Gyang Bere, Jos
For the people of Plateau State nothing could more important than witnessing a return of the peace and serenity that once made it the primary destination of European tourists based in Nigeria. This desire makes the governorship ambition of Brigadier-General Jonathan Temlong (Rtd) quite significant. Temlong, who was the first Multi-National Joint Task Force Commander in the North-East and now the governorship candidate of the Action Democratic Party (ADP), has vowed to stop to end the bloodbath in Plateau State. In this interview, he talks about this and other relevant issues.
There are two dominant political parties in Nigeria, All Progressive Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). You are contesting the governorship election as candidate of the Action Democratic Party (ADP), a party that is not well known on the Plateau. What are your chances of winning the election against Governor Simon Lalong?
My chances are very high and bright because there is a paradigm shift now from what used to be. People are not going to vote for parties on the Plateau but they are going to vote for candidates. They are going to look at the capacity of candidates who can deliver and the most challenging issues on the Plateau today is the security problem. For those of us on the Plateau, if we do not have short memories, you remember that by 2015 APC was not on ground but the people of Plateau decided that it was time for the Southern Zone to produce the governor of Plateau State, and so as dominant as PDP was then, and with the power of incumbency, they were not able to produce a governor and APC produced the governor because the people of Plateau State wanted the governorship to go to the Southern Zone. It is not something new on the Plateau; it is going to happen on March 2 when my humble self will be elected with my running mate.
What makes you think that the people of Plateau State will vote for you just like they abandoned the then ruling PDP in 2015 and voted for Simon Lalong of the APC?
Well, everybody knows and even if you are new in the state you will know that the present government has failed the people in all aspects of security and delivering dividends of good governance; people are yearning for change. The PDP, which was supposed to provide the alternative as it were, has not been able to present the kind of person the people are yearning for. That was why the clarion call became loud and clear for me to come out and contest the governorship election to provide a credible alternative.
What tangible programmes do you have for Plateau people that would make them turn their back at APC and PDP vote for you and the ADP?
The convincing thing I have at hand now is the present narrative on the Plateau. It is first and famous about security and sustainable peace, nobody can distort that narrative. For the past 17 years we have had a situation where Plateau has been turned into a killing zone, in some cases more people died on the Plateau than those who died in the North East, the Boko Haram zone, so you can as well say that Plateau State is in a state of siege. You have seen the orgy of bloodbath that has been going on unabated. Everyday they will say we will bring them to book, I wander how many books they have written that they will bring. By now we have not seen anybody brought to book. We will prioritize good governance because the absence of good governance is a trigger in itself for insecurity. When you say you will bring people to book and you have not prosecuted any then there is an absence of justice and once there is no justice people will go for self-help and that is why when you hear that a village has been raided, the next thing is that the youths would go to the road; nobody encourages that but it is a failure of government to appropriately apply justice. It appears there is inequality in the application of justice. We have a situation where they say “unknown” gunmen and yet they know where the people are coming from and are attacking and killing people. They are not coming from the sky but they call them unknown gunmen. If you politicise crime then crime will continue to increase because you have given the criminals the right platform to continue doing what they are doing. Some people will say this is an election year and these are our supporters. Are they more important that the lives that have been killed? Are the votes worthy of any life? Or is anybody’s ambition worth any life? Why are we politicising crime? A crime is a crime and it has to be dealt with according to the laws of the land, but government has not obtained a single conviction. We are so polarised on tribal and religious lines and at the end there is no justice and fairness, there is no accountability and there is no transparency. What is meant for ‘A’ should be given to ‘A’ and what is meant for ‘B’ should be given to ‘B’ not that you will take what is meant for ‘A’ and give it to ‘B’, of course there will he crisis.
We have had this issue of insecurity since 2001 when Sen. Joshua Dariye and Sen. Jonah David Jang were governors of the state and today we have Rt. Hon. Simon Lalong, yet the insecurity persists, what will you do differently than these people to halt killings in the state?
I have security credentials that are unassailable and because we have not been able to agree on the narrative on the Plateau. Not just Plateau; we must agree on a national narrative on what is happening now. Once we agree on national narrative then we will design an architecture that will deal with it. But like I said earlier, my administration will be a citizen-based government and our security architecture is going to be citizen-based. What is the role of the citizens in national security and in providing their own security? We must build the capacity of our citizens to be able to understand and to take their rightful place in the security architecture of the state. We must also build the capacity of the security agencies to know that emphasis has been shifted from a state-centric architecture to people-centric security architecture. I am not just coming for the sake of coming, I have the credentials, I have the antecedent, I have the knowledge, I have the experience and I will bring it to bear on the Plateau situation.
Governors in the country have cried out on one occasion or the other on their inability to give security order to security agencies despite their role as chief security officers of their states. What will you do differently to succeed in this regard?
Look, if you give constitutional role and order to the security they will carry it out. In any case, does the governor want to go and command the police? Or command the DSS, or command the military? No, those people are specialists, they are trained in their command and that is why you have the Security Council meeting. The governor is the chairman and takes decisions together with them. If you take decisions on your own then it means you are not doing it right. The security agencies are supposed to advise you by giving security advise based on what is happening in your state. Even as a professional today, when I sit down on the seat of the governor I would have to listen to their advise because they are the ones on the ground. There are so many things that are happening and I tell you that bad governance creates 80 per cent of security problems in this country. Conflict can start from one small matter or issue. Conflict in itself is not a bad thing, but it is good for the system because it makes people realize that there are certain things that are bad. Conflicts allow you to investigate the causes, you don’t allow it to reach crisis point. It is when it reaches the crisis point that it becomes bad but for every small thing that can be addressed politically or by dialogue, the next thing is that you want to use force and that is why we are having these problems because you are short changing the will of the people. For the fact that somebody has concern and he is voicing it, he is seen as the enemy of the state. Once his feelings are boxed in, they explode. Boil water in a pot and close it and see what will happen, that is what has been happening in this country.
Has the federal government handled the issue of insecurity genuinely?
Have the state and local governments handled it genuinely on their own? We should do our own first before we talk about the federal government. In a democracy we are a sub-national government. Have we handled our own specifics that every time we cry to the federal government? What suggestions have we taken to the federal government and they said no? Some states have been able to handle their problems. Go to Lagos State and see what is going on in terms of security; go to Anambra State and see what is happening because they have tried to involve the citizens, but we are going to involve the citizens on a far larger scale than what they are doing. We had a roundtable about security and elections at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS). The Obi of Onitsha, the Oba of Lagos and the Sultan of Sokoto were all there; I was there as President of the Alumni Association of the National Defence College. The discussions were very frank; we compared notes and we saw how others were doing it differently. Our major problem on governance is that there is no peer review mechanism. All the governors today are more in Abuja than in their states, neither do they visit the colleagues to see what others are doing that they are not doing. How will you sit down every time and push the blame to the federal government on what you have not done. The decisions they take sometimes create problems. Look at what we had as local government election in Plateau State; that in itself is a trigger to crisis, it is just because the people are tired, they have reached an elastic limit, they are trying to regain their elasticity, there is need for us to be serious about what we are doing and how we intend to do it.
There is the issue of bandwagon effect, and we could see that clearly in 2015 when President Muhammadu Buhari won election. Most candidates of APC who had no hope rode on his victory. Don’t you think that same scenario will repeat?
To us in ADP it will be irrelevant whoever wins because the Plateau project is a different thing from the presidential elections. Plateau people want a state that is secured; Plateau people want their future secured, the Plateau youth want a situation where their today and tomorrow are secured, they want hope, they want to actualise their potentials, the women want to actualise their potentials and give their children hope. Even if PDP had won the presidential election in 2015, PDP would have not won Plateau governorship election. Once the people are determined to effect a change, they are determined and nothing can stop them. The Plateau people are determined to effect a change on March 2; the change that will determine security and sustainable peace, the change that will bring good governance, a change that will bring development and put Plateau first.
People believe that having a president in a ruling party and having a governor of a state in the opposition, the state appears to be at a disadvantaged position. How will your case be different if elected governor?
But let me ask you a question: have we benefitted any way with Lalong being in the same party with President Buhari? Tell me the truth, how have we benefitted? In any case, the Constitution defined the relationship between the federating units and the federal government. It is the state themselves that have carried all their powers and given to the federal government. Even if you do not sit down to govern your state, you are always running around the presidential corridor, how do you run your state? People will be crying that they don’t have freedom to do what they are supposed to do, even to do what you are supposed to do, you want to seek permission from the federal government, so what is the federation all about? There are certain powers given to you as state governor, there are certain powers given to the local government. Today, are the local governments even functional? They are just there by name and once they are not functional it is there the insecurity is because they are the closest to the people.
The PDP and APC in Plateau are accusing you of causing confusion in the polity. The PDP said you are being sponsored by Lalong to scuttle their chances. It is true?
I wonder how many times I will answer this question. Let me repeat it in clear terms that I am not being sponsored by anybody and there is nobody who can sponsor me. There is nobody who can buy my conscious. Nobody, I repeat it. Those people should go and canvass for votes and stop giving excuses for what is going to be their fate. If you know you are not going to win the election stop giving excuses, come out straight and say you will not win because Temlong has come out. Lalong is not sponsoring me, it is over one year we met with Lalong until the Armed Forces Remembrance Day. Tell people that you only give want you have because those who are making those accusations are those that can be bought or those who can be sponsored but I don’t have that so I can’t give it out, nobody can buy me. On the lighter note, anybody sponsoring me to come and displace them I will be grateful, if they bring the resources for me to upstage them, I will do it for the benefit of Plateau people. I will receive it gladly and I know it will not contravene the law. If you bring resources to me today to make sure I defeat you I will make sure I do it.
Are you in any way bothered or worried over the crowds that APC and PDP pulled out during their presidential rallies in Plateau?
Let me ask, were they intimidated by the crowd I pulled in Pankshin? That is the question they should also ask. I am not intimidated by the rented crowds; all of them I know were rented crowds. If you do your research you will find out that minor crimes have reduced because politics is on now; it is a source of income for all these miscreants and I thought that is what should be looked at by our authorities. Why are they not using these miscreants except for political violence? It means if we provide good jobs for these our young men, then the crime rate will drop.
But the federal government recently came up with a policy to reduce poverty through the distribution of money under Tradermoni. Is that not effective?
Were you not here in Plateau when the N-Power people were invited to the stadium? You didn’t need Obasanjo to tell you that it was vote-buying; you saw it in the stadium in Plateau. If there is going to be any genuine poverty alleviation programme let it be but they should not politicise it for goodness sake. But when you begin to politicised programmes that you genuinely want to touch the lives of the people it becomes a source of concern. But I have a different approach; you say you are encouraging traders, who are trading in what? People are trading on foreign goods, are those things manufactured in Nigeria? Almost all the industries in Plateau have closed, and in Kaduna the textile industries have closed. When we were in primary schools and when we finished we would go to Kaduna and work. Some started from there and have become who they are today. We should start looking at the way of putting on ground medium and small scale industries that will add value to our agricultural produce and our other God-given resources.