MAKU: MEDIA INTENTIONALLY BLIND TO JONATHAN'S FEATS
Information Minister Labaran Maku speaks on the performance of the Jonathan administration, insecurity, media and other issues that shaped the government in the past one year. He spoke with Suleiman Maina Bisalla, Mohammed S. Shehu and Atika Balal in Abuja. Excerpts: The United States Secretary of State recently submitted a report to the US congress saying the Nigerian judiciary is corrupt. The report also said that there are laws that provide criminal penalties but the government does not implement them and that the judiciary remained susceptible to pressure from the executive, the legislature and the business class. Are you worried that this conviction is coming at a time the government is singing the rule of law and the fight against corruption?
I have not read this report; I will choose not to comment on it until I have read it. I will not want to comment on what I have not read because you are talking specifically on the legal system of the country so I need to know. The judiciary is a different arm of government and I am speaking from the executive arm.
Why is the government finding it difficult to reinstate Justice Ayo Salami despite the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC)?
I am not a lawyer and because this case is in court, it will be unfair for the government to continue to discuss it. The man in the centre of this controversy is the one who went to court, not that someone went to court on his behalf and it isn't that another person took him to court. It is therefore left for the process to be discharged for any meaningful discussion on the matter to open. In addition to that, the president didn't sack Salami, because it is not in his capacity to do so. Why are people not concentrating their attention on the judicial processes that are going on, the president has no case against Salami? Even when NJC had recommended for Salami to be retired, for his name to be taken to the Senate for compulsory retirement, the president refused to do so because there was a case pending in court. The president refused to send the name to the Senate, instead he appointed an Acting President of the Court of Appeal. Reading the papers, you can guess that people have taken their own position on this matter, political parties, politicians, columnists, journalists.
The president who is not connected to this case, but who has insisted on respecting the due process of law, is the one that partisan interest and a section of the media are attacking. Why was he not condemned or attacked when he sighted the same case and said he won't send Salami's name to the Senate for retirement as recommended by NJC? There is too much suspicion, the less we politicize this case, the better for the judiciary.
Is the government not embarrassed by the James Obori story considering the fact that he was acquitted here only to be convicted in London over the same charges?
I am not a lawyer. That question was asked during the ministerial platform and it was adequately answered by the Attorney General of the Federation.
Following the collapsed of the Boko Haram talks; can you specifically tell us some of the tangible steps taken by the government to revive the talks?
When do you say collapse, were talks going on before? Dr Datti Ahmed didn't start talks with Boko Haram. I am not a part of the discussion; these are top level discussions with government that has to do only with those that are directly involved with that department, because these are not the kind of things that you discuss in the open. What is most important in this case is that in spite of the extremely evil nature of this organization and the evil they are perpetrating, a section of the media looks at it like a football match between terrorists and the nation. I have not seen in any other country where pressure is put on the government to negotiate with terrorists. It is only in Nigeria you see that. I didn't see it in America, Afghanistan or Yemen. The mere fact that the government has offered to negotiate with a terror group that is killing people and bombing places, the global community is even scared that the Nigerian government is talking about negotiating with terrorists. But we are doing so because of the campaign and voices by leaders in the North East zone, as well as many northern leaders. They are our children, if they are prepared to take up the option of dropping the evil of the destruction they are causing to our country and prepared to negotiate, maybe we could for the first time want to give it a trial. Somehow we have made this thing look as if we have different values of judgment. Look at what happened at the cattle market in Potiskum, where hundreds of people were wiped out like animals. Look at what happened in Kano, where over two hundred people were gunned down in broad day light. I thought that the media would be really concerned and scared but somehow I see that we make it look as if it is the Nigerian nation that owes it a duty to negotiate with Boko Harm.
During the electioneering campaign, the president said one of his immediate targets if elected is to provide enough power across Nigeria by April and now we are in May. What is your take on this?
This has been explained over and over during the ministerial platform and on different other platforms. Really we had a challenge, that challenge has not ruled out the fact that government is determined to stabilize electricity supply in Nigeria. But because the media is exclusively focused on the negatives, as if journalism is only about discussing the negatives, but I believe even in war, people marry, and life goes on. But a section of the media has decided to shut their ears on anything development, unless it is negative and so on. There is no dispute in the fact that the government is building a number of new power plants in Nigeria. In the decades that have passed, there were no power stations being built. Under Goodluck Jonathan, we have started this project; government is renewing almost the entire power transmission lines in the country, plus sub stations. We are also planning to build a grid that can convey 750 megawatts of electricity but the challenge has been gas to power plants.
We were encouraged by the opening we saw in cement, the real policy that took place has made Nigeria a top producer of cement in Africa, almost ready to export. The policy changes that took place in telecom has made Nigeria the largest market of telecom in Africa. Each time we now say we should carry this policy to other sectors, political opposition, like if it succeeds, then Goodluck Jonathan will claim that he has done it. As though if Goodluck Jonathan fails, the country will progress. Democracy is all about development; it is not about the government failing so that we win the next election. It is about government succeeding, so that our nation will develop.
John Akpavan, the man ar-rested with grenades and ammunition at the Radio House during the ministerial platform, was quoted in the media saying that he was here to see you…
(Cuts in) I have no comment on that because the matter is before the security operatives.
Despite the N1trillion budget for security, insecurity is persisting, why?
Does this interview include what government has done or is it all about security and Boko Haram? I think we should treat the positives first rather than this method of always looking for something to use against people; I know it is the Daily Trust method. You should be asking what the government has done but you have come to discuss Salami, Boko Haram, this is a northern direction and I will not want to take a lot of time because I have a lot of other things to do.
Ok, now that the government is one year in office, how far has it gone?
Like I said, for the first time in the history of our nation, because of the cynicism which is generated mainly by negative press and high politicization of the media, which has decided that development does not matter; it's just politics that matters. I have never seen that in any other country it is only in Nigeria that one year after election, the papers have been taken over by stories about another election as if the project for the nation is politics. It is not right, we came into this democracy to help poor people; we didn't come into it for politicians to hold us to ransom day in day out. So this is the impression that I am seeing today and the media is at the fore front in surrendering all their platforms to discussions about 2015 or negative stories between personalities in politics, nothing about development. The media has decided to turn its face away from most of what the government has done in the last one year.
I know the media are aligned to different political parties and political personalities, you can see it every day; I pick a paper and I can tell which is ANPP, PDP, CPC, APGA or AC. You can see clearly where every paper has taken a stand so if the ambition of this party doesn't work, then you will not report the government. One of the reasons why I decided to organize the ministerial platform and put it live on broadcast and social media and asked Nigerians to ask their questions from all over the world is because some sections of the media have completely stonewalled themselves against whatever the government is doing. And I take exception to that because I am a journalist and I know that the most important responsibility of the media is to report development. In terms of what the government has done, go to Aminu Kano Airport; see what the government is doing. That airport was built around 1936 and it was not touched by any government. What is happening there is happening in 10 other airports. But you won't see such stories on the front pages. There is a big transformation going on in the aviation sector, today our airspace is secure. We have the highest certification from the ICAO. Go to transportation, the River Niger that the North has been crying for dredging since the 1950, today we have dredged the Niger from Warri to Baro in Niger State. The inland city waterway ports are being built, Onitsha is finished. The one in Lokoja has been re-awarded because the contract suffered some setback. Look at the transformation that is taking place in the railway. Today in Western Nigeria the trains are working normally, Lagos-Abeokuta, Lagos-Ibadan up to Ilorin. But the media believes the only thing that makes news is what is negative against the government, particularly against President Jonathan. The man was made president by God. He became President because God wanted him to be, you don't become president of a country by force. In education, Jonathan is giving the North almajiri schools. Even if that is the only project Jonathan does in four years, I believe it is a big deal for northerners because we failed to do it for ourselves. He is doing a dam in Otukpo and in Jada Adamawa State. We have supplied text books to every primary school pupil in public schools.
Government has put together a huge amount of money between the Central Bank and private banks as loans to people involved in agriculture. 500 billion is being put aside and agriculture has been segmented into value chain. We have targeted rice sufficiency between now and 2015. The same applies to cocoa, oil palm and other major food crops, even bread now we are using cassava.
But the House of Representatives has rejected Jonathan's bill legalising cassava bread on the grounds that it would be unfair to compel flour producers to include cassava because of diabetic patients.
It will be very tragic for the representatives of the people to object to that. How do you object to cassava bread? Is it because it reduces Nigerian import or because it gives money to Nigerian farmers? When you import wheat, you are empowering American, Canadian, Russian farmers.
The President recently said all his government officials should stop talking about 2015 rather they should focus on the progress of the economy. Do you feel worried when you see statements like that of Edwin Clark saying Jonathan will run in 2015?
Why are you reporting Clark? Is it because he talked about Jonathan?
The story is in Thisday not Daily Trust. It is contrary to what Jonathan wants.
When you have all the papers talking about Buhari declaring to contest in 2015 and it is receiving the headlines and threatening bloodbath and bloodshed, is it because now Pa Clark mentioned Jonathan that it is exciting you?
May be it is because he is very close to the President.
What is very close? The President has said nobody should talk about politics or campaign for him so you know that it is not coming from the President. But then, I am sure his statement is induced by CPC's recent upsurge of 2015 campaign. This is the kind of thing the media does; we versus them is the kind of thing that the media has been reporting because they have refused to leave 2015 alone. It is unfortunate.
With the almost perfect way Jonathan is carrying out these programmes and policies, will you be the first to take a shot to announce his final decision on 2015?
No comment on that.
If you are to score the government what grade will you give it?
I don't want to score the government; I thought it is the duty of the media to score the government and the duty of the people.
Do you share similar views with Nigerians who believe the price of fuel should be reversed now that it has been discovered there was a huge scam in the process?
Do you remember the reason why we wanted it? It is not about price of fuel. It was about opening up the downstream sector of the economy to domestic production and to expand oil businesses in Nigeria. The mere fact that government fixes the price has prevented private refineries from taking off in Nigeria. Are you proud that your country which has been exporting oil since 1968 is still a crude oil exporter? Are you proud as a Nigerian that Asians and Europeans are the ones making money from Nigerian oil because they are the ones processing it? So the reason for the reform was not about fuel price, it was about deregulating the sector.