General Jonathan Temlong is the first Commander of the Multi-National Joint Task Force in the Northeast. The retired Army General popularly called Jon Temlong in this interview conducted by GYANG BERE in Jos said former President Olusegun Obasanjo, former military Head of State, Ibrahim Babangida and other retired Generals have the constitutional right to decide who will govern Nigeria in 2019. Temlong who is the governorship candidate of Action Democratic Party (ADP) in Plateau State said he will deploy the same military tactics he used in flushing out Chadian and Nigerien rebels from illegally occupying the Lake Chad Basin to restore enduring peace in Plateau.
Nigerians are divided between President Buhari and Atiku Abubakar, who among them is your preferred candidate, or do you have a different opinion?
Debates will definitely come, if there is no debates in the political discuss, then something is wrong, and then the polity is docile. There must be debates because it is the debates that shape the opinion of people as to who to vote for. If there are robust discussions going on, then it is fantastic, it means that Nigerians are waking up from their slumber and I want to challenge Nigerians to insist that those of us who want to lead them be subjected to debates, we must discuss our issues, let’s appear before the people and let them ask us questions about what we intend to do for them. This democracy should have advanced more than what we are talking about now, so many things have been conscripted that is why many young men like you will find it difficult to aspire to leadership position unless you have a godfather, those of us who have thrown ourselves into the race took a step of faith because it has been so monetized beyond your reach. I feel bad in this country because there were those that started holding leadership position in their 20s and 30s and ran this country during the most difficult period. At your age today if you say you want to be a governor of this state, they will say he is a small boy, why? Why didn’t they tell Gen. Yakubu Gowon that time when he was 31-year-old yet he ran this country. All the State Governors that ran this country during his time, probably except Audu Bako were in their 20s and 30s. All those who fought the civil war were in their 20s and 30s. Yet, a certain generation does not want to give way, what has gone wrong?
So, between Buhari and Atiku who do you prefer to govern this country in 2019?
My preference will be at the ballot box, I am not supposed to campaign for anybody and don’t get me into that, I am campaigning for myself.
Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Gen. Aliyu Gusau and other retired Generals appear to have constituted a gang up against Buhari ahead of the 2019 presidential election, do you think that will work?
Why do you call it gang-up, they have the constitutional rights, so long as anything you do that cannot be challenged in the court of law, it is constitutional. If you used the word gang up it shows some negative connotation to it, but I believe they have their rights to choose who they want to be the President of this country, just like you have the right to advocate for who you want to be a President. They have given their reasons why they don’t want Buhari to be President of this country and it is left for Nigerians to decide, if they are convinced it will be shown on the ballot box, if they are not convinced it will also be shown on the ballot box.
Looking at your rich military background, some people will prefer you contest the presidential election in view of the current security challenges facing the country instead of contesting for the governorship election of Plateau State?
It is true that there are prominent people who have approached me and asked me to contest for the Presidency and some called after I have indicated interest to run for the governorship and were perplexed that why I am contesting the governorship, that I should have run for the Presidency. I told them that in as much as I would love to contest for the Presidency, but looking at the strategic calculation and the way things went, the popular opinion was for a candidate that will come from either the North West or the North East to contest against Buhari, so for me from the Middle Belt or North Central, I stand no chance. That is why you see the likes of Senator Jonah Jang and Senator David Mark could not make any headway during the PDP primaries. Be that as it may, I see my people in a very serious dilemma, the security situation is quite alarming, and we are between the devil and the deep blue sea where life has no value again. We wake up every morning and hear that people have been killed in different villages; all the marginal communities are living in fear. Yes, I can go and solve the national problem but what about my local problem? So I thought I should relax at home and give it a shot and if I performed very well, I am sure that people will yearn for me to go to the national level. For now, I want to see how the problem on the Plateau is solved because Plateau is a mini-Nigeria where you have every tribe in this country; this is the melting pot of the country. In the political history of this country, you will recall that it was here that Shehu Shagari picked his ticket to run for the Presidency of this country, it was here that M.K. O. Abiola picked his ticket to run for the Presidency of this country, it was here in Jos again that Olusegun Obasanjo picked his ticket to run for the Presidency of this country, so what has happened now that Jos has become a shadow of itself? Even zonal rallies of political parties, don’t even come here again because they are scared of insecurity. The political history of Jos that has played this prominent role in the political evolution of this country has suddenly been eclipsed by crisis.
When late Chief Solomon Lar was alive, Plateau was strategic in shaping the politics of Nigeria, are you saying that the state has lost its value in the politics of this country because of crisis?
Absolutely, without being told, if you have this security problem… You can go and find out from people who run hospitality industry, businessmen how people have been diverting their businesses from Plateau because of the security situation. Security comes first, for someone to come for political consultation will call to find out how are you living in Jos, that is their fear, they don’t know that it is not as bad as it is in every part of the state. If you open the internet, listen to news; it is Jos Plateau on the news for one killing or the other. The Hill Station Hotel Jos was built as holiday camp for white men and Europeans because of our weather but today who will come? We boast as home of peace and tourism, if peace is gone, tourism is gone also, and tourism can only flourish when there is peace. Who will carry his life and put on the line to come to Jos, you are not even sure whether you will enter alive or leave alive.
The crisis in Jos started with dane guns, machete, AK 47 rifles and bombing, today we have herdsmen killings in large number, do you think the Federal Government has handled this issue without sentiment in Plateau and Middle Belt?
It is not just the Federal Government, I will tell you from experience and I have said it in all fora that I was called to attend, parts of the reasons that Boko Haram strives in the North East is because of bad governance and in some cases, total absence of governance. When we started putting everything on Federal Government, there are governments; we have sub-national government which is state governments and at the state level there are certain things you should do, there are authorities too at the local level, have you seen the local government operating in Plateau? It is either one form of imposition or an election that is best rigged, people that lack legitimacy are all over the place. At the local level, there are certain things that are supposed to be done to enhance security, you can have good governance at the state and local level, nothing the Federal Government can do, the coming into the state with the federal might and dominate the state won’t work, Special Task Force have been here for several years.
From what is happening, there are clear instances that even the Governor cannot command any security officer to take action, what do you think Local Government Chairmen will do?
Do you need to command? You don’t need to be a Commander in Chief. If governance is righteous, is just and there is equity, 80 percent of the security problem that we face is, as a result of bad governance, let no man deceive you. The young men that are here roaming the streets, it is governance issues because nobody envisages the growing population of this country and say this is the population of young men. Who has ever come up with policies that will address the teeming population that is coming up? People are just planning for today, trying to tackle today’s problem but we need strategic leadership that will look beyond today and start planning for tomorrow. If not you will walk into tomorrow trying to address today’s problems, we don’t have strategic leadership. Where did they get these boys to use as suicide bombers, they are products of our society that have been neglected as a result of bad governance or even absence of governance, there are a lot of injustice. All these security problems, government is only reacting, there are two aspects to it: there is soft power and there is hard power in tackling the security problem and the soft power component is what the government is supposed to do while the hard power component is done by the military at the federal level, therefore all these excuses that people are saying that they cannot command, you want to command, are you a professional military officer that you want to command? There are instances that the Police Commissioners behave the way they behave because the governors have sold the states to the Federal. In the Constitution, the governors are supposed to agree in the selection of the Inspector General of Police but those powers have been given away. If you go to Abuja now you will see 80 percent of governors of this country are hanging there. They spend more of their time governing their states from Abuja; we talk about ICT age but is that what governance is all about? Since the Lalong administration came in place how many times has it gone on Local Government tour? It took the governor five months to visit Gashish where people are killed in hundreds, is that leadership?
With this, will you say that both Federal and State Governments have failed this nation in terms of tackling security challenges?
Not just security management, in governance as a whole. If you look at all the indices of a failed state and you look at Nigeria and mark all the states. If you go to National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies NIPSS, Kuru, they have done the indices of failed states, if you go there you will see how many states if they were nations on their own they would have collapsed.
Look at the recent security challenges in Maiduguri that led to the killing of gallant soldiers, if you were the one who led the troops, what would you have done differently to avert the killing?
From the first instance, if I were the one in command or the governor of Borno state, these killings wouldn’t have happened.
What magic will you do?
Because I have commanded before and I told you I had minimal casualties. I boasted of recording minimal casualties to save lives. There are certain things in military operation that you come up with, when soldiers complain that their equipment are not sufficient or the equipment are outdated or they are over powered by firing power, there is need for what we call superior tactics. If the enemy overcomes you with superior power, you overcome him with superior tactics. You need to use your brain to overpower him because for every advantage he has, there is an antidote for it, so it baffles me when you see a whole unit being overrun like that and they killed the CO, the 2ICs, it is sad. I feel bad for the boys and I feel bad for their families, I feel bad and sad, I condole their families, the Armed Forces and the Commander in Chief over the dead, it is sad. There are measures to take to protect troops, I am not on the ground, so I don’t know what security measures they took and I won’t want to comment about it beyond what I have said but I am very sad that this kind of thing is happening today with the very men that some of us trained and worked with, we expected to see them excelling, it is a very sad commentary for me.
Gen. TY Danjuma made allegations some months back that the military is colluding with some killers, do you share the same opinion?
I don’t want to go into that controversy, Gen. Danjuma doesn’t talk anyhow and I thought that the matter was not handled properly. If Gen. Danjuma had accused the military, I thought that the correct thing to do is either the Commander in Chief or the Minister of Defence would have set up a committee to investigate this allegation because Gen. Danjuma will not make such weighty allegations, having led the Army and those of us who knew the Army Gen. Danjuma took over and what he turned the Army back into, it will tell you that he is the Architect of the modern Nigeria Army. Gen. Danjuma will not make frivolous statements. A Professor once told us that the moment the military comes out, that the civilians believe that the solution to the problem has been brought, so if there are bad eggs among them that are not performing their job well, it is left for them to purge themselves if they are being painted in such narratives.
There is rumour in town that aggrieved members of APC and PDP are fronting your campaign as a third force, how true is this?
They will be welcome, I will welcome them with open arms, anybody that wants to front my campaign, and it is for the state. I am doing this for Plateau and they are all Plateau people, I will welcome them with open arms. If the governor wants to step down today for me I will welcome him. If today the PDP candidate wants to step down for me I will welcome him because this agenda is for Plateau, we are putting Plateau first before any other thing, I will welcome them.
You are a retired General and PDP candidate, Jeremiah Useni is also a retired military General, both of you are politically close with, don’t you have confidence that he can handle the security problems that you are coming to tackle?
I told you about time and I leave that to you. I gave you an analogy of how people were able to handle this country in their 20s and 30s, it means that there is time for everything. I think this is the time for you unless you don’t have confidence in yourself, this is the time for you, and I don’t want to go beyond that, I don’t want to be disrespectful to him because he is very close to me. I respect him a lot and I don’t want to disrespect him even for a minute.
As a serving military officer, you were given a mandate to flush out Chadian and Nigerien rebels from the Lake Chad Basin, can you tell how you accomplished that task and how do you intend to replicate that in Plateau?
My mandate there was to flush out Chadian and Nigerien rebels who were in hold of Lake Chad Basin; they were government on their own. Chad and Niger had no authority over those places; I was to restore territorial integrity. Once territorial authority is restored then you will now restore administration in those areas and I did that successfully.
How do you intend to replicate that on the Plateau?
I will get back our land and get our people back to their ancestral land and restore full administration in those displaced communities.
Are you confident that you will beat the incumbent governor, Simon Lalong in 2019?
Is he confident that he can beat me? Ask him. He knew how he got into that seat.
Will you face General Jeremiah Useni and Governor Simon Lalong during the debate being organized for governorship candidates?
I was the one who said we should insist on debate, it is through the debate that I will sell myself, how will I let the people of Plateau State know the programmes I have for the state if I shy away from debate? I am available for debate even today, let all of us come to articulate our positions and programmes for the people.