Presidential spokesman Reuben Abati in an interview with the Nigerian Tribune, which he calls “explosive
”, defends the commander-in-chief President Jonathan, blasts the opposition party – APC, and addresses reports that the government is not doing anything to end insecurity
Read excerpts; On going cold after joining the government: “This is an old question. I have responded to this question so many times. I don’t owe anybody an apology. It was my decision to take, to work for government, and in particular to work for President Goodluck Jonathan because I believe in him and I admire him. And having taken that decision, I am not going to spend my time apologising to people because as an individual, I have the right to make a choice.
It was my choice to work for President Jonathan and to accept the position of his spokesperson and media adviser and I have absolutely no apology and I have seen that for me, it is a positive move because today, I consider myself much better informed, because I have been on both sides. I have lived the life of the outsider looking at government, governance and society from one observatory and I have also been inside and I can see how government functions.
I don’t think any form of apprenticeship in terms of exposure to public life can be higher than working with the president of a democratic country, working at the highest level of authority. It puts you in a vantage position to learn so much. If this was a course of study in which a certificate is awarded, I think I should be getting close to getting one, having taken so many course units and learning so much.
I am talking about apprenticeship in a serious sense, and the opportunity also to serve one’s country. I don’t think anybody can put that down by saying ‘you were once a social critic, you shouldn’t be here.’ No. In fact, I will encourage so many other journalists and persons in other capacities to come into government and work for government. Why is it an issue that when a journalist works for government, people complain? There are doctors in government. There are engineers working for government, their colleagues have not carried placards. We all have a duty to play a role in the making of our country.
But of course, since I came here, I have seen many of those who criticised me ferociously – our own colleagues – hanging around and hustling for appointments and many of them have taken this or that position in government, much excitedly too. And when they land on this side, I say to them: ‘Ha, I thought you wrote an article the other day and published articles criticising Reuben Abati. You are on this side now too.’ I welcome them and I congratulate them. So, you see, I have no apologies whatsoever. I have no regrets also.”
On criticism that GEJ’s administration isn’t achieving anything: “I don’t know who you are talking about because when you say some people, the only people I still see out there that are misinforming and misleading the people are people who have partisan interests. They are persons who sponsor other people to pull down government because they themselves are interested in the office of the president. But you see, it doesn’t matter, the amount of blackmail or hate campaign or disinformation that those persons put out. They cannot run away from the facts and the facts speak for themselves in terms of the achievements of this administration. And I will urge you also, as a journalist who has the opportunity to do little research on this, to make the effort and to help us inform the public that whoever is saying this administration has done nothing is telling a lie.
Now, for the first time in the history of this country, you have a president who approached the electorate and said: ‘This is my contract with you, this is what I will do, I will focus on the following issues; job creation, inclusive growth, strengthening the education sector, providing infrastructure, ensuring transformation in many aspects of our life both local and in terms of our relationship with the rest of the world, change the look of government and provide purposeful leadership.’ And he has kept his promise on all of these goals.
This is the first administration in Nigeria in recent memory, the first president that would give the directive that his ministers one by one, should go and face the public, face the cabinet first, give an account of what they have been doing and go to the public and also give an account of what they have been doing. This is the government that has upheld the twin pillars of transparency and accountability in every regard.
We just had the gubernatorial election in Osun State. The PDP lost, the opposition won. President Jonathan immediately congratulated the winner. The same people who were complaining that there was too much security are the same people who are now turning around saying President Jonathan did well. They have seen that this is a president who is committed to the rule of law and who is committed to free and fair elections.
Free and fair election became a major refrain under President Jonathan. Before now, nobody in this country ever believed that elections could be free and fair because it was not the pattern for the ruling government at the centre to lose elections. But under President Jonathan, the PDP has lost elections in a number of states; in Anambra, Edo, in Ondo and now, in Osun. You must have lived in this country in those days when elections were determined on the basis of the readings of the preference of the president. But President Jonathan has not imposed anything on anybody. That, in itself, is a major achievement because this is one president who has gone out of his way to deliberately strengthen the democratic culture.
When you were in primary school, depending on how old you are, you probably learnt something about Nigerian Railway lines under Social Studies. Now, that disappeared for almost a whole generation because the railways were not working again. The Nigerian Railway Corporation collapsed. Schools stopped teaching pupils about rail transportation in Nigeria because there was nothing to teach. Under President Jonathan’s watch, the rail stations are back. There is a comprehensive plan to further link up the entire country. President Jonathan is designing a Railway Network that will take rail transportation in this country beyond Lord Lugard.
The trains are moving again and people board those trains and they give concrete evidence, testimonies. Many of the roads that had been abandoned in this country have been fixed. The power situation; some people still complain that maybe power supply is not yet at the level they want, but they all agree that it has improved because President Jonathan has made power sector revolution one of the major priorities of his administration.
The power sector privatisation process was mismanaged by previous administrations. Today, with President Jonathan in charge, it is now adjudged by international investors as one of the freest and the most transparent that they have ever seen, anywhere. There is evidence to that effect. You can research it. And are you still saying nothing has been done? It was under President Jonathan that the Nigerian economy became the largest economy in Africa and our economy that has not been rebased for 20 years was rebased. Foreign Direct Investment is going up, another record achievement in that regard.
In terms of international reputation, our international reputation continues to rise. President Jonathan has empowered women, he has empowered the youths, he is creating jobs. Every month, he is busy launching one legacy project after another. Because he is such a compulsive achiever, I suspect some people are jealous of him. If there are people who think that President Jonathan’s achievements are hurting their egos, they should just be truthful and say so.” On no movement to end Boko Haram: “It will not be right to say that there is no movement. What people must realise is that the fight against terror is an unconventional kind of war and it is also something that is unusual in our environment. Even in other countries where they have had cases of terrorism, it is not something that was resolved overnight. If you go to Mexico, Colombia, they are still battling with the threat after so many years.
It took America 10 years to be able to track down Osama bin Laden. And the thing to understand about the nature of terrorism is that you are dealing with agents of evil, people who have resolved to wage war against humanity and human civilisation and they do not wear any uniform.
They strike at will and their identity is, for the most part, hidden. One thing we must all know is that in spite of the special challenge it poses in our environment, our security agents have been able to quickly develop a capacity to be able to address the challenge. There may be questions, but all of those questions will be dealt with, because primarily, there is political will to deal with the challenge and that is what is most critical.
What President Jonathan has pointed out is that the war against terrorism may be a long drawn out war, but no matter how long it takes, whatever it takes, the government is determined to win the war because the government is not going to allow people who want to pull down the country, who want to destroy other people’s lives to prevail. That is what the president has said, and he means every word of it.”
On the opposition party calling Jonathan “clueless”: “I have had cause to respond to those people on many occasions. It is very obvious now that it is those people criticizing President Jonathan who are totally clueless. They have no idea whatsoever. You are beginning to see it now. The thing around their neck is beginning to play out. Some of their key spokespersons who used to criticize President Jonathan are now all rushing to come to the President’s party. They are in fact gate-crashing.
I mean, one of the key figures in the APC has declared for the PDP in his home state in Adamawa. And that is a man who was once famously quoted as saying that Nigeria under President Jonathan is a sinking ship. The same man is joining that ship because he has seen that the ship is not sinking at all and that the captain of the ship is a good captain who is providing quality leadership. He has seen the light and the light has set him free. That is the kind of illumination that has been happening to many of these persons. They suddenly see the light and they recant and I am very happy.
Even a former governor and a former Minister have also joined the PDP. These are people who used to criticize the ruling government, these are people who used to criticize President Jonathan but they keep seeing the light. We welcome such people.
So, the same people you are quoting, many of them are coming into the PDP. Many of them are joining President Jonathan. And I believe that as we move towards 2015, you will find more and more people like that. We don’t need to say anything anymore. The Lord Almighty is winning the battle for us.
These are the people who championed the various abuses and they are turning to our side now and supporting us. I mean, there was one person in the fold of APC who even said I was the child of a same-sex marriage just because I pointed out to him that his criticism of President Jonathan was unfair. Today, he is one of the leading defenders of President Jonathan. The thing speaks for itself, then.
They even now make my job easier because those people that I used to fight with, they are coming to our side one by one. We are waiting for Nasir el-Rufai, Lai Muhammed, Oby Ezekwesili, Dino Melaye, and the Jagaban (Bola Tinubu) and their Northern godfathers: may they all see the light, and may the light set them free. And that tells you something, that we have a president who is a true leader who in the fullness of time, you find his worst critics, becoming his strongest promoters. And that is our point; this whole thing should not be about ego, it is about doing the best in all circumstances for our country. Nigeria must and will prevail. We welcome everybody who is willing to be part of that national agenda of progress and transformation. “