Lagos — President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, evening stated the reason for the sack of his erstwhile National Security Adviser, Gen. Andrew Azazi, saying it was to conform with the changing tactics of the Boko Haram insurgency.
He also vowed that the Islamist sect would not bring his government to its knees as he pledged last night to change the face and structure of the administration to combat what he described as the varying strategies of the insurgent group.
Speaking during a presidential media chat, President Jonathan gave reasons why he removed Gen. Andrew Azazi as the National Security Adviser, NSA; why he traveled to Brazil last Tuesday despite the carnage in Kaduna and Yobe states and the administration's response to the recent scandal involving the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee on fuel subsidy management.
For the first time President Jonathan also opened the lid on the differences between him and former President Umaru Yar'adua on the public declaration of assets, noting that no one can blackmail him to now disclose his assets just as he affirmed that he would not dabble into speculations of his ambition concerning the 2015 presidential election. He, nevertheless, revealed that he would not reveal his plans until next year.
The live media chat was anchored by Ohi Alegbe with Tribune Editor, Edward Dickson; Ishak Modibo Kawu, Vanguard columnist and Maupe Ogun of Channels as panellists.
Giving reasons for the recent sack of Azazi as NSA and Dr. Haliru Bello as Minister of Defence, he said that the security challenges faced by the administration has overtime evolved through various stages and forms necessitating changes in the administration to combat the growing insurgency.
Jonathan said his decision to change his National Security Adviser is to conform with the changing tactics of the Boko Haram sect.
According to him: "if you study the evolution of Boko Haram, they are changing their tactics every day, so you also have to change your staff and personnel to beat their styles."
Why I travelled to Brazil -- Jonathan
Responding to public criticism on his travel to Brazil despite the troubles in Kaduna and Yobe, he said the government would not allow the threats from the Islamic militant group to cripple the machinery of government.
"It would have sent a negative signal to the international community, and the Boko Haram sect would have been seen to have achieved their aim of strangulating the government.
"The aim of terrorists all over the world is to strangulate government and ensure that government does not function. If they know I did not travel because of their activities, they would rejoice. If I do not travel because of Boko Haram activities, why should foreigners want to travel to Nigeria? My inability to travel would send a negative signal to the international community," he added.
He thus vowed that the activities of the sect would not stop government functionaries from moving around or from doing their work, adding that it is committed to ensuring that all the arms of government keep faith with their various international commitments.
"Boko Haram can not bring us to our knees, this government must keep faith with our international business allies, notwithstanding the threat of the sect. We must do all in our powers to stop them and we must stop them."
Boko Haram aiming to destabilize my government
Jonathan further stated that the aim of the Boko Haram sect is to destabilize the government, saying that the various attacks on churches are aimed at instigating religious violence.
He also alleged that if Christians do not retaliate, the sect would adopt a change of strategy by attacking mosques, in a bid to achieve their aim. However, he promised that his government will surely bring the Boko Haram menace to an end.
"Boko Haram aims to destabilize the government. By attacking the churches, they hope that Christians will retaliate against the Muslims. If the Christians fail to retaliate, the same sect will start attacking mosques, hoping the Muslims will attack the Christians."
He said that the government is ready to dialogue with the sect, but that the only problem was that the sect is faceless and the government cannot dialogue with a faceless body or group.
For the first time the President responded to critics on his failure to publicly declare his assets as he did when he was Vice-President. He explained that while he was Vice-President he disagreed with former President Yar'adua on the principle of public declaration of assets saying that it was an unnecessary step. Describing it as an anomalous action, Jonathan said that he told the late President that they should not start something that they could not control saying that they could not as well compel all other senior officials of government to follow their action.
He, however, confessed that he had to declare his assets publicly then because he was under President Yar'adua, but affirmed that no one can now compel or intimidate him to do so, saying that would not "improve the economy, would not stop the Boko Haram menace and would not advance governance in any way."
"When I was Vice President, I declared my assets, because the President then did. In any case, between the time when I was Vice President and President was just a few months, so what would I have acquired within that short time?"
He however, stated that he has nothing to hide and could even decide to declare tomorrow, if he so wishes.
Speaking on the fight against corruption, he defended the government's decision to sack the former boss of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mrs. Farida Waziri, saying: "When I give people work and assignment, I give them time and the latitude to do the job. It is when they are not performing that I take action. Everybody likes the new boss, Lamorde, people like his mode of operation and I do too."
He, however, noted the procedural difficulties in bringing corrupt persons to book. "To arrange a case file to prosecute corrupt criminals is difficult and it would be wrong to convict an innocent person. It is better for nine criminals to go scot-free than to convict one innocent person."
He urged the public to allow both Lamorde and the Acting Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC to do their job.
Fuel subsidy probe
On the fuel subsidy probe scandal in the House of Representatives, he said the reference to patrons of the PDP as being behind the scandal was uncalled for.
"The PDP has a board of trustees and since the fuel subsidy probe report was made known, no PDP member was indicted in that report. So the claims that PDP was indicted are wrong. All the noise that the President is part of the Farouk sting operation is wrong. Yes, I have heard about the Farouk issue and the matter is being investigated by relevant agencies. As a president I don't have time for that. Femi Otedola is a business man, why would I be involved in the sting operation?
"The questions on Farouk are questions you have to take up with the SSS. One thing I discovered is that criticising Jonathan and Jonathan's administration is a serious business among Nigerians. People don't know that I initiated the subsidy probe before the Senate and the House of Representatives started it.
"Just yesterday I read a story in Punch Newspapers and I have directed the EFCC to start investigating Nigeria's accounts in the United States following the newspaper report."
The President also asked Nigerians to give him time to fix the country's epileptic power situation.
He disclosed that some power transformers to address the issue were already on ground but regretted the absence of some needed infrastructure.
"Some of the basic things needed before the importation of more transformers were not put in place. For example, the pipelines that would bring gas to the turbines have not been put in place. Where the transmission lines would pass are not ready also. However, with time we would get over it."The gas Nigeria is depending upon belongs to multinational companies and they have invested heavily on it. It takes time to address this issue with the multinational companies, with time it would be addressed. Periodically, the Minister of Power will brief the country on this issue."
Increase in PHCN Tariff
On the increase in electricity tariff, he said: "Nigerians have been paying tariffs before now. What we did was to adjust the tariff for Nigerians to pay more. Those with low income will pay less than what they were paying before now, while higher income consumers will pay more.
"If we can generate electricity freely and distribute it freely without it affecting our economy we would have done so."
On the time frame for steady power supply, he said the government is working to improve the power situation in the country, adding however, that the government cannot give a specific time frame."
The President also spoke on his administration's efforts to revive the railways saying that his government should be praised for what it has done.
Asked on his plans for the 2015 elections, the President said that it was quite early to make a declaration saying that he would not allow himself to be distracted on the issue. Pressed on the issue, the President said he would not make his public intention until two years into the lifespan of his administration.
"When you ask me about 2015, I will say that it is not proper for any president given our circumstances. If I say so, whether left or right, people will misinterpret it.
"We have just spent one year. If I say I am running, the polity will be overheated. Allow us at least the next two years before we start talking about 2015.
"I said so during one of our PDP meetings that we should concentrate now and forget about 2015 debate. If we start campaigning now, we will end up campaigning for the next four years."
Defending the process in renaming the University of Lagos after the late democracy icon, Moshood Abiola, he said that there is no law compelling him to send a proposal to the National Assembly before declaring the name change. "In establishing a university, the university is set up first, before it is sent to the National Assembly to ratify. In name change, we have to declare the new name before sending it to the National Assembly.
"There is no law that says that we must first of all consult with the National Assembly or the Senate of the University before coming up with the new name."