•Says Buhari represents the past
•’No court ruling barring military deployment’
In this interview, the Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Media and Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati, speaks on some national issues. Abati says that rather than vote for the past which General Mohammadu Buhari, the APC presidential candidate in the March 28elections, represents, Nigerians should vote his principal, vying on the platform of the PDP, in order to consolidate on what has been achieved. According to him, the President will deploy the military to guarantee security in the country and ensure that no voter is intimidated during elections.
Despite repeated assurance by the President that he has confidence in the INEC Chairman, the main opposition party, APC, has continued to hammer on the so-called insinuation of the President removing the Chairman. Is there anything we do not know in the house that is going on?
I think you should ask the APC whether there is something that they know that other people do not know. I say this because the President has never said anywhere that he is considering removing Jega or sending him on leave.
In the interview that President Jonathan granted to Aljazeera recently, he made it very clear that he has never discussed such a subject with anybody and he is surprised that there is so much hue and cry, even among members of the National Assembly who ought to be better informed.
The President is the appointing authority but there has been no time that he gave any indication of a plan to remove the INEC Chairman. The INEC Chairman is a political appointee. Political appointees do not go on terminal leave and you require the concurrence of the National Assembly to remove an INEC Chairman.
The APC members that are crying wolf should be the ones to explain why they think there are plans to remove Jega. But of course, rather than the APC campaigning on issues and telling Nigerians what they stand for, they have been very busy coming up with conspiracy theories just to create false impressions and mislead the Nigerian people.
If there is one good thing that has come out of the postponement of the elections till March 28, I think it is the fact that Nigerians have been given better opportunity to do a much closer assessment of the two major political parties and of the two major Presidential candidates.
As we speak, I think it is now very clear to Nigerians that the APC does not represent any alternative because it is a party based on lies. It is at best the personal property of one individual, it is a party that has been unable to sell itself to Nigerians successfully and so it has resorted to propaganda, blackmail, and deceit. On the contrary, the PDP which is the party of the people, has been campaigning on issues and it is very clear to Nigerians that President Jonathan is better prepared for the job. He is running on the basis of his achievements and is calling on all Nigerians to join him to move the country forward and not to take this country backwards.
General Buhari represents the past. President Jonathan represents the present and a brighter future. That is the difference. And let no one be in any doubt: it is shameful that a man like General Buhari who truncated Nigeria’s Second Republic in 1983, is now seeking to benefit from the democratic process. To go back to the question you raised about the INEC Chairman, what we find here is just another instance of the hallucinatory tactics being adopted by the APC. There is nowhere the President has said that he will remove him. I think Professor Attahiru Jega himself does not have any such anxiety because he has no reason to believe that there is any such plan.
Despite the peace agreement signed between the President on one hand and the APC candidate, there are cases of supporters of APC and PDP clashing. Is that an indication that the peace pact is not working?
There have always been issues of conflict in Nigerian elections, you can even go as far back as the 1959 federal elections, 1964, 1983, 1993 and so on. In one election or the other, we have had cases of violence, with differentials being a matter of degree. The current build up to the 2015 general elections has been particularly disturbing, because of the extreme desperation on the part of the major opposition party, the APC. There is so much anxiety about the outbreak of violence and I think that the people to blame are the members of the APC and their leaders.
For an election that has not taken place, they seem to be presenting their victory as if it is an inevitability that Nigerians cannot do anything about, and must therefore accept as a fait accompli. They have failed to realize that in an election, it is the people’s right to choose that is paramount and that it is the will of the people that must prevail. They have demonstrated their lack of faith in the democratic process in many ways. Long before now, Rotimi Amaechi, DG of the APC Presidential campaign threatened that if their candidate does not win, they will form a parallel government. He was more or less threatening fire and brimstone.
APC supporters across the country have also shown great intolerance. Within the first week after the campaigns started; PDP campaign buses were burnt down in parts of the country. There are videotapes in circulation showing how bill-boards promoting President Jonathan were pulled down and destroyed by APC supporters.
I can also confirm to you that we were attacked by APC supporters when we toured parts of the North. In Bauchi we practically had to run out of the town because broom wielding, dangerous weapons-wielding, stone-throwing APC supporters became riotous without being provoked in any way by our team.
In two other places in the North, our vehicles were stoned, I can confirm particularly to you that this was the case in Katsina and Adamawa and it was very unfortunate because we are not talking about small stones but big stones. They were not joking; they meant harm. These misguided youths take their cue from their leaders who have been telling all Nigerians that it is either Buhari wins or the heavens will fall.
All of these notwithstanding, the President has been consistent in saying that his ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian. He has been consistent in saying that the conduct of a free and fair election as he did in 2011 is one of the major highlights in terms of the achievements of his administration and it is an achievement that he takes very seriously. So in the coming 2015 elections, government will again do everything within its powers to ensure that the rights of individuals of voting age to vote freely, without let or hindrance, is protected and that the outcome of the electoral process is free, fair and credible.
Is it not contradictory that the President on the one hand is giving assurance of a free, fair and credible election and talking about inclusive campaign, yet we have situations whereby the PDP seems to be promoting religious bias in its campaigns by whipping up religious sentiments?
The PDP is not promoting religious bias. What is true is that if you look at the PDP, it is a party that is made up of both Christians and Muslims, it is not a party of only one religious faith and I am sure that there will even be persons within the party who belongs to other faiths outside Christianity and Islam.
If you look at the PDP Presidential ticket, it is a balanced ticket, the President is a Christian, the Vice President is a Muslim and the President has not discriminated against anybody on religious grounds. He has gone run round the entire country to places dominated by Christians and places dominated by Muslims because for you to be able to win the election into the office of the President you must have national spread.
Maybe the reason you are saying that is because the President has gone to worship in a couple of churches. The truth of the matter is that he is a Christian but he has also by the same token met with Islamic clerics. In one of his recent visits to the South-West, he met with Muslim leaders across the South-West and he addressed this same issue.
He told them that if he is invited to any of their functions he will be glad to attend but that his VP is there, his VP is a Muslim, it is one ticket and he too has been attending a lot of Muslim programmes. If you look at the way government is structured, both major religions are given due recognition. It is wrong and unfair to say that we are playing the religious card, we are not playing the religious card. President Jonathan is the President of all Nigerians, whatever may be their ethnic or religious extraction and his message of transformation, continuity and consolidation is for all Nigerians not for any specific group.