President Goodluck: Why we are inviting Obama to visit Nigeria.

On the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, President Goodluck Jonathan, who addressed the assembly and also met President Barrack Obama during a recent visit to the US, spoke in an interview with Arise Television. Anayo Okolie transcribed the interview…
Obama is the President of the United State of America, the biggest economy in the world. And of course, America is a key country in terms of controlling affairs of the globe. Although Nigeria is not as big, but at the African level, we are playing a key role; first, as the second largest economy, which has the potential to even grow bigger than that. And of course, in terms of population, about 20 percent of the African population resides in Nigeria.
We are key in terms of peace and security issues in Africa. We are involved in all the peace-keeping operations where there is trouble within the West African sub-region and beyond.
Also, that these two countries need to work together to bring peace to Africa and of course to the rest of the globe. Nigeria is the biggest trading partner to America from the African continent.
Therefore, these two countries must interface to ensure that these trade links continue. In summary, we discussed issues bordering on security, and of course Nigeria has its challenges of Boko Haram, West Africa, North Africa, Central Africa and we just heard about Kenya, East Africa. America is interested in making sure that the world live at peace, and of course we need the assistance of America. So we discussed a number of security and economic issues.
And you know when Obama came to Africa, he launched two programmes: the Power Africa Initiative, which some countries including Nigeria have keyed in to benefit from the $7 billion America thinks they could use in the issue of power. And also of the Young Leaders programme in Africa. And of course when you talk of young leaders, Nigeria with a population of 167 million people, 65 per cent of these people are below the age of 35.
We have the highest concentration of very young people. And as a government, we also have some projects that are targeted at the youths like the YOUWIN programme, the NANGO programme, the Graduate Internships Programme.
So these also key into that and we are looking at how the young African leadership programme also benefits from the products we already have. We agreed to give him write-ups on what we are doing and see how it could be interfaced.
According to a report, you greeted him with the following statement: “For you to fix the world you must fix Africa; for you to fix Africa you must fix Nigeria.” Why do you believe that fixing Nigeria is the key to fixing the entire continent?
Yes, it’s key because we are telling you that 20 percent of Africans live in Nigeria. 20 percent is a big number. We always say that, look, if you have crisis in Nigeria there’s no African country that can accommodate the refugees. Nigeria can accommodate three countries put together.
Three countries? Cuts in…
Yes in Africa, no African country can take 25 percent of Nigerians; you’ll run the country out. So, what we are saying is that because of the economy and size of Nigeria, if you stabilise Nigeria, the rest of Africa is stabilised. 
Start from ECOWAS, we belong to one economic bloc – the Economic Community of West African States. We are 16 countries and Nigeria controls about 60 percent of that economy.
In terms of the number of people, Nigeria is about 65 percent, our contribution towards ECOWAS is about that. Then, when you talk about the rest of Africa, Nigeria is second to South Africa in terms of the economy. But in terms of population, South Africa is just one-third of Nigeria.
So if Nigeria is that important, why hasn’t the president visited yet? Did you ask him to come visit?
I just invited him now to visit Nigeria next year. But when he decided to tour Africa, it was not at the instance of Nigeria. So I cannot decide where Obama should go. He must have used his own parameters to judge.
And of course, sometimes people feel that Nigeria is a country that is doing very well but at the same time, South Africa, in terms of the economy, is ahead of Nigeria now and Obama visited South Africa. But I don’t want to discuss why Obama did not visit Nigeria. We’ve invited him to come to Nigeria next year.
Did he say yes? Cuts in…
Normally when you invite a president they will not say yes or no, but they allow the diplomatic department to sort it out. In some cases he could say yes.
We explained why we wanted him to come. Nigeria as a modern state would be 100 years old in 2014, since the amalgamation of the North and South took place in January 1, 1914. So by next year, what we know as Nigeria will be 100 years old. So, we have a lot of programmes coming up, like historical programmes, cultural, political programmes and so on.
So we believe that he could key in, especially, looking at his Power Africa Programme initiative. And we have many programmes about young people, women. We can create a platform that he could use to advance his programmes.
It depends on how we package the programme. Presidents are very busy people. They won’t just travel for the sake of traveling. But I believe that by the time we communicate details to him, he’ll decide whether he will come or not.
Let’s shift and speak about terrorism. The world is still mulling about the mob attack in Nairobi. Except that Nigeria has its own challenges of terrorism, namely Boko Haram; could something like what happened back in Kenya happen in Nigeria?
We have experienced what I will describe as worst situations than what happened in Kenya. Not in the exact format of taking over a mall, but in terms of incidents that cause deaths.
There are some attacks in Nigeria that over 100 people died in the process. You can describe such as being worse than that what happened in Kenya. Truth is that terrorists would want to kill at will.
We are not deterred but still committed and would continue to fight terror. I always insist that a terror attack anywhere in the world is a terror attack on all of us. So whatever happened in Nigeria and Kenya would not deter us from fighting terror.
What steps will your government take to ensure the safety of Nigerians?
We have taken several steps and will continue to. I used to tell people that the issue of terror is alien to Africa, especially in Nigeria. We had our own problems like killing, armed robbery but the issue of terror, and suicide bombing was not a part of our country and so for this, we never had the security architecture to deal with it.
But now that we’ve been confronted with the danger, we are building up our intelligence capacity because the only way you can capture terrorism is by superior intelligence.
Are you working with international governments to ensure the problem is addressed?
Yes we are. America, France and other countries are working with us. So both superior intelligence and human confrontation, we are improving on it every day.
I want to quote President Clinton, he said to win combat terrorism in Nigeria you have to combat poverty. His exact quote was that “You have all these political problems and now violent problems… The truth is that the poverty rate in the North is three times of what it is in Lagos.”
What do you make of this assessment? If you combat poverty would terrorism decrease in Nigeria?
The answer is no. I don’t agree with that analysis. You see, certain crimes can be driven by poverty. If somebody who is driven by poverty would have something to take, he’d want to keep something.
But a suicide bomber is not driven by poverty. The first incidence of suicide bombing that a Nigerian would want to bring down an American aircraft was from one of the richest families in the North. A young man with Masters degree; can you say that was caused by poverty? Was that of 9/11 in America driven by poverty? If you look at the weapon that Boko Haram uses in Nigeria, do you know the cost of one surface-to-air missile? Can a poor man have access to the level of that kind of machine? Who has been feeding those terrorists in the bush? What one can say is that if you improve on the economy of a place and people are doing well, the likelihood of seeing people to recruit into the fold would be less. The real cause of terror is not driven by poverty.
What we are doing in Nigeria is to face the issue of Boko Haram from all angles. A military confrontation does not solve terror attacks. Although we have a key team talking with the victims, but the key thing is our education. We are intervening and we have plans to build about 200 basic schools – primary and post primary – between now and 2015. At the tertiary education level, by the time I came in 2010 as the president, in the whole South were 17 states, and only three did not have federal universities.
In the 19 states of the North, nine didn’t have federal universities. I said to start with, every state must have a federal degree awarding, funded university. We began with small universities and expanded them based on the funding. First and foremost, we are tackling it at the educational level.
Now, how do you create jobs?
In the North you have more land for farming. The Nigerian environment is more diversified; from the ocean through the rain forest and into the Guinea savannah, and to the semi desert.
Luckily for us, the Guinea savannah that is very good for farming is in all parts of the North. So you can see that more than seven per cent of agricultural intervention, which is one of the key areas that we are doing excellently well is in the North. All the drive through rice farming that we’ve done and produced one million metric tonnes of rice is from the North.
When we had a devastating flood in 2012 we never had shortage of grains because of this. More than seven percent of agricultural intervention is done in the North. And that is the area where you can easily create jobs, especially for people who are not very skilled. We are approaching it from the background of education because you want to educate the people.
I usually said that I came from a rural setting, and if I never went to school I don’t think I would have ever dreamed of becoming a councillor. But I am the president of the country now because I went to school.
So all these boys who are roaming the streets could be like me if you expose them to education. And I feel that is the first priority and that is where we are starting. Then because you must create jobs and agriculture just fits in, because the land is in the North and the environment good for farming. Most of our irrigated projects are in the North.
It is there that you have the streams that flow one way. By the time you move down to the South, getting to the ocean, the land is flat. You don’t dam flat rivers but those that have very high graded and those kinds of rivers are all in the North.
So all the money we are investing in dam are in the North. We are investing so much in the North and I believe with time this situation will improve significantly.
Election season is right around the corner, so, do you plan on running for re-election?
I always tell Nigerians not to talk of 2015 elections until 2014, because in both the developing and developed countries, elections are very sensitive. A sitting governor or president, immediately he gets involved in election issue – what we call election fever sets in – he becomes distracted and begins to think about how to win election and forget about his basic responsibility. When you have a four-year tenure, you cannot expect a governor or president who has just served two years out of the four to start wasting his time talking about election.
Let’s assume you would be running; why do you think you’d be deserving of a second chance?
My commitment is that we must do things differently. There must be significant changes and we are doing that in agriculture, power, aviation, transport. I’m not saying that we are there yet. If you pass through our airports some years back and you’re a Nigerian, you won’t be happy. Now people are happy.
Agriculture used to be a problem, but now we have developed it to a good level. We had a programme where Bill Gates and Kofi Annan came, because they see what we are doing and agreed to play the role of advisers.
They wouldn’t have been wasting their time if they didn’t see the seriousness in what we are doing. There are some things that are glaring and others that even if you mention they would not appreciate. But for aviation, you can appreciate because if you’ve passed through our airports before and now, go to the same airport, you’ll see the change in infrastructure.
The road network if you’ve been driving before you’ll know. The trains have started moving; we are also building new tracks. For agriculture, in 2012 we had a devastating flood. People came to me and asked for waivers to import rice into the country.
The agriculture minister said no because of some of our programmes where so many people have invested in rice production.
Since things are going so well, why do you recently sacked nine of your ministers?
We are moving but we also want to move faster.
Ruling party governors have been opposing you in seeking a second term and you said, that you don’t plan to announce that you’re seeking a second term but people have come out and said no.
Can you run without their support if you decide to seek a second term? And what do you make of them coming out in opposition to the very idea of you seeking a second term?
I would not want to discuss second term because that would be discussing election, and I said that it is too early to talk about second term or election. I don’t want to be distracted.
I always tell people who are interested in 2015 to wait and don’t distract others who are working. The sitting governors, myself were elected to run for four years. We just finished two years and four months; we just finished half term and you want to waste the remaining time talking about second term.
If some governors feel that they’ve done so much and want to use the remaining two years thinking about elections, they and the electorate in their states will discuss that. But for me, my commitment is to serve Nigeria.
Whether Goodluck Jonathan serves one term or two terms is immaterial. Within these four years that I had been elected to serve, I should be given freedom to serve my people. So I am not too keen about what happens in the next election; we are not yet there.
You were honoured by the New York Stock Exchange and rang the closing bell. What was that experience like for you?
It is the first time and I thank them for giving me that experience; it is an honour. This communicates something to the rest of the world that Nigeria is a country that has the opportunity for investments.
It is one of the investment destinations in the world, and when it comes to Africa, Nigeria is number one in terms of Foreign Direct Investments.