Nigerians first. We are building institutions and not individuals. People should be interested in how government works and not who does the work. From when Obasanjo entered, have there been issues with sack of ministers? Why should Jonathan’s own be an issue?”
Denies Signing One Term Agreement
Jonathan also denied ever signing any agreement with anybody to serve for one-term as President of the country, urging those claiming he signed the pact to produce the document.
“I never signed agreement with anybody. If I signed agreement with anybody, they would have shown you,” he said adding that the only thing he remembers is his suggestion for a single term of seven years.
“I was at Addis Ababa and that was where I suggested the single-term. To be more productive, a president should have seven years. But to say I have signed agreement, they should show you the agreement.”
Concerning the current ranting of Asari Dokubo that there would be war if the president is not allowed a second term in office. An evasive Jonathan said he could not speak for anybody, adding that those commenting could continue to say what they like.
On the challenges of electricity in the country and the wisdom behind the privatisation of the power distribution companies, he said generating thousands of megawatts without adequate distribution would be foolhardy. He said currently, his government is not keen about generating more megawatts, since with the distribution, the issue of megawatts increase would be successfully handled.
He also noted that the number of aides of political officers in the country is not the reason for the huge cost of governance, but the bloated civil service.
“If you are a minister, you need people that are competent to help you. This is how it is all over the world. Whenever I travel, people complain that I travel with a lot of people, but I travel with the least number of people compared to some other presidents. For you to function as a president, you need a number of people.
“There are some countries where, even if the president is sick, the system still runs. All these aides of governors and presidents are not the problem of the country but the parastatals that have a lot of overheads. If you decide to retrench now, they would say there are some countries where citizens do not go to work and earn money.”
President Jonathan also criticised Nigerians for heaping every problem in the country on corruption. According to him, corruption is not even the major problem bedevilling the country.
“If everybody continues to say the problem of Nigeria is corruption, then the feeling is that corruption is our major problem. There are different parameters that define why we are not where we are, but even when you ask the civil society group, they would say it is corruption that is the first.”
He admitted that although corruption is as old as the society and almost everywhere, it is the third of the factors militating against doing business in the country and not the first as people are wont to make it seem.
He also said one of the ways his government had been fighting corruption could be seen from the distribution of fertilisers. He also said the country has an independent judicial system devoid of interference by the president.
“I have also set up a committee including myself, the Chief Justice, Appeal Court President, the Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives and the anti-graft agencies to see how we can tackle the issue of corruption. You say the corruption perception is so high, yet people are rushing to Nigeria.”
However, the president agreed that the country has various challenges summing into insecurity. He identified the Boko Haram as the greatest threat to the country, saying tits activities have affected the country in various ways.
“We have issues in all parts of the country, but the particular issue with the Boko Haram is the use of terrorism and suicide bombers. People said we must dialogue with the Boko Haram and we set up a committee and up till now, they are still in dialogue. Boko haram started since 2009, but the excesses started with the bombing of mami-market, the UN building and the police headquarters in Abuja.”
Jonathan justified the killing of about seven people in an uncompleted building in the Apo area of Abuja, the country’s capital, revealing that there was a security report that the Al-Qaeda group was going to launch attacks on cities across the world in commemoration of the September 11 attack on America.
According to him, Nigeria’s security outfits became pro-active, arrested some people who made useful confessional statements and led the security to where their weapons were hidden. In the course getting to the place, the security agents met a confrontation from the sect members, which led to the deaths. He, however, agreed that innocent people could have been part of those killed in the cross-fire.
He agreed that the activities of the group had recently increased again, promising that his government would do everything to curb the sect activities as he is personally pained by the death every citizen.
He justified his earlier statement that members of the sect had infiltrated his government, recalling that a judge from Kano State had to be retired and a senator was recently being prosecuted for their relationship with the sect, but said he had no knowledge of the existence of the sect leader, Abubakar Shekau, who is believed to have resurfaced in a video after being declared dead by the Joint Task Force.
“I don’t know whether he is dead or alive. I am telling you that I, the president, don’t know if he is dead or alive.”
On the massive oil theft going on in the country, President Jonathan said top Nigerians are involved in the criminal activity since poor men cannot export such amount of stolen crude.
“The oil theft started on a small scale and if government had acted at that time, it would have been easy for us. Just like Boko Haram, it didn’t start last year. I was the vice president when Yusuf was killed and because it was not well handled, it became like a cancer. But I assure Nigerians that we are working seriously on it.
“Crude oil theft is not done by poor people. Most refineries abroad do not take crude oil from everybody and anybody. That is why we are pleading with presidents in other countries to reject crude oil from unknown sources. You see small boys, but those that are seriously involved are the big people.
Those who export the crude oil are not poor people,” said the president, who was evasive on the questions raised about the Ministry of Petroleum.
He also denied that the Federal Executive Council had become a massive contract-awarding outfit, saying there are other things the council deals with it apart from the award of contracts.
The president ended the media chat by congratulating Nigerians on the 53rd Independence anniversary and promising to honour past and present heroes of the country, including Taiwo Akinkunmi, the man who designed the Nigerian national flag.