by Isi Esene
President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday said that the January fuel subsidy protests were not carried out by ordinary Nigerians who wanted to express their opposition to a government policy saying the protests were stage-managed by a class of Nigerians who wanted to maintain a status quo of corruption in the petroleum sector.
Jonathan said this in Abuja during the 52nd Independence Anniversary Lecture titled: Nigeria: Security, Development and National Transformation.
The president used the opportunity to make his case in defense of the partial removal of fuel subsidy earlier in the year, he said, “Look at the demonstrations back home, look at the areas this demonstrations are coming from, you begin to ask, are these the ordinary citizens that are demonstrating? Or are people pushing them to demonstrate.
“Take the case of Lagos, Lagos is the critical state in the nation’s economy, it controls about 53 per cent of the economy and all tribes are there. The demonstration in Lagos, people were given bottled water that people in my village don’t have access to, people were given expensive food that the ordinary people in Lagos cannot eat. So, even going to eat free alone attracts people. They go and hire the best musician to come and play and the best comedian to come and entertain; is that demonstration? Are you telling me that that is a demonstration from ordinary masses in Nigeria who want to communicate something to government?
“For me, if I see somebody is manipulating anything, I don’t listen to you, but when I see people genuinely talking about issues, I listen. I am hardly intimidated by anybody who wants to push any issue he has. I believe that that protest in Lagos was manipulated by a class in Lagos and was not from the ordinary people.”
The president argued that the protesters were misinformed by a group of people who had an ulterior motive in opposing the subsidy removal.
He reportedly said, “In a way they were also misinformed. If you had followed the last Earth Summit in Brazil, about two countries came out to condemn the issue of subsidizing hydro carbon all over the world. They stated that subsiding hydro carbon does not bring development.”
Mr. Jonathan accused the media of pursuing a 2015 election agenda by painting a picture of political insecurity.
“I believe political security is a big issue. There is this axiom that the pen is mightier than the sword. The sword is used to kill and destroy, but what we use the pen to do is also very critical. When you have society with these unending political conflicts, it is there on the media whether print, electronic or social media, it brings a lot of insecurity to the system and sometimes people begin to doubt your government.
“For example, when we were contesting election, we promised it will be free and fair, I was convinced I must do that even if I will lose the election. After our election in 2007, even the presidents in our neighbouring West African states were finding it difficult to congratulate us because the observers felt the election was not properly done. That hounded us even when we travelled out and I promised myself that if I have the opportunity to preside over election, I will do something different even at my expense at least for the sake of the country. But immediately after that election, not quite six months, the kind of media hype that started hitting us made us to stop and ask where this coming from?
“And I believe is not just the media, like when we talk about the Boko Haram, we have political Boko Haram, religious Boko Haram and criminal Boko Haram. So also in the media, you have the professional media and the political media. That is why I talk about the political media, because of the interest of 2015, whatever you do is immaterial, the government must be brought down.”
He claimed the people are misusing the freedom to express their opinion on issues pleading for more time to correct some of the critical problems facing the nation.
“The way Nigerians challenge and abuse me… yes the President has enormous power, but if you use that enormous power to some extent, you will look like a dictator. In a democratic setting, you want to create an environment where people can create their opinion and that is why people are allowed to talk freely and demonstrate. But are we doing so properly?
“When you talk of providing infrastructure, whether power, water, there is nothing you can use the magic wand to provide for the people, it takes time,” he concluded.