By Wale Ajetunmobi
The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof Attahiru Jega will not be removed as being insinuated in some quarters, President Goodluck Jonathan has assured.
The president denied plotting the removal of the electoral umpire chairman, saying he had not discussed such issue with anyone. President Jonathan spoke in an interview with Al Jazeera on Monday.
He said: “Except somebody is insinuating that the INEC chairman has done something wrong, you cannot change an officer except the person has done something wrong. Government does not wake up, whether at the state or federal level; the president or a governor does not wake up and change somebody, especially INEC, which is a very sensitive body.
“So for me to change the INEC chairman, people, both Nigerians and non-Nigerians, will ask questions. We cannot wake up and change the chairman. I have never discussed this with any human being on earth about changing the INEC chairman.”
Jonathan also re-assured Nigerians that elections will hold as scheduled, dismissing rumours that the Federal Government was plotting another postponement of the general elections. “I don’t think so,” Jonathan responded when asked if he believed the polls would be shifted again. The President added: “I believe the elections will be conducted as scheduled by the INEC. That is, national election will hold on the 28th of this month. I don’t see why we should postpone again because I am quite impressed about the successes going on in the North.
“There is a misunderstanding about postponement. In 2011, we conducted elections; we had Boko Haram. The fact is that, within this period, somehow, the level of build-up of the Boko Haram was quite serious. And from all indications, the signals the security agencies got showed that people are trying to use them to disrupt the elections. In 2011, there was no such signal. If you disrupt elections in number of states, especially for the presidential election, it would affect declaration of results.
“The security service did not want to take any chance. They did not tell Nigerians that they must rout Boko Haram 100 per cent before the elections could be conducted. But, they want to degrade Boko Haram to the extent that, they will not have the strength to disrupt the elections. That is the key thing.”
Jonathan said he believed the military operations in the Northeast would weaken the strength of the Boko Haram, which he said would make the election peaceful. The President denied that he stepped up the fight against insurgency because he was afraid he could lose the presidential election, saying: “(The notion) is out of ignorance in the political environment. People say anything, especially if the ruling party is going to the left, they will want to go to the right. They must find anything to tell you.”
Jonathan admitted that the military initially lacked weapons to match the insurgents’ arsenal, but noted that the government had taken delivery of sophisticated weapons to fight the terrorists.
He said: “From the beginning, we have been saying that we lack certain weapons to confront Boko Haram because of the nature of the terror environment. Now, we have been trying to get these weapons. At least, we have received up to 60 to 75 per cent of these (weapons) and I believe we are reasonably equipped to confront Boko Haram.”
On the belief that corruption has worsened under his administration, the President said people had different perception about the level of corruption and playing politics about his administration’s drive to fight graft.
He admitted that corruption still thrives in government, but said people must different stealing from corruption.
“If you look at the perception of corruption or perception index, people talk about corruption now because it has become a political issue. And when you promote something to a level of politics, of course it would blow out of proportion.
“Yes, we have corruption cases…we have cases of people stealing; no doubt about that. I always say that, call a thief a thief. I am not saying that we don’t have this element of corruption or stealing. If you start from the former Central Bank governor, who initially said that $49.8 billion were missing; $49.8 billion is a lot of money. What is the budget of this country for God’s sake?
“Our budget has been a little over N3 trillion. Federal Government’s budget is about $18-20 billion a year and you are saying we lose $49.8 billion. If today we lose $49.8 billion, federal and state governments will not pay salaries. I don’t know how he came about that figure. The next moment he changed from $49.8 billion to $12 billion. The next day, it was $20 billion. Up to this time, I don’t know which is the correct accusation. The Senate set up a committee and they used consultants; they looked into it and say over $2 billion that could not be properly balanced. They did not say that somebody stole it. No evidence to say it was stolen but that it was not properly balanced.”