From Tokunbo Adedoja:
• Promises 2011 polls will be credible
• Follow through on anti-corruption, says Obama
Acting President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday told Nigerians and the international community to expect changes in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that would be a reflection of public opinion before 2011 general election.
Jonathan was responding to questions from the audience during a parley with the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington DC, US, which was attended by high profile diplomats and government officials from Nigeria and the US.
“I promised myself that the elections I will supervise in 2011 will be credible,” the Acting President said.
Jonathan said he is committed to ensuring that the remaining period of the administration is not a “transitional period” but a “transformational time”.
On the appointment or re-appointment of INEC chairman and commissioners, he said, while noting that some of them had completed their tenure while others would complete theirs a couple of months from now: “We are going to review them individually and the ones we feel that are not good enough to return back, we will not re-appoint them and we are going to inject fresh blood, people, if you mention their names, the civil society will be happy that they will conduct clean election”.
The Acting President said: “A lot of people talk about the chairman, but not just the chairman. The chairman himself, his tenure expires on 13th of June. But not just him. Quite a number of the commissioners by the end of June, more than two-third of them, their tenure will expire. So we are going to examine them and of course listen to public opinion.
“Nigeria must show the lead in Africa. We cannot begin to talk to other leaders that you must conduct clean election, you must not have a third term agenda, when you yourself you have issues that people will raise. So for us, we have to lead by example. If we have to lead, we must show clear example.”
THISDAY had last Tuesday hinted of impending changes at INEC, reporting that INEC Chairman Maurice Iwu’s tenure would soon expire and that his appointment may not be renewed.
The newspaper also drew attention to the dearth of national commissioners at INEC with just three of them left at an electoral body that is supposed to have a full compliment of 12 national commissioners at all time.
Jonathan also disclosed that any future election which result is not declared at the polling booth would be cancelled.
On the state of the nation, the Acting President said the circumstances that led to his ascendancy was “quite disturbing to us as a nation,” noting, however, thattoday, he is confronted with the greatest challenge of his political career.”
He said while the nation is preparing for the recovery of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, he is prepared to work with all Nigerians “to increase the pace of development and to do so facing the right direction.”
The Acting President said quite a number of key global players especially from America and other parts of the West helped to stabilise the nation.
He said: “Because I am addressing the Council of Foreign Affairs, which is a very powerful body, let me use it as an opportunity to appreciate what you have done individually and collectively. Today, as a nation we are stable and we are moving forward.
“We have chosen for ourselves what I will say the foundational responsibilities, which if well shouldered will form the basis for the development of Nigeria from this point onward. In this responsibility of consolidating and deepening our democracy, we are committed to ensuring that the remaining period of our administration is not a transitional period but one which we hope would one day be viewed as a watershed in our transformational time in our young democracy.
“For us in Nigeria, this is our time. Either we continue with more of the same or we change the game. There is no doubt that we have been faced by some challenges in our country but we have stabilised the polity and we are determined to consolidate on the gains so recorded.”
Speaking further, the Acting President said for now, “our domestic focus must be on electoral reforms, delivering peace dividends to the Niger Delta and the rest of the country and standing strong on our resolve against corruption”.
While reiterating Nigeria’s commitment to the war against global terrorism, Jonathan said, “Internationally, we are determined to restore Nigeria’s image and traditional role as a key leader of the international community in an increasingly uncertain world. Nigeria is a key partner in our collective effort to maintain peace and security in Africa and beyond.”
On what he intended to achieve between now and 2011 when the present government’s four-year tenure would come to an end, Jonathan said: “when you have a short period, you cannot promise much.
“One thing I promised Nigerians and the rest of the society that have interest in Nigeria is that we will set up clear goals. There are certain things we can achieve in the next six months, certain things that are quite disturbing to the country. Specific issues of conducting elections that are always questionable. These are human issues that don’t need more than a year to solve. So I have promised Nigerians and the rest of the world that 2011 election will be credible.
“I said so because I considered myself as a victim of elections that have been questioned. I worked very hard as Governor of Bayelsa State then for us to have won the presidential election 2007 but the impression was that all things were not done properly. It gives me worry and I promised myself that the elections I will supervise for that 2011 will be credible.
“We are looking at reforming the electoral processes, but I mentioned to people that even without reforming the electoral laws, the present laws can allow you conduct elections that will be more than 70 per cent acceptable. We have experimented that and we raised this issue with President Barack Obama yesterday, we conducted a state constituency election in one of the Southern states and the governor is here. We also conducted election in Anambra.”
According to him, all these show that Nigeria can conduct credible polls, adding that he does not believe that he needs more than one year to achieve that and that if he does not achieve it within that period, even if he was given ten years, he would not be able to achieve it.
“For the constituency election conducted in Edo State, the governorship election conducted in Anambra State and the local government election conducted in Federal Capital Territory, it showed that we can conduct credible election. It gives me hope and I promise Nigerians and of course the American audience that 2011 elections in Nigeria will be credible. Of course we don’t need more than one year to achieve that. If I don’t, if you give me ten years, then I can’t achieve it,” he said.
Jonathan also recalled what transpired before the recent election in Edo State, which had been adjudged free and fair.
“I remember when that election was to be conducted, the governor was very apprehensive. He is a member of the civil society, he is a labour leader. He is here and he was worried and he used to call me whether INEC would conduct free and fair election. And I said to him that I have given clear directives and anybody that deviates from it, I will fire that person. I have given clear directive to police to provide adequate security for that election, I have given clear directive to INEC that I will not accommodate any wrongdoing and that as a government we have changed our thinking now,” he said.
While noting that INEC’s problem is psychological, he said the issue of perception is, however, very critical as many have the feeling that INEC cannot conduct credible election in Nigeria.
He said government is facing its greatest challenge in the area of power supply, adding, “That is why we don’t have a minister of power, we set up a committee and I am presently coordinating it. We want to change the focus, when we do this properly, then we can have a minister to drive the focus,” he said.
He, however, did not give any timeline for revamping the power sector.
“In summary, there are certain challenges that we have that within the next six months, we will surely succeed up to 50 per cent especially the areas that have to do with human factor, basic infrastructure areas. I cannot promise that we will achieve so much because the time is short. We set a clear road map that you will know we are moving forward. If we are not moving you will know, if you are moving you will know,” he said.
On the issue of corruption, Jonathan said the government would set up machinery to continue to reduce it, explaining that the war against corruption would be sustained.
Commenting on the amnesty programme, he said it is on course, but added that “these are issues you cannot say you are going to control in a year. These are young men who have taken arms and some of them; their capacity is quite low and its takes a lot of time to train them for some of them to be in a position to make a living. It is not something you can even say you will complete within a four year administration. But I can assure you that we will set up a solid base and have clear programmes and timelines that you will see that we are progressing”.
The Acting President also responded to questions on the Jos crisis, saying it boiled down to the issue of impunity, “when somebody commits an offence and no punishment is meted out”.
He said he had given directive to the police to arrest anybody that is directly or indirectly connected with the crisis even if it is just a text message that links such person.
Commenting on his meeting with President Obama on Monday, he described it as “quite fruitful”.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has urged the Acting President to use his tenure to make historic and tangible progress in strengthening the Federal Government’s commitment to follow through on countering corruption.
President Obama also said US would support the Acting President in realising his public promise for electoral reform.
Jonathan and Obama had met on Sunday night on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit holding in Washington DC.
According to a White House statement last night, President Obama expressed his appreciation for Nigeria’s participation in the summit and the opportunity to meet with the Acting President to discuss issues of mutual importance.
President Obama and Jonathan agreed to continue to work together on matters of advancing global security, particularly nuclear security and international compliance to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Following the statement, the two leaders also discussed important security issues including efforts to combat terrorism.
Recognizing the regional importance of Nigeria, including its role as a regional leader and its substantial contribution to peacekeeping missions, as well as the longstanding friendship between the peoples of Nigeria and US, President Obama reiterated that US places great importance on its relationship with Nigeria and the Nigerian people.
President Obama said a strong, democratic, prosperous Nigeria is in the US national interest.
The Acting President agreed on the importance placed on the US-Nigerian relationship and recognized that the recent signing of a bilateral framework between the two countries provides an important way forward in addressing mutual strategic goals.
The goals, according to Jonathan, included respecting constitutional law and processes, achieving free and fair elections, building the capacity and commitment to fight corruption, respecting human rights, promoting economic development and resolving internal conflict.
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