Former President Goodluck Jonathan was in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday as a guest of the Geneva Press Club. In this interview with France 24’s Georja Calvin-Smith, the former Nigerian leader spoke on why, for now, he wouldn’t want to talk about the arms scandal rocking his legacy since he left office. He also promised that the PDP will bounce back.
France 24: It’s been a tough year for Nigeria and a tough year arguably for your legacy as the former leader of the country. Your former security adviser, Sambo Dasuki, is currently standing trial for fraud, alleged to have taken billions of dollars of public funds meant for the fight against extremists from Boko Haram. Now, were you at the time aware of any improperly sourced funds funnelled into your re-election campaign of 2015?
Goodluck Jonathan: Thank you. Of course, this issue continues to come up but I always insist that the matters are being investigated and they are in our own courts and in Nigeria when issues are before the courts, you don’t make comments on it. It is considered prejudice. But one thing you will also realise is that for us to have conducted elections across the country – all parts of the country – that means that we prosecuted the war against Boko Haram to a reasonable level, otherwise we couldn’t have been in position to conduct elections across the country and we couldn’t have fought Boko Haram with bare hands. These issues of corruption, issues of misuse of funds are being investigated before the courts and I wouldn’t want to compromise the position of our laws because while I served as the president of Nigeria, I made sure that the judiciary remained independent and made sure there was maximum separation of powers between all arms of government. Having left office, I don’t think I will be the person to say things that will be detrimental to the judicial processes.
So, outside of the case itself, let’s say that there are misdeeds, which have been proven to have been committed during your tenure. Would you feel responsible for any oversight…?
Please, I will not comment in these areas. They are sensitive areas; I wouldn’t want to create more problems for my country.
Over the last year, there has been arguably quite a lot of progress in the battle against Boko Haram extremists. Do you feel that the speed with which progress is being seen on the Buhari is tarnishing your legacy?
Well, I wouldn’t want to make comments that will appear as if I am having a debate with the serving president. I have served the country for five years as a president, three years as a vice president. I’ve tried my best and I’ll encourage the government to continue.
So, how do you feel about progress made in the battle against Boko Haram since you left last year?
I can’t comment about what is happening now. It will not be proper as a former president to start making comments – positive comments or negative comments – but I can tell you that when Boko Haram started in Nigeria, we had no terror experience. We never experienced terror before. Yes, we had robbery and other common crimes but terrorists are people that are not afraid to die. So you need a different mechanism to confront terrorists; you need superior technology so to be able to stop them before they are able to attack. So, we never had the equipment but when we were confronted, we started acquiring and before I left office, we built reasonable capacity. And I believe with what we left behind, and of course, with what the new government will also acquire, they will be able to prosecute this terror war to a reasonable conclusion.
So, what are you comfortable commenting on? Why are you in Geneva?
I’m in Geneva because a particular organisation actually invited me to come while serving as the president but I was unable to. But even after I finished serving, because of the circumstance of the election, because I ensured there was peaceful transition, we were quite pleased and they said they wanted to honour me. I just came to Geneva for that.
What are the biggest changes you have seen under Buhari?
I don’t think it is proper for you to drag me. Please, please, please. I think as a former president, it’s not too good for me to start commenting on issues about my county. If I get back to Nigeria, anything I think to discuss with the president, I will discuss with the president. I have access to the president. So, I will not come and start discussing Nigeria…
But surely there must be some noncontroversial issues or positive issues or positive advancements or positive developments in your country that you will be comfortable sharing with us.
One clear thing about Nigeria that you should appreciate is that we are institutionalising democracy. I believe with a stable government, quite a number of things that people look at as grey will soon be a thing of the past. Most societies passed through this phase of development, even the developed societies. We’ve read the history of almost all nations and every nation passed through different stages. And God willing, Nigeria will soon stabilise and we are progressing very well.
Since you left, your PDP parting is taking a bit of battering. Do you think it has suffered under Buhari at all?
Well, the PDP, definitely we have some minor issues but it is expected. We were in power for 16 years and when we lost the presidency, definitely we’ll have some sort of leadership problem because when you have a president, everybody looks up to the president. But when you no longer have the president, it becomes difficult for the party to have a very strong leadership. I believe whatever you observed will be sorted out and the leaders of the party, elders of the party will be meeting and all these perceived disagreements will soon be sorted out.
On perceived disagreements, prior to your leaving, there were quite a few fractures within the PDP.
Well, every political party always have those misunderstandings. It’s not new; it’s always there. The beginning of PDP, even before I got to Abuja as vice president and president, there were cases where chairmen of the party were asked to step down for some officers and from time to time, there are issues. So, it is not new. What is happening is not new. But I promise you that PDP will stabilise. In fact, by March this year, we are going in for our convention to elect officers at the lowest level of the wards through the local governments, through the states through the zones. Then, of course, the national officers will be elected. That’s just in March, early April. So, the party will bounce back. Whatever you perceive, it always happens and we will get over it. But thank you for the interest. Thank you very much.