President Goodluck Jonathan has on Tuesday described the January subsidy protest which took place nationwide over the removal of fuel subsidy as staged managed by a class of Nigerians who wanted the status quo of corruption in that sector to remain.
The president disclosed this in Abuja, at the 52nd Independence anniversary lecture with the theme: Nigeria Security, Development and National Transformation.
President Jonathan added that the protest was not carried out by ordinary Nigerians who wanted to communicate their grievances to their government.
In his(president Jonathan) response to the issue of the January protest, raised by the Director of Centre for Democracy and Development, Jibril Ibrahim, President Jonathan said:
“Let me touch on what Prof. Ibrahim said about the January subsidy protest, yes you said the citizens were right, in a way they may be right, in a way they were also misinformed. If you had followed the last Earth Summit in Brazil, about two countries came out to condemn the issue of subsidizing hydro carbon all over the world. They stated that subsiding hydro carbon does not bring development.
“Look at the demonstrations back home, look at the areas this demonstrations are coming from, you begin to ask, are these the ordinary citizens that are demonstrating? Or are people pushing them to demonstrate.
“Take the case of Lagos, Lagos is the critical state in the nation’s economy, it controls about 53 per cent of the economy and all tribes are there. The demonstration in Lagos, people were given bottled water that people in my village don’t have access to, people were given expensive food that the ordinary people in Lagos cannot eat. So, even going to eat free alone attracts people. They go and hire the best musician to come and play and the best comedian to come and entertain; is that demonstration? Are you telling me that that is a demonstration from ordinary masses in Nigeria who want to communicate something to government?
“For me, if I see somebody is manipulating anything, I don’t listen to you, but when I see people genuinely talking about issues, I listen. I am hardly intimidated by anybody who wants to push any issue he has. I believe that that protest in Lagos was manipulated by a class in Lagos and was not from the ordinary people.
“Government everywhere must create environment for development and transformation, so I agree the lead must be the government but the people must be the implementator if we must transform our country”.
On the media and 2015 election, Mr Jonathan said the media were being used to abuse the privileges of the Freedom of Information Act to the point of overheating the system.
“The key issue we are discussing is about peace and development and of course we all know that there is no way you can talk about development when you have a lot of crisis. In fact some people make more money when there is crisis and when there are crises it’s like a country in a state of emergency, anything goes.
“Crisis is one aspect but generally if there is no peace is extremely difficult for the ordinary people to survive though big players in economy may survive. Ordinary citizens having small and medium enterprises cannot come out to do business during crisis and of course it affects the economy. So you must have peace to develop.
“Peace is one of the cardinal marks of a leader. In the monarchy in the olden days, the king had maximum power, but for your kingdom to be stable, you must have the military strength. So without stability of any state we cannot develop.
“I agree totally with President Kufour who really gave us the breakdown of the kind of security situation that we have.
“When you talk of insecurity of using bombs and guns to kill people, what has been described as physical security, but in terms of social security, food security, health and the justice system all have to do with the security of individual.
“But I believe what we face in Nigeria though not peculiar to us; one of our greatest problems is what I described as political security.
“I believe political security is a big issue. There is this axiom that the pen is mightier than the sword. The sword is used to kill and destroy, but what we use the pen to do is also very critical. When you have society with these unending political conflicts, it is there on the media whether print, electronic or social media, it brings a lot of insecurity to the system and sometimes people begin to doubt your government.
“For example, when we were contesting election, we promised it will be free and fair, I was convinced I must do that even if I will lose the election. After our election in 2007, even the presidents in our neighbouring West African states were finding it difficult to congratulate us because the observers felt the election was not properly done. That hounded us even when we travelled out and I promised myself that if I have the opportunity to preside over election, I will do something different even at my expense at least for the sake of the country. And we did that but unfortunately, even though there were crisis in some parts of the country, observers felt the election was reasonably free and fair compared to others. But immediately after that election, not quite six months, the kind of media hype that started hitting us made us to stop and ask where this coming from?
“I said, I did not just come out from the blues to contest the election, I was deputy governor for six and half years, I was a governor for one and half years, I was a vice president, and before election, I was the president up to April when the elections were conducted, people knew me. So, within this period, including when I even acted, if I was that bad, will people have voted for me? So for Nigerians to have voted for me overwhelmingly, that means there must have been something they were expecting and definitely six months would have been too short to pass any valid judgement. But the media condemned me.
“And I believe is not just the media, like when we talk about the Boko Haram, we have political Boko Haram, religious Boko Haram and criminal Boko Haram. So also in the media, you have the professional media and the political media. That is why I talk about the political media, because of the interest of 2015, whatever you do is immaterial, the government must be brought down. And that mentality cuts across most African countries and even outside Africa.
“So addressing insecurity is critical in developing African state. When you have this ending political conflict especially in a country like Nigeria that is highly religious and with high ethno-tribal sentiments, it becomes very potent to even create a lot of problems for government.
“So I will plead with us as Nigerians that whenever we elect government into power at whatever level, at least for the sake of the country, allow the government to work before going into unnecessary overheating the system.
“When you talk of providing infrastructure, whether power, water, there is nothing you can use the magic wand to provide for the people, it takes time. To build your personal house, there must take a good number of days not to talk of infrastructure like power in a country like Nigeria and with the challenges we have and so on and so forth.
“I believe our great problem is political conflict, for a typical politician, the day you win election is the day you start the next election.
“So as government, we are committed to creating the environment. I’m quite pleased with the way President Kufour spoke on the issue of transformation. I agree that the leader must be the key actor for transformation, but those who will implement are the citizens. For instance, during the election, we advocated one man one vote, we were totally committed and I said it that nobody should rig election for me. But Nigerians believed that we were sincere and because they knew we were sincere, that took the life of its own. No, I don’t need to go and preach again. We have monitored elections in Edo and other places, nobody wants to compromise with his vote. It’s government that created that environment, but it’s not government that will enforce it, it is the citizen.
“That is why we are a bit worried that sometimes when government create the environment, whether economic, social or even the media, but how the citizens use those privileges matters so much.
“Take the media environment for instance, we signed the Freedom of Information Bill into law, it became the Freedom of Information Act, but are we using it in the way we are suppose to use it? Are some of us not abusing the privileges? The media environment that should have helped our transformation agenda are being used negatively, these are some of the issues we need to address.
“The way Nigerians challenge and abuse me, yes the President has enormous power, but if you use that enormous power to some extent, you will look like a dictator. In a democratic setting, you want to create an environment where people can create their opinion and that is why people are allowed to talk freely and demonstrate. But are we doing so properly”.
Former Ghanaian President John Kufuor’s address
Also speaking at the Independence anniversary lecture was former Ghanaian President John Kufuor.
Kufuor said history, tribe and religion are major stumbling blocks to Nigeria’s growth and development.
He said that the trio conspired to put a major stumbling block in the path of Nigeria’s destiny.
He urged Nigerians not to relent in helping the country out of the “unflattering perception of disunity and parochialism”.
The ex-president, therefore, advocated for the cultivation of a national identity based on shared values, tradition, history and aspirations.
He said Nigerians should develop a high national consciousness where they consider themselves first as Nigerians before anything else.
He said that those in leadership should also share in the vision of one nation and one people.
Kufour asked Nigerians to support the country’s leadership to enable Nigeria overcome its challenges.
He identified imbalanced development as a major cause of insecurity in Nigeria, saying that the situation was costing the country the opportunity to be the giant country that it could and should be.
“Naturally, imbalanced development that involves horizontal inequalities is an important source of conflict and that is costing Nigeria the opportunity to be the giant nation that it can and should be.
“In common parlance, development is growth through a series of progressive changes without end. It is therefore a process, not a level. It is a path to achieve certain goals which add up to improve the quality of life of a community and its people.”