Acclaimed leader of the Boko Haram Islamic sect, Ibn Abubakar Shekau is a virtual personality whose real existence remains a doubt, the presidency has declared.
It further said that its grouse with Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State was political.
Top presidential aide, Dr Doyin Okupe made these clarifications during an interactive session with Vanguard editors in Lagos yesterday.
Okupe further said that the Federal Government was spending an average of N1 trillion yearly because of the heightened insecurity caused by the insurgency, pointing out that ‘’If insurgency can stop, then we will have more money to divert to welfare and capital development.”
While articulating the achievements of the Goodluck Jonathan administration, Okupe said that the Lagos-Ibadan expressway would in the next 24 months, become the best highway in the country with ancillary facilities that would be comparable to the best roads in the world. He also promised that the second Niger bridge would be completed within 24 months.
Okupe pooh-poohed insinuations that the war against graft had weakened even as he defended President Jonathan’s refusal to make public, his assets declaration to the Code of Conduct Bureau.
Asked if he or anyone in the administration had succeeded in making contacts with the leader of the Boko Haram Islamic sect and why the president reversed himself after saying he would not negotiate with ghosts, he said:
“The argument is unassailable that we do not know the real person because Shekau himself is a virtual personality. You only see him on television and You-tube; he is a virtual personality and we have been corroborated by the fact that two or three people in the Boko Haram arrangement have borne the same name.
“So, these are virtual personalities and virtual personalities are not in perspective terms, too far from ghosts. So, that is the position of government.”
Defending the administration’s decision to explore the prospects of amnesty for the insurgents, Okupe said it was based on the preponderance of opinion of Northern leaders who he said have borne the brunt of the attacks of the insurgents.
“You have the president of a nation taking a logical, decisive and correct step. The Sultan of Sokoto is the spiritual leader of the entire Muslims in the entire north. He is also the paramount traditional leader in the entire north and he was the one who spoke first. Later on, virtually all the spiritual leaders in the north except for Sheik Ahmad Gumi, came together and said they supported the suggestion given by the Sultan.
“All the traditional leaders in the north came together to state their position. The leadership of the elite class in the north came together to state their position. Should they be ignored? These are the front-line men; the people who bear the brunt and the assault of the insurgency. These are the people, that common sense tells us, ought to know how to handle these issues.”
Expressing the administration’s determination to combat the insurgency in any way possible through carrot or stick, Okupe pleaded for patience from the populace.
He further said: “In terms of feasibility, most of us are very anxious, things take time to crystallize and mature. Negotiating with terrorists are not things that will happen overnight, they are not also things that will be sorted out at the snap of the fingers. We are in for a long haul, but we just have to be patient and see how things will work out. The desire of the government and every right thinking Nigerian is that these hostilities should end. This carnage and wasting of lives and properties should be brought to an end so that we can return to peace.”
Asked of the presidency’s interests in the affairs of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF and reports of the presidency’s campaign against the re-election of Governor Amaechi as chairman of the NGF, he said: “It is politics. The answer is politics. Politics is at play. Are you not aware that PDP is its own problems and all the problems of criticism within the PDP is created by the PDP.”
Asked if Governor Amaechi was a stumbling block to the president’s reported plans to seek re-election, he asserted:
“Governor Amaechi cannot be a stumbling block to Mr. President’s aspiration and he is not moving against him. There are two things. If I want to achieve an objective and in achieving that objective, it will affect you, my primary purpose is not that it will affect you, my primary purpose is to achieve the set goal that is before me. So whatever steps you take in that arrangement is legitimate. So if there are collateral damages, there are collateral damages.”
Continuing, he said:
“We all know that the NGF was already becoming a destabilizing factor in the polity; that is the truth and let us all face it. The government must work towards one direction and if there are dissensions; there is problem.
We have 36 states in Nigeria, 23 of them are PDP governors and the NGF is headed by a PDP governor. Now if the NGF now becomes an opposition platform, then there is a problem.
It is not what people are thinking, it is not a matter of whether somebody wants to get to a position or somebody wants to run for an office, you need some peace to reign in your backyard before you can move out and achieve things. So whatever steps you take in that arrangement is legitimate.
There are too many examples. If the Federal Government takes a decision for example on Sovereign Wealth Fund, SWF, and it is something the party has agreed that it must be established and the NGF says no, it cannot be established; We are a government, we are a party and we must move in one direction. If we move in different directions, we are not going to achieve much.
It does not have to be a yes sir chorus but there is need for all of us to move in one direction.
All the governors do not have to agree with the President. What I am saying is that we are the majority party in Nigeria and the ruling party is the PDP and inside the PDP, there is no federalism and that is the truth.
There is no federalism inside a political party. We have just one party; the party has one mission, one goal, one objective and one leader. So you cannot say because of democracy, you now start to pull the party apart or pull the party down. That is our business and that is why we have problems with people who do not understand politics.
They have refused to understand there is no federalism in the party. If the party takes a decision that we are going this way and members of the party seem to be going the other direction, the party has taken a decision and we should all move in that direction.”
On the president’s refusal to make public his declared assets, he said: “It is just a change of style. There are many things you will do that will win confidence of the public. If the man has declared his assets as provided by law and if there is a law that allows deserving members of the public to have assets to that information through the FOI Act, I do not think that there is any impediment, I think it is just a change of style.”
Meanwhile, the Presidency has again moved to thwart the re-election of governor Amaechi as chairman of the NGF.
It was gathered that the Presidency has given marching orders to his foot-soldiers among the PDP governors to do whatever it takes to stall the NGF elections from holding until President Jonathan gets enough governors that will support his candidate.
Jonathan was said to be backing the candidature of Katsina State Governor, Ibrahim Shema as NGF chairman, but does not have the support of majority of the governors.
The source said “all the Presidency wants to do is to stop Amaechi and they are using their foot-soldiers among the governors like Akwa Ibom Governor Godswill Akpabio, Benue Governor Gabriel Suswam and Bayelsa Governor Seriake Dickson to make sure that Amaechi is stopped.