Following the barrage of criticism directed at the presidency by the seven aggrieved governors of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and individuals unsatisfied with the President Goodluck Jonathan’s style of leadership, the president yesterday told his critics to stop distracting him and allow him to do his job, warning those seeking his job “not to blow up the house you are seeking to occupy with dynamite.”
Speaking at an interactive lunch held yesterday with the Nigerian Diaspora community at the New York Plaza Hotel, the president also spoke on his achievements and his transformation agenda in office, adding that when he appointed a team to his cabinet, he went out of his way not to appoint politicians but appointed transformers to help him achieve his objectives.
The president mentioned specifically, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina; and Minister of Trade and Investment, Mr. Olusegun Aganga, whom he said he barely knew but appointed them primarily on the basis of the recommendations made to him and their CVs.
“My goal was to bring in more technocrats to the cabinet and not just political appointees. That is why I appointed the likes of Ngozi (Okonjo-Iweala), Adesina and Aganga.
“I did not know these people before I appointed them. When Ngozi was finance minister the first time, I was a deputy governor and out paths hardly crossed. But based on recommendations and their CVs I appointed them to help me in my transformation agenda.
“Each of them has performed very well and it is to their credit that we have been able to transform the agriculture sector, attract more investments into the country and kept the economy on track,” the president said.
Continuing, the president said: “The team is doing well and if given the chance, without distractions, it would do even better. Yes, we are not yet in the Promised Land but we on are track, so they should give me the chance to do my job.”
Hitting back at critics who said his administration was not doing enough to tackle corruption, Jonathan said he would rather deal with facts and numbers instead of speculation. He pointed to the agriculture sector where N25 billion was being spent on subsidising fertilizer by past regimes which barely reached farmers, adding, however, that the trend had been reversed under his administration.
“N25 billion was being spent in the past to make cheap fertilizer available which hardly reached the end users. But today, we cut the amount to N5 billion to N6 billion per annum and 80 per cent of farmers have access to fertilizer to improve their yields. Yet they say I am not doing enough to curb corruption,” Jonathan said.
Jonathan also spoke on the power sector on which he said his administration had implemented the most transparent privatisation programme that was above board, adding, “No one gave us a chance. But for the first time, the federal government has implemented the most transparent privatisation programme, which was above board.
“The winners have emerged and will be taking over the distribution and generation companies in the next few weeks.
“With the handover of the power sector to the private sector, we will begin to witness improvement in electricity generation and intend to hit 10,000 megawatts of electricity generation by next year.
“Through the privatisation programme, we realised close to $3 billion which again is the highest ever realised from the sale of government companies.
“This is unlike what obtained in the past when the process was corrupted by those who were responsible for it. Yet the same people have the temerity to say I am corrupt when they could not run a clean process.”
Speaking further, the president said his administration tried to remove subsidies on oil, in order to improve the petroleum downstream sector, but could not do so because Nigerians opposed the scheme.
“If this government was corrupt, I would not have asked that subsidies on petrol should be removed. I could have left it as it was in the past where we had all manner of marketers defrauding the government of billions of naira.
“But when I tried to remove the subsidy on petrol, we were forced to reduce it because we had to consider the demands of the Nigerian people who did not want the subsidy removed,” he said.
Hosted by Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United States of America, Professor Ade Adefuye and Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Professor Joy Ogwu, the interactive session was attended by Aganga, Adesina, Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, Chairman/Editor-in-Chief, THISDAY Newspapers, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, Chairman of Forte Oil Plc, Mr. Femi Otedola, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), Mr. Uche Orji, among others.