Jonathan and opposing sides. No proposition was advocated as all opposing speakers were absent.
Below are the questions posed to the president and how he responded.
PANEL: What is it that you think you are bringing to the table that is different from every other person and from what we have had in the past that should make Nigerians entrust you with power?
GEJ: I want to be the President of Nigeria because I’m totally committed to transform this country. If given the opportunity to continue as the president for the next four years, a good number of things that I started with the former president, now late and we’ve been going on with it, and others we’ve planned, we will have the opportunity to see them through? The first thing that Nigerians always remind us of is the issue of power. That if you can fix power, you will at least solve the bulk of the problems we have, even in terms of wealthy creation. These are things that we have been working on and we believe that if given the opportunity for the next four years, we will be able to get to a point where we will stabilize power reasonably. But one thing that I stand for which is quite significant is the unity of this country and hope for Nigerians. My presidency will bring hope for this country. My presidency will encourage Nigerians that irrespective of your background, wherever you you come from, you will have the opportunity to get to the top of your career, if you are hard working and you are committed and you are disciplined. We have been running transparent system and we will continue to run transparent system. A system that will not discriminate. That is what we stand for and that will make me different from quite number of others. Quite a number of Nigerians are qualified to be president, no doubt about that but most of them have not shown interest but among those that have shown interest from all the political parties, we believe that I will be best material because of my background experience and because of my commitment to use myself as an example and because of the way I do things. I will not discriminate against anybody. I will not come up with policies that will bring development to one part of the country at the expense of other parts. I will make sure that resources are distributed uniformly and that all Nigerians have equal opportunity to participate in governance. These are some of the attributes I have that others probably may not have. And the background experience I have as somebody who operated at the state as a deputy governor, somebody who operated at the state as a governor and having served as a vice president and then the president and as somebody who have gone round this country two times and other visits, in fact now confronted and of course the problems are quite vivid and it places me at an important position to address the issues of development.
PANEL: The yearly rating of Nigeria by the Transparency International as a corrupt nation has assumed the status of national embarrassment. Also, political appointments, as compensation for political support and as well as propensity for quest for office has been argued as impediment to fight against corruption, especially god fatherism. What criteria will you set aside as basis for key political appointment and what will you do to institutionalize a culture of leadership by example?
GEJ: It’s good that you concluded by emphasising on leadership by example. Luckily for me and luckily for Nigerians, they knew me as a deputy governor, they knew me as a governor, I was the vice president and of course I took over as a president and I have made political appointments and from the appointments I have made, you will agree with me that the appointments were not based on who I know. I appointed people to very sensitive offices. People I have never interacted with. My chief economic adviser, I’ve never interacted with her before but from the questions I asked and she was recommended, then I appointed her. Even for the elections that I was to contest, I never interacted with Professor Jega and I wanted somebody that the level of credibility will transcend Nigeria. Somebody that the International Community will also believe in and from all my investigation, Professor Jega’s name appeared in quite a number of places. Just to tell you, My Finance Minister, I never interacted with him. Most of these Ministers, go and ask them, I don’t know them. I never interacted with them. But from the information we gathered, they were competent people. I believe in competence. That does not mean that politicians will not hold a political office. That is a wrong notion. In some countries, a parliamentary systems for example, before you will be appointed a minister, you will first of all be appointed as a member of parliament except some sensitive ministries like ministry of justice and finance where sometime they bring people from outside of parliament to head. So, there’s absolutely nothing wrong all over the world in appointing a politician into office but the emphasis is that whether the person is a politician or a technocrat, he must be competent, he must be somebody that is above board, he must be somebody that is seen to be less corrupt or should not be involved in anti social atrocities.
In terms of corruption generally, no Nigerian is happy by our rating. Rightly or wrongly, sometimes people dispute the figures but all of us collectively are fighting against it. One thing we must do is to make sure that we strengthen the institutions that manage corruption. The PDP government during Obasanjo time came up with ICPC and EFCC, a creation of PDP to dedicate special efforts to fighting corruption and we’ve been going on with it.
PANEL: You have just spoken about the creation of the ICPC and EFCC as creations of the PDP government. Some people would say that in spite of all those institutions, corruption is still thriving in Nigeria. If you are re-elected president of Nigeria, what would you do differently to curb corruption?
GEJ: First and foremost these institutions were established to refocus on corruption but fighting corruption is not limited to EFCC and ICPC aloe. It is the primary responsibility of every citizen to fight corruption like fighting crime by reporting cases of corruption to these establishments. One thing that I will do differently is not to interfere with their operations. I will give them the free hands to investigate anybody that is linked up with corruption. I will obey the rule of law because a country that the leadership don’t obey any law, then you will expect the followership also to resist it. I will make sure that if it is because of capacity building, they are properly exposed to training and properly financed and encouraged to do what is right. I believe, the weakness, if there are any is probably maybe senior government functionary interfering, but even when I was a governor of Bayelsa state, I always open my doors. I remember when I was in office one day and a local bank manager called that the EFCC are coming to investigate the state, I said okay, go ahead. As long as you don’t limit them and you encourage them to do what is right, definitely, Nigerians will do well and that is what I will do. I don’t believe that it is only Mr. President himself that is going to investigate the votes of any bank or the treasury of any parastatal. No. And if you look at what we are doing which I will continue to do, the very first thing that I directed that should be done is to audit some very big organizations like the NNPC. Nobody has asked for external auditing of NNPC for all this period because that is where our bulk of monies come from and I feel that we must know exactly what is happening and I directed the Minister of Finance to get external auditors to audit NNPC. I will make sure that we get external auditors to audit major parastatals of government if the external auditors don’t satisfy us. We must know how much money we have and how the money is spent. Of course most agencies are doing this biometrics and that is what we will do. Corruption itself is something that you need to look at it from different perspectives. In most cases people are limited to financial corruption; maybe a government functionary putting his hands in the thing and taking money but corruption is far beyond that. Even the mere perception, is a form of corruption. We must encourage people to accommodate others, to work with every other Nigerians. Don’t discriminate against other Nigerians irrespective of their backgrounds.
PANEL:Globally debates during elections have been used to strengthen the democratic culture in the society. Recently, there is this controversy that you did not accept debate invitations to one or three debates where your political contemporaries were also invited. This evening your three other fellow presidential candidates are not participating with you. As PDP presidential candidate, what is your disposition towards debates in Nigeria?
GEJ: The PDP as a party believes that all political office holders at all levels should give account of themselves as people and give account of the government they head. And that is why even in 2003, the PDP presidential candidate even though he was a sitting president participated in the debate. In 2007, I was a vice presidential candidate and I participated in the debate. That is the PDP position. This time around, even in my opening statement, I did mention that I was ready for the debate. Probably you people can organize another debate because some of the stories I read in the papers that Mr. President didn’t come because he wanted questions to be leaked out to him. Rearrange the debate, let candidates ask themselves questions. So that nobody would come with spurious stories to deceive Nigerians. What happened was maybe a communication gap. More than 12 bodies indicated interest and got to us that they want to host presidential debate and as a sitting president, I don’t have the luxury and even the other presidential candidates; I believe they don’t have the luxury to appear in 12 or more different debates. And we are told that there is a body, and of course this is a body, the Nigerian Election Debate Group that normally co-ordinates presidential debates. Did I refuse your invitation? I did not refuse your invitation. I was told that the medium, that the reach out was not that big, that very few Nigerians will listen to that and that it’s better for us to use the medium that everybody, even those who have radio alone will listen to this presidential debate and I was waiting because I was told that it was to come up on March 29 and I was waiting for that March 29. Some of the journalists that I met with can remember that we met in Lagos tied with the operators of media houses and later on editors and I told them that I wanted to address international press conference but before that international press conference, I need to meet with them at that level but this debate came up and we now said okay, let us finish with the debate before the international press conference. So, it’s not as if the PDP government ran away from debate. It’s a communication gap but I would advise that this time around, maybe in 2015, the Nigerian Election Debate Group should take charge from beginning, immediately parties are going on with their primaries, announce this so that all the parties, all the presidential candidates should know that this is the authentic body that should organise debates.
PANEL: The role of the media in governance is among others, to educate the public for understanding of the government’s policies and programmes, sharpen political direction and ideological focus but some successive Nigerian administrations, military or civilian have instead always sought to intimidate, harass, muscle and sometimes compromise the media. What will be your attitude and policy direction with Nigeria mass media especially the famous Freedom of Information Bill and broadcast license for community radio because it’s only Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa that are without community radio?
GEJ: Thank you. I wouldn’t want to ask you a question but in my own case I’m already a serving president and you know the way I relate with the media, so it’s not a question of futuristic. For those who want to come in, yes, it’s futuristic. You can ask what I am doing with the media. You know I am one of the best friends to the media irrespective of what they write. I have not harassed anybody. I have not used any power that I have against any media house or an individual even though some of the write-ups are even libellous in nature but as a president you must absolve some of this excesses because we know that the media a group that I believe are doing a very good job for this country irrespective of the fact that sometimes we may not smile over some of the things they write and it’s a body that I have high respect and regard for. I always tell media practitioners that there are two professional groups that I admire, the media practitioners and lawyers because of their vast experience, and know little things of almost everything. So, it exposes you so much and probably my first job after leaving school would have been to work in the media because I remember the first application I wrote then was to the Nigerian Tide in those days to be a reporter but that is history.
And in terms of the Freedom of Information Bill, it has not come to me, immediately it gets to me, I think I will have no reservation as to endorsing it except there are provisions that we need to touch but definitely it will go through. Sometimes Bills come and probably as a president, you know a little more than others and may notice one or two things that need to be adjusted and I pray that this time around we should not even have that situation. But I can assure you that the media, they are my friends and for the past four years, I have been here as the vice president, then now. In Bayelsa state I served for eight years, so my relationship with the media is well known. So, it’s not a question of what will you do but what are you doing and you know what I have been doing, that I’ve been doing well with the media and I will continue to relate well with the media practitioners.
PANEL:Every promise to raise the power sector has so far proved difficult. The promise of 4000 megawatts does not seem to have been achieved. How would you specifically ensure adequate power generation and distribution to achieve regular power supply to Nigerians?
GEJ: The power sector is one that all Nigerians know is a major priority of this administration from the time I came in as a vice President and even in the Obasanjo era. If you look at the history of power, you would realise that for many years there was no addition to what we have until 1999 and that first administration headed by Obasanjo came up with the NIPP projects so that the state, local governments jointly made money available from the excess crude account to intervene in the power sector under the arrangement that the three tiers of government would own the infrastructure and when it starts yielding benefits, they would be shared among the tiers of government. Along the line there was this problem that was not properly handled. The state government never complained because everybody wants power, but the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission took the federal government to court. So when we came on board, it was stalemate. For almost all the first two years, we could not move anywhere until we summoned the Economic Council which I was chairing as a vice president then. We formed a body and all contracts are assess and awarded by the body. From that we started the project again
PANEL:What economic agenda have you fashioned for the nation?
GEJ: The first skyscraper in this country was not built from oil money but with cocoa money. The first television station was not from oil but from agric. A lot of countries are surviving today without oil and that is why if you look at our manifesto today, you would realise the emphasis on how we would revitalise agriculture. As a basic guideline the PDP believes every state must specialise in two crops, one for local consumption and the other for export. We are implementing that. For us to revolutionarise agriculture, you must irrigate. In the next four years, we are going to re-visit our dams, irrigation projects, and of course, power. One of the challenges with agriculture is the variety of seeds we use. The volume of milk produced by one cow in Nigeria is just one over ten of a similar cow of different species. To bring high yielding seeds and cattle is one. One of the problems we have is that we import fertilisers that are not adapted to the characteristics of our soil. That is why the Minister of Petroleum Resources is coming up with five different blending plants to be built in the country to increase yield.
PANEL:Most of the refineries are shut down. What efforts are you making on this?
GEJ: Until we are in a position to refine petroleum products locally, we cannot as a nation be proud of ourselves. We produce crude oil and there is no reason to import fuel. We have two refineries in port Harcourt, one in Warri and one in Kaduna and they operate at 60 per cent of the installed capacity since we came on board but that gives us only 20 per cent of out consumption which is quite high. So we still need to expand our capacity. This time around, we also want the private sector to come around. We are also saying for us to move, the economy must be in the hands of the private sector. we also have a new concept on board- community refineries. This is to encourage small companies to refine small quantities of crude.
PANEL:What measures will you put in place to ensure that budgets are facilitated to meet development?
GEJ: budget implementation has always exceeded 50 per cent. We have the procurement law which give details of what we procure. In most cases the budget are passed late and you cannot advertise for a project which budget has not been approved. So it not is not true we don't implement up to 50 per cent.
PANEL:About 70 per cent of Nigerians live below poverty line?
GEJ:Job creation remains one of the most interest. Everyday, people die and everyday, young babies are born. So the figure is not constant. But out of about 150 million people, we have 70 per cent below the age of 30 while 50 per cent of them are below 15. So a country must prepare for them. That is why we are emphasising three major areas. First is agriculture, we have to commercialise and make it more attractive. They cannot go and get involved with the kind of farming our parents are used to. If we continue to sell only crude oil, we would not create jobs. It is during drilling that the oil companies employ more people. After this, you hardly see people because every other thing is done mechanically. We must encourage commercial and more modern ways of farming.
PANEL:What is your understanding of leadership problem and how would you tackle it?
GEJ:About two days ago, when I was confronted by this same question while discussing about candidates in some states that were imposed, I told my friend that one of the greatest thing in leadership is the cost of leadership. As an individual, you have close friends and supporters, but as you go taller, everybody becomes your own. If you go to influence, it becomes a problem. I don't put my personal interest above the interest of the party. I believe that all Nigerians irrespective of their background are the same. So a leader must be ready to make special sacrifice and I have been doing this because my becoming president today is by providence.