President Goodluck Jonathan
By Paul Ohia with agency report
President Goodluck Jonathan has expressed optimism that the acts of terrorism being perpetrated by the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, which has killed over 1,400 people in the North since 2010, will soon be over.
Jonathan told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday in New York on the sidelines of the ongoing General Assembly meeting of the United Nations, that the Federal Government’s multifaceted approach in tackling terrorism has started bearing fruit.
He also dropped a hint that he had not given up on the complete withdrawal of fuel subsidy, despite the strong opposition to the policy that forced him to back down last January when he attempted it.
According to him, the “robust” approach to checkmating Boko Haram using military force, holding indirect talks with the group and improving education in the North has led to a reduction in the number of successful attacks carried out by the insurgents.
Security agents in the last few months seemed to have gained the upper hand in their frequent clashes with the terrorists, many of whom have either been killed or arrested.
The security agents made a major breakthrough in their anti-terror campaign last Monday when they killed a suspected top member of the insurgent group and arrested 156 others in Mubi, Adamawa State.
Operatives of the special security squad, Operation Restore Sanity, made the arrest during a raid on the insurgents’ hideout in Mubi, which led to a gun battle with the terrorists in which one of the Boko Haram key commanders, believed to be Abubakar Yola, alias Abu Jihad, was killed.
Four of the 156 persons arrested are also believed to be top unit commanders of the sect involved in the recent bombings of telecommunications facilities in the North-east about three weeks ago.
In addition, over 300 improvised explosive devices already primed for detonation, 25 assorted brands of rifles, mostly brand new AK 47, submachine guns and over 2,000 daggers, swords, bows and poisoned arrows were recovered from the hideout.
Also recovered was a huge quantity of bomb-making devices, which was stored in a large compound, situated at Shagari Low Cost Housing, Mubi.
Security agents also in Yobe killed 35 suspected Boko Haram members in a raid on their hideout in Damaturu, the Yobe State capital, between last Sunday and Monday.
The killing of Abu Jihad and others came one week after the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) claimed to have killed a key member of the sect, suspected to be the sect’s spokesman, Abu Qaqa, a nom de guerre used by the spokesmen of the sect, and arrested two others in Kano.
Jonathan, in his interview with Reuters, however, played down the significance of the killing of Abu Qaqa, in a gun battle in Kano on September 16.
“If I look at it, the trend is coming down,” he said about the threat posed by Boko Haram. “It's not because Abu Qaqa is dead. Abu Qaqa is just one person. If one Abu Qaqa dies, it can generate 10 Abu Qaqas.
“The issue is not the death of one person. The issue is that the robust approach that government is taking, exploiting all possible means, is paying off, and we believe it will continue to pay off.”
The president made it clear that the military approach could only be one part of the solution.
Much more important, he said, was a push to improve agriculture, job prospects and access to Western-style education in the North.
“The whole approach, both the security aspects, both the indirect talks, and the job opportunities that we are creating, is achieving results. We are giving hope to the people. The education institutions we are establishing are giving hope to the people.
“One links up with the other to get to the respite we are seeing now; I cannot credit it to only one approach,” Jonathan said.
Last month, presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, had said the Federal Government was reaching out to Boko Haram and talking with some of its members through “backroom channels” as it seeks a peaceful way out of terrorism.
On the crisis of confidence between the Federal Government and states over the establishment of the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF), the president said both parties would soon resolve their differences.
The governors have proposed fresh terms to the Federal Government as a condition for withdrawing their suit before the Supreme Court, challenging the legality of the operation of the Excess Crude Account (ECA) from where government withdrew the $1 billion seed capital for the take-off of the SWF.
“Yes, we can go to court. But we believe it's not the best to solve certain problems through a court. We are discussing, and I believe at the end of the day we will get to a point where both parties will win.
“They are not arguing because they know that the issue of the Sovereign Wealth Fund is transparent, they trust the Minister of Finance.
“They feel that some of the states have challenges and they want to decide what percentage they can put in. But we feel it is better we do it collectively,” the president said.
Jonathan also talked about his push to abolish fuel subsidy, for which he had to beat a retreat last January in the face of crippling nationwide strikes.
“Besides the issue of corruption, it was being abused. All over the world, people advised that states should no longer subsidise hydrocarbons, because when you subsidise hydrocarbons, those who gain are not the ordinary people.
“Quite a lot of Nigerians agree that subsidies must go," he said, adding that he expected to again try a gradual phase-out to soften the impact of price increases. "This time around, we will properly involve the people and give a robust timeline."
Nigeria's cities are expected to grow to 200 million people by 2050, the UN forecast in April. But Jonathan said he was wary of forecasts based on current trends and suggested that the country's population growth would eventually slow down.
“That (growth forecast) is based on the present statistics in terms of a pattern of reproduction, which may not continue that way,” he said. “As more people become more educated and more aware, they tend to reduce the size of their population.”