Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, Dr. Reuben Abati, in this interaction with newsmen said the allegation of corruption against his boss’ administration has become a refrain coming from those politicians bereft of ideas hoping to blackmail him. The Presidential spokesman also gave the assurance that his boss will win the 2015 Presidential election convincingly even as he maintained that the government has yet to make any declaration on fuel subsidy removal as being variously speculated. Our Villa Correspondent, Lawrence Olaoye, was there.
The President has continued to tell Nigerians to be patient in the course of uneven distribution of infrastructures especially in the roads and power sector. How much longer are the people expected to wait especially with the dwindling oil prices?
I am not aware that the President talked about infrastructure being unevenly distributed. If you are referring to the declaration speech by the President, what he said in that speech is that ‘we’ve done a lot but there is still a lot more to be done.’ He spoke in the context of the determination of the government to do a lot more. With regard to power, the truth is that the Discos (Distribution Companies) and Gencos (Generation Companies) are all in the process of consolidating their takeover of the various facilities and the President made it clear that issues arising with regard to gas supply are being addressed. The President did not talk about uneven distribution of infrastructure.
The determination of government is to ensure that every part of the country is covered and a lot has been done to make sure that in terms of infrastructure, either roads or other facilities, every part of the country benefits. We have just completed a six-part publication indicating what has been done in every geopolitical zone and the key message of that publication is to dispel this kind of assumption that the distribution of infrastructure has been uneven. In the three years plus of the Jonathan administration, every part of the country has been touched.
Not just roads, those who may not have gained more in terms of roads have gained more in terms of other types of infrastructure like schools, libraries, health facilities and railway. There is no part of the country that has not been touched because the objective of transformation is a national agenda which does not exclude any part of the country. The President’s message is that in his second term this administration will do even a lot more and he needs a second term to be able to continue to further take Nigeria forward.
But despite all that the President declared to be his achievements, some Nigerians, especially the opposition keeps insisting that there exists a high level corruption in this government?
The people who complain of corruption about this administration are oftentimes themselves the most corrupt persons in whatever circumstance they find themselves and it is one label that people think they can just slam on this government, in order to gain attention and to be seen to be progressive. So, everybody that comments on the administration, brings up the issue of corruption, it is becoming so banal and predictable. It doesn’t sound original anymore. It is a question to which we have responded again and again. This administration has done a lot more than previous administrations to deal with the challenge of corruption and I have given so many examples.
The restructuring of the pension payment system, the restructuring of the integrated salary payment system, the introduction of greater level of integrity in payments for refined crude imports and the elimination of ghost workers who used to collect money for work not done. Even the whole idea of deregulation in the oil and gas sector was to check corrupt practices in the downstream sector. This administration conducted free and fair elections in 2011 and the various by- elections and state-level elections that followed have been adjudged unequivocally as free and fair. In addition, this government has been very transparent and accountable in the conduct of its affairs.
This is the first government in recent memory that will insist that its ministers must give account to Nigerians on a regular basis and we also regularly publish allocations to various levels of government. The Jonathan administration has shown that it has nothing to hide and it has subjected itself to thorough scrutiny by the Nigerian people, by the public and by the relevant institutions. You cannot say that such an administration is corrupt.
But what people do is to look at what suits their fancy and they blow it up to say, ‘oh, this public official has travelled five times, so, the administration must be corrupt’. And people use such tactics when they are motivated by blackmail. But one question should be asked: why the exclusive focus on the Federal Government? Why is no one turning the searchlight on the state and local governments, and be scientific in making allegations?
There is this issue of austerity measures in the country. There are reports that the government is even making plans to revisit the subsidy removal issue next year. Is it true?
If government is going to announce a policy, it will not do so through bush radio. So, you can’t be quoting bush radio and say I have even heard. If there is going to be a specific government policy, government will come out openly and announce it. As at this moment, the Federal Government has not made such announcement. Even the Central Bank of Nigeria that announced a number of measures to protect the country’s monetary system did not talk about removal of subsidy. And the Ministry of Finance in reviewing the proposed Expenditure Framework for 2015 did not do so either. So, people should not start quoting bush radio because that would amount to rumour-mongering.
There are insinuations that some of the Northern PDP governors pretend to be working for the President, but in the true sense they are sabotaging his 2015 ambition. What would you say about that?
That question is funny. What I know is that in the Northern part of the country, as in the Southern part and in every geopolitical zone, the PDP, the President’s party controls majority of the states. It has the largest number of states and I think it will be a very serious allegation indeed to say that a sitting governor on the platform of the PDP will sabotage his own party.
You are more or less accusing those governors of anti-party activities. We shouldn’t make such an allegation without concrete evidence. What I can tell you is that President Jonathan has the solid support of the governors and the party members in all the geopolitical zones. It will be unfair to dismiss as traitors, these persons who are solidly behind the President, who on every occasion profess their loyalty and who through their performance have shown that they are loyal party members. It will be unfair indeed to accuse them of plotting to sabotage the party or the President without concrete evidence.
The basis for this particular rumour is that the First Lady is allegedly pitching the president against the governors by interfering in the politics of succession in the states. There was even a report last week that she snubbed Bayelsa governor when he came for the president’s birthday?
The First Lady is not interfering in any politics of succession at the state level. There is a democratic process in place and at work, which is driven by laid down rules and regulations. The problem is that there is too much rumour-mongering going on as we move closer to the 2015 elections, and too many innocent persons are being maligned for no just reason. You claim for example that the First Lady snubbed the Governor of Bayelsa State on November 20. That is not true.
That very morning, the First Lady was in attendance during the early Morning Prayer session to mark the President’s 57th birthday. She was scheduled to travel out to England that same morning and she left immediately after the cutting of cake. This you can double-check. She travelled with British Airways. If you know the date, go and check with the airline.
By the time the Governor of Bayelsa arrived at the Villa with some elders of Bayelsa State much later in the day, the First Lady was already airborne; she was inside a British Airways aircraft, going to the UK. And then somebody went on to write a story claiming she didn’t come out to greet the governors and the elders from Bayelsa; good evidence, in that fiction writer’s imagination that she is against the governor.
The kind of stories that you read sometimes in our newspapers raise questions about the editorial ability of those who put out the stories and the common sense of the authors. Whatever happened to investigative journalism; a simple thing that could be clarified by just asking simple questions, a reporter will on the basis of mere suspicion just cook up a story and then the story is played up in the paper but it is not the truth. It is a bad thing for democracy if those who are supposed to inform the people set out deliberately to mislead and misinform them.
Political analysts believe that what is happening in the North appears as if the region is divided over the President’s 2015 presidential ambition. How does he intend to weather the storm in this direction?
Who are these political analysts? Some people just give themselves titles that they don’t deserve. Any character that is offered an arm-chair by a newspaper or a TV station is suddenly an analyst and an expert. Oftentimes we use these terms so loosely, but what I can tell you is that we have no anxieties whatsoever about the fact that President Jonathan will perform very well in the 2015 presidential elections and he will win convincingly.
In the last elections in 2011, he presented himself for the presidential elections and he was the only candidate who had the required spread in more than 2/3 of the states of the federation, which means that he was the only one who was nationally accepted.