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Interview with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan

Aired July 19, 2013 - 05:30:00   ET


MONITA RAJPAL, CNN HOST (voice-over): A Chinese welcome for the president of Nigeria, a meeting from which President Goodluck Jonathan has secured more than a billion dollars in loans, a much needed injection of funds to build infrastructure in Africa's most populous country.

But China is not the only powerhouse to befriend the resource-rich nation. As Africa's biggest oil producer, it is also the fifth largest exporter of oil to the United States.


RAJPAL (voice-over): But Nigeria's growth is coupled with crippling challenges: corruption, poverty and violent attacks by militant Islamists continue to plague the nation and it is up to this man to spearhead change. The former academic-turned-state governor made an unassuming but meteoric rise to inherit the presidency in 2010.

Since then, the economy has strengthened. But in a country that is half Christian, half Muslim and home to more than 250 ethnic groups, some criticize President Jonathan's approach to the country's critical issues as "slow."

This week on TALK ASIA, we sit down with President Goodluck Jonathan in Beijing to talk about Nigeria's relationship with China and his strategy in addressing the problems stunting his country's growth.


RAJPAL: Mr. President, welcome to TALK ASIA.


RAJPAL: You're here in China on what is being described as an historic state visit. You've got more than a dozen ministers, government ministers, traveling with you.

Tell me what do you hope to walk away with? What do you hope to go back to Nigeria with after this visit?

JONATHAN: This year is a critical battle for this world (ph). The population of this world is an issue (ph). Here, China with 1.35 billion human beings. And Africa's, India, very close to that. So as a part of this globe, that we believe Nigeria and, indeed, Africa have to pattern that with (ph).

And we believe that with these three day (ph) visits, that's why we're going back to Nigeria, first and foremost, will allow the robust relations with the government of China. That is government to government. I had interactions with the president; we had bilateral discussions. I met with the premier and of course the head of the parliament.

And all these discussions quite fruitful, very, very fruitful.

RAJPAL: China and Nigeria have had bilateral agreements, bilateral relationship I should say, for the past more than 40 years.

JONATHAN: That is from the '70s.

RAJPAL: 1970s. How do you think that relationship has changed now especially, say, in the last 10 years?

JONATHAN: It has changed significantly because if you look at it, trade balances, it has increased significantly and I might forget figures but it's quite above $10 billion now. We are talking about 2009 it was below $2 billion. Now it's above $12 billion.

So that can clearly tell you that within this past couple of years, the trade relations, the business relations opportunity between countries have improved. And I want them to go beyond that.

RAJPAL: I understand that you want to -- you are depending on China to help in the development of infrastructure from everything from oil and gas refinery facilities, power supply, agriculture, communication, tourism -- these are a lot of facets --


JONATHAN: No, no, no, it's not us, we are dependent on China to do everything.


JONATHAN: See, Nigeria is a good field (ph) in so many areas. If we talk about oil, which is our mainstay economically, oil and gas, the Chinese companies are not taking up 5-10 percent of the activities there. They are mainly Western companies.

So it's not as if everything is going to change now, experts Chinese company to come and develop our sector. That's not -- that's not quite true. The power sector, most of the big players - U.S. (ph) and others -- are involved in our power sector. Yes, we also expect Chinese because we are discussing with Chinese for two hydropower projects.

So these are areas of cooperation, but it will be completely wrong to say that we're expecting China to invest in Nigeria and produce from toothpick to aircraft. No, that is completely wrong.


RAJPAL: Are there any concerns with dealing with China?

JONATHAN: But we expect business move from all over the globe. Just as have here in China. I'm not concerned about dealing with any country, any country. And because we expect that anybody who is coming to do business in Nigeria, you will do your business based on our local laws.

RAJPAL: The notable economist, Jeffrey Sachs, has said that Nigeria aims to turn the BRICS countries into the BRINCS countries and that Nigeria will be one of the leading economies by 2020. That's about 6 and a half years.


RAJPAL: Is that -- is that possible?

JONATHAN: The prediction was that in 2025. But I know that when Obasanjo was the president then, and when the issue of 2025 was mentioned, that President Obasanjo said, no, I want to move fast. I think we can make it 2020.

But Nigeria has a lot of potentials.

RAJPAL: How do you maximize that potential though?


RAJPAL: What are the roadblocks to those potentials today?

JONATHAN: Of course, the -- one of the major roadblocks we have is issue of power. Presently in Nigeria, our power generation is very small. And that's one of the areas the government showing so much interest. Luckily for us, we have gas. So the medium to large-scale companies get the gas and generate own power.

So in Nigeria you have a lot of captive power. Power is being generated by companies, sometimes they use only about 50 percent and they cannot even distribute the rest. They are captive within their premises.

So that is why big industries in Nigeria have no problems with power because it's cheaper for them to get the gas and generate their own power.

What the micro analyst business more like medium skill industries. They suppose not to invest in power generation. It's simpler just to link up with the national grids and go on with their business.

And that is lacking, because what we are generating and transmitting is small. That's one of the regions we are engaged in discussion with the Chinese government, because of these two major dams I want to build. And we believe by the time we stabilize power, it will stimulate that micro, small and medium enterprises. And of course, you'll see the economy of Nigeria will begin to take a life of its own.


RAJPAL (voice-over): Coming up, we find out how President Jonathan is tackling terrorism.

JONATHAN: To persuade them, because you need to reorient their thinking.

RAJPAL: So you want to negotiate with Boko Haram?

JONATHAN: Most negotiation, no.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- in Nigeria, where there are more reports of sectarian violence have left at least 25 people dead, another 20 wounded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).


VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This was another attack carried out by the Islamist group Boko Haram.

This year alone, they're responsible for more than 500 deaths across the northeastern part of Nigeria.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: . pair of bomb attacks in Nigeria, both targeting churches during Christmas Day celebrations.



RAJPAL: You mentioned Boko Haram. You mentioned groups like that group. That group has been declared a terrorist organization by the United States --


JONATHAN: And we have also declared them a terrorist organization.

RAJPAL: How do you fight them? How do you deal with them?

JONATHAN: Well, of course, terror attacks and suicide bombing was not known in our country before. This is a new security challenge we have and once stated would never had our secure -- our security architecture was not designed to deal with terror. It was designed to deal with ordinary criminals. But when it came, we were taken aback about. But now we are dealing up.

If you follow statistics, more recently there was attack in a school.

RAJPAL: Innocent young children were killed.

JONATHAN: Yes. That in terms of the frequency or the incidence of happening, they have gone down drastically. And we are working very hard. I believe if we are talking with me again probably in three months' time, you will maybe praise me that this government have tried in terms of --


RAJPAL: How are you tackling them?

JONATHAN: Of course, you are tackling terror from various angles.

First and foremost, you must stop them or reduce the effects by a military intervention. That we have done. And that is why we declared state of emergency in the three states where this terror attack is predominant.

In Nigeria, for you to enter a house, whether a live-in home, a factory or a religious place, you must get a (inaudible) warrant approved by a court. But when you declare a state of emergency, the security people are free to enter anywhere, even in your bedroom, if they suspect there is a criminal there. And that -- so the issue of sort of emergency help, the security people (inaudible) freely, without contravening any law. And we've done that and it's helping us to apprehend a number of them.

But we have also set up a committee to discuss with the leadership of people within the areas to reach out with the leadership of this so-called Boko Haram to persuade them -- because you need to reorient their thinking.

RAJPAL: So you want to negotiate with Boko Haram?

JONATHAN: Not negotiation. No. It's done all over the world. I don't want to mention names. But it's not negotiation. The issue is not (inaudible). But if you are somebody's daughter and you are not doing what is right, if you are in this secondary school or in any school and people observe that this young lady is not doing what is right, the way she dress, the way she talks, it's not expected of a decent girl.

So come to you (inaudible) and talk to you. You come to your school teacher, talk to this girl. That is what we are doing. It's not negotiation.

RAJPAL: When it comes to a group like Boko Haram, how then do you change the way they think, when they are hell bent on making sure --


JONATHAN: What makes them feel that way?

RAJPAL: That's their fundamentalist ideals.

JONATHAN: You see that issue of terror is caused by some kind of wrong notions, either ideological issues or religious issues. And it takes people to brainwash others to behave in a particular way.

If you will have been brainwashed, either using religious sentiments or ideological issues, to make people think differently, then you have to talk to them.

So we are getting people to -- religious people, senior citizens, to talk to them, to reorient it. And that is what is done all over the world.

RAJPAL: So are you saying in three months -- as you say, if we talk to --


JONATHAN: I'm telling you that the steps we have taken so far --

RAJPAL: -- (inaudible) that you -- that the situation, the security situation will be --

JONATHAN: Will improve significantly. I'm not saying we'll get to zero (inaudible). There is no country (inaudible) problems. There is no country in the world. So in another three months, the situation will be significantly better than it was. That's what I'm telling.

RAJPAL: A lot of people will say that in order to deal with issues of terrorism, security, fundamentalist ideals, the kind of brainwashing, as you mentioned, is to, well, one, educate but also employment. Give people gainful employment. If they're earning a living, they're making money, they're making their lives better for themselves, they will not fall victim to other outside influence.

Right now in your country, there's a 24 percent unemployment rate with your -- which I understand the age group between 15-24, that's at 37 percent unemployment.

How are you dealing with unemployment and creating jobs in your country? You're asking for a lot of investment; you want a lot of investment.

How is that going to trickle down to those who don't have jobs?

JONATHAN: You see, the issue of unemployment in Nigeria -- because our population is big -- so a smaller percentage can mean so much in terms of the number of people. And that is one of the reasons why you see we have a robust drive for investment, private sector investments.

The only way we can do to reduce that is to invest so much in agriculture, because it is in agriculture that you can employ the person who don't even have any basic education to the best person incorporate it. He can -- the best brain incorporating, you need it in agriculture.

The person who doesn't go to school at all, you need it in agriculture.

In Nigeria, the population of our almost 7 million people. But it's not just wanting the 7 million people. In some Asian countries if you have more than 7 million people, you see that 80 percent of them are above 40 years who already have houses, who already have jobs.

But in Nigeria, 70 percent of that population are below 35 years. And 50 percent are below the age of maybe about 22 or so. These are people who are just leaving university and below. So you need schools for them. You need jobs for them. You need houses for them. So that is one of our challenges, even thought we are under 200 million, our challenges are more than countries that are even up to 200 million, even a little more.

RAJPAL: The U.S. State Department has said that there's wide systemic corruption within the government of Nigeria. How do you, then, manage that?

JONATHAN: We want the world to help solve that problem.








RAJPAL: Africa has become the place or the friend that everyone wants to have. You have countries like the United States, China wooing African nations, Nigeria is an example of wanting to be a part of this growth that you're seeing right now.

It's all part of that rebranding of the continent, if you will, the rebranding of the image.

What -- why do you think it's taken up until now for this to happen?

JONATHAN: Most of the developed countries, they didn't just get developed overnight. They grew from primary production to where they have reached. Africa generally now, our own economies are still based on primary production. We are not yet industrialized.

Antoher thing, which I believe is key is that if you look at the history of Africa in the '60s, from 19 -- about 1958 to the early '60s, most African countries are passing through decolonization, a struggle for independence. When most African countries got independence, we have very, very unstable regimes.

So over this period, you can see that the past 15 years or so most African countries have democratized. So you now have stable government. So this is a time that even African countries are beginning to plan. Now you consider within this period, African presidents and their ministers have been reaching out to the rest of the world to invite them to come and invest in Africa.

RAJPAL: The U.S. State Department has said that there's wide systemic corruption within the government of Nigeria, within not just government but also the private sectors as well. How do you, then, manage that? How do you fix that? How do you deal with that?

JONATHAN: The issue of corruption, yes, has been raised. We know, yes, as Nigerians, the system is not perfect. We are yet to see a perfect system anywhere in the world. I take the oil industry, as an example, that's one area where people talk about corruption. They steal our crude oil and bring it to you and you take it. Then you are as guilty as if you were doing it. That is the position.

I'm not saying there's no corruption. But we want the world to help solve that problem. You see, what we are doing our best and I believe that for a nation, for you to solve any of your problems, whether issues of corruption, the issues of general good governance, of course, the issues of electrical malpractice and so on and so forth, you have to give very strong institutions.

The African states up to maybe some countries up to this time and they -- before this time is that they build the governance around institutions and around individuals that very strong leader, the idea of like a wolf or a lion. And the whole country is build around that leader.

And we feel that now we must deal very, very strong institutions, so with or without a president, the institutions must be strong.

RAJPAL: The reality is the majority of Nigerians live on under $2 a day. Not many have access to education. Not -- tens of thousands are illiterate. Talk to me about your health care as well or you're the second highest number of HIV/AIDS infection in the world.

So when you talk about building institutions, governmental institutions that will last for generations, where are you when it comes to education health care right now?

JONATHAN: Well, that's exactly what I'm saying. This is a government that has been in office for just two years. And when a number of things have been not quite wrongly, but probably not the direction it's supposed to go, for a very long time, it becomes difficult for you to correct overnight.

Therefore, the issue of education, if you come to any country, we expect that for every country, everybody must pass through the basic level of education. So from low edge secondary to the primary, that's nine years of your education. We'll call it basic education. Ordinarily every child supposed to go through.

RAJPAL: So they have access to -- does every child have access?

JONATHAN: (Inaudible) everybody. This basic education is actually in the hands of the local governments and the state governments, not the federal government. But some states, for cultural reasons -- and that's the greatest problem we have as a state you see, as a country, Nigeria is a country where we are extremely religious people. We believe in our traditions and customs.

So you have these. And those are the challenges around us. Why, even if you talk about HIV AIDS, and I was a governor of my state and I know I aggressively pursued the issue of HIV AIDS. So you cannot do that in some states because of cultural differences and religious. So we have our challenges.

RAJPAL: I read somewhere that you described yourself once as the most criticized president in the world.

What kind of impact does all of this have on your family, on your kids, when they see that all this criticism against you?

JONATHAN: Well, it's --


RAJPAL: How do they deal with it?

JONATHAN: You know, we are one of the few countries that anybody can abuse a president with your two eyes closed. Nobody cares.

RAJPAL: But what does that do to your family? How do they deal with it?


JONATHAN: Of course they must adjust.

RAJPAL: Really? They must have thick skin.

JONATHAN: They must adjust. If you wake up, and your father gets involved in an accident and becomes a lame person, what do you do? Become blind, what do you do? You will adjust.

So they're growing up to see that well, that is the business.

RAJPAL: When you look at your life now, would you say and what you've accomplished up until now, would you say that you've lived up to your name and the name that your parents gave you?

JONATHAN: I came into politics as a deputy governor of my state, which in terms of the political hierarchy is quite low. A deputy governor of a few programs (ph). You know, we have to have '60s (ph) and very few deputy governors were able to even become governors.

Most of my colleagues just fell by the roadside. But somehow from the deputy governor I made the president over a very short period of time, from May 1999 to date. And that is why everybody says, look, this is the lucky person.

So this and that rise politically, yes. I consider I live up to the name.

RAJPAL: Mr. President, thank you so much.

JONATHAN: Thank you.