By M.B.O Owolowo
The nation was agog about the President’s interview for obviously different reasons, both supporters and critics alike were waiting to hear their President discuss cogent national issues with Christiane Amanpour of CNN on Wednesday, January 23 2013. Initially I had mixed feelings before the interview, deciding whether to prepare for a laughter fest or watching-wall-paint-dry boredom. Though I must confess the Clinton- U.S Embassy in Libya Inquiry coming up at the slated time of the interview almost took off some of the steam. There were already jokes of the interview being so petrifying it was invariably postponed to discourage viewership. After waiting an additional 2 hours, the interview got on the way. As usual President Goodluck Jonathan didn't disappoint his teaming “fans” with another coxcombical showing.
Below are excerpts from the interview with Christiane Amanpour, among the key issues discussed are Security, Power and Corruption.
Amanpour: Is Nigeria prepared in case there's a terrorist attack? (Like that of Algeria)
Jonathan: What happened in Algeria is quite unfortunate.
Amanpour: Others believe Boko Haram is about resisting misrule and corruption.
Jonathan: No! No! No! Boko Haram is not as a result of misrule. Sometimes people feel it’s as a result of poverty, definitely not. We should not play politics with Boko Haram.
Amanpour: The security forces are driving people to the hands of Boko Haram...
(Interjection) Jonathan: How!? How!?
Amanpour: One of the NGO's is quoted as saying: indiscriminate security measures, heavy handed crackdown, that rounds up thousands of people, whether they are civilian or children, people that have got nothing to do with Boko Haram. They are also saying the police in the last year or so have killed more people than Boko Haram. Do you admit that there is a problem in the security dealing with it?
Jonathan: That is not correct! That is not correct. I have said it severally; those are insinuations by some interest groups.
Amanpour: One of those interest groups is the State Department of the United States.
Jonathan: No! No! No! People get wrong information to the State Department of United States. They have the means of knowing the truth, they should try and "filter the truth". They should not just listen to people who have access to them.
Amanpour: The United States Assistant Secretary of State has said: the methods of the crackdown is inflaming the population and inflaming the situation.
Amanpour: When I interviewed you 3 years ago now, in your first interview as you assumed power. You said that the main issues for the people of Nigeria are corruption and even electricity, power you talked about. Today those are still the same issues. Some 60% of the people of Nigeria don't have regular power or electricity, 3 years later what do have to say about that?
Jonathan: I would have loved that you asked an ordinary Nigerian in the streets of Lagos and Abuja or another other city this question about power. That is one area that Nigerians are quite pleased with government, that our commitment to improve power is working. So if you are saying something different, am really surprised. That is one area that even civil society members agree that government has kept faith with its promise.
Amanpour: What should I tell the people who keep contacting us and saying they hope they have electricity just to be able to watch this interview on their televisions, clearly it is still a big problem. Is it still a problem despite the progress you say you made?
Jonathan: We have not got to where we should be, the power infrastructure is one investment that must complete the chain before the bulb can light. I promise you [promising Amanpour and not Nigerians] that before the end of the year, power would be reasonably stable.”
Amanpour: Corruption which you say you are trying to tackle. When people look at Nigeria and see all your wealth, they say oh my goodness this is a country that is stealing and bleeding itself dry. Even your own Minister of Finance talked about 400,000 barrels of oil a day simply being stolen, simply disappearing without any account. One of your ministers has said the level of theft from the government amounts to about $7 billion (U.S Dollars) a year, that's still a problem isn't it?
Jonathan: This stolen crude is being bought by refineries abroad and they know the oil was stolen. The world must condemn what is wrong. The stolen crude is refined abroad; it’s not refined in Nigeria.
The words "stealing" and "bleeding" struck a chord with me. A nation stealing and bleeding itself dry. As I often posit and as many who can discern know, the President isn’t serious about tackling corruption. So his kinsmen and their business cronies can continue to steal the nation’s crude oil and siphon the treasury unabated. It would actually have been consolatory somewhat, if most of the loot and proceeds from crude theft had transformed, if not the entire country but the Niger Delta to another Dubai or a close semblance.
Some have also accused the government of using the nation’s insecurity as another means of siphoning public funds. Despite the huge sums budgeted to security yearly, the Boko Haram menace isn't exactly subsiding. If anything the security forces are exacerbating the situation. I wonder how the Nigerian armed forces would assist in combating the Mali insurgents, considering the atrocities meted out on innocent civilians in northern Nigeria combating Boko Haram.
It is also interesting to note the President stated poverty isn't the cause of the problem. In contrast, during a visit to Nigeria, Clinton blamed poverty for the violence in the north.
"Former U.S. President Bill Clinton says poverty is fuelling the religious violence tearing at Nigeria. In a speech Monday, Clinton acknowledged he was 'really worried' about the security problems now plaguing the nation, which includes increasingly violent attacks by a radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram. Boko Haram is based in and has launched attacks across the nation's impoverished Muslim north. 'You can't just have this level of inequality persist. That's what's fuelling all this stuff,' said Clinton" - Associated Press, Tue, Feb 14, 2012.
One of the vital areas for economic growth is power generation. Those who were fortunate enough to have had electricity during the interview or those who had fuel to power their generator sets would definitely have been appalled by the supposed achievements being claimed by the President in the power sector. Surely the President didn’t think he could fool the entire audience. All we ever hear or read about are the inaugurations of committees and their power generation targets, on paper and in their deluded minds they seem to be performing but in reality there’s no evidence of such. One begins to question, how long it really takes to generate power by a sincere and purposeful leadership.
Ironically, Nigeria supplies Niger Republic with most of its electricity, while Nigeria struggles to have stable electricity within. According to the Nigeria-Niger Joint Commission (NNJC) website:
"Electricity is the basis of the development of modern economies. Availability of electricity in a country is an important factor for economic progress In this regard, the Agreement which has had a vital influence on Niger's economy in the past thirty (30) years and, consequently, on the day-to-day life of the Niger people has been and still remains the Agreement on supply of electric power from the Kainji dam (Nigeria) signed in January I 972 under the auspices of the Convention establishing the Joint Commission and renewed in 1992 between Societe Nigerienne d'Electricite (NIGELEC) of the Republic of Niger and National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The energy cooperation between the two countries has been consolidated and developed to the point where 90% of energy consumed presently in Niger comes from Nigeria." Evidently charity (power) does not begin at home in this regard.
During the interview, I noticed Christiane Amanpour was trying not to laugh at the responses she was getting from The President. The interview was unsurprisingly bland, so one wouldn’t blame viewers for resorting to the comedic side to mask the depression of watching the President of Africa’s most populous nation babble on CNN.
Jonathan successfully waffled through the interview, evading critical questions begging for answers, but one of the highlights for me was his fallacious poker-faced responses to questions relating to the power sector. One of the piteous responses from the President was: "The power infrastructure is one investment that must complete the chain before the bulb can light."
This bulb lighting analogy typifies the leadership vacuum and general state of affairs in contemporary Nigeria. May be the President needs to be reminded Edison, Tesla and others inventors lit the bulb in the 19th century. By reducing the mechanisms of power generation to simply lighting a bulb in an age where vacations are being planned to other planets just about sums it up for me. Timeline 2013, Nigeria - let there be "LIGHT"!