“I believe we can overcome our differences”

Goodluck Ebele Jonathan

Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, is at a critical turning point. The newly elected administration of President Goodluck Jonathan aims to modernise the economy and encourage investment in all sectors while also introducing a key constitutional change that will limit and lengthen terms for the top political office-holders. In this exclusive interview with Global, the president outlines his vision for greater national unity and progress, and acknowledges the many challenges along the way – including ensuring peace across the country, developing the Niger Delta and bringing reliable electric power to Nigeria’s people.


Global: Since the end of military rule, Nigeria has consistently supported democratic change and progress in Africa, as evidenced by your forthright support for the Ivory Coast’s president-elect, Alassane Ouattara, earlier this year. What challenges does Nigeria face when trying to secure a continental consensus on issues of democracy and good governance?

President Goodluck Jonathan: We have our past leaders to thank for their vision in institutionalising democratic norms as the basic organising principle of governance across Africa. The task of the present leaders, including myself, has largely been to promote this vision by enlarging the frontiers of democracy across the continent. When we have faced situations like we had recently in Ivory Coast, my task, as Chairperson of ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States), was largely to remind leaders in the sub-region of our obligation to respect normative principles of democracy and good governance. 

We are not promoting democracy because we want to look good in the eyes of outside powers or partners. I genuinely believe that democracy and good governance are crucial to Africa’s renaissance, because most of the conflicts that have stunted economic growth and prosperity across Africa have their roots in poor governance and closed political processes. Until the people of Africa see that democracy and development go together, efforts to forge a continental consensus on democracy and good governance will always meet with justifiable scepticism. 

In the case of Ivory Coast, Nigeria came to the firm conclusion that she had to take a definite stand and play a leading role, and be unwavering in her commitment to a line of action, given the long, drawn-out nature of the crisis and the volatility of the Ivorian situation. There was a clear winner, and the loser was trying to use all sorts of subterfuge to muddle the situation and win the sympathy of some nations. The tactics failed, and the position taken by the majority of ECOWAS countries, supported by the African Union, was upheld. 

The conduct of April’s presidential and parliamentary elections was widely praised by international observers for being the fairest in Nigeria’s history. However, this success was marred by post-election violence, complaints of delays and logistical problems, as well as allegations of ballot rigging. In your opinion, were the external observers too lenient in their judgements or were the internal critics too harsh?

You are right that international observers praised the conduct of April’s general election as being the fairest in Nigeria’s history. We are very proud of the outcome of our untiring efforts to deliver free, fair and credible elections to our people. 

While I will certainly acknowledge that despite our honest and sincere efforts in that regard, we did not quite achieve the electoral perfection we aspired to with the 2011 general elections, I definitely agree with your suggestion that critics of the election are being too harsh. 

You have to learn to take claims and counter-claims of election rigging in Nigeria with a pinch of salt. The sad fact is that these allegations and counter-allegations have become a worn-out tactic by sore losers and political parties seeking to demonise their opponents and lay a claim to a moral high ground. They epitomise the breakdown of social trust, not only in public institutions, but among citizens themselves.

My administration will continue to build confidence in our electoral system through institutional and legal reforms. 

You recently announced that you will seek an amendment to the constitution which will permit future presidents to serve only a single, albeit longer, term in office. Will you stand down from the presidency at the end of your own first term in office in 2015?

The proposal for a single, longer term for our presidents and governors was born out of our collective desire to remove the distraction, acrimony, desperation and huge expenditures that come in the wake of efforts by incumbents to retain their offices for a second term. 

Rightly or wrongly, very many Nigerians believe that it is impossible to have free and fair elections when an incumbent president or governor is a candidate. The idea is to eliminate the incumbency factor, as our people call it, and ensure a level playing field for all. Furthermore, the cost of holding elections every four years is enormous for our economy. The social strife that follows every election is also very worrisome.

We believe that increasing the interval between elections will help. Our intention is for Nigerians themselves, through their representatives in parliament, to debate the merits and demerits of a single-term system and decide what to do. I have, on several occasions, made it very clear that I will not benefit from the proposed amendment. 

In your inauguration speech you said: “We will not allow anyone to exploit differences in creed or tongue to set us one against another.” How do you intend to bridge the long-running ethnic and religious divides that run through the country?

Given the immense diversities in our country, it certainly isn’t an easy task. But, believing as we do that we can derive immense strength and greater unity in the face of such diversities, we continue to put our best effort into it. I believe we can overcome our differences and forge firmer bonds of unity by giving each and every Nigerian a greater stake and sense of belonging in the country. 

We run an administration that includes leaders from all parts and regions of the country, and there is an inter-religious body in constant dialogue to moderate the radical stands of some of the adherents of Christianity and Islam. 

A major problem has been politicians who, in their desperate bid to win at any cost, whip up primordial religious and ethnic sentiments. I am happy to say that Nigerians are beginning to rise above these sentiments in choosing their leaders. We are constantly educating our people on the need to put national unity above all other considerations. 

In recent months, the Islamist group Boko Haram has staged bomb attacks in Abuja, causing serious loss of life. How grave is the threat from radical Islamic forces and what is your government doing to tackle the problem? Is there any evidence that local groups like Boko Haram have links to international Islamic terrorist cells? Are you working with foreign partners to help stem the threat?

For some time now, Nigeria has been faced with some security challenges perpetrated by members of the Boko Haram sect, who use guns and improvised explosive devices to maim and kill innocent citizens. Though the threat from the sect is more concentrated in the north-eastern part of the country, incidents have also occurred in a few other places, including the explosions in Abuja. 

The government has acted by deploying its security services to curb the excesses of the sect and is also using conflict-resolution mechanisms aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the citizenry in the affected areas.

The government is working closely with other countries to stem the tide of threat from Boko Haram and other terrorist groups. Mechanisms have been put in place to encourage cooperation among the security agencies of the various countries, especially in the area of intelligence sharing. We are quite positive that with the measures that we have put in place normalcy will soon be restored in the affected areas. 

You recently appointed Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, a former managing director of the World Bank, as finance minister. When she previously held this post under President Obasanjo, between 2003 and 2006, she delivered a landmark debt-relief deal for Nigeria. What is the significance of her reappointment and what does this say about your priorities in the areas of economic and fiscal policy?

With the appointment of Mrs Okonjo-Iweala we are saying we want to remain consistent and committed to what we have done well in the past. Her outstanding qualifications, credentials and track record in public office speak for themselves, and we are very happy that she has accepted our invitation to leave the World Bank and come back home to serve her country once again, as she did so successfully under the Obasanjo administration. We expect that she will play a vital role in bringing our plans to fast track our country’s economic growth to fruition. 

Given the current international economic climate, how easy will it be to promote investment opportunities in sectors outside the traditionally successful areas of oil and gas?

We have embarked on important economic reforms, improving macro-economic management, liberalising markets and trade, and widening the space for private sector activities, in order to build national resilience to the negative global effects. Being committed to improving the business environment, my government has put in place legislative, structural and institutional reforms to make the environment more attractive to both local and foreign investors. 

In the area of trade and investment, the government has not only embarked on radical reforms, it has also identified important sectors of the economy for strategic development, and is therefore focused on removing all barriers that would deter investment. Our solid minerals sector has been recognised as key to the transformation agenda and the government has introduced new radical legislative and structura reforms. These include a change in the nature of government’s participation in the solid minerals sector from its role of being owner of resources and operator of mines to being only administrator and regulator.

Liberalisation of the telecom sector has been particularly successful, attracting over $1 billion a year in investments in the past four years. 

In 2005, the government enacted legislation intended to restructure fundamentally the Nigerian electrical power sector in order to fast track its development. I established the Presidential Task Force on Power and published a roadmap for power sector reforms in August 2010, opening the door to more significant private sector investment in the Nigerian power sector. The government’s priority is to attract private investment to all facets of the power sector, with the objective of stabilising power supply and gradually increasing it to 40,000MW by 2020 through investment in existing plants and construction of new ones. 

The legal framework is already in place for the full deregulation of the power generation and power distribution sectors. Only transmission is to remain under government control for the time being. We believe that by implementing reforms that will attract private sector know-how and efficiencies in power generation and distribution, we can deliver on our promise of stable power supply in the shortest possible time. 

The oil-producing Niger Delta region has been relatively peaceful since 2009. What steps are you taking to consolidate this fragile peace and create a genuine settlement for the region?

Yes, indeed, peace, safety and security have returned to the Niger Delta. In our bid to stem the ugly tide of militancy and general insecurity in this very important part of our great country, the federal government in June 2009 offered unconditional amnesty to militants in the zone who agreed to lay down their arms and assemble at screening centres within 60 days. Over 20,000 militants accepted the offer. The amnesty proclamation has since paved the way for a disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration package for those who accepted the offer. Of the demobilised number, 5,659 have either been returned to formal education or placed in first-class skill-acquisition centres, both within and outside the country. The idea is to equip them with skills or formal education that would aid their speedy reintegration into civil society. 

Beyond the amnesty, the federal government has since begun addressing those issues or factors that bred militant agitations in the Niger Delta in the first place. We are currently tackling infrastructural challenges in the zone with a view to growing its economy, and creating thriving enterprises and businesses. We are also pursuing environmental remediation and shore-protection programmes in the zone. My vision is to have the Niger Delta attain its rightful place as the oil, gas and petrochemical hub of Africa. Once the right infrastructures are in place, thriving enterprises and businesses are creating jobs, and the environment is clean, I believe we would have succeeded in ensuring lasting peace in the zone. 

The Petroleum Industry Bill, which it is hoped will reform Nigeria’s oil sector, is still waiting to be enacted into law. Why has the passage of the bill been so delayed, and why has it proved so difficult to change a system that has widely been seen to have underperformed for many years?

The passage of the bill may have been delayed because not all stakeholders in our oil sector share our conviction about the proposed reforms. Those who do not share our conviction have done their best to thwart the passage of the bill, but their efforts will come to nothing because the critical majority of our people support our planned oil sector reforms and their representatives in the National Assembly will vote in support of the bill. It was almost passed before the end of the tenure of the last Assembly, but unfortunately time ran out. I am convinced, however, that the present Assembly will soon pass the Petroleum Industry Bill.

About the author:

Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is the President of Nigeria


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November 11, 2011 4:03 pm

I think it is outrageous how this President can claim that elections are a ‘distraction’! Avoiding elections will only make the problem worse, and is no way of dealing with the issue of corruption. He is avoiding the big decisions and he is a huge disappointment — much like that hat of his!!!!

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