President Goodluck Jonathan has expressed confidence that the over 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram in their hostel in Chibok, Borno State last year are still alive.
Jonathan, who also said that his chance of winning the March 28 presidential poll was slimmer than in 2011, based his position on the fact that terrorists would naturally display the corpses of the girls if they had been killed.
He spoke while featuring on Kakaaki, a breakfast programme on a private television station, African Independent Television.
Reiterationg his promise that the girls would be rescued alive, Jonathan said, “The good story is that they ( insurgents) have not killed them because when terrorists kill, they display the corpses to intimidate the people.
“So, these girls are alive. And so, we will get the girls. Luckily, we are narrowing down the areas of their(insurgents) control. So we will get them.”
The President stressed that security forces were wary of storming the main stronghold of Boko Haram because the insurgents might use the girls as human shields.
“Because they may use them as shields so we are working with the global best practices. We can’t just move in with artillery and clear the place,” he said.
The President however contradicted his earlier assertion during his Monday interview with the international television news channel, Al Jazeera, that the Federal Government did not mishandle the Boko Haram insurgency.
Jonathan said, “Yes, I agree that at the beginning, probably we did not really estimate the capacity of Boko Haram. Boko Haram started as a non-violent group led by (Mohammed) Yusuf and limited to around Maiduguri, of course, from Yobe to Maiduguri. It did not even get up to Adamawa, muchless of Yobe or Kano or Bauchi.
“So, it started as a non-violent group. But just like every group made up of youths or young people taking to criminality, Boko Haram expanded their network and linked up with other terrorist organisations in North Africa. Of course like al-Qaeda and others all over the world. So, they continue to build their capacity.”
While admitting that the nation, at a time, had issues procuring weapons to fight the insurgents, the President said the challenge had been overcome.
He disclosed that the country had been able to procure between 60 and 65 per cent of the weapons needed to prosecute the anti-terrorism war.
Jonathan expressed confidence that he was going to win the March 28 election under the platform of the PDP, but admitted that his chances were not as bright as they were in 2011.
He said, “Globally, a sitting president wins with fewer votes than during his first attempt. The PDP still has better chances of winning a national election. The PDP is still the dominant party; there’s no polling unit where you don’t have PDP members.
“If you remove the PDP elements in the opposition, it collapses like a pack of cards. PDP still has an edge over every other party; I am not worried about what the outcome of the presidential election would be.”
He said he believed that Nigerians would vote for him because his administration had done well.
Jonathan added that sometimes, his administration was busy developing the country that it forgot to advertise its achievements.
He said if Nigerians considered the present state of the nation with its position some years back, they would prefer that he continued in office for the next four years.
He said the additional years would afford him the opportunity to stabilise the country.
“If Nigerians really know what we were before and what we did within these four years, then they will encourage us to at least continue for the next four years,” Jonathan added.
On the alleged plot by the Peoples Democratic Party and his administration to foist an interim government on the nation, Jonathan maintained that there was no provision for such in the country’s constitution.
“There’s no provision for interim government in our constitution. The only interim government is military government. Talking about interim government to me is treasonable. There are some Nigerians that are bent on creating crisis in this country. There is no reason to doubt the May 29 handover,” the President said.
Jonathan also spoke on the difficulties faced by motorists at filling stations across the country, saying that the pain was temporary.
He said with the issue of payment being addressed by his government, fuel queues would end in the next one or two days.
“For fuel scarcity, we are doing everything humanly possible to ensure it is taken care of. It is very temporary. Of course, there are issues of payment being addressed and we believe that within one or two days, this will completely go,” the President said.
He however explained that Nigeria might not be completely free from fuel scarcity until the nation started refining crude oil.
The President faulted claims in some quarters that the recent reduction in the pump price of petrol was politically-motivated, saying the decision was purely an economic one.
He said, “It (price reduction) is not politically-motivated. The way people play politics with everything in Nigeria is quite unfortunate. Pump prices are not constant but are based on changes in the international market.
“When I came on board as Vice-President in 2007, the price of crude oil at the international market dropped to about $40, there was a day it dropped to $38 per barrel and we dropped the pump price to N65 per litre.
“We had to keep it up to N97 when the price went up to about $111 per barrel at the international market. The cushioning gap was because the subsidy became unbearable to government. So we had to push it up to N97 per litre.
“Now that the international crude oil price has dropped back to about $60 or so, it would not be fair for you to still ask Nigerians to pay N97 except you want to deregulate completely.
“But if you are not deregulating completely then the pump price will oscillate based on the international price of crude oil. So it has nothing to do with politics.”
When asked whether he would privatise the nation’s refineries, Jonathan said the private sector was better in terms of managing enterprises.
He said globally, the best practice was for government to create an enabling environment for the private sector to drive the economy.
The president added, “If the refineries are privatised and the private sector takes over, they are not going to bring people from the moon to work, they are still going to employ Nigerians but there is the fear of the unknown which is normal in human behaviour.
“That makes people to resist some changes. But for the refineries, we will definitely do that. We will privatise them completely in a way they would have no effect on Nigerians.
“So, we cannot continue to have refineries that would not work. It is not even helpful to them.
“But the most important thing is not just to privatise the government-owned refineries but allow the private sector to build their own refineries and that is where we are going.”
But Jonathan’s assurance that the abducted girls would be freed was doused by the Minister of Aviation, Osita Chidoka, who said they might not be found.
Chidoka, who featured on a programme – BBC HARDTalk – monitored by one our correspondents in Abuja on Thursday, however expressed confidence that the military would successfully dislodge Boko Haram.
He said, “ Boko Haram is a terror group. It has decimated the girls across vast areas, 98,000 square kilometres of land area in Borno State, which is even bigger than Scotland.
“The size of Borno State is bigger than Scotland and we don’t have these girls packed in a room and waiting for ransom. This is an evil terror organisation.”
When probed further to state if the government will rescue the girls, the minister replied, “Well, as we dismantle them (Boko Haram) in their areas, we are going to see what is behind those lines; we are going to see what they are doing in those forests and maybe we will find them (Chobok girls), maybe not.
“But we are looking forward seriously to see what is behind those lines.”
The minister refuted claims that the United States experts gave intelligence obtained from their drones to the Nigerian military and faulted reports that the Nigerian forces failed to act on the intelligence report from the US.
He said, “(That is) not correct, not correct, because every time they talk about intelligence they’ve given to Nigerians. We do know that at some point when we were in the middle of the major crisis, most of the intelligence we got from them was in relation to the Chibok girls.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Government on Wednesday night had a closed-door meeting with parents and relatives of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls.
Plans to get the girls released from Boko Haram captivity was discussed at the meeting attended by 30 parents of the kidnapped girls, five Chibok elders and three youth leaders from the community.
The Minister of State for Power, Mohammed Wakil, represented Jonathan at the meeting which took place in Maiduguri, Borno State.
Wakil, according a statement on Thursday by his Special Adviser on Media, Olawale Rasheed, assured the parents that the government remained committed to the safe return of the girls.
He told the parents that the government had devised comprehensive counter- insurgency strategies with four focal goals: reclaiming occupied territories; rescuing abducted persons; resettling internally displaced persons and rehabilitating insurgency ravaged communities.
The statement quoted the minister as saying , “Mr President is pursuing multi- faceted strategies which address the pains, anger and frustrations of victims . Our President directed me to tell you that his government is committed to doing everything possible for the safe return of your daughters.