President Jonathan inherited a nation facing several long-standing challenges; infrastructural neglect, corruption, and the growing threat from Boko Haram among others. But with a sure and steady hand, the President has maintained focus on improving the lives of Nigerians. Whether from the North or South, Christian or Muslim, the implementation of his transformation agenda has already yielded positive results across the country.
As a sign of his commitment towards Nigerian youths, who make up for 70% of the nation’s population, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan engaged young Nigerian entertainers, businessmen, celebrities and entrepreneurs at a youth interactive programme tagged #MeetThePresident. The event, which held at the Eko Hotel Grand Ballroom Lagos, had in attendance a carefully selected crop of young Nigerians.
BREAKING TIMES presents excerpts from the interactive session which many young Nigerians have described as a once in a lifetime event. Mr. President’s answers are in italics
Gbemi Olateru: I’m excited because this is the first of its kind event where the president will get to sit with, interact and ask questions. We are very excited to see this happen.
Gbemileke Oscar: Mr. President are you comfortable sir?
Mr. President: I’m always comfortable when I’m with my children
Gbemi Olateru: We are happy that you are here and we have a lot of questions. But first I have to ask you this sir, what is it like being the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Is it a difficult job? What is it like?
Mr. President: Well, that is a question that is difficult to explain. It is a challenging job no doubt about that and is also a job that every Nigerian would love to do because it has to do with service, its about how do we help the women, the youth, how do you help to reposition your country so that your country will stand tall.
Gbemileke Oscar: Let me take the temperature of Mr. President’s Chair, will you confirm that your chair is very cool?
Mr. President: The chair is very comfortable (Laughs).
Gbemileke Oscar: Before you arrived here, every individual here had some snacks. To the best of my knowledge every President eats and without good healthy eating, you really can’t do much. So what is your favorite food Mr. President?
Mr. President: One thing I love Nigerians for is that we love our native food. I’m from a minority part of this country, there’s a unique food we call it “Onunu” or an alternative name “Ebobo”, depending on the sub tribe of the Ijaws. The principal component is Boiled Yam or Ripe Plantain, either you boil it or you mash it.
Gbemileke Oscar: Hope you don’t mind a small delegation of this crowd coming over to the Aso Rock kitchen to eat this delicacy?
Mr. President: You are invited. (Laughs)
Gbemi: Mr. President, what is your favorite colour?
Mr. President: Colour? The colour I wear depends on how I want to appear. If I want to wear Agbada, I prefer white. If I want to wear the traditional Niger Delta wear, I prefer Grey.
Gbemileke Oscar: What’s your Sporting Culture like? What do you do for exercise?
Mr. President: I exercise regularly.
Gbemi: What’s your favorite Football team?
Mr. President: You don’t know? You don’t even need to ask me… It is the Super Eagles (Laughter / Claps). And of course the younger national teams and the (Super) Falcons.
Gbemi: If you were not the President and you had to pick between being an Actor and a Musician, which would you be?
Mr. President: Well, it’s often difficult to differentiate between the two. I love people in the Entertainment industry. I would have loved to be both, unfortunately I can’t sing, I croak (Laughter).
Gbemileke Oscar: On a lighter note, before we begin to take questions from the crowd. The advent of selfies had become quite rampant and to the best of our knowledge we’ve not seen you in a selfie so if the crowd permit, can we take the first Presidential selfie?
Mr. President: (Laughs) Sure!
Gbemi: One last thing before the serious questions, you are the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, do you get to sleep?
Mr. President: On the average, I sleep between 1.30am/2am and wake up 6am, mainly Mondays to Fridays. On Saturday and Sundays, maybe a little more, you can add about 30 minutes. (Laughter)
Gbemileke Oscar: A number of us are very curious to find out what type of books you read and what inspires you to govern this great Nation?
Mr. President: Most Presidents read Biographies and Governance issues but governing Nigeria is quite challenging and it’s not easy to find the time to read a book beginning to end. But somehow, you find time to read some excerpts of books. Since I became a President, the only book I’ve been able to read beginning to end is Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom” and that’s because I had a long flight journey. I love to read and there’s not enough time. Mostly like books on Biographies.
Audience Question 1 (Dayo Isreal): I am one of the biggest fans of your administration and even people who are not here, who are either supporting the opposition have been fans of your administration. I think a lot of the issues they are concerned about is why didn’t Mr. President take (military) action? And I think if you can answer that question to all the Nigerians who are watching here it might actually help you win hearts and minds. They are wondering why now you are just going to Baga? They are wondering why the military are just entering Sambisa forest? Why couldn’t we do that six months ago, they are wondering why you chose to go to Paris when you could have gone to Chibok that you just did recently. So the question Mr. President is why now?
Mr. President: First let me use this opportunity to congratulate the Army and what they are doing now. And let me use this opportunity to call on Nigerians to encourage them. Some days back, Cameroun took the streets to commend and appreciate their Armed Forces. The challenges we are facing are much more than that of Cameroun. But here in Nigeria, sometimes we even admonish unnecessarily the Armed Forces. If you’ve been listening to us, you will know that we’ve been trying to get the appropriate equipment to confront the challenges we have. Fighting Terror or Terrorist, they are not conventional fighters. If we are facing a war with another country, both countries obey international best practices when it comes to fighting. We are controlled by the kind of equipment we use, you must not use chemical weapons you must not use biological weapons you must know the caliber of weapons for offences and so on. But criminals don’t obey these laws so to tackle them, you must get some specific weapons that you require if you use certain weapon or aggression you are not supposed to use, the international community will be after you. They have even started accusing us of human right abuses, meanwhile Nigerians are been killed, which means that there are some categories of weapons you need to prosecute such fights and over the period we’ve been trying to get. At the beginning we thought we were going to crush Boko Haram with what we had but it proved abortive so we have to recalibrate our security architecture and that is what we’ve done up to this moment and we’ve not yet gotten all we’ve paid for. But at least we’ve gotten about 65 to 70% and that is why the prosecution of the war is getting better every day. It is not that I waited. It is wrong to say that we waited until elections. These elections would have been held on the 14th of February. In that case, this would have been done before that 14th of February. It has nothing to do with Elections. I feel sad that as a Nation, we play Politics with serious National issues. People must separate serious issues that affect all Nigerians from the Politics. Jonathan is President today, some other person will be President tomorrow. Nigeria is our own country. We must have a country before we have a President.
Audience Question 2: I’m a consultant and a Policy analyst. They say in Nation building, that it takes the wisdom of the Elders and the energy of the Youths; we want to know after May 29th, what are the plans you have for the young people?
Mr. President: If you look at the history of the nation, though you are young people but the good thing is that you are well educated. From 1960 when we gained Independence, very few people went to school so a number of young people were involved in Governance because very few people were educated. When we had the military coup that led to Gowon becoming Head of State, Gowon became the Head of Government at the age of 32. In my State, former Old Rivers State, Diette Spiff was our first Military Governor at the age of 28+. Today if you say that a 30 yr old person should be a Governor, people will shout that he is too young but you can see Spiff and Gowon were essentially Leaders as youth. But after that, more people secured Education and University degrees and it became and issue of the same older people running things. But within this period, we have a number of programs. We have increased the number of Universities in the country to create opportunities for young people to get degrees. We are also training people within the country and outside the country in Technical areas.
But one area we are passionate about is that we want creating more young Millionaires and Billionaires in through our YouWin Programme and the Agropreneur, the Agriculture programme. Globally, the average age of millionaire is 35 years old. And this is also influenced by the Technology and ICT. The people like Dangotes and Jim Ovias are not growing younger. So you must breed younger people that must take over. And we give grants to young people to venture into Manufacturing and other areas of Commerce and Industry. It’s like Venture Capital. Normally in Venture Capital, you have more than 50% failure rate but the YouWin programme is less than 10%. It’s very successful. We are also encouraging younger people in Entertainment industry, in Sports. Our commitment is that in any area that a young person has the skills and the talent, they will be encouraged. Those interested in taking us to the moon, because I believe within the next 15 to 20 years, we should also be on the Moon. And we are training the young people also, that is why we have special scholarships selected from amongst first-class students. First you must get First class in the Technical Areas, including Economics and then you are selected and sent to Best universities in the world, that is to get the top level of brains that can take us to the moon or in areas of Molecular Biology or Genetics. We are doing everything to make sure that the Nigerian youth will be at the top globally.
Gbemileke Oscar: My colleague Gbemi and I were discussing when she sent a tweet that people should tune in and watch this interview and some of the young Nigerians tweeted back at us that there was no light to watch this live broadcast so I want us to focus on the issue of power. Is there anyone out there who can ask a question on Power (Electricity)?
Mr. President: (interjects) “You have already asked the question.” (Laughter)
Mr. President: (continues) To be fair to the young people. What they want is power. Before my time, the Federal Government had absolute control of the power sector, 100% control. Even states are not allowed to generate power for commercial purposes and so we are now moving away from a Federal Government-100%-or-absolute control of the total value chain in the power sector to a Private-sector-control of the value chain; from generation to transmission to distribution. We’ve done the privatization successfully and at least that is a process that key players from all over the world participated and all of them agreed that it was transparent, conducted professionally like it would have been anywhere in the world. And the one thing remaining is managing the interface between the transition from Federal Government control to the private-sector control. And we promise that we are already on it, in the next 12 or probably 18 months, we will be able to transit completely. Already some Power companies have doubled their Production. So I plead with Nigerians that we are almost at the end of Epileptic power supply. I believe in the next 12 to 18 months, Power will be reasonably stable that our young men and women can watch this kind of programme from wherever they are.
Audience Question 3: My name is Barrister Ivie Omoregie I’m a Barrister with Templars. I wanted to ask you, in light of the recent increase in Importation duties on Motor Vehicles to encourage Manufacturers in Nigeria, especially Nigerian-made cars. At what point do you intend to change your convoy to Nigerian-made vehicles?
Mr. President: That is a very good question. I totally agree with you. When I grew up, when Peugeot (PAN) manufactured cars in Nigeria, all Government vehicles were Peugeot cars. But now what has happened because of the Security challenges, at least back then, the country was a bit calm. I even remember as Deputy Governor, the first car I used after elections was a Peugeot Car. The Governors were using Peugeot cars. Now that we have stimulated the Auto Industry, we will make sure that they produced the caliber that is needed. We believe in the next few months, up to a year, they will be able to provide cars that all Government officials, from the President down, will use. I will definitely prefer to ride in a car produced in this country.
Audience Question 4: My name is Tomi Adeoye, I’m a Production Manager in the Entertainment Industry – First I would like to commend your administration in Health care, especially the Ebola Virus, the Polio Virus and also Life Expectancy rates in Nigeria have increased. My question is what are your plans for the Health sector come May 2015.
Mr. President: One area that is key to all of us is Health. It is when you are sick that you really appreciate the value of good health and there is no Government that will not take the Health sector seriously. The Health sector is divided into two components – the Primary Health sector that is the basic health of all of us. And then the Tertiary ones, for example the issues of Kidney transplant, Heart Operations, Neurosurgery, etc. In fact those are the areas that a number of Nigerians go outside this country for, what is regarded as health tourism, where Nigerians go to India, Egypt, Europe, etc. On both fronts, we are addressing it aggressively. At the level of the basic health issues, presently, we have completely eradicated Guinea worm, which was a problem in some parts of the country. Also Polio, I remember in 2011 at the Commonwealth Head of States in Australia. The commonwealth had a special session on Polio because the world was wondering why should we still have deformed children for a disease condition that was controllable. At that time only 5 countries incubated Polio and unfortunately Nigeria was among. And I promised that Nigeria must get out of polio. We would have gotten out of Polio in 2014 but there was some wrong interpretation of the vaccines that were used, especially in the Northern part of the country. Some people, including a Professor, preached that Polio vaccines reduced the reproductive rate of women. In fact some of the officials of Government that were doing the immunization were attacked and even killed. So that gave us some setback. As we speak now, the last Polio case was recorded in Kano in June last year. God willing, this year Nigeria will be declared free of Polio.
At the tertiary level, where a lot of Nigerians travel abroad, what is described as health tourism. When I was a Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, my younger sister had some problems with her heart, her neutral valves. I asked my personal physician where can we go for this and he said the nearest place was in Ghana. I asked, “Don’t we have anything in Nigeria, do we have to go to Ghana?” He said yes, we had to go to Ghana where some Missionaries managed the Hospital.
But now some of our Nigerian Teaching hospitals are handling Open Heart surgeries, some are handling Kidney transplants; all these were not there before. In fact University of Benin started good work in the use of stem cells but just like most teaching Hospitals around the world, suspended the work due to Human rights issues surrounding Stem cells. So both at the Primary and Tertiary level, we are doing well and will even improve on that because we believe that a country like Nigeria should have very good Health facilities such that Neighboring countries should come and not the other way round.
Audience Question 5: My name is Raheem Ajayi and I’m a Consultant. Why is it that it is when elections are fast approaching that Mr. President gathers young men and women of Nigeria to discuss? What is the plan of Mr. President to have young men and women as a kind of Committee that will advise because as a president of this county, there is a big wall around you that people tell you what they want you to hear, but the second option is having a selected people one at a time maybe monthly that will tell you the feelings of the people on the street.
Mr. President: Thank you, there are two branches to the question – First is why is it that it is only when elections are close that the president starts interacting with people whether young or old and the second one is the issue of using young people in Government.
First, all over the world, governance is a serious business that is why people feel that when elections are getting close we spent the greater part going round and of course if the President or Governor is going round for campaigns, governance will suffer. That is why after inaugurating a President, you spend more time governing. I would have love to go to the six geopolitical zones even quarterly to have town hall meetings and so on but sometimes it is almost impossible. In fact for this program, I promised that I was going to be here one hour before the time so that we will start exactly at 7pm on the dot. But it wasn’t possible and that is just for today. So if a president will host this kind of forum regularly the government will suffer in many ways. That is why all over the world, in most cases when it is getting close to election almost like close the government down then you start going round to campaign, and of course based on the control of electoral bodies in Nigeria, that is INEC, if you do this regularly, Governance will suffer. Of course I agree with you that this could be done from time to time but not regularly.
The issue of young people, in this administration we have been using a number of young people in one way or the other. But I think the issue is to increase the number. As a nation in terms of young people getting involved in governance, of course a number of young people are involved in governance at local government level in most states. From the Chairman down are young people, at the state level in most states more than 80% of the state assembly members are young people. The commissioners at the state level, a number of them are very young people. It is at the federal level that you see that you see that most of the ministers are fairly elderly. The youngest minister in my cabinet has left to be the deputy governor of his state, Minister of State (2) for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Nurudeen from Jigawa State, he’s the youngest member of my cabinet. I think I will increase the number of young people in my cabinet in the next dispensation. At the advisory level, my Senior Special Assistant on Youths and Student matters. He just finished his Masters degree and we brought him in. My assistant on Job creation is also a very young person from Benue state. So we have young people at that level. But at the Cabinet level, I believe we will increase the number so young people are playing significant role in the government.
Gbemileke Oscar: On a lighter note sir, what is the temperature of your chair right now sir?
Mr. President: It is still comfortable (Laughs)
Gbemileke Oscar: Thank you very much and on a final note, do not forget that your PVC is your vote, make sure you get it and Vote.