Dr. Jonathan spoke on various issues, including Boko Haram, fuel subsidy and infrastructure, among others, during the two-hour broadcast on national television.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo fired a broadside at Dr. Jonathan over his comment on his administration’s military action Obi in 1999.
Opposition parties – Action Congress of Nigeria (AC N) and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) – crtiticised the President’s response to some of the questions he fielded from the editors.
The ACN said the President and his aides had been flip flopping on crucial national issues.
The ANPP said the President evaded questions that would have enabled him to lay many controversial national issues to rest.
But the President’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) alleged that opposition parties were spreading “cheap lies” and trying to distance the country.
Ex-President Obasanjo defended his administration’s deployment of troops in Odi, a Bayelsa State community, in 1999, saying it achieved the purpose, which was to “uproot” the operational base of a terrorist group.
He said President Jonathan was wrong to have claimed during the Presidential Media Chat that the invasion was a failure.
Jonathan was Bayelsa’s Deputy Governor during the military action.
Obasanjo also justified the use of force in Zaki Biam, Benue State, following the killing of 19 soldiers by suspected terrorists.
In a statement issued through his former spokesman, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, Obasanjo said Jonathan must have forgotten the facts about Odi or was misinformed.
To him, the President should rather learn lessons from the actions on how to deal with terrorists.
Jonathan had said: “We saw some dead people, mainly old men and women and also children. None of those militants was killed. None was killed. So, bombarding Odi was to solve the problem but it never solved it.
“Of course if the attack of Odi had solved the issue of militancy in the Niger Delta, the Yar’Adua government, which I had the privilege of being the Vice-President, wouldn’t have come up with the amnesty programme.”
But Obasanjo said Jonathan was wrong in the assertion, which he called “a serious charge” against him.
According to him, the operation, which he ordered in response to the killing of five policemen and four soldiers by suspected Niger Delta militants, was carried out with military precision and efficiency.
Contrary to Jonathan’s statement, the objectives of the soldiers’ deployment “were fully achieved”, Obasanjo said.
The former President claimed it was “factually incorrect” for Jonathan to say that all he saw in Odi after he went there on an official visit as deputy governor were the bodies of old people and children.
Obasanjo urged Jonathan’s administration to cultivate the courage and the political will to tackle the security challenges posed by the Boko Haram sect.
While in power, the former President said, he handled such matters “decisively, with vigour and with the utmost urgency”.
He said: “With the greatest respect to Mr. President, this is factually incorrect. He has either forgotten the relevant facts or he has been misinformed. Whichever way, he is mistaken and it is important for those of us that proudly served the Obasanjo administration to respond to him in order to clarify the issues, clear the air and set the record straight for the sake of history and posterity.
“I had the privilege of being briefed about all the facts by President Olusegun Obasanjo himself and Col. Kayode Are, the former DG of the SSS, immediately after the Presidential Media Chat and I believe that it is appropriate to share some of those facts with members of the Nigerian public, given the grave assertion and serious charge that President Jonathan has made. Those facts are as follows.
“Five policemen and four soldiers were killed by a group of Niger Delta militants when they tried to enter the town of Odi in Bayelsa State in order to effect their arrest. This happened in 1999.
“After the brutal killing of these security personnel, President Olusegun Obasanjo asked the then Governor of Bayelsa State, Governor Alamiyeseigha, to identify, locate, apprehend and hand over the perpetrators of that crime.
“The Governor said that he was unable to do so and President Obasanjo, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, took the position that security personnel could not be killed with impunity under his watch without a strong and appropriate response from the Federal Government.
“Consequently, he sent the military in to uproot and kill the terrorists and to destroy their operational base, which was the town of Odi. The operation was carried out with military precision and efficiency and its objectives were fully achieved.”
Fani-Kayode said the military operation led to the dislodgment of the terrorist group.
The statement added: “The terrorists were either killed and those that were not killed fled their operational base in Odi, were uprooted, were weakened, were demoralised and were completely dispersed. That was the purpose of the whole exercise and that purpose was achieved.
“The truth is that the killing of security agents and soldiers with impunity by the Niger Delta militants virtually stopped after the operation in Odi and remained at a bare minimum right up until the time that President Obasanjo left power eight years later in 2007. I advise those that doubt this to go and check the records.
“The same thing was done in Zaki Biam in Benue State in the North-central zone of Nigeria in 2001 after 19 soldiers were murdered in cold blood and then brutally beheaded by some terrorists from that area. Again, after the Federal Government’s strong military response in Zaki Biam, the killing of security personnel with impunity stopped.
“The objectives of the military operations in both Odi and Zaki Biam were to stop such killings, to eliminate and deal a fatal blow to those that perpetuated them and to discourage those that may seek to carry out such barbarous butchery and mindless violence in the future. Those were the objectives and nothing more and clearly those objectives were achieved.
“There is no doubt that after Odi there was still unrest, agitations, protests, kidnappings and the blowing up and sabotage of oil pipelines in the Niger Delta area but there were hardly any more attacks on or killing of soldiers and security personnel by the terrorists and militants because they knew that to do that would attract a swift and forceful reaction and terrible retribution from the Nigerian military.
“To stop and deter those attacks and killings was the objective of President Obasanjo and that objective was achieved.
“President Goodluck Jonathan was, therefore, in error when he said that Odi did not solve the problem of killings in the Niger Delta area by the Niger Delta militants.
“Not only did it stop the killings, but it is also an eloquent testimony of how to deal with terrorists, how to handle those that kill our security personnel with impunity and how to deter militants from killing members of our civilian population and thinking that they can get away with it.
“If President Obasanjo had not taken that strong action at that time many more of our civilian population and security personnel would have been killed by the Niger Delta militants between 1999 and 2007.
“By doing what he did at Odi and Zaki Biam, President Obasanjo saved the lives of many and put a stop to the killings and terrorism that had taken root in the Niger Delta area previous to that time.”
Besides, Fani-Kayode said Obasanjo was actually misquoted, as he never recommended that the “Odi treatment” should be adopted to quell Boko Haram insurgency.
He said: “On the issue of Boko Haram, it is unfortunate that President Obasanjo’s comments have been misconstrued and his views misrepresented. He never said that the Odi treatment should be applied to Boko Haram or that such action is appropriate in these circumstances.
“What he said was that a solution ought to have been found or some sort of action ought to have been taken sooner rather than allow the problem to fester over time like a bad wound and get worse.
“There can be no doubt that he was right on this because, according to President Jonathan’s own Chief of Army Staff, no less that 3000 people have been killed by Boko Haram in the last two years alone.
“That figure represents approximately the same number of people that were killed by the IRA in Northern Ireland and the British mainland in the 100 years that the war between them and British lasted and before peace was achieved between the two sides.
“The same number of casualties that the IRA inflicted on the people of the United Kingdom in 100 years is the same number of casualties that Boko Haram has managed to inflict on our people in just two. This is unacceptable and it is very disturbing.
“The Federal Government must cultivate the courage and the political will to stop the killings by Boko Haram and to find a permanent solution to the problem.
“When President Obasanjo was in power he handled such matters decisively, with vigour and with the utmost urgency.
“He brought justice to the perpetrators quickly and promptly and he did whatever he had to do to protect the lives and property of the Nigerian people.
“The truth is that the strategy that he adopted to fight terrorism and mass murder worked very well and it was very effective. For President Goodluck Jonathan to suggest otherwise is regrettable.”