CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Tonight, we have Nigeria's acting president, Goodluck Jonathan, leader of Africa's most populous nation and its biggest oil exporter.
Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.
Nigeria's acting president, Goodluck Jonathan, is in Washington for the nuclear security summit, and he gave us his first interview since assuming power. He took office in February after President Umaru Yar'Adua had been languishing from a mysterious illness since last November.
And within weeks, he's had to deal with a new explosion of violence in a long-running land dispute near the city of Jos in which hundreds of people have been killed. And at the same time, he's faced an insurgency in the oil-rich delta region, fueled by small arms imported from the West.
And when he met the U.S. president, Barack Obama, at the White House this week, Goodluck Jonathan was urged to tackle election reform and corruption. I sat down with the acting president after that meeting, and it's the first time he's given an interview to anyone since taking office.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you first, what an extraordinary name. How did "Goodluck" come to be your name?
GOODLUCK JONATHAN, ACTING PRESIDENT OF NIGERIA: I don't know. I have to ask my father. (LAUGHTER)
AMANPOUR: You don't know?
AMANPOUR: Have you had good luck? And do you think you'll need more than good luck to face down the incredible array of challenges that's on your plate?
JONATHAN: Well, the issue of good luck, I don't really believe that the good luck is an issue. But as the president, I've been facing myriad of (ph) challenges. What some people will attribute to good luck could have been disastrous under some circumstances.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you this. You are now Acting President, because the President, Mr. Yar'Adua, is unwell.
AMANPOUR: Have you seen him since he has come back from his medical absence in Saudi Arabia?
JONATHAN: No, I have not seen him.
AMANPOUR: Why not?
JONATHAN: Well, when somebody is seriously ill, either the president or a citizen of Nigeria, and by virtue of being a president is a public figure, but still when you are seriously ill, we would respect the opinion of the family. And in the thinking of the family is that (inaudible) insulate him from (ph) most of the key actors in government (ph). I have not seen him. The Senate president (ph) has not seen him, Speaker of the House of Representatives has not seen him, and other senior government officials.
AMANPOUR: Doesn't that cause, when all the senior members of government, including yourself -- doesn't that cause anxiety amongst the people?
JONATHAN: Yes, it does. It does. Obviously, it does, but we cannot over-influence his family's thinking.
AMANPOUR: Would you prefer that the family allowed you to visit him?
JONATHAN: Yes, of course. But I will not want to force.
AMANPOUR: What is his actual state of health? This also is a mystery.
JONATHAN: I can't say exactly. It's only the medical doctors that can.
AMANPOUR: Have they told you?
JONATHAN: No, they haven't.
AMANPOUR: Have they made any public statements?
JONATHAN: Not quite. Not now. At the beginning, yes, but he left for Saudi Arabia, I think in the second week or so or within the first week we are told that he has acute pericarditis. After that, no other statement has been issued.
AMANPOUR: So if he can receive religious leaders, why can he not receive at least the Acting President who's acting in his name?
JONATHAN: Well, religious leaders are there for (inaudible) blessings. But probably that is why they asked the religious leaders to go and pray for him. We are a very, very religious society.
AMANPOUR: Do you believe that those around him -- his family, his loyalists -- are trying to undermine you or your new cabinet or your efforts as acting president?
JONATHAN: I wouldn't say they were trying to undermine me, because the laws of the land are very clear.
AMANPOUR: Do you think he will ever come back to government?
JONATHAN: I can't say that. It's difficult for any of us as mortals to say so.
AMANPOUR: So you are now Acting President, and you have essentially a year, because elections will be held this time 2011.
AMANPOUR: What is your most pressing issue?
JONATHAN: The most pressing issue for Nigeria now, in terms of basic infrastructure, is power. What outside power.
AMANPOUR: You mean electricity?
JONATHAN: Electricity. But outside that, what is central to the minds of Nigerians now is an election that their votes will count, free and fair elections, because we've been accused of a country that our elections somehow questioned. And I promise Nigerians that they will surely get that, and I've done some experiments. The next thing that Nigerians get worried about is the issue of corruption. You know we've been accused of people who have privilege position in government amassing wealth at the expense of society. So they expect us to take these two issues seriously.
AMANPOUR: So what can you do to take those issues seriously? Obviously, the issue of good governance, of free elections, free of corruption is central, and you heard the United States has also said just now that you must remove the head of the election commission, Mr. Maurice Iwu. Will you do that?
JONATHAN: You see, the issue of the -- the electoral body -- the issue is that whether the president electoral body -- we called an Independent Electoral Commission, INEC -- can conduct free and fair election or not. And I told them that, yes, they can, because I have done it with the same people.
But issue of the people is INEC, I told them that, look, between now and ending of June, most of the officials at the national level -- they're called commissioners -- their tenure will end, and we're going to review them on individual merit. And if some people still cannot go back, we have to replace them.
AMANPOUR: Do you think he will stay or will he be removed? That's something that the U.S, (CROSSTALK)
JONATHAN: , among -- among the commissioners at the center that their tenure will end by June this year. And we are going to review,
AMANPOUR: So he will be out by June?
JONATHAN: All of them we'll review. And any one of them that we feel is not competent definitely,
AMANPOUR: Do you feel that Mr. Iwu is competent?
JONATHAN: (inaudible) I know that this question continues to come up. What I've said is the issue is beyond Mr. Iwu.
AMANPOUR: I know. But I'm specifically talking about him, because it's come up in your meetings with U.S. officials.
JONATHAN: Yes, I agree that within the period that he's chairing INEC, there are quite a number of controversies. I agree. There are quite a number of concerns. There are quite a number of controversies. There are a number -- the perception is that the feeling back home and in the international community is that he cannot conduct a free and fair election.
So I know what I'm telling you, that this (inaudible) Iwu, I'm not trying to hold brief for him. The Iwu we are talking about has conducted free elections. These past three elections were credible. So the issue is -- because the issue is beyond Iwu (inaudible) set up an electoral system and our regulations and laws that will make sure that anybody who is appointed to that office should be able to conduct acceptable elections. And that is my focus.
AMANPOUR: OK. Will you run in 2011? Will you present yourself as a presidential candidate?
JONATHAN: For now, I don't want to think about it. I came in as the vice president (ph) to run with President Yar'Adua. Of course, getting close to -- to period of election he took ill, and I have to take over under somewhat controversial circumstances. Only last week, I reconstituted the cabinet. So let us see Nigeria move forward first. If the country is not moving, what -- what will I tell Nigerians I want to contest for? Yes, I'm a politician and I would be interested in politics, since I'm still relatively young.
AMANPOUR: But the -- the reason I ask you is because,
JONATHAN: Yes, but I cannot even tell myself now. I must assess myself.
AMANPOUR: I understand.
JONATHAN: You cannot just wake up and say you want to contest an election to be the president of a country. First of all, you must say, can you really bring the dividends of (inaudible) three months after which we review ourselves. And I used to tell people, look, if I'm not satisfied with what is happening (inaudible) election?
AMANPOUR: Well, I'm asking you because there is this informal agreement amongst various locations north and south which has been closely followed about taking turns at the presidency and that power must shift. For instance, Mr. Yar'Adua, who is from the north, has not even finished one term, and he should have a second term, according to your informal agreement. You're from the south.
AMANPOUR: So it's kind of not your turn, so that's why I'm asking you -- and everybody's very interested as to whether you will present yourself for elections.
JONATHAN: Yes, those interests are there. I was part of a lot of meetings in the ruling party (inaudible) even (inaudible) within the ruling party (inaudible) but, basically, the issue of whether I will contest or not is it (inaudible) I used to say that, if I contest elections, the elections in Nigeria are not only the presidency election, et cetera (inaudible) of Nigeria.
There are options for me if I want to contest election. I recontest as a vice president to anybody. I can contest as a president, because the laws allow me. But that is not my own priority now. My priority now is to see how, within this little period left, what impact can we show?
AMANPOUR: But let me just get something straight. You say that you can contest and it's possible that you will contest, yes?
JONATHAN: It is, of course.
AMANPOUR: Yes? It's possible that you will contest then?
JONATHAN: These are options. I don't want to think about it.
AMANPOUR: One other question on elections. Mr. Ibrahim Babangida, former Nigerian military leader who seized power, essentially, and ruled for about eight years in the late '80s and '90s, says that he wants to contest them again in 2011. Is that acceptable?
JONATHAN: He's very free. There is no law stopping Babangida from contesting. Babaginda and any other military head of state are very free to contest.
AMANPOUR: What would that say about modern Nigeria?
JONATHAN: It depends on the people, and that's why we say that -- yes, it depends on -- I will say that the votes of the people must count. Babangida is a leader that has been head of state for about eight years plus, just like you said. Babangida has his friends. He has done some good jobs, even though some people may see -- nobody will be a leader that who will not see you from both left and right. But as an individual, Babangida is very free to contest the presidency. Other military leaders are interested in contesting the presidency, not only Babangida, and they are all free. On that 11th day, Nigerian votes will count, and not me.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Acting President, one of your big challenges, as well, is to try to re-energize the peace process, the amnesty process in, in fact, your homeland, isn't it, the Niger Delta area?
AMANPOUR: Exactly. So there was a whole system set in place, but it seems to be fraying, and there's a lot of concern, particularly given how vital it is as an oil-producing part of the world. What are you going to do about that?
JONATHAN: Well, the amnesty process (inaudible) what's happened is that people don't really understand the total concept of the amnesty. The amnesty is divided into three phases, the disarmament phase. That is the phase where militants surrender their weapons. Then rehabilitation phase and reintegration phase.
Some of these militants have been in that armed struggle for a very long time. And when young people are involved in carrying weapons against the state for very long time, there is a tendency for them to go into some forms of aberration-type behavior (inaudible) excessive alcohol or some of them they even (inaudible) so you have a process that you must follow.
After the disarmament, the next is rehabilitation. You have to rehabilitate them. Then you have to properly integrate them into the society. So during the process of rehabilitation, you must re-orientate their thinking and make them to learn some skills that will enable them and a decent living through the proper reintegration process. What's now -- we are trying to make the best -- up to this time, we have not gotten the kind of (inaudible) but now (inaudible) we (inaudible) Niger Delta before the minister of defense, who handled the disarmament, was also coordinating the rehabilitation, and that was giving us a lot of problems.
But now we are (inaudible) rehabilitation. The disarmament was the military exercise, so the minister of defense (inaudible) so the case of rehabilitation and reintegration has now moved into the hands of this president adviser to the president on the Niger Delta. We have a good program.
So by the first batch of trainees (inaudible) or so are going to move to their camps in the crossover state (ph) by the third week of April, so we have to do them in batches. The total number of militants are about 20,191, little more than 20,000 (inaudible) so it's a lot of youth. And it's not easy to manage those number of people.
AMANPOUR: What about Jos, which we just saw an explosion of violence there between Muslim and Christian? What can you do about that?
JONATHAN: No, no, no, it's not a problem between Muslim and Christians. That is quite wrong, actually. The problem of Jos is -- Jos occupies a plateau, quite a high land area in Nigeria. And that's an area where a number of people settle outside the indigenous population (ph). In fact, even when Lagos was a federal capital territory, most -- most Europeans who came to Nigeria, they preferred to stay in Jos.
Because of the elevation, the temperature is very low. It's like a sub-temperate climate where the temperature sometimes could drop up to minus two. No part of Nigeria that (inaudible) well, because of that climate and the mining of tin and others (inaudible) within that area.
So there's a lot of settlers from the southeastern part of Nigeria, from the southwestern part of Nigeria, and from the extreme north, so most of these settlers now play big in the economy, local economy. So the indigenous population feels that they have been excluded from the economy, and that has been bringing conflict from the early '60s.
AMANPOUR: But what can you do about it?
JONATHAN: Of course, we have (inaudible) in terms of what we are doing, we are discussing with the traditional rulers (ph), we are discussing with religious leaders, we are discussing with opinion leaders. That is to appeal to them (ph), and they are responding.
Of course, we're also providing security, because, first of all, you must provide adequate security to make sure that people don't carry weapons and intimidate or kill others, so that is being done. Then we also are appealing to their conscience using their leaders, both opinion leaders, both their religious leaders, both traditional leaders. And it is paying off.
AMANPOUR: It is paying off?
AMANPOUR: Do you think that kind of violence will stop?
JONATHAN: (inaudible) I cannot say it will stop completely, but our commitment is to make sure that it stops.
AMANPOUR: With issues like Jos or the Niger Delta, with the fact that, as you mentioned yourself, there's a severe power and electricity crisis, and all sorts of other issues, how do you make international investors feel confident? Even kidnappings there are, as you've said yourself, need to stop.
JONATHAN: Realize Nigeria is a very big country. And some of these issues people raise in the media that makes it look as if the whole country is rampant (ph).
It's not quite so. We have a letter of international investors even in the Niger Delta, you have the oil companies everywhere. Yes, we have these occasional issues of kidnapping, but it doesn't stop (ph). But we are also strengthening the local security system, the police force. We are trying to set up a special fund to make sure that we're strengthening the police to maintain law and order. In addition to making sure that we provide what the people will need and appeal to different groups, to see reason why (inaudible) we are also doing what we think is right to increase the security, because you must secure the area.
AMANPOUR: You've just had meetings with President Obama. What was the most important issue that you discussed? I know President Obama discussed many things, including the issue of a joint fight against terrorism.
JONATHAN: Yes, of course,
AMANPOUR: It was the Nigerian youth who tried to set himself and set a plane on fire over the United States.
JONATHAN: Of course, that is an unfortunate incident. But I know you know more than me. When that issue came up, it was a global issue, and everybody traced the history of a young man. This man -- this young man left Nigeria long ago, and he got indoctrinated in the West.
AMANPOUR: But do you nonetheless think it's an issue that has to be combated, terrorism?
JONATHAN: Of course. Nigeria -- you know that the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Nigeria is one of the countries that signed it. We believe that the whole globe must be peaceful. We cannot (inaudible) cannot encourage that. Nigerians are not terrorists. We know the problem as African leaders. We are suffering from the use of small arms and light weapons. In fact, in Africa, the use of small arms and light weapons is more devastating to us than even the issue of nuclear terrorism, because Africans have died from small arms and light weapons, more than the nuclear terrorism, because most of these weapons used in the former Soviet Union are no longer relevant, and they've all been shipped into Africa.
Most of the small arms and light weapons manufactured in America and other -- in European countries are shipped down to Africa, and this is a cost of most of this crisis we're having, this insecurity we're having, so we totally support.
AMANPOUR: You've got 12 months, essentially, to enact the reforms you're talking about, bringing about the changes, whether it's to election law, whether it's to the issue of peace. How much do you really think you can achieve in this short period of time?
JONATHAN: We'll do our best. Some of this (inaudible) human issues that you can achieve significantly, like we talk about electoral reforms and conducting clean elections. We don't need 100 years to do that. We don't even need a year to do that, because they're human factors (ph). And a few months, we should be able to set up a system that can conduct free and fair elections. But all that is like basic infrastructure that needs a period that -- that you conceptualize it, you figure out the design, you figure the planning, environmental assessment, and so on before you the physical execution of the projects. Those ones will take some time.
But still, people will see that you've set up a clear roadmap. If you think the most challenging infrastructure that we have, the power infrastructure, the electric power infrastructure, we must set up a clear agenda that people will know that we are moving forward and we have milestones that we can benchmark you.
Definitely a government that -- we have 12 months, and especially -- especially it's an election period. Immediately after elections, governmentís activities tend to slow down because of, of course, they are key positions that are in government.
So we have that kind of a challenge. We don't really even have 12 months. We can't even claim to have 5 months. But what we promise is that within the shortest possible time, we take (inaudible) cannot take everything. We take the things that we believe we can leave some footprints, but most importantly for Nigerians to see that we are -- we are serious and we are committed.
AMANPOUR: On that note, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, thank you very much for joining us.
JONATHAN: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And that was our conversation with Acting President Goodluck Jonathan. And that's it for us now today.
Courtesy of CNN.