Abuja — For the first time since he became president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan yesterday broke his silence over the issue of service chiefs, giving reasons why he refused to retire them despite pressure.
He said he disappointed those making the demand because he felt the interest of the nation must always take precedence over that of an individual. The president cited political stability as the main reason why he did not sack the military brass despite pressure from several quarters to do so.
Speaking during the 60th birthday thanksgiving service of Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala, the governor of Oyo State, at the Molete Baptist Church, Ibadan, and the third-year anniversary of Alao-Akala's administration, Jonathan said he was concerned about the implication of the action on the political stability of the nation and so could not bow to the pressure to exercise such a power.
He said: "I remember when I was made acting president, so many people advised that I remove the service chiefs because they would remove me the next day. I told them that look, we are still hoping that Nigeria will stabilise politically.
First, it's for the democratic system to stabilise and if I remove the service chiefs as acting president, which I could have done by mere pronouncement, and all of them would have left, but I said if I had removed them, my conscience would begin to prick me and I would not be comfortable that as a nation we have stabilised, but let me leave them even at the expense of my own position and if by God's grace we succeed Nigeria will say at least politically we have stabilised."
He particularly congratulated the military for the role they played in stabilising democracy in the country, especially during the turbulent period of the nation's transition. "I have to thank the military because even with the turbulence today we can say to a reasonable level we have stabilised politically," Jonathan said.
He added, "One thing we achieved by the grace of God is political stability. Under the turmoil we passed through in the last three years, the polity has stabilised. When I took over from my boss and swore in a vice-president it's an indication that the polity has come to stabilise.
"The next thing is for those of us who are politicians to conduct ourselves in a way that we can trust ourselves and the public will trust us. One of those areas that people will use to test us is the relationship between politicians themselves."
Prelate of the Methodist Church, Archbishop Ola Makinde, who took the sermon, urged Jonathan to fulfill his pledge to Nigerians to conduct a free and fair election come 2011.
Reading from the book of Psalms 103: 1-8, Makinde challenged the president to stabilise power supply in the country, stressing that without "electricity no meaningful development can take place".
The man of God, who said the elevation of Jonathan was divinely ordained, urged him to continue to walk in the ways of God like King David, in the discharge of his duties. He also urged the celebrant, Alao-Akala, to also maintain a close relationship with God so that he can continue to enjoy the blessings of God.
"A leader that is accessible is a good leader. Serve humanity in governance and let the people of Oyo State say that once upon a time you served in Oyo State as governor," Makinde said.
At the reception venue, Jonathan praised the foresight of the governor in executing road projects in the state, stressing that it would open up more business opportunities for the indigenes of the state.
Jonathan assured state governments that efforts were being made to refund those who engage in the rehabilitation of all federal roads, adding that the committee set up to look into the case would harmonise the strategies for the execution of such projects and the modalities for payments.
In his speech, Alao-Akala said the rehabilitated roads would help ease traffic congestion within the Ibadan metropolis, as well as increase social and economic activities in the state.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Governors Olagunsoye Oyinlola of Osun State, Segun Oni of Ekiti State, Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State, and Olusegun Agagu, former governor of Ondo State, were among top government functionaries that attended the event, as well as prominent sons and daughters of Oyo State.
Jonathan was under pressure to change the service chiefs following the controversial return of the then President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua to Nigeria from Saudi Arabia in which the brigade of guards mounted honour for him without the consent of the then acting president. The Jos crisis was also one of the reasons for the pressure as a section of the military was accused of complicity in the crisis.