President Goodluck Jonathan
• No plan to remove fuel subsidy
•FG to take over Lagos-Ibadan Expressway
• Manitoba contract for validation Tuesday
•No dialogue with Boko Haram
By Our Correspondents
President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday described as premature and diversionary efforts to make him voice out his political plans after the end of his first term in office in 2015.
Jonathan, fielding questions from a panel of editors during a presidential media chat monitored on Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), however, promised to make his intention known on whether he would run for a second term or not by 2014.
The president also clarified his comment last Thursday on fuel subsidy removal, assuring Nigerians that his administration has no intention to fully deregulate the downstream sector of the oil industry next year as erroneously reported by some newspapers (not THISDAY) last Friday.
He also spoke on efforts by the Federal Government to review the concession of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway to Bi-Courtney Highway Services, the state of health of his wife, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, constitution review, the anti-graft war, electoral reforms and the controversy over the $23.7 million management contract awarded to a Canadian company, Manitoba Hydro International (MHI), to oversee the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), among other issues.
The president, who also fielded questions on the security situation in the country, said the Federal Government was not engaged in dialogue with Boko Haram.
Jonathan said it was difficult for a sitting president to open up on whether he would run for a second term or not, especially when his first tenure is still young.
“Four years is a very short time for someone to make an impact, immediately you start talking about elections, you will actually be heating up the polity. Before you ask whether Mr. President will re-contest for a second term or not, wait till 2014.
“Give me some time to make sure that myself and my cabinet work to satisfy Nigerians. This is not the time to talk about whether the president will re-contest the election or not. I do not want that to distract my government,” he said.
He said the danger in revealing his intentions now would be that the polity would not only be over heated, but governance might be negatively affected as cabinet members may be pushed to abandon their roles to playing politics.
“If I say that I will not be contesting, some members of my cabinet might resign to go and contest. Of course most of them are qualified to vie for the position,” he said.
He also explained why the cost of governance was high, recalling that the Federal Government last year increased the salaries of civil servants by 54 per cent, a situation he said shot up recurrent expenditure.
He, however, added that the government, in spite of the development, had ensured that the recurrent expenditure in the 2013 budget was relatively reduced when compared with the 2012 budget and promised to ensure a further reduction in the high cost of governance.
According to him, part of the efforts being made to reduce the cost of governance was the reason behind the constitution of the Steve Oronsaye Committee, which recommended the consolidation of some parastatals.
On the constitution amendment, the president said the issue of whether or not there should be a referendum after the legislature had done its part in amending the 1999 Constitution does not arise, as there are laid down procedures for the amendment, which he said the National Assembly was observing in its ongoing amendment process.
He explained that even if there would be a referendum, it would not border on the entire process but rather on some key issues, which he said would be identified when necessary.
He, however, declined to take any position on the myriad of issues being raised for amendment in the constitution, adding that it would be in the best interest of Nigerians to suggest areas in the constitution to be amended.
“Constitutional amendment is a good development because since 1999 when we started implementing the present constitution, the feeling of Nigerians is that this constitution was written by the military; it is not a people's constitution and they have been clamouring for Nigerians to write a constitution for themselves.
“But there are two issues because when constitution was promulgated into law, it had a provision on how it is to be amended and anything outside that becomes an issue.
“So whether you do it in the form of a referendum or not, and of course we must remember that it is the prerogative of the National Assembly to amend the constitution, I will not want to impose my own ideas on Nigerians.
“I believe that they (National Assembly) will follow the law and also listen to Nigerians. I will not really want to dictate to them their responsibilities. The National Assembly is a different arm of government and it is capable of handling its responsibility,” he said.
On insinuations that his government was indifferent to the fight against corruption, Jonathan listed the efforts the government had undertaken so far in its resolve to fight graft to include sanitising the electoral process, which he said led to free and fair elections in Ondo and Edo States recently, describing corruption in the electoral process as the root cause of corruption in the land.
He also spoke on the strides his government had recorded through the sanitisation of fertiliser distribution to farmers, revealing that unlike in the past when fertiliser could not get to farmers because of corruption in the distribution process, the trend had improved.
According to him, the ongoing sanitisation of the oil sector was another evidence of his government’s commitment to the fight against corruption, promising that by the time the process is completed, corruption in the oil sector would have been reduced significantly.
Jonathan also explained the rationale behind the N1 billion presidency food bill as reflected in the budget, saying there was a misconception by the public that everything going on in the presidential villa revolved round only himself, his family as well as the vice-president and his family.
He disclosed that there are several parastatals such as the National Boundary Commission (NBC) and Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), which are under the presidency and also share in the budget.
He regretted the downward slide in Nigeria’s education sector, remarking that the government was working hard to restore the sector’s glory.
He assured the public that by the time his tenure would end in 2015, Nigerians would have had enough cause to remember him for the transformation that would have taken place in the country.
Asked whether he had changed his views about a single tenure for president and governors, he said though the proposal was made in good faith to reduce tension in the polity, he had succumbed to the superior arguments of Nigerians that it be stepped down.
According to him, the single tenure was not his personal idea but that of all political parties under the umbrella of a presidential committee, which he chaired when he was the vice-president.
He added: “The argument against the single term is that if a president or a governor knows that he has a single tenure; probably, if he wins he may not want to do much. But it is neither here nor there.
“I made that proposal for single tenure just to solve that problem of overheating the polity, but I believe the reactions that some people thought that the best thing to do was to maintain the status quo but made sure that we sanitised the electoral system.”
The president faulted the report of his statement last Thursday that he was notifying Nigerians of plans to remove fuel subsidy next year.
“Frankly speaking, I think I was totally misunderstood on the statement I made when the students of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies submitted their report because they did an analysis on Canada.
“Canada has 16 refineries but we have only four in Nigeria. I said, look, if you are comparing Nigeria with any other country, you have to make sure that you explain everything, so that people will know what you are talking about.
“What made Canada have 16 refineries and Nigeria only four? Immediately, they made that statement, I sent a note to my Chief Economic Adviser to tell me the ownership structure of the 16 refineries in Canada.
“Of course, the Chief Economic Adviser sent the note back to me immediately that the 16 refineries in Canada are privately-owned but they are managed under regulation by the public sector, just like DPR (Department of Petroleum Resources) in Nigeria.
“I said, look, if you think that Nigeria will match Canada, then you have to deregulate. I did not say that we are deregulating. Already, we have provision in the 2013 budget for fuel subsidies. If we wanted to remove the subsidy from January as you have said, we would not have made provision,” he explained.
The president added that he had received the advance copy of the Aig-Imoukhuede Committee report on oil marketers last Friday and that the government would look into the report.
“There is this argument that some of the marketers felt that it is the government that owes them but the preliminary report we have indicates that they are the ones who owe government.
“So experts are being brought in to do a forensic audit so that all the differences will be sorted out,” he added.
On the dispute between Bayelsa and Rivers States over oil wells, the president stated that he took an oath to defend and protect the constitution and to be fair to everybody, adding that he would always remain neutral on the matter.
He said he had directed the relevant agencies of the government to address the controversy by doing the work professionally.
The president also stated that he had applied the same measure on the dispute involving Anambra, Kogi and Enugu States on the ownership of oil wells being drilled by Orient Petroleum.
He noted that the operation of the company might affect other states where the oil wells are not actually located.
The president also provided clarity on the Manitoba contract for the management of TCN, stating that it has not been revoked. He said he had given all the relevant agencies up till the close of work tomorrow (Tuesday) to tidy up the transaction.
“Some issues were raised. We saw some loopholes that were not properly tidied up, and as a government, we should not do anything that could drag us back after we have left office to answer questions.
“I have given the relevant government agencies up to Tuesday to do the right thing. But I can assure you that it has not been revoked,” he said.
On the disagreement between the legislature and the executive over the crude oil benchmark for 2013 budget, the president explained that it was only in Nigeria that people say that government should spend all the money the country earns.
“The oil benchmark is not just simple arithmetic – it is a key instrument used to manage the economy of nations. It is arrived at using an econometric model.
“Let us assume that we know that oil price will go above $110 per barrel, if we raise the benchmark to a certain level, the rating agencies will downgrade the economy immediately to give a negative outlook and when they give you negative outlook, people who would like to come and invest in your country will keep away.
“So it affects the economy in so many areas. It is not just the issue of Minister of Finance. It involves the Minister of Finance; Minister of Petroleum; Central Bank; Minister of National Planning; and they also consult the Manufacturers Association and Bankers’ Committee to come up with a benchmark. So it is professionally done in the best interest of the country,” he said.
On the problem facing the aviation industry, the president stated that he would organise a retreat by January 2013 to brainstorm on the sector’s challenges.
Speaking on the poor state of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the president said the government would no longer allow the country to be held to ransom by the company to which the road was concessioned.
“It looks like the company is not in a position to do it. That is the busiest road in the country and it is beyond the South-west region.
“The country is being held to ransom because of a transaction that was not properly consummated. We will intervene because the problem is beyond the South-west,” he said.
Jonathan also said the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) dominance of politics was not in the best interest of the country, adding that there was a need for a competitive polity.
Jonathan also said his administration was not in talks with Boko Haram because the Islamic sect comprises faceless people who are not ready to come into the open to reveal their identities.
“Presently, government is not holding talks with Boko Haram. They are still under cover, they wear masks, there is no face to discuss with. There is no dialogue going on anywhere,” he said.
The president also said that although his wife was sick, she is now better.
He also dispelled speculations that former heads of state involved in the sale of distribution and generation companies under the power reform programme would have some advantage due to their status, as the privatisation process involved entities other than Nigerians.
The former heads of state are probably shareholders of some companies, Jonathan said, adding that the companies must bid technically and financially through the same transparent processes as other companies.