LAGOS--Hopes of early rescue of the more than 200 abducted female students of Government Girls Secondary School Chibok, dimmed, yesterday, as President Goodluck Jonathan declared that his government was at a loss on the exact location the schoolgirls were being held.
Speaking, yesterday, the president said the capacity of the Nigerian military was eroded by more than 20 years of under funding prior to the outbreak of the Boko Haram insurgency, but nevertheless reiterated government determination to quash the insurgency which he said is not unique to Nigeria.
Speaking during a presidential media chat, President Jonathan said the country was tapping the support of other countries and world leaders, including President Barack Obama of the United States who he said he has spoken to twice for support.
President Jonathan also disowned claims attributed to him that Boko Haram had infiltrated his cabinet even as he gave a robust defence of his administration's anti-corruption posture just as he chided the legislature of politicking with many of its probes.
The president also disclaimed reports of a backdoor plan by the government to increase the price of fuel, saying that there was no such plan as now, adding that he would not go outside the law on the issue. The president who also spoke on the poor electricity supply in the nation said the government had intervened as he promised that the situation would not be worse than it is now.
He also spoke on the ongoing National Conference, saying that he would use the political pressure of his party and the presidency to push through the accepted recommendations of the confab into reality. The president, however, pooh-poohed questions on his re-election plans.
The session which was moderated by NTA's Cyril Stober had Vanguard's Jide Ajani, the BBC's Bashir Abdullahi and Funke Fadugba of Raypower.
The session opened with a question on the abduction of students of Government Secondary School, Chibok.
President Jonathan said: "As a nation, we are having our fair share of these challenges. But let me use this unique opportunity to thank and appreciate Nigerians for their concern and their commitment to, as a nation, get over these challenges. I promise that we will get over our challenges."
Also commenting on the activities of the Boko Haram sect, he expressed optimism that his administration will do its best to reduce their activities drastically.
He said: "Starting from the Boko Haram, especially the last two bombings at Nyanya, it is quite worrisome because it came at a time we never expected. The security personnel have done well. If you have the information of the number of bombing plans of Boko Haram that security agents have frustrated, you will appreciate them (security operatives). When you read that lives have been lost and property destroyed, you will be amazed and people express anger on government. Let me assure them that we will continue to do our best and reduce this drastically."
We 'll get the girls if parents cooperate
Calling on parents and guardians of the abducted school girls to provide useful information that will assist security personnel find the girls, he said: "On the school girls that were kidnapped, it is getting up to three weeks now, one thing that we know is that from April 24, the security personnel have been searching everywhere. They know that this thing happened in Borno State, and Borno State is where we have the highest number of the terrorists called Boko Haram. If this thing had happened in another state and security personnel were moved, the whole world would have seen a lot of mobilization. Security personnel are already on ground. All the information given to us, we have searched the places, we have used helicopter to search the surfaces."
Speaking further, he said: "We promise that wherever these girls are, we will surely get them out. The good thing is that there is no story that any of the girls have been hurt, injured or dead. I really sympathize with the parents and guardians of these girls. We are all fathers and mothers. Let us reassure them that we will get their daughters. I recently held a security meeting with the service chiefs and I also sent for the governor of Borno State, who came with the Commissioner for Education and the principal of the school and we had some useful discussion with them.
"We believe that wherever these girls are, we will get them out. What we request is maximum cooperation from the parents and the guardians of these girls. Up till this time, they have not been able to come out clearly to give the police the identity of the girls that are to return. The police have records of 44 of them, while the principal mentioned to me on Saturday night that 53 have returned but the police have record of 44. I recently set up a committee to go to Borno State, we will provide the security.
"We are pleading that the parents should cooperate with government, we will need the identities, including their photographs. We are also talking to neighboring countries so that wherever they take those girls to, we will surely get them back if we get the maximum cooperation from the parents and guardians. Let me reassure Nigerians that we will get the girls out, we appreciate the concern shown by Nigerians and globally. We see what they are doing in terms of protest, which is quite healthy."
The president also disclosed that more than 80% of the abducted girls are Christians.
No negotiation on-going
Asked if the authorities were negotiating with the abductors, he said:
"You cannot negotiate with somebody you do not know. Nobody has claimed ownership of this abduction. As regards these girls, I do not know, you are journalists, you should know more than me because I do not have time to go to the social media. You cannot negotiate with terrorists and even the Boko Haram has not come to say 'we did the kidnapping' and so, the issue of negotiations has not come up."
Niger Delta militants different from Boko Haram
When asked if adopting the Niger Delta tactics to address Boko Haram will work, he said: "From the beginning of my political career, I have been involved in the Niger Delta struggle and even as a Vice President, I visited one of the notorious camps in the creeks. The Niger Delta militants approach was quite different from the terrorist approach. Niger Delta militants were not terrorists. I am not trying to defend them. Even when I was a deputy governor and governor, President Obasanjo would send for us and the leaders of these boys would come. They had a reason for their agitation and when you call them for a meeting, they appeared but Boko Haram members are people who want to kill, Niger Delta militants did not go to the market places to kill.
"You should know that the approach of terrorists is completely different. Terrorism is based on ideology based on religion or politics. Nobody has appeared that I am a member of Boko Haram. These are two different things that people tend to mix up."
Asked on efforts he had made to mobilize international support in the conflict, he said:
"In terms of our security challenges, we are talking to several heads of state all over the world. United States is number one. I have personally discussed with President Barrack Obama at least two times and I requested for one assistance or the other. We are operating with them on another level.
"There was a time I met with one of Secretaries of State and the issue of human rights abuses came up. I told the Secretary of State to send some of their people down here to Nigeria to come and join our own people here. I told the Secretary of State how they can assist us because for you to control terror, you must have a superior intelligence not based on ordinary human knowledge. I also told the Secretary of State that they don't have to stay afar and claim elements of human rights abuses.
"Aside the United States of America, I have discussed with presidents of France, Chad, Niger and we have been discussing because we are going to do anything to ensure we bring this terrorism to an end. We have to stop this madness called Boko Haram."
Military underfunded for 20 years
Noting that the capacity of the Nigerian military was eroded over many years of under funding, he said the government was, however, beefing up the strength of the military to fully overcome the insurgency.
"They are capable. Therefore, we need to recruit more. There is a memo I just treated last night about the request to recruit more soldiers and train them properly. In terms of increasing the number and capacity of the armed forces, everybody knows that we have increased the capacity in terms of number and equipment. Unfortunately, this country for quite some time, we have not been equipping our armed forces that much because we have never had challenges in this issue before Boko Haram came.
"So, what we are trying to do within this period is what we would have done in the past 20 years or so and we are doing just that. But you see when things happen, when you wake up and hear that there was a bomb blast somewhere and people died, as a Nigerian you are tempted to say certain things. It took those who are currently handling it and those who are wearing the shoes to even explain what has been done and what has not been done."
No Boko Haram in my cabinet -- Jonathan
The president also disowned reports that quoted him to have claimed that Boko Haram had infiltrated his cabinet.
Denying the claim, he said that what he said was that Boko Haram had infiltrated the government justifying the claim with the ongoing prosecution of Senator Mohammed Ndume on allegations of collaboration with Boko Haram.
"I never said that Boko Haram infiltrated my cabinet. My cabinet is made up of the President, vice-president, the ministers, Secretary to the state government, security advisers, chief economic adviser. These are people you can refer to as the members of my cabinet which we call the Federal Executive Council, (FEC).
"I never said that Boko Haram infiltrated my cabinet, what I said was that my government and in saying government, we have three arms which include the legislature, judiciary and executive arms.
"You will agree with me to a large extent because a senator was being prosecuted at a time for having a link with Boko Haram. I used the word government and never mentioned cabinet."
NASS playing politics with corruption
The interaction also flowed into perceptions of corruption in the administration. The president described the National Assembly as a political ground which politicians have used to play politics on the issue of corruption.
He particularly noted the repeated invitations to ministers, saying most of them spend 20% of their time in the corridors of the National Assembly.
"Most of my ministers have appeared before the parliament several times. In fact, some of my ministers have spent twenty percent of their working hours in the parliament. And no country can progress when the ministers spend the productive periods of the day and the week appearing before the parliament.
"The information I have is that quite a number of organisations have tried to question the essence of these probes and sometimes, they feel that things are being politicized.
"Whether you like it or not, the parliament is made up of politicians. The parliament of every country is made up of politicians. And they play party politics. And if you have been following the issues, especially in the House of Representatives, you will see that there is too much of politics. A lot of them asked me to drop the Security and Exchange Commission woman (Arumah Otteh). But I am not the one that appointed her. She is not from my state. I said I can not drop the lady.
I try not to use much of my powers
A parliament of a country should not resort to parliamentary dictatorship. I try to avoid executive dictatorship as a president. I said that you can do a number of things as an executive president. If I try to exercise about 40 per cent of the powers that I have, Nigerians will say I am a dictator.
"When African presidents try to use about 60 per cent of their powers, the whole world will complian that they are dictators. The same thing applies to the parliament. The parliament has a lot of powers as approved by the law. By the time you start using your powers, people would say it is autocratic. And people will feel you are intimidating them. Definitely, we have issues."
Asked about the probe on the alleged $50 billion missing oil money first raised by suspended Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Mallam Lamido Sanusi Lamido, he said:
"The foreign aids that come into Africa within that period that the CBN governor mentioned were not even up to the figures that Sanusi mentioned. So, can people steal more money than the total money that come into the country within a period of time? Even Nigerians can ask whether that is possible.
"Twenty billion dollars is a lot of money. If you steal $20 billion today, America will know. It is their money. Where will you hide the money? Even Dangote that is celebrated as the richest man in Africa today can not produce such amount of money.
"The CBN governor is not an ordinary man. He is the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Earlier he said it was 40 billion dollars that was missing, after some time he said it was 20 billion dollars that was missing. If he was not suspended, he would have mentioned another figure. But because of the suspension we did not hear about any figure. But do you think any body will steal 20 billion dollars and no body will know? America will know. If someone or a group of people steals that amount, people will know. Where will you hide 20 billion dollars? Till this moment, we are still recovering stolen money from people, so where will you keep 20 billion dollars. So, I am telling you that if you steal 20 billion dollars, people will know even if Jonathan tries to cover it.
"The issue is being investigated. We have brought in consultants to investigate it. And the senate is investigating it. Of course, if anybody stole 20 billion dollars, we will get the money. That money is a lot of money."
Asked on his quest in the 2015 presidential election, he said:
"I think Nigerians should concentrate more on the success of the 2015 elections and whether President Jonathan declares or not should not be an issue.
"Yes we have a number of political parties but we have two main political parties which is the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) and All Progressives Congress, (APC). I can tell you that other political parties might even find it difficult to produce a presidential candidate because as at today, we have two major dominant parties. But it is likely that only PDP and APC would produce presidential candidates."
Poor power suply
On the poor electricity supply across the country, he said:
"We are looking for funds for the gas sector. We want to see how we can get funds to invest in the sector.
"Though the private sector is interested, but in terms of these investments, the government should also play a key role.
"The major problem we have is the issue of gas. The power generating plants we have do not have enough gas, thereby, those that want to expand, can not expand because of gas limitation.
"The second one is in the issue of distribution. We are looking for money, through loan agreement to ensure that all houses are metered. But the private sector (companies) that bought these DISCOS are supposed to invest in metering these houses, but most of them borrowed money, even to buy these assets, to go and borrow another money is now becoming a problem."
"We are now looking on how to get them meters, because people will pay back, since these meters ordinarily, are supposed to belong to the consumers."
"How do we get the money? I think the World Bank, the African Development Bank or some other multinational agencies are willing to support us."
"I can promise that it will get better, if it is not now, because of these challenges that we have, but we will surely improve on it, it will never get worse than this."