Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan has called for international cooperation in combatting and defeating terrorism. He made his appeal following a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama.
His comments also follow the attack in Nairobi, Kenya, on the Westgate shopping mall by members of the Somali-based terror group, al-Shabab.
Nigeria is also facing security challenges due to the violence carried out by Islamic sect, Boko Haram. Based in Nigeria’s north, the group uses violence in an attempt to force the country to adopt strict Islamic law.
Human Rights Watch says Boko Haram has killed an estimated 3,000 people since 2009.
In an exclusive interview with VOA, Mr. Jonathan says there is no justification for armed groups who use violence to terrorize unarmed civilians.
“Now, we are confronted with people who can just kill people without provocation. You ask what is the reason, is it religious? If it is religious that means there is a wrong teaching because there is no major religion in the world that I know that asks you to kill somebody you don’t even know,” said Jonathan. “I believe that a terror attack anywhere on the surface of the earth is a terror attack on all of us, and the world must come together to fight terror. Nobody should use any excuse.”
“We will fight terror,” said Jonathan. “They [Washington] have been helping, other countries have been helping us, but we need more robust assistance because if we allow it, and we don’t apply the force we need to apply now and we just treat it with kid gloves then it will continue to escalate. The best thing is like a surgical operation: do it clinically, and make sure that we stop the spread.”
Over the years, Nigeria has faced electricity or power shortages, which affect manufacturing industries. President Jonathan promised to address the problem. He refused to criticize previous administrations for their inability to solve the problem.
“We are addressing it in different [ways]. First and foremost, we are increasing our generation, we are increasing the distribution facilities,” said Jonathan.
He says his administration has sought partners outside the government as a way of ensuring progress.
“Without private sector involvement, you can never take Nigeria to where we would want to [go] in terms of the power situation,” said Jonathan. “We have now privatized generation where we have problems, and we have privatized distribution. By the time we finish with this privatization, you will see that the power sector will take a life of its own.”
He says the government is also working with a consultancy firm to strengthen the public-private partnership involved in improving power generation.
“You can’t have the private sector in one extreme, and a weak link [in terms of the] public sector. The public sector must be strengthened, and that is why we brought in the Manitoba [consultancy firm] to manage. Though it is still owned by the government, it is being managed like a private sector enterprise.”
Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer, and the petroleum industry is the main generator of the country’s GDP. But, critics say successive Nigerian governments have failed to improve living standards in spite of the country’s enormous natural resources. But, President Jonathan says his government is determined to diversify the economy to improve living standards.
“That has been our commitment, and if you follow our programs you will see that a number of things have been done,” said Jonathan. “I will go to the area of food because that is key. [It’s] one area that can also generate jobs and improve the overall economy.”
Jonathan says his administration has implemented new policies to improve food production.
“Our approach to agriculture is different. This is the first time we have been doing dry season farming, and we’ve produced almost one million tons of rice,” said Jonathan.
“I resisted advice to allow the importation of rice following the 2012 floods that undermined the country’s agricultural production,” says Jonathan.
“We have made people invest in rice production, and we did not give any waiver for one grain of rice to be imported into the country,” said Jonathan. “After the flood, though devastating, there was no shortage of grains. We are intervening in cocoa, sorghum, palm seeds and other areas.”
Jonathan says the government has been encouraging youth to go into agricultural production, which he says is seeing a significant improvement.
“We believe that to create jobs, we must make Nigerians employ other Nigerians. So those who have creative ideas and write proposals accepted by professionals, we give them grants varying from one million dollars to $20 million, and there [are] a lot of success stories. Definitely, we have not reached where we want to go, but we have started well, we are progressing well,” said Jonathan.
In its 2012 ranking released by Transparency International on global corruption, Nigeria placed 139th position out of the 176 countries surveyed.
But, President Jonathan says his administration has implemented aggressive measures to address the problem in Africa’s most populous nation.
He acknowledged that there is a perception among Nigerians that public officials are often involved in corrupt activities, but he quickly added that his government seeks to end the menace by ensuring transparency in all levels within the administration.
“I can tell you that as a government we are addressing it aggressively,” said Jonathan. “If you look at the major privatization sector [which] is about three billion dollars worth of investment, companies that have participated are from all over the world, and nobody is raising the issue of any corrupt practices. People never believed we could do it, but we have done it transparently and is accepted by all the companies involved that this is the best.”
West Africa politics
Some analysts complain that the governments of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are not proactive in resolving political instability in the region often brought about by military coups. But, President Jonathan rejected the criticism.
“That is an area in [which you] should commend the heads of state and government of West Africa. Because of the ECOWAS position [on] unconstitutional governance, [military rulers] didn’t stay long, and we conducted elections very quickly, unlike before,” said Jonathan.
“ECOWAS and the OAU [which is now the African Union] stated don’t go into the internal affairs of other states. That means that they still can have a dictator and we said no. You cannot talk about the economy without political stability,” said Jonathan. Nobody would come and invest in a region where every day there is a military change of government. Before we talk about the economy, we first and foremost must stabilize the politics.”
He cited instances where heads of state intervened in countries including Niger and recently Mali to hasten the return to constitutional rule.
“In the case of the Niger republic, immediately after the coup came up we said ‘you [military] cannot stay long.’ We put pressure on them, and they did not stay long. Then we had the case of Cote d’Ivoire where the election was stalemated, where somebody wanted to stay long. We said ‘no, you must obey your laws, so you must go.’ You don’t lead the country into crisis, and of course because of the strong position of ECOWAS, we have been able to stabilize the country,” said Jonathan.
He says regional leaders proactively prevented an attempt to destabilize Liberia.
“I went there, and I sent for some people to Abuja and told them we can’t allow it. We almost had a crisis in Benin, and I had to go and I said ‘no, we can’t accept it,’” said Jonathan. “Myself and [Ivory Coast’s Alassane] Ouattara recently came back from Togo. We had to go and address them from the way the opposition was acting and told them ‘no, don’t ever think about anything that could bring democracy into any question. We won’t accept it.’”
President Jonathan discussed his legacy ahead of the 2015 general election where some analysts say he faces a lot of opposition.
“I want people to know first and foremost that within the period that I have served this country that I meant well for Nigerians. I did not serve because of my own personal interest, [and] that I have interest for this country at heart,” said Jonathan. “We have shifted Nigeria out of this mono-economy, where everything begins and ends with petrol. [Now], agriculture, mines and solid minerals and even manufacturing are playing a key role in our economy.”
He expressed hope that the security challenge from recent violence perpetrated by the Boko Haram could be decisively dealt with.
“One thing that I want to leave behind is that elections in Nigeria are credible. Nigerians should be able to vote [for] who they want not somebody hiring boys and weapons and shooting themselves into office or buy themselves into office, and that the votes of Nigerians matter. The world should know that our method of electing those who govern us either at the executive level, governors, chairmen of local governments or presidents or at the parliamentary level are duly elected by their people,” he concluded.