Former President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, in Geneva, Switzerland, last week where he was honoured by an association of international diplomats, the Cercle Diplomatique, based in Geneva, bared his mind on the 2015 elections, arms deal probe, Boko Haram and other issues. Excerpts: On the ongoing $2.1 billion arms deal probe by President Buhari. Thank you very much for that question. I would have loved to speak extensively on this issue because even back home, I had read in the papers where a few people are saying that President Jonathan should add his voice to this controversial issue. But you know, in our country, there are laws. When a matter is already in a court of law, the people who had one thing or another to do with the matter are not expected to make . because such would be considered as prejudice. As a former president, any comment I make at this point will affect the witnesses and ongoing proceedings in court and I will be going against the law of my country. So, I will not make any . at this point until all these are sorted out. But definitely I will speak on it. One thing I want Nigerians to know is that we had issues in the country. On my part, I tried to build institutions. I strengthened the judiciary and that is why I wouldn’t want to go into areas that are not in line with standard judicial practice. I encouraged the separation of powers among the three arms of government because that is the standard practice in any true democracy. I reformed the electoral system by strengthening the electoral body, INEC, making it possible for it to seamlessly conduct the 2011 and 2015 elections. Subsequently, the election was adjudged transparent, free and fair, by local and international election observers. Some of you still remember the tension that had built up before the 2015 elections, so much so that doomsday predictions emerged from many quarters, including agencies in the United States that Nigeria would disintegrate in 2015. The country became even more polarised along the North and the South divide and also between Christians and Muslims. Don’t forget that we still had issues of terrorism then. So, to conduct election along the whole length and breadth of the country, given the circumstances was going to be difficult. But still we were able to conduct a peaceful, free and fair election. So, to answer you directly, I would not want to speak on the controversial $2.1 billion issue. But I will speak my mind on the matter at the appropriate time. On Boko Haram Boko Haram started in Nigeria about 2002, not really quite recent. It started off initially as a religious group. Although they were fanatical about their belief, they were not terrorists from the very start. But over time, just like any of the other terrorists groups the world knows about, they became radicalised, may be through some local and even foreign interests and influence. We just discovered that a group that was just being fanatical about their belief started resorting to extreme cases of violence and assuming all the characteristics of terrorism. As a government, we worked very hard to combat them. It started when I was vice president. The first major clash that happened between the Boko Haram agents and the Nigerian military was in 2009. Then, the first leader of the sect was killed by the police. From that time, we started having more challenges and don’t forget that the country’s security architecture was not designed to combat terrorism at that time. You and I know that combating terror requires different approach, with new technologies. This is because they are not ordinary criminals like armed robbers, who would not want to die. Terrorists are a strange group that is not afraid of death; they are not frightened by the sight of the gun and other weapons. The security forces can manage armed robbers and other criminals better because the criminals are also being careful not to lose their lives. But for terrorists, they even have suicide bombers who have already made up their minds to die, especially after inflicting maximum damage and killing as many people as possible. So given this challenge, you need a different security architecture with superior technology. At that time, Nigeria had not developed that superior technology. When I became the president, we had to start by building the capacity of various security outfits in terms of intelligence monitoring and interventions to enable them develop the capacity to take pre-emptive actions. We built that capacity over time. That was why we were able to push Boko Haram back and degrade them to a level that we were able to conduct elections in all parts of the country. And I believe that with the commitment of the present government, we will be able to get to a level when Boko Haram will no longer constitute any obstruction to our social and economic life. On his working relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari I am the former president and I cannot throw myself on the new government. It depends on the assignment the current president decides to give me and also depends on if I have the capacity to carry out such assignment. He is our president and can decide to send people on assignments based on national interests. When I was in office, I used to give assignments to former presidents and that is how it has always been. I am free to work for my country and indeed for any other African president that considers my service valuable. On insinuation that his administration negotiated with Boko Haram and was duped… We did not negotiate with Boko Haram. I agree that within that period, especially whenever there is a problem, people would volunteer all manner of assistance. It is just like what my successor, President Buhari, said in a recent media chat that if his government got credible leaders of the sect, they would be willing to discuss with them. People will come to you with all kinds of names. But my government never set up a team to negotiate with Boko Haram. We found out that the activities of the terrorists were coming from a section of the country, the North East, and they were more active in two states, Borno and Yobe. If you relate this with the issue of education, you will discover that these two states have the worst cases in terms of children school dropout rate with more than 50 per cent dropout rate. So, you can see that this high rate of out-of-school children speaks to the issue of the prevalence of insurgency in these states. We then felt that there might be local issues involved in the matter. What we then did was to set up a committee of senior people in the states to hold conversations with all stakeholders, including community leaders, religious leaders and all other interest groups. Their mandate was to hold conversations with these groups towards finding a local solution to the problem. There was never a time we negotiated with Boko Haram. I think this whole idea is all politics. The world over, people do and say all kinds of things in the name of politics. But then it is wrong for people to . politics with very serious national issues. The only group we negotiated with, which started when I was a deputy governor, was the militants in an area called the Niger Delta. I believe that if we had negotiated with Boko Haram, we would have come out with an action programme in that regard. When we negotiated with Niger Delta militants, we were able to do that because you could identify them and they had a clear position on all the issues. In that case, we were able to come out with what we called the amnesty programme, which brought about the end of militancy in that part of our country where crude oil is being produced. We asked the militants to surrender their weapons in exchange for their rehabilitation. We engaged them with relevant training and placed many of them on a monthly allowance. Some of them were trained outside Nigeria and some were encouraged to set up businesses and so on. For a negotiation to take place, there should be certain expectations from both sides. We just couldn’t negotiate with the terrorists because such expectations could not be established. Anybody who says that we negotiated with Boko Haram during my time is merely playing politics. His achievements and legacies in relation with the present government I am happy that somebody here could talk about all we did in terms of building institutions, promoting entrepreneurship among youths and many other things we did in office. When I set out to reform INEC, for instance, I had it in mind to build the kind of democracy that is sustainable. Democracy is not just about conducting elections and announcing the winner. Elections must be credible and transparent. They must appear free and fair to all the interest groups. There are many elections that are held and won without any iota of credibility. Such elections will not lead to stability in the polity. And when there is no stability in a country, people find it difficult to enter. That is the difference between Africa’s independence period, when we simply won our freedom, but there was no stability; and now our societies are maturing into stable democracies. Our democracies are becoming institutionalised with even peer review tools being deployed. That is why the economies of many countries are now growing. We also ensured that the judiciary was independent. There was no interference from the executive, which I headed. We ensured that the parliament operated within its mandate, without any hindrance. We strengthened INEC because without a strong and independent electoral body you cannot conduct a free and fair election. I can go on and on to enumerate all we did, but that is not why I came to Geneva. The truth is that we cannot claim to have solved all of Nigeria’s problems. No president can safely make such a claim, as no individual can solve all the problems of a nation. But I can say that we tried our best.
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