On September 12, 2011, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, in a televised media chat with four senior journalists responded to a wide range of burning national issues. Stella Din (Silverbird TV), Tukur Abdulrahman (New Nigerian), Wole Laoye (Daily Trust) and Kunle Bakare (National Encomium) were the interviewers.
A lot of Nigerians believe that there is too much grammar on this economic issue. You know the economy is improving, we are doing this; Micro and macro economy. The micro and macro for the common man is employment. Are there jobs and recently a lot of analysts are saying maybe we should not be doing it the same way it has been done before because it has not yielded anything and with your new agenda are there new strategies and time lines for employment generation for the youths which in a way is the only way the common man will know that there is improvement? .
I agree with you. I always tell people that I don’t like talking about growth indices. In terms of growth indices, the Nigerian economy is not doing badly but in terms of `unemployment, because of our huge population the figures are still poor and we agree that if we have so many unemployed youths and the economy is growing then it is `5not a very palatable story. Yes the economy is growing…. in terms of Africa Nigeria is still almost at the top in terms of growth, so the economy is growing. Though would have expected it by now to grow more than 12 percent but we are growing at 8 point something.
It is growing but one key thing is to translate this growth into the improvement of the welfare of Nigerians. The average Nigerian should not go home and sleep without food. People who leave school should get jobs. People should go to the hospitals and get treated. People should attend good schools with minimal costs. It is when these things are happening that people will be happy and you should see what we are doing now. We are bringing all the ministries, the key economic ministries together in different clusters. It has never happened in that way before. Even though, yes, when Obasanjo was here as president we had the economic team.
It was the present minister of finance that also set up that economic team but now we are going a little more than that. We are encouraging ministries that have certain things in common to meet. For example every week, the ministry of power and the ministry of petroleum meet. The two ministers and their technical staff meet to see how they can get gas to the turbines. Before this time the Ministry of Power will be building their turbines, the Petroleum Ministry will be doing their business that is why we have this kind of lacuna. We have turbines that have been installed but not contracts to send gas to the turbines. So when you install gas turbines and there is no gas, what happens? Now they are working together so when a power project is going on that requires gas at the same time, the petroleum ministry project that will send gas to that turbine will also be going on so that by the time they are installing their turbine the gas will also be there, the gas will also be scrubbed. So we are bringing these processes together.
In Agriculture, we are also creating a cluster. We met on Thursday last week and the agric minister unfolded the new plan to revolutionise agriculture. We no longer want to take agriculture as in farming. You see the problem here is that people will tell you that our farmers are very old because the young people don’t want to do this cutlass and hoe farming. Farming must be a business and they must know that farming is a business so that is the major change.
When farming becomes a business, people will be interested and employment will be generated even in the petroleum sector. Apart from that early time that we built the two refineries in Port Harcourt, in Warri and in Kaduna, we were no longer investing in the downstream activities of the petroleum industry. Nigeria was just interested in mining and selling the crude oil and gas and the offshore activities of the petroleum industry don’t generate jobs. It is only when you are doing seismic surveys that you employ.
Immediately you build a flow station you do not need five people to man a big station as big as, maybe half a kilometre square. You need very few people because everything is automated but it is the downstream activity, the petrochemical, the only petrochemical we had in Port Harcourt, the Eleme petrochemical we couldn’t manage it but now because it has been privatised that is one successful story that is working and in fact they want to even expand it. They want to expand that petrochemical, they want to build fertiliser plant. They are thinking of building the biggest petrol chemical even in the whole world; and the biggest fertiliser plant and you can imagine how many people would be employed because it is the down stream that really absorbs people.
NNPC is also expanding the downstream now. Talking about green field refineries, they are talking about a major petrochemical, a major fertiliser plant and five fertiliser blending plants so that even the fertiliser we import now from the analysis before me…. what the present minister of agric told me is that the quality of fertiliser we import now, sometimes 50 percent of it is sand. So you can see how people are exploiting Nigerians. Fertiliser you know however it is-half of it is sand, you pay the correct price and the farmer applies that fertiliser that half of it is sand he cannot get the yield he wants because fertiliser is to give the nutrient that the plants require and every plant has a particular nutrient that it needs.
That is why we just want to get blending not just fertiliser we must get blending plants and that is why the blending plants are located in different zones because the soil characteristics of the different zones are different. So the blending plants take the chemistry of the soil and bring the micro and macro nutrients and minerals that are lacking in those areas and put in the fertilisers and blend it to suit the local soil characteristics and that is why we would site one blending plant in Lagos, Kaduna or Bayelsa. Every zone would have a blending plant. All this would create jobs so we are taking a different approach to managing the economy. We are looking at it from the point of clusters. No one ministry is an island now. All the ministries are linking up because the economy is one.
The Central Bank itself, Nigerians get worried. We now said look, the Central Bank and the Finance Ministry must work together and come up with common policies. Yes, the Central Bank manages the monetary aspects, the finance, the fiscal aspects of our economy but one must complement the other. You cannot isolate, you cannot separate the money aspect of the economy from the fiscal.
So I have charged them that for the Central Bank to come up with any major policy that will affect Nigerians they must all agree that this policy is good and it will help our people because they are all appointees of Mr. President. I am the one who contested the elections and appointed them. So none of them is above Nigeria. The CBN governor is not above the people that elected me because I appointed the CBN governor and the finance minister is not above the people of Nigeria that elected me because I appointed the finance minister. They have to work together for the interest of our country and for the interest of our people.
In the last four years, we have lost almost six trillion naira. At a point the value of the capital market was 2.8 trillion, in the last four months we lost 1 trillion, a lot of people are worried. Are you worried yourself? People are losing money, some are committing suicide?
Yes when Nigerians lose money, the president must be worried everybody must be worried. But the whole story about the capital market is one of those sad stories. It is because of the way people go into a kind of deceptive investment and of course you know where sometimes people borrow money. Most of these banks collapsed because of the practices in the capital market.
In those days somebody who maybe has a carpentry workshop would say no, he was putting all his money to go and buy stocks and he would buy stocks in January and by March, they would have doubled in value. Banks will call you to come and borrow money to buy their own stocks. Okay they will lend you 50 million to buy the next month, that 50 million becomes 100 million. There is no way the system can run that way. Stock market business cannot be a jackpot.
Stock market business is not a jackpot business. A lot of things were done wrongly. Some stocks were overpriced and so on and so forth. But now they are streamlining. Nigerians are paying dearly because so many people became victims but we would stabilise the market, it is only the pains that we must pass through. We are not happy.
Mr. President you have spoken partially on the reforms you intend to undertake on the agric sector because agriculture is supposed to be a driving force for the economy of a country like Nigeria.
Apart from reforming the economy it will also provide job opportunities for quite a number of people. Unfortunately this all important sector has suffered a lot in the past mainly due to inconsistencies in policies and the implementation of such policies. What assurance do you have for Nigerians that this time around all the reforms you have on agriculture will be sustained to the end?
Agriculture is very dear to me. Go and play back the videos about my campaigns, especially in the northern parts of the country. I and the Vice President emphasized agriculture because all of us know the relevance of agriculture. First and foremost, it could provide food security for a nation like Nigeria. We feel that Nigeria should lead Africa and that Nigeria should be in the permanent membership of the Security Council. But any nation that is a permanent member of the Security Council cannot talk about its people being hungry for food. If you want to be in the G-20 plus 1.
When people have no food to eat what is your business going to be in G-20 plus 1? So even for our own foreign policies, for us to really have the weight we should have, we must have enough food to eat in this country.
Then in terms of jobs creation; there is no sector that will bring the employment agriculture will bring. If you look, the Central Bank has done an analysis about poverty-related issues across the six geo- political zones. The lowest is the North Central, not even South West that is industrialized. South West is the most industrialized part of this country but the poverty level in the South West is still higher than the poverty level in the North Central because of agriculture. We have vast land in the North West and we have vast land in the North East. The problem is that rain in the North West and the North East is for a very short period; very few months. And for you to encourage agriculture there, you must fix your dams and your irrigation. We have a number of dams that have been completed by previous governments, not even the Yar’Adua/ Jonathan administration, but the irrigation components have not been done. Some can even give you up to 30 mega watts of power, 10 mega watts of power.
That is why we brought this young man, Dr. Adeshina to be the Minister of Agriculture. I did not know him from Adam. He is not a politician. He never campaigned for me. We brought people to fix sectors of this economy that need professionals to handle. He is one of the best in Africa. He has changed the story in other African countries. That is why we brought him. And let me tell you that I believe in that young man and he will transform agriculture. Before this time we were running agriculture by importing tractors and buying fertilizer. Before you know they will a paper for you-President look it is farming season we have to buy fertilizer.
That is what the ministers where interested in – buying fertilizers. We have moved away from the agriculture of buying fertilizers and buying tractors to make sure that we practice real agriculture. We will ensure that agriculture is practiced as a business and we will work the Ministry of Water Resources to make sure that our irrigation systems are properly built. He has a robust plan. From agriculture alone we are expecting at least 3 million people in terms of job creation.
There was a time the Ministries of Water Resources and Agriculture were even merge together. But even then, the Ministers was not too interested in Water Resources. They were more interested in buying fertilizers. From analysis, only about 11 percent of Nigerian farmers get the fertilizers that Nigerian money is used to subsidize. If you get 11 percent in an exam I don’t think you will tell your father. All the remaining fertilizer is sent out of this country. Go and find out. Almost 80 percent of that fertilizer gets out of this country. It is disastrous. So we are moving away from all that rubbish. We are going to practice real agriculture.
One thing I tell Nigerians is that before the end of this administration, we will not import some food items like rice. I am not giving waiver to anybody to import rice. No more. We must produce rice in this country and there is no zone that cannot produce enough rice that will feed the whole of this country. If we produce enough sorghum alone, it will create so much wealth in North West and North East if we are practicing agriculture the way it should be practiced. If we are getting the right seeds and the right fertiliser. That young man knows what it takes to revolutionize agriculture. I believe in him, just give him the opportunity and he will do it.
Since you are passionate about agriculture, what are you doing to encourage people to divest to the sector?
That is exactly what we are saying. A businessman wants to put his money where he will make money. Before this time people invested in agriculture but they did not get the right support and inputs like improved seedlings. We will improve on the return investors get in the agriculture sector. We are encouraging the value chain. Not just producing the raw food, but also processing it. We are encouraging exports too. That is why agriculture is being linked with up trade and investments. We are encouraging the Central Bank and others to make funds available to lend to that sector.
Cheap funds because agric if you are planting especially the tree crops, the economic crops that take almost like 5 years before they will start bearing fruits, if you borrow money from normal commercial bank, after twelve months they will knock on your door.
We are looking at-the added value chain and we are going to handle all of it to encourage those are interested in agric to invest in agric and make money in agric.
Mr. President, do you have anything against supporting the clamour for the convening of a national conference? A lot of politicians, commentators, and analysts have said that maybe we should all sit down look at all this problems. The Oputa Panel came and went. Up till now, I don’t think Nigerians know where that report went or whether anything was implemented there, but a lot of people are saying why can’t we sit down and talk? Or are we just scared that by talking alone we will disintegrate? Mr. President, will you support a national conference?
I support that Nigerians must discuss. And Nigerians have been discussing. You know when Obasanjo was here as President there was a dialogue, some people call it national conference. I remember that time, as a deputy governor, our state sent our own team, all states, ethnic nationalities, other pressure groups sent people and a number of things where discussed. I asked the Secretary to the Government to set up a team to look into the reports and from the briefing I have, about a 180 items were agreed upon by all Nigerians at that conference. And I know that during Obasanjo’s time some of them were actually moved into the National Assembly but, for some reason or the other ,the Assembly couldn’t deliberate on them. So all those ones that Nigerians have agreed to, we want to package them properly in form of bills and send to the National Assembly. If the National Assembly wants to make laws out of them, then, of course, they will go again for public hearings so that they will give opportunity to Nigerians who also want to make additional inputs. We will always encourage discussions because people must have opportunity to talk. I don’t believe Nigeria is going to disintegrate.
We have been discussing, we have never disintegrated. It is when you don’t discuss that you could create problems. But when you come together and discuss some of the issues you disagree on become non issues. So we must encourage discussions.
There are concerns about Nigeria having the most expensive democracy in the world. There are so many political office holders from the federal to state and local levels. Are you doing anything to reduce the number of office holders, considering that we need a lot of money for other things?
I have set up a committee to review all the parastatals of government. It is headed by Steve Orosanye. He was a one-time Head of Service. They are looking at the parastatals of government to see how we can merge some and reduce their number. That will bring down the costs significantly. We are also trying to control the number of political office holders at the federal level. We cannot regulate that of the states. But that alone may not be the problem. Generally, government must earn more money, reduce travels, reduce overheads and make sure that we have more money for capital development. That is what the economic team is working on. Even the National Assembly has agreed to cut about 20 percent of their allowances. So we all agree that we have to bring the cost of running government down.
One issue in the political scene of this country is the proposal of a six-year single term for the president and governors and even local government chairmen. Sir, do you regret making that proposal in view of the criticisms and comments it generated?
I have not regretted at all. I have no regrets. You see, transformation is costly. Transformation is painful. There is no leader that will want to transform that will not be criticized. The issue of single tenure is to stabilize the polity. We must stabilise the political environment before you can talk about the economy. People say we and Brazil, India, Malaysia, Singapore and so forth were almost at par at independence; but that Nigeria is now behind while these countries have almost entered the first world. Some people use the simplest explanation -corruption. It is very easy to say all your problems are caused by corruption. Corruption is bad; we must all fight corruption. But some other analysts say that the reason why Nigeria has not moved too far is that for this period, from 1960 to date, Nigeria has not had a stable political environment.
Now, we have elected Obasanjo as president two times, elected Yar’Adua as president and now myself. Four presidential elections and we are still here. We are now very hopeful that the democracy has come to stay.
But having a democratic government does not necessarily show that the political environment is stable. Every four years you conduct elections. It creates so much tension in the political environment. As we are talking, people are holding meetings for 2015 elections. I am not saying that single tenure alone will bring 100 percent stability. There is no system that will bring 100 percent stability. Even in very stable societies, politics must have some tension. But, considering our circumstances, we must do whatever we can to bring reasonable stability to our political environment. That is why we came up with the single term proposal. It is not the first time that this thing has been raised.
If you ask people like Alex Ekwueme, their committee as at that time recommended 5 years single tenure. A committee of major political parties which I chaired under late President Yar-Adua agreed that because of our national circumstances, a longer single term would help to reduce political tension. You people don’t know some things because you are not politicians. When you elect me as a governor today since the constitution allows me for a second term I will do everything to make sure I also win my second term. The first thing is that within your party you will want to get a structure that will favour you. That is the first problem we normally have. The parties are weak today because at the state level there is always fighting and we think if the governor knows that he has only one term and he is to lead the party to victory in the next election he will bring everybody together because he is no longer contesting any primaries. So that is one of the reasons. Then the cost of elections is quite high. This last election, I believe we spent close to 130 billion for INEC alone. The security is there, the tribunals are there. If you aggregate all what the nation has spent on elections alone, it is staggering. And for a country that now is still talking about power, roads, and other vital infrastructure, we feel that our economy may not be able to continue bearing the financial burden of elections every four years.
In Africa, I think Nigeria is perhaps the only country that has elections every four years. South Africa has five years, Liberia has seven years double tenure. A number of heads of states say Nigeria thought it has developed to the level of the United States of America and therefore copied four-year elections. Frankly speaking, four years is quite short, not necessarily for the issues of developing a country. The issue is that in Africa elections create a lot of social unrest and you need to manage this. Look at the last election that was conducted in this country that both local and foreign observers agreed were credible. Still, there was crises in some of the states. We had crises in Bauchi State, we had crises in Kano State that lead to deaths of people. So we believe that we need a gap and I really did not talk about six years. My thinking is seven years for president, seven years for governors but for the national assembly and state assemblies six years multiple. I feel every four years is too short for our economy. Yes, people may see it differently. Sometime people are no longer rational when politics are involved. I compare politics to chieftaincy disputes in communities or land disputes. People who are involved in chieftaincy disputes or land disputes don’t think. All your interests is to defend your family position.
Nobody is rational. You defend your family whether your father is right or wrong. That is politics for you but Nigerians will decide one day. I am convinced that for now if you bring single tenure you will stabilize politics relatively. People may see it differently but Nigerians may take the right decision. So it has nothing to do with any individual gains. Politicians suspect every move you make, no matter what you do. They are asking: Why should the president be talking about single tenure? The feeling that I have some hidden agenda makes people to be very, makes people to attack it. But Nigerians will decide it, people will analyze it, the National Assembly will look at it. The President has no power to use executive fiat to impose single tenure on Nigerians. I have not submitted any bill to the National Assembly. So I will not even expect some very senior people to comment on it because there is no bill it is only when you see bill that you can comment on it . Now it is like almost a rumour and of course if there is a rumour then of course people will feast on it. That is what is happening. People are feasting on a rumour. But if you see the bill then you can now discuss it from point of knowledge from point of information.
Talking about rumours, what is your take on the various salacious stories coming out of Wiki-Leaks?
This whole thing about Wiki leaks is like beer parlour gossips. I don’t have supernatural powers to know whether all these stories are true or not. In Nigeria, most of them are associated with the former American ambassador. She met with this person. This is what they discussed. Whether they are actually discussed such issues, and even if they discussed, whether the issues are correct or not, is a different ball game. Let me say, I will not talk about another person, I don’t want to instigate any unnecessary media discussion on our own interview here. The recent one about me is that one of my current aides made contradictory statements about me. He described me as one of those who have not help the Niger Delta in terms of economic development as if I am a part of the old order that have been misusing funds in the Niger Delta. In another part, the same aide now spoke positively about me. That was the time I was now appointed as a Vice Presidential running mate to late Yar’ Adua.
I became the Governor of Bayelsa State from 12 December, 2005 to 18 December 2006. Just twelve months as a governor. Can somebody say that in just 12 months as a governor I became part of the old order that has brought under- development to the Niger Delta? Or is it because of the period when I was a deputy governor for 6 and half years? How many deputy governors participate in spending money in this country? We all know the fate of deputy governors. Is it in the 6 and half years that I was a deputy governor that I became part of an old order that has brought poverty to the Niger Delta? Or before I became a governor, I was an Assistant Director at OMPADEC, Assistant Director, Ecology in charge of environmental protection. I was not in charge of awarding contracts. Management of the environment looking at the places where we have problems and how we are going to do it. Linking up with the oil companies. It is that period I was in OMPADEC as an assistant director environmental protection that I become a part of the old order? Before I became Assistant Director, I was a lecturer. Just teaching students. Is it when I was a lecturer that I became a part of the old order?
Then, of course, not too long ago they talked about my wife. As I mentioned to you, I became governor of Bayelsa State in 2005. They said that in 2006, my wife was arrested with 13. 5 million dollars in Lagos airport! And knowing the circumstances that made me a governor! I think it is rubbish. So some of them, I don’t know, may be true. I can talk about the ones that made reference to me. I cannot talk about the ones that made reference to other people. They are like gossips.
If there is frenzy over it, will you just choose to ignore it?
If your name is mentioned you can’t just ignore it. But you will not because wiki leaks mentioned something then you now go and castigate that person. I am using myself as an example. You cannot. But it is something you have to take with a pinch of salt. I am not saying they are wrong or that they are right but I have given you an explanation about my own. The issue of my wife’s 13.5 million dollars – nothing like that ever happened. You people should go and find out. Incident like that immigration must be involved, customs or police or whatever. They say she was caught with 13.5 million. Who arrested her? What time? Obviously rubbish! There was nothing like that that happened. Even if they had arrested her with say, maybe 100,000 dollars or 200, 000 dollars and somebody is trying to blow it out of proportion, they will say, okay, there is something like that. This one there was no time that my wife travelled and especially that one year that I was a governor. It was very turbulent in Bayelsa state. We were not travelling. We were not travelling. I, myself only travelled to Dubai once because we had an oil company in Bayelsa state then. We wanted to link up with some investors. We travelled to Dubai just one night.
In the last few weeks, Nigeria’s judiciary has been reduced to nothing but ridicule. We have been watching and we have seen the scandals continue to make the headlines. What is your reaction to what has gone wrong in the judiciary?
All of us are worried because all Nigerians believe that it is in the judiciary they should get justice. Though, maybe they will tell you that the courts are courts of law not courts of justice, but people feel that in the judiciary people should get justice. So when the judiciary is embedded in controversy, nobody is happy over it. But one thing probably I can say or tell Nigerians is that the judiciary will reform itself and they are reforming themselves. They themselves know that what has happened is not too good for them. We should allow the judiciary to reform themselves. I will plead that politicians like me should not get involved. They have their challenges. It is a part of their own evolution but they would reform themselves and the way I am looking at it, they are ready to reform themselves. And the Nigerian judiciary will come up stronger and better.
You have spoken about the roads and so on. One issue that you don’t mention is this issue of the dredging of River Niger. I remember it is was a subject of controversy shortly after you became acting president. There were rumours that the project was stopped, it was refuted. Nigerians would want to know what the position of things is.
The dredging of the River Niger is a continuous process. Yes I know that one or two contractors have complained about payment. Maybe there are payments problems for some of the contractors but there is a dredging process that is going on and it will continue to go on. We are no longer going to take that kind of one- off dredging programme this time around. The dredging, the maintenance dredging has to go on and on. Because the problem in Nigeria is like this. We build expensive infrastructure but we don’t maintain them. Ordinarily if we have been doing maintenance dredging, we wouldn’t have required billions and billions to do dredging; we wouldn’t have allowed the river to silt to the level it silted before doing this major dredging. You know that when people are involved in politics, they bend issues to suit their own positions. Just like a lawyer arguing a case in a court. That is the way politicians operate. If you have a case and you are presenting it, the other lawyer will just listen. He is not listening to good points but he is listening to where you will make mistake. Then he will hold you on that. Luckily that is over. They felt I wanted to divert funds from dredging River Niger to go and dredge Bayelsa. Of course Nigerians realised that it was rubbish. It is one of those bad things about politics. That is the game.
Mr. President you used to be a member of ASUU
The Federal Government recently had some agreements with ASUU, what is the state of implementation of that agreement now?
The Minister of Education is handling it. Any agreement that we have entered into, we would definitely follow up. If there are a few grey areas, I can assure you that we would not rescind. If there is any reason there is something we can’t do then we would call the union for further discussions.
The Federal Roads are in a sorry state, Lagos-Ibadan, Lagos-Benin, Abuja-Lokoja, the second Niger Bridge in Onitsha. What is your government doing to address this issue?
If you had listened to the Minister of Works, he addressed the issues. Some of the roads you mentioned, already works have started. I remember that…. of course the current Niger bridge, the bridge ended around Onitsha, it was so bad. When the governor came we had to lend money, because of our poor budgeting process. To lend money, lending from the ecological fund to make sure that they quickly intervened and we would pay back to the ecological fund. It is the same federal government fund, it is the same Nigerian fund but we are just taking it from somewhere to the other because the ecological fund does not pass through normal line budgeting so we can easily lend it out without going against the law. It is not virement. So we quickly intervened.
But the second Niger Bridge is a project I said we must do.
During my campaign I mentioned it and I said that we must do it because we cannot leave the present Niger bridge as it is, it is getting weak. We have done some studies and the bridge head areas are getting weak and more so the traffic too is quite high so we cannot continue to keep that for long. We would not want to wait until that bridge collapses before we build another one. We are looking at various options not second Niger bridge alone but the major trade infrastructure in this country. If we follow normal line budgeting it will be difficult for us to get Nigerians to the positions where Nigerians want. We are looking at the various options of funding our major projects.
We selected about 50 major projects cutting across -roads, power and water resources and we decided we must adopt different options; the PPP option, the long term funding option by, some contractors are ready to fund it for us for a long time then pay over a period. So we are looking at the various options now that we have set up the economic implementation team. We can now say that the National Economic Management team chaired by the minister of finance should review the report from the Vice President’s committee so that we can move on.
The crises going on in Libya is a source of concern to Nigeria and many other African countries. Recently Nigeria took a position which was in contrast to the position of the African Union. Are you worried that for the first time we are going the other way?
No no no, we didn’t take a position that is actually contrary to that of the African Union. The last time AU discussed the issue of Libya, it was in Malabo and I attended that meeting and about forty something African countries have endorsed the transitional government. I think about forty five or so. The president of Ghana just told me yesterday that Ghana too has endorsed the TNC.. So, AU did not take a very firm position on Libya. It did not take a position that it must be this way because nobody really knew the issues about Libya.
Even as at that time we met in Malabo we knew that it was no longer possible for Gaddafi, to continue to be the leader of Libya. Because the transitional people that we call rebels then had moved so far with the assistance of NATO and others. It was very obvious.
All what we, AU, decided is that look we should allow some dialogue. A team was set up that was supposed to go and encourage dialogue. Gaddafi was not to be involved in the dialogue. The idea was for Gaddafi to step aside for Libyans to come together and conduct elections not for Gaddafi to continue as the leader or the head of the government-no. AU never took that decision.
But somehow after that meeting, things happened very fast and before AU moved in to encourage that dialogue, it was like a pot carrying water, you dropped the pot, the pot breaks and everything scatters; so individual countries now quickly took some positions.
You must also protect your citizens living in the place and of course you know Gaddafi was no longer going to be the leader of Libya. There is no point, you don’t have to play politics that does not have any relevance. What are you saying, are you saying Nigeria should continue to support Gaddafi? It is not possible. It is our strategic interest that is involved not just Libya.
Mr. President, we, over the years have spent so much money either in the liberation movement, you know, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Angola name it. We were there for them and many of them schooled here; our government funded it. Those of us who attended schools with them in the 70s know that they were richer than us, we their fellow students-you know but what have we gained from shelling out so much money? Liberia, Sierra Leone had their problems, our soldiers were there. We spent money and if we want anything in the UN it is one of those we have helped most that go against us. So can’t we draw on our diplomatic IOUs with these people or is diplomacy no longer based on reciprocity?
You see the Nigerian foreign policy from independence, we just reviewed it. Just set up a committee that reviewed the foreign policy. We have not looked at it at the level of the government. When we look at it and we accept the recommendations and maybe some changes in terms of focus but it has been centered on Africa from independence till date and Nigeria’s position from then was to protect and defend Africa and you cannot say that we did not gain much because it helped Nigeria to be recognized as a leading African country.
Nigeria is not being recognized as a leading African country simply because we are 160 million people. It is not because of the number of Nigerians. It is not just because we produce oil but because of the robust foreign policy of Nigeria. Standing firm on anything that affects Africa and supporting others, that was why Nigeria became a frontline state in things that were happening in South Africa. Nigeria has no boundary with South Africa. Now we are talking about the key countries in Africa that should be members of the Security Council on a permanent basis. You talk about Nigeria, you talk about South Africa, you talk about Egypt. If we did not play that role, nobody would have mentioned Nigeria not because of our size. Not because of the number of human beings but because of our commitments in peace keeping.
When there are problems in any African nation, we support robustly but what Nigerians are saying, and I agree with you is that yes we are doing these, yes at the political front we are getting some mileage in terms of recognition. People are saying in addition to that, what of the economic sector? If we are intervening in any country, you see we don’t gain much from that because we have very weak private sector. Governments don’t do business in countries that are developed, just like when Cameron came on a visit, see the number of businessmen that followed him. He came with very major business delegation. It is now that we are growing the private sector and the Nigerian private sector is becoming robust now so you see that assuming we get to a situation again where we invest in the liberation of other countries, as we are moving in the private sector would also move in and that is why the Nigerian private interest would be properly internationalized.
But as at that time, you know Nigeria sent out the first contingent for the war in Congo, seven days after independence in 1960. But now, the issue is the strength of the private sector and now it is different. Now Nigerian banks on their own have moved. Dangote has factories in a number of African countries and others and we are encouraging the private sector and even if I am going for state visit, I go with businessmen. Before now, the presidents of Nigeria had no crop of business people that travelled with them to talk about investing in other places. So things are beginning to change. In terms of the foreign policy we have actually reviewed it. I have received the report but the executive council has not looked at it – we would look at it and if there are areas of minor changes, we would change but you cannot say Nigeria has not gained from what we have done over the period. It is not every gain that is in naira and kobo, no. Nigeria is still regarded as a leading African country because of her foreign policy.