PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan last night said he would by Monday next week announce the chairman and secretary of the proposed national conference on the nationâ€™s challenges.
He also declared the issues surrounding the suspension of the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, as â€˜unfortunateâ€™, adding that whichever money is missing in the coffers of the Federal Government would be investigated and found.
Jonathan said during his first media chat of the year that he would inaugurate the conference in two weeksâ€™ time, barely one week after the constitution of its secretariat.
The President also defended his policy that the issue of Nigeriaâ€™s indivisibility should not be part of the conference deliberations as â€œthere is no President that will preside over the disintegration of the state.â€
He noted that the fall-out of the conference would only affect his administration â€˜marginallyâ€™ as it would be a working document to be implemented after the 2015 elections.
â€œSometimes, some people talk of disintegration. Even on the committee that produced the guidelines for the national conference, only one memo talked about disintegration. By the 3rd of March, we will announce the name of the chairman and the secretary. They will then work out the details of the working of the conference. I will then inaugurate the conference. Nobody is saying that without the conference, Nigeria will disintegrate. No. Nobody is saying that. People make a lot of provocative statements. Even our own constitution, some people say it is not a peoplesâ€™ constitution. In the run-up to independence, there were constitutional conferences. We are entering a second centenary as a nation. If there are things to correct, we correct them now.
â€œThe fall-out of the conference will affect my administration marginally. The result that will come out of the conference will not affect my administration significantly. The conference is necessary for a new administration to come in with a new mindset. The outcome of the conference will be part of the 2015 political campaigns. If people agree at the conference and say, â€˜this is what Nigerians wantâ€™, you follow it. I donâ€™t want to dictate to Nigerians. They, through their representatives, will decide what is best for Nigeria.â€
On the suspension of Malam Sanusi, Jonathan noted: â€œYes, the President has powers to suspend the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria. Even the CBN is not well defined in the Nigerian constitution like other statutory bodies. The CBN Act only says that the President appoints the CBN Governor and deputy governors and sends the list to the Senate for confirmation. Sanusi has not been removed as the Governor of CBN. He is still the Governor. That is why there wonâ€™t be a substantive governor until all the issues are resolved. The issue of suspension came up because the CBN governor is the Chief Executive and chairman of the CBN board of governors. And there were issues raised by the Financial Reporting Council. The CBN governor who is a key figure as chairman cannot preside over the issues. The board of the CBN will resolve it. It is the issue of financial auditing and we must allow the Financial Reporting Council to work.
â€œSo, Sanusi has to step aside. When you are dealing with the treasury of a nation, you have to be careful. You consult widely. No President can just wake up and take such a decision. You consult widely. It was in February 2013 that the CBN governor sent the 2012 report of the CBN to me. There were statutory bodies that were to work on the report. So, it has been going back and forth.â€
On the reported money adjudged to be missing through the presentation of Malam Sanusi in his letters and presentation at the National Assembly, Jonathan noted: â€œWe got calls from all over the world. We were alarmed. I did not know what to believe. But even if one dollar disappeared from the NNPC, we must find it. But we must follow the due process. If you donâ€™t want to follow the due process, Nigerians will suffer. There are processes required to audit Ministries, Departments and Agencies. Even if one dollar is missing, and $20 billion is a lot of money, no President will accept that one dollar, not to talk of $1 billion will disappear either from NNPC or anywhere.â€
On the fight against terrorism, he said the administration is concerned that the incident has not subsided. According to him, â€œwe are not happy when people are killed for no just cause. But I must say that it is not altogether a total failure, there have been successes recorded, but the only thing is that it is the negative ones that get noticed.â€
Tracing the genesis of the current crisis, the President said the dangerous phase of terrorism started in Abuja, recalling how the Police Force Headquarters was bombed, which also extended to the United Nations (UN) House in the nationâ€™s capital, but noted that the security agents were doing their best.
The President confirmed that Nigerian authorities were working with the Camerounian authorities to tackle the situation. According to him, â€œthe activities of the terrorist sect are so deadly in Nigeria that no country wants to get to where we are now in terms of terror.â€
The President denied that the fight against Boko Haram had been left to the army alone, saying that all facets of the security agencies were involved in the fight to restore normalcy in the country.
The President said while the option of dialogue was being pursued, the military option still remained viable because of the nature of the operation of Boko Haram. He said: â€œTerrorists are difficult to deal with effectively because they are brainwashed. Therefore, their approach is always difficult and deadly. In the light of that, while we believe in dialogue, the military option still remains on the card.â€
Jonathan described the comment by Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima last week that the terrorists were better equipped than Nigerian Army as an unfortunate situation, saying as leader of the people, the governor ought to have been more careful in his utterances.
The President said if the governor did not believe that the armed forces were doing anything, he could withdraw the soldiers from the state â€œfor just one month and letâ€™s see what would happen to him, if he can survive as a governor in that state.â€
But the President denied reports that he had planned to appoint a military administrator for Borno State to tackle the insurgency, saying as a President, he did not think that he had that power to appoint a military administrator for any state, and as such, he could not have contemplated such a plan.
The President, who also spoke on the aftermath of the recently-privatised power sector, blamed outright sabotage as responsible for the power outage being experienced in some recent times.
According to him, while it might not be possible to start experiencing automatic improvement in the generation and distribution of power supply to the country, the new owners started on a clean slate, saying: â€œThey have even gone beyond the expectations, but for the outright sabotage by some unpatriotic people, things would have been better.â€
The President spoke on â€œoccasional deliberate sabotage on the power sector because a situation where people go to blow the pipeline where gas is transmitted is quite unfortunate. But nevertheless, that we have been able to successfully privatised the power sector alone without Nigerians raising objection is a big step for us.
â€œIf you know the history of Nigeria, it is not always that government would privatise such a huge government asset without Nigerians questioning the sincerity of purpose, but that we have successfully done that is a big credit to us in this administration and I can assure you that we are going to get over it.â€
Defending his trips to traditional rulers and religious leaders and his attendance of rallies to receive those decamping from other parties to the Peopleâ€™s Democratic Party (PDP), Jonathan said that his attendance of his partyâ€™s rallies was in line with the constitution of PDP where the President is the leader.
He said: â€œIt is the tradition of the PDP that the President is the leader of the party. The President is expected to lead his party to victory. The political environment is very hot. But definitely, you will need to tell Nigerians that PDP is still the dominant party in the country.â€
On governors and other leaders who are cross-carpeting to other parties, Jonathan stated that â€œwe are all elected by Nigerians. The days elected president, governors, senators or others impose their will on Nigerians is over. The issue is whether you are doing well or not. The outcome of the movement to other parties will depend on how the people assess you.â€
On when he would declare, he said that Nigerians should wait first as â€œI am a sitting president. If I say am contesting, there will be issues. If I say am not contesting, there will be issues. When I declared in 2011, it was not hidden. You will know when the time comes.â€
On the centenary celebrations, Jonathan said: â€œFor us to stay together as a nation, it is worth celebrating. The essence of the centenary celebration is unity. We need to celebrate unity.â€
Meanwhile, there may be no end yet to the orgy of violence in Borno State as suspected Boko Haram gunmen on Sunday attacked Malari village and shot two people dead, before torching about 56 houses, shops and vehicles.
Also, Lord Bishop of the Diocese of Osun North East (Anglican Communion), Rt. Rev. Humphrey Olumakaiye, has called on Jonathan to declare a three-day fasting and prayer to check the Boko Haram menace.
In the same vein, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has cautioned the Federal Government against going ahead with its reported plan to remove the elected governor of Borno and appoint a military administrator to oversee the affairs of the state under the guise of intensifying the fight against Boko Haram.
In a related development, the Benue State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) yesterday staged a peaceful protest to Government House, Makurdi, against the incessant killing of farmers in the state by suspected Fulani mercenaries.
President Jonathan stated in Abuja yesterday while declaring open an international seminar on the Observance of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in Internal Security Operations that the option of dialogue with the Boko Haram was still open.
He also recalled that the National Committee on Peace and Dialogue in the northern parts of the country was constituted to explore ways of dialoguing with the Boko Haram with a view to addressing their grievances, if any.
The President, however, said that while waiting for response from the group, the military operations in the troubled areas would continue to safeguard lives and property.
â€œI wish to use this platform to renew my previous call to members of the sect to lay down their arms and engage government in a constructive manner in order to address their grievances, if truly they have any reason to do what they are doing. However, while we are awaiting a positive response from the Boko Haram , it is important to note that government has the responsibility to protect the lives and property of our citizens. No efforts will be spared by this administration in discharging that responsibility,â€ he said.
He added: â€œOur administration has committed tremendous resources and adopted several approaches to prosecuting the fight against terror in Nigeria.
â€œThe declaration of a state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states is one of the measures taken to contain the activities of the terrorists.â€
The President commended the organisers of the seminar with the theme: â€œEngendering greater understanding of the legal underpinning of internal security operations.â€
He said the seminar was meant to ensure that the efforts to tackle the security challenges in the country were carried out within the confines of the laws, was apt, most critical and relevant.
â€œThis seminar comes at the most appropriate time given the degree of security threat facing our country and it is imperative for us to effectively address the threat within lawful and acceptable international norms,â€ he said.
The President noted that because of the brutal nature the Boko Haram carried out its attacks, it was impossible to rule out counter-force.
He said government had been guided by a commitment that any allegations of human rights abuses and non-adherence to applicable rules of engagement by the military were appropriately addressed.
Jonathan said he had directed the Chief of Defence Staff and the Service Chiefs to ensure that relevant human rights and international humanitarian norms were emphasised in the training of members of the armed forces.
He admonished individual members of the armed forces to act within a high sense of responsibility and avoid any criminality in the discharge of their duties.
â€œWe are faced with the challenge of dealing with a group that does not feel oblige to observe the basic tenets of human rights and humanitarian precepts in their modus operandi.
â€œThe group is so brutal and so remote from modern civilisation, killing innocent people at will.
â€œTo effectively address these challenges, government has had to frequently deploy the military and other security service in maintaining law and order and restoring normalcy.
â€œHowever, such interventions sometimes evoke concern on account of perceived collateral damage that may be associated with intense military operations.
â€œAs the Commander-in-Chief, I am particularly concerned about the manner in which the men and women of the armed forces discharge their responsibilities in spite of the daunting pressure.
â€œI will like to re-affirm our commitment to ensure that the military at all times adhere to the rules of engagements,â€ he said.
Malari village is on the Maiduguri-Bama Road, and 30 kilometres east of Maiduguri, the state capital. A top military officer attached to the Special Operations in the Sambisa Forest who spoke on the condition of anonymity noted: â€œMalari village was attacked last night (Sunday) around 1.35 p.m. where two villagers were gunned down; and several houses, including 37 shops and vehicles, were set ablaze by suspected insurgents who fled to the forest.â€
Speaking at the weekend during the breakfast outreach programme organised to mark the 5th Anniversary of Osun North East Diocese at Archbishop Vining Memorial Church Cathedral, Lagos, the bishop, who lamented the continued carnage in the North, said it was high time leaders in the country rose up to find solutions to the loss of innocent lives.
â€œIt is now crystal clear that what is going on in the North is a spiritual battle and you can only use spiritual weapon to combat spiritual battle. The arms of flesh and guns have failed us. Soldiers were unable to quell the crises and so our final solution is to turn to God. It is only those who can see the invisible that do the impossibleâ€, the bishop said.
In a statement in Ibadan yesterday by its Interim National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, the APC said the Presidency should realise that there was always a limit to impunity, and that if indeed anyone should be removed over the protracted insurgency in the state and the entire North-East, it should be Jonathan.
â€˜â€™What is happening in the North-East in general and Borno State in particular is failure of leadership at the highest level of government, especially because the imposition of a state of emergency in the three worst-hit states has given the President emergency powers to deal with the protracted crisis.
â€˜â€™As the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Jonathan is in full control of all the instruments of coercion available to the country, which he can and has been deploying at will. If, therefore, some seemingly implacable dead-enders have continued to kill, maim and destroy in any part of the country, no one but the President should be held liable. Everyone knows a governor does not deploy troopsâ€, he said.
The protesters numbering about 5,000 drawn from the 23 local councils of the state and led by the state CAN chairman, Bishop Nyiman Orkwar, among other state officials, started the protest from Wurukum Roundabout to Government House where they were addressed by Governor Gabriel Suswam.
Orkwar said if Suswam had been compensating Fulani that had their cows killed by criminals, then the Federal Government should compensate family victims of the heinous Fulani killings in the state.
They condemned the idea of creating grazing ground for the herdsmen in the state, demanding that rather, the Federal Government should build dams in the far North to enable them to grow grasses to feed their cows.
Addressing the protesters, Suswam who commended CAN for the peaceful manner they expressed their disgust, further stressed that as representatives of the people, government was sharing the same pains.