President Goodluck Jonathan keeps Nigerians guessing about his political ambition in the 2011 presidential election as he said last night that he would declare whether or not to contest in the election close to the presidential primaries of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Fielding questions on his maiden edition of the live Presidential Media Chat on the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), Jonathan said he was not in a position yet to tell Nigerians about his next election plan as either way his declaration would affect governance.
He said: “I’m not in a position to tell Nigerians whether I will contest now or not because we have a political environment that gets too heated up when people are now preparing for elections.
“If you travel across the country at the state level, things are a bit calm; the governments are working, but immediately I declare now that I’m contesting, then it is a signal and all the incumbent governors will want to declare.”
He said in states where the governors would be rounding off their two terms of eight years, people interested in succeeding them would begin to declare their interest in the office, stressing that the consequent political activities would affect governance at that level.
The President stated, “I’ve been in the system since 1999; so, I know what I’m talking about. Even at Federal Executive Council (FEC), it will disrupt activities of ministers; people will be going to their communities to deliver their wards, local government and states to the President. Functions of government will suffer.
“If I also say I am not contesting now, the story will be different. Some people will begin to behave funny and it will also affect the output of government.
“So we feel that the best thing to do is to keep our mouths sealed until the appropriate time when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will release the timetable for elections based on realities after Professor Attahiru Jega’s confirmation by Senate.”
He explained that once the timetable is released, there would be a period for party primaries, pointing out that he had advised his party that those with intentions to contest elections should declare very close to primaries so that the process does not heat up the polity.
The President also refused to join in the controversy over zoning, saying, “Anything I say on zoning now will be misunderstood but at the end of the day, I will encourage public debate because it is becoming a topical issue.”
Asked whether the new INEC Chair (Jega) will be economically and politically independent to conduct free and fair elections, he said that no effort would be spared to conduct clean elections.
His response: “It is one appointment every Nigerian accepts and believes he will do what is right. INEC has budgetary provisions for its operations and because our elections have been controversial and most societies feel Nigeria is a leading country in Africa and we must conduct clean elections to give our leaders credibility and acceptability globally.
“The governments of the United States of America and the European Union promised to assist. I am committed to clean elections and I mean it because whenever you travel out of the country, sometimes, envoys that come to discuss with you on behalf of their countries, sometimes officers that are quite low, will raise issue of elections.
On the perceived desperation by the ruling PDP to do all within its powers to “capture” some states even to the point of declaring so, Jonathan said what his party men and women were saying was that they would work hard to win the states.
According to him, “Whether I run or not is immaterial to the 2011 elections and I’ve made it clear in my three addresses to my party that we must put our house in order because the elections must be free and fair; the votes of Nigerians must count.
“I’m not the only one thinking this way. The new Chair of the PDP, during his formal address after inauguration on Thursday, last week, is also thinking the same way; he is a stronger advocate of free and fair elections than me.”
He added, “You know his (Nwodo) coming was also not less controversial. So, I think it was quite courageous to make the pronouncement he made. It shows he is totally committed. Usage of the word “capture” to me does not mean as we know in military terms of using weapons to take over but by working hard.”
Jonathan said in response to another question on kitchen cabinet that has been the feature of successive governments that he did not believe in it (kitchen cabinet) or cabal or godfather, but that he respects elders and had been relating with past presidents.
He added, “I don’t believe in godfatherism. I know that in nature, nobody just wakes up and does what he or she likes. Along the line people help you one way or the other; it could be younger people; it could be older people; I also have helped people.
“Even the people I helped politically as a deputy governor, I was instrumental to some people becoming local government chairmen. But after installing you, I leave you alone to do your work.”
But asked pointedly if he does not have a godfather, he riposted: “I don’t have,” stressing that “but I respect all elders.”
He continued: “I interact with elders. If you look at it, for example, there is no former head of state that I don’t discuss with. I discuss with all of them. Most of the leaders that are willing, I discuss with traditional rulers and religious leaders.”
When the question was put to him directly that it is believed that former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Chair of the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) General T.Y. Danjuma were his godfathers, he replied, “If they say Obasanjo is a godfather; TY Danjuma is a godfather, that is okay.”
Jonathan, who spoke on the circumstances surrounding the hospitalization of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and the refusal of his wife, Turai, to allow people to see him in his hospital bed, stated that contrary to suggestions, he did not expect his wife to be that powerful “because the Nigerian Constitution does not state that and I do not encourage that.”
He said rather than castigate Turai, he expected security agencies to look into the conduct of security personnel attached to the late president who refused to allow access to him (the late Yar’Adua).
He clarified that the issue of Yar’Adua’s health had made so many Nigerians to feel a little bit uncomfortable about the First Lady, adding that this was beyond the issue of being powerful in government.
According to him, “If the President were to be healthy enough, then one can make deductions and make certain statements. You see, the president had health challenges and he was not in this country; he was in Saudi Arabia, which you know.
“He was there with senior government functionaries but they were not political office holders. They were security personnel and personal physician. So, it was not the First Lady alone that prevented Nigerians from seeing the president.
“It was the security and because somebody is sick and you would not want to force yourself on the person and the person was not even here in the country; so, the issue is not as if it is the First Lady.
“The First Lady was not even there at the hospital twenty four hours to prevent people. It was the security people that worked for the president. So I expected the security agencies to look into the conduct of those security officers that were with the president.
“It was not only the First Lady per se; probably the family did not want people to. We know as a practice in other countries today, if anything happens to me, I am public property even if I have fever, Nigerians will want to know if it is malaria but once somebody is seriously sick and the family position tries to take the leading position and that is why even as Vice-President then I could not force my way to see him.
“What if I did and something happened; I will be part of the problem. The security agencies should find out if their actions were normal to prevent it in future.”
On security problem in the South-east, the President said the problem was not limited to that zone only, explaining that security issue nationwide should be a concern to any president.