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Jonathan is the kind of president Nigeria needs at this point of our history - Niboro

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Mr.Ima Niboro,the immediate past Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Jonathan. In this interview with our correspondent, he stoutly defends the leadership style of the president, urging Nigerians to continue to show support for the  administration. Excerpts…

  President Jonathan was recently criticized in some quarters for taking a swipe at those Nigerians who expect him to lead like a dictator. What is your take on it? In Nigeria we play politics with everything so I was not surprised when the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) attacked the president over what they should actually have commended him for. What president Jonathan was trying to say is that Nigerians through the years have become used to governance by diktat. From our recent history we have seen even civilian administrations behave worse than dictatorships. Therefore, I think what the President was trying to communicate to Nigerians is that we are a country of laws and that if we follow law and due process in all things, we will get to the promised land. From my knowledge of him, the President is a calm, deliberate and very effective leader. He pays attention to the fine print and chooses not to gloss over details. He has the strong analytical mind of a scientist and he tackles a problem, taking a holistic view. This, of course, makes people think that he is slow in governance. What they perceive as slow is actually the president's own way of fixing problems so that at the end of the day they remain fixed. Many times in this country we have seen a brash, uncoordinated and not so well thought-out approach to issues; so much so that when problems appear to have been solved, they still rear up again and you find that nothing have been resolved. Jonathan is not that kind of leader. He is a leader with a calm, deliberative approach to issues. He also believes in consulting very widely, so when it is done, it stays done.  

The President was also criticized for 'hiding' in Aso rock for this year's independence celebration on October 1, in the face of bomb threats by Boko Haram and MEND… …(Cuts in). It is an insult to describe the President as hiding himself in Aso Rock. As Commander-in-Chief, he has the full cohesive powers of the Nigerian state. He also has the power of discretion in the bid to save a larger situation. I recall vividly that when the October 1 bomb blast happened last year, the security services received warnings days before the threat. They took pre-emptive measures quite alright, but for which the carnage would have been even greater disaster that it was. This time, the terror groups came out to warn once again. With all their threats there is no way they could have harmed the president. None of their bombs can come within the radius of one kilometre to the president, but what about innocent Nigerians - men, women, children that would have been viciously hacked down? So what the president did was not to save himself, but to save the lives of innocent citizens.

On October 1, 2010, I was stunned when I saw the images of innocence maimed and murdered by the explosions. Looking at the President's face that day, I saw behind his steely resolve to put an end to this wickedness once and for all, that he was equally moved by the wanton carnage. It would take a most heartless president to once again expose his people to such a potentially dangerous situation. So this is a case of you do, you are damned; you don't, you are damned. I think President Jonathan deserves more than he is getting from Nigerians.  

  Despite opposing views to the six years single term proposal by President Jonathan, the presidency came out to say it is not planning to shift ground on the issue. What's your view on six years single tenure as proposed by the President?

I think Mr. President has tackled this issue quite satisfactorily. I would like to add that a politician who has been a deputy governor, acting governor, governor, vice president, acting president and then president, can be described as having seen it all in terms of electioneering politics. One of the principal issues that dominated discourse when Jonathan as Vice President chaired the inter-party committee that made recommendations to the Uwais panel was this issue, and there was general consensus that the biggest threat to our democracy is succession politics. Now think carefully, what is the way around it when every four years we have elections with incumbents trying to return to power? It usually generates red-hot friction within the polity. The tension is remarkably less when an incumbent wants to install a successor, in which case you have all kinds of compromises, trade-offs and bargains struck. But when an incumbent wants to return to office it is no joke.

For instance, even though the elections that brought the late President Yar'Adua and Vice President Jonathan to office in 2007 - by the admission of the late President himself - were impacted by irregularities, people still voted. Like President Jonathan has always noted, PDP would still have won the 2007 election if it was conducted transparently because in that election people voted and in many areas their votes counted. I doubt if this was the case in 2003. So to sustain our democracy, we have to devise unique strategies and stop copy-catting advanced democracies that have institutions and processes well able to tackle the issues of succession politics. Even in the US, we were all witnesses to what happened in Florida when George W. Bush was running for second term. The abracadabra that happened in Florida where his brother Jeb was governor is still a subject of study by many scholars and researchers in the United States. It appeared quite clearly that the elections in Florida could have been rigged in favour of Brother George W.

What then is the way out? First step, as the President proposed, is to remove the incumbency factor in our elections. That instantly reduces the tension across board. And while it is true that even incumbents can rig for successors, the touch of the personal that generates bitterness, anger and hatred within the polity has been neutralized. If an ordained successor loses an election, like happened in several places during the 2011 elections, it is not quite the same as an incumbent losing an election. You will also discover that single term of say six years will improve service delivery in governance because as you have it today, once a president or governor assumes office, he spends the first few weeks putting together a cabinet donated to him by various interests. Many of the people he finds himself working with are people he can neither vouch for nor who can be truly said to have the administration's interest at heart. But the executive has to bend over backwards because he is already eyeing the next election. By the second year, when he probably would put a more useful cabinet in place, half of the tenure is gone. By the third year some serious work can finally be done, but elections are around the corner. So once again, all appointments and contracts are distributed with an eye on the next elections. But with a six year single term, the executive can hit the ground running and keep up the pace for five solid years before elections come in the sixth year, and even at that since he is not re-contesting, the tension and power-play become considerably less intense.  

What do you consider as the achievements of the Jonathan administration so far? The achievements of the Jonathan administration are many and varied, but in order of priority, I will take them from the intangible to the tangible. At the intangible level is the fact that President Jonathan has returned Nigeria to global reckoning as a country and people that can govern themselves and can choose in a free, fair and transparent manner who their leaders are. Nigeria's biggest challenge in the face of the world has been its inability to conduct free and fair elections. Using himself as a guinea pig in this experiment, President Jonathan successfully put to shame those who held the view that Nigerians are incapable of electing their own leaders. By that singular act, he raised Nigeria's profile to once more dizzying heights.

It is heartwarming to see world leaders from Barrack Obama of the United States to David Cameron of the United Kingdom, Angela Merkel of Germany and other global players court President Jonathan and Nigeria's friendship. Prior to this time, especially during the era of doctrine of necessity which is now the code-name to describe the entire Yar'Adua saga, Nigeria was again pushed to the brink of a precipice. It is to the credit of President Jonathan, working in concert with other patriots and lovers of Nigeria, that he successfully rescued the country from the looming disaster of that period. These are intangibles, but without which the tangibles will have no form or structure to rest upon.

Jonathan has scored many successes in the area of power. I was flying into Lagos the other day and for the first time in my life, it seemed as if the entire city was lit from the sky. It warmed my heart to see Lagos gleaming from the sky the way you see other cities of the world gleam when you land at night. Interestingly in my house in Lagos where I spent about a week, we ran my generator for only about two hours in the whole week. The story is the same in Abuja the Federal capital. I have had to call the Power Minister a couple of times to congratulate him on his efforts and update him on areas where there are challenges I've noticed. I am not saying that our power problems have been solved. No, far from it! But there is a conscious, hands-on effort to tackle the problem. I am certain that if successive administrations until the Obasanjo administration have focused committedly on power the way this administration has, our power shortages would have been a thing of the past.

Another area that Nigeria has scored very highly is the area of restoring oil production in the Niger Delta. Currently as a nation, we are producing about 2.6 million barrels per day. All this is as a result of the amnesty programme started during the Yar'Adua administration. Even though much credit for the success of the amnesty programme has been given to the late President Yar'Adua, and justifiably so, I can disclose that the then Vice President Jonathan was the engine room of the entire process. His assignment was most critical - to convince angry and heavily armed youths to come to the negotiating table, and that was a daunting task. I recall endless meetings in a certain hotel location in Abuja where the then Vice President personally met with groups after groups of militants to convince them to drop their weapons and embrace the programme. It is no surprise also that the Shell $1bn clean-up in devastated areas of Ogoniland is coming in the life of this administration. We must realize that international organizations including multi-national companies read the body language of the home government and because the body language is right, things are beginning to fall into place in the Niger Delta. There is still a long way to go from over 50 years of neglect. Other land prospects like Ogoni still have considerable reserves of oil and mind boggling standard cubic feet of gas. With gas, the old frontier may well soon become a new frontier. The Urhobos, the Isokos, the Ukwanis, the Ikweres, the Andonis, and other ethnic nationalities anxiously await their own justice.   

In the area of education, the president has shown concern for the lopsided distribution of federal institutions in the country. This led him to approve the establishment of nine new federal universities with the north which suffers the lopsidedness more, having the higher number than the south. Some people have criticized the establishment of new universities as not been in tandem with reality, given that existing federal universities still confront funding issues. But the fact is that these universities are meant to be centres of excellence, very much like model universities. From the charge the President gave the Ministry of Education, these universities are not meant to admit more than 500 at any given time. So they are meant to be slim and well focused institutions of higher learning with each one having a unique area of academic excellence among other courses. The reformation of Almajiri education in the north is another plus for the Jonathan administration. The idea is to take street urchins out of the ghettos and train them in such a way that they can be useful to themselves even while retaining the original content and concept of Islamic training.

This administration is also poised to revolutionize agriculture. The new Minister of Agriculture is probably Africa's leading expert in the subject. He was poached deliberately for this purpose, and as the President explained quite brilliantly during the recent presidential media chat, gone are the days where the entire business of the Ministry of Agriculture was about the importation of fertilizer much of which, I wish to add, is recycled right out of the country while farmers that need it are left in the lurch. The creation of the petrochemical hub in the Niger Delta by the Ministry of Petroleum, and the proposed introduction of five fertilizer blending plants are to ensure that farmers in different parts of Nigeria have fertilizers specifically blended for their local soil types. Before this time, there was large-scale importation of fertilizer without much regard to local soil types.

Again, the idea to warehouse all the economy-related Ministries under the Minister in charge of Economy is also another well thought-out idea of the Jonathan administration. One of the problems we confront in this country is what I describe as 'municipal chaos'. This is where in a municipality you have one authority building roads, another one piping water, yet another supplying electricity without a single supervisory body that oversees and harmonizes their activities. So you have the road company putting a road in place, the water company comes to break-up the road and lay its pipes, the electricity company excavates the drainages to run its cables, the road company returns to repair the road and in the process breaks up the water pipes and cuts the electricity cables. At the end of it nothing works because each agency short circuits the work of the other. The new structure that the President has put in place will effectively address institutional rivalry and sundry contradictions which have held our economy down.

  On a last note, what is your assessment of President Jonathan's leadership style generally?

  Like I said when we started, the President's style is calm, deliberate and unflappable. Being highly self-disciplined, he leads by example. From his days as deputy governor until today there is not a whiff of scandal around him. Even when political enemies try to whip up non-existent issues, they all naturally crumble. The President is a stickler for due process and probity. He doesn't like people who jump the gun, except when there is no other way around it and even at that, you have to convince him that there is really no way around it. He also has a unique quality that few other Nigerian leaders have. Humility. He stoops to conquer, but this does not mean that he cannot bark and bite. Jonathan may be a David, but the distance between David and Goliath is more than a sling and a stone. It is the capacity to inflict punishment on an opponent. Jonathan has the capacity but he chooses not to use it wantonly.

  In the past, we have had leaders who on their own heated the polity out of sheer whims and caprices. But not Jonathan. His vision for Nigeria has always been a peaceful and stable nation in which everyone can have his day in the sun; a nation where no one is oppressed. If anyone thinks Jonathan is weak, he or she had better think again. If you ask me I would say Jonathan is the kind of president Nigeria needs at this point of our history.