By Tom Evans; Sr. Writer, AMANPOUR.
(CNN) – Acting Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has told CNN he has not seen the country’s ailing leader Umaru Yar’Adua since he returned from Saudi Arabia in February after medical treatment for an undisclosed illness.
Jonathan also said he does not know the nature of Yar’Adua’s condition. President Yar’Adua has not been seen in public since last November.
“The thinking of the family is that they should insulate him from most of the key actors in government”, Jonathan told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in his first interview with international or local media since he assumed office as acting president two months ago.
Asked if he would like to visit Yar’Adua, Jonathan said, “Yes, of course, but I will not want to force (it).”
He also dismissed suggestions that supporters of Yar’Adua are working against him. “I wouldn’t say they are trying to undermine me, because the laws of the land are very clear.”
Jonathan refused to say whether or not he is planning to run in Nigeria’s next presidential election in 2011.
He said, “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 see whether you can you really bring the dividends of democracy. I have just set up a cabinet. We have given ourselves three months after which we review ourselves. and I tell people, if I'm not satisfied, why is it my business to contest the elections.”
He also sidestepped questions on whether he thinks the head of the country’s election commission, Maurice Iwu, should be fired in an effort to reform Nigeria’s discredited electoral system, saying there will be a review of Iwu’s performance.
But he added, “The perception is that the feeling back home and in the international community is that he cannot conduct a free and fair election.”
Jonathan was speaking to CNN this week on the fringes of the nuclear security summit in Washington where he and other world leaders discussed ways to secure nuclear materials from terrorists. He also met President Barack Obama – an indication of Nigeria’s importance as Africa’s most populous nation and biggest oil exporter.
The acting Nigerian president said there were even more pressing problems facing Africa than the possibility unsecured nuclear materials could end up in the hands of terrorists.
He told Amanpour, “Africans have died more from small arms and light weapons… and they’ve all been shipped into Africa.”
Asked whether he can re-energize the peace process in the troubled oil-rich Niger Delta, and reach a lasting deal with insurgents, Jonathan said, “You have to properly integrate them into the society. So during the process of rehabilitation, you must reorientate their thinking and make them learn some skills that will enable them (to) earn a decent living.”
Jonathan also spoke about the recent new explosion of violence between Muslim and Christian Nigerians near the central city of Jos that claimed hundreds of lives in March, only weeks after he assumed office.
He said there are a lot of settlers in the region and the indigenous community feels it has been excluded from the local economy, with the result there’s been conflict there since the early 1960’s.
Jonathan said traditional rulers, religious leaders, and opinion leaders are all responding to his appeals for calm.
“I cannot say it (the violence) will stop completely, but our commitment is to make sure that it stops”, he added.