The first Multi-National Joint Task Force Commander in the North East, General Jonathan Temlong (Rtd) has said that the South East, North Central and the North East geopolitical zones in the country should be given opportunity to produce the nation’s president in 2023 for fairness, equity and justice. In this interview with GYANG BERE in Jos, the retired General said it would be unfair for South West, South-South and the North West to be thinking of producing the next president of Nigeria.
As a retired military General, what is your reflection on the insecurity in the nation particularly the rising wave of kidnapping?
It is quite a sad thing on our national life and nation where we have found ourselves in security mess. Kidnapping has become so rampant that most of the cases are not reported, only high profile cases are reported and you can only see some of the cases on social media platforms. Also, I don’t think the government is being adequately informed about the magnitude of the kidnapping issue that is going on in the country on daily basis because if they are having it at their fingertips then it has reached an alarming proportion. In some kidnap cases, some asked for ransom as low as N10,000, N20,000, N50,000 and beyond. A very pathetic case was a widow in Jos whose child was picked and she told them that she was a widow, she couldn’t afford it, they insisted and brought down the ransom to N50,000, she ran to the church and the congregation was able to raise N30,000 for her and when she contacted the kidnappers, they told her that she should go and make the money up to N50,000 and that her child was safe, nothing will happen to the child. Eventually, she was able to get the money and gave them before the child was released. Two days again, somebody was kidnapped from that same compound, the widow had to move out of that compound, the situation is getting out of hand. Here in Jos also, a woman was selling corn and walking with a baby on the street, the kidnappers snatched the baby away and she had to pay a ransom; these cases were not even reported because they have nobody to talk to. I have said this before that the Kaduna-Abuja road that they had cleared, I hope they will sustain it, because as soon as it was cleared and opened, the security persons were withdrawn. We heard that it was the convoy of the former governor of Gombe State that rescued people from the orgy of violence and destruction along that road and people were kidnapped, even recently. So it means then that we must be proactive and be ahead of the bad guys, if not, we will continue to be reacting because when we overwhelm them in a particular spot, they will move away knowing that security will withdraw from that position when the situation is normal. Therefore, there must be measures government is putting in place to have sustainable means of intelligence surveillance in areas that are hotspots in this country especially high ways like the Kaduna-Abuja road, the Okene area and even Jos roads and other states. This brings me to the point that I had recommended earlier that we must use technology to our advantage as a force multiplayer because we cannot deploy men everywhere, it is not possible. The number of policemen that we have in this country is not enough to police two states effectively not to talk of about 36 states including FCT. We must make use of the available technology.
The issue of kidnapping in question is taking a different dimension, because last week, the convoy of the Deputy Governor of Nasarawa state was attacked by kidnappers, people were killed and some kidnapped, we heard recently that retired and serving military officers are being kidnapped. How do you then think an ordinary Nigerian is safe?
That is the frightening aspect of the whole situation because, the Deputy Governor was attacked even in his own state and supposedly the Governor is the chief security officer of the State and you know the Deputy Governor will be supposedly the assistant. When the people who are by the Constitution are supposed to provide for your security and welfare are not safe, then it becomes a problem, it becomes frightening, that is the truth. That was why when some of us were raising the alarm for a long time, people thought that we were just alarmists. No, we were not just raising alarm, we read and analysed situations. As a professional, you must be able to analyse and look into the future, be strategic in your thinking and see the trends that are going on, when you observe the trend around you and around the world that is a global village now, then you will actually know that things are not moving on well. You should be able to be strategic and proffer solution at that level, which is what we have been trying to do. When they started attacking retired officers, not just them, yesterday I was told that at about 9pm a Lieutenant was kidnapped opposite ABU, Zaria in his Toyota Corolla car, you can imagine those who are supposed to protect you are not safe, what about you who is being protected, you are just at their mercy. If those who are charged with the constitutional responsibility of providing for your security can be picked like that, what of you who is being protected?
People are feeling very insecure, some are crying of marginalisation. People are no longer having hope in government for their security and welfare due to how governance is being run today in the country, how do you think these fears can be addressed?
It is the responsibility of government to provide for security and welfare of the citizens and if that is not being provided, then there will be fear. You hear of the stockpiles of arms outside those who are authorized by the state to carry arms, it is quite alarming. I don’t know if it was correct that the mastermind of the attack on the Deputy Governor of Nasarawa state was arrested in Kano and that he had about 50 AK-47 rifles in his possession, those are more than enough to arm a military platoon and if he gives 50 people around Kano and then the police moves with one patrol vehicle with five people, how can they counter them? Something needs to be done in terms of early detection to nip these things before they are used. Even the Wadume case, you find out that he has been a gunrunner, that is what we have been hearing, where are his sources of arms? Who has he sold them to? Why is it so easy to move with arms because they are not manufactured in Nigeria and a man who is from Ibi, which routes did they use to bring these arms, Ibi is almost at the centre of Nigeria, so why is it so easy to move with arms from the point of entry into this country to a place like Ibi? It means that even near the ports, they are there, it therefore means that we must do something about the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in this country because it is frightening as these arms are in the hands of criminals, arms are in the hands of mad men, arms in the hands of drug addicts. It’s as if you have a bull in a China shop, Nigeria is a China shop and then we have bulls all over.
Is Federal Government living up to the expectation in terms of checkmating the proliferation of these arms?
It is not just the Federal Government affair alone, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons is a world thing because even these are not manufactured in West Africa, AK-47 is not manufactured in Africa, they are Russian weapons, the man who invented it regretted before he died; he said if he had known that it was going to be a weapon of choice for terrorists he would have not ventured into it, but the important thing is that even at the UN level, it is a global issue. Our problem in Nigeria is that everything is slammed at the feet of government, saying that it is culpable because they have refused to engage the citizens, they must engage the citizens. In the area that you live, you must be able to see and know people who are bad guys. Capacity of the citizens must be built to know how to report and who to report to and what to say and if your are reporting, what do you want the security to know, if the people are armed, how many of them, it has become normal that when people hear of gunshot, it is okay, provided you are not attacked, it is a nightmare for any security operative.
Some people feel that rotational presidency is going to address insecurity and some other issues causing division in the country, do you think rotational presidency is good for Nigeria?
I was a member of the 2014 national conference; I was in a sub-committee on the forms of governance, which dealt with all these things. I was a party to the agreement; I was a party to the recommendations of the sub-committee. We said that for the sake of building bridges, equity and justice and giving everybody a sense of belonging in this country, we recommended the presidency should be rotational, not just between the North and the South but across the six geopolitical zones. We went further to say that governorship should be rotational within the three Senatorial Districts and even in some cases Local Government Areas because there are Council areas that have two distinct tribes, we said it should be rotational. This rotation didn’t start with us; the person who attempted putting it constitutionally was late Gen. Sani Abacha. We talked about it too on the six geopolitical zones but I think it has its merits and demerits. For the sake of the unity of this country and for the agitations that are pulling us apart, it should be even at the state level. We should look at the states, a state like Kaduna, if not for Namadi Sambo who was made Vice President, Yakowa wouldn’t have been governor; go to Benue, go to Borno, Southern Borno cannot think of producing governor and even if they get, will Christian minority ever think of becoming a governor in Borno state? If you go to Katsina, they will tell you nobody in Funtua has ever been governor. It is all over, it’s just that sometimes we don’t look at these things holistically, we sometimes narrow down to our own small environment; people in Funtua have been crying. If you go to Kebbi state, the Zuru have been crying, they are always made the running mate, now how do you close these bridges of division that are not just imagination but real, real marginalization cannot be perceived because it is being seen. These are some of the problems that we have but we must try as much as possible to resolve them. There is a saying that Nigerians are busy building ethnic nationalities against building the nation, Nigeria is busy building ethnic nationalities as against building a united nation under one flag with one national anthem, with core values of one nation that every Nigerian citizen is a Nigerian not as Ohaneze Ndigbo, not as an Afenifere, not as Ijaw nation, not as Miyetti Allah, not as Tarok nation but as Nigeria first. Once we reach that stage, nobody cares who becomes the president of this country or governor in a state provided the man has the capacity and the capability to deliver on the common good.
There are some elders from the north advocating that zoning should not be discarded after President Buhari’s tenure in 2023, that the north can still retain power, what do you make out of that?
Well, they have the right to advocate that, give it to them, it is constitutional, and it is my right to say that I defer my position not to contest election or to contest, it is constitutional. But for fair play, for equity and justice, they are talking their own, the others will come and there will be a meeting point where there will be consensus. Some of these things in politics are normal, they are used for bargaining, people should not be afraid about what they are saying, how many of them will put the votes? These same people didn’t support Buhari for second term, did Buhari not win?
Do you mean the north or who?
The elders you are talking about. The likes of Ango Abdullahi, they came out openly and against Buhari but he is there today as president, did that change the equation? Today, we have a constitutional right to say we are looking for a Middle Belt President.
Some elders are saying there is nothing like Middle Belt region?
They have their own right and you have your right to your own views, you cannot have everybody to think the same way with you, you cannot even in your house, you cannot have even your children think the same way with you and that is the beauty of democracy, it makes it a pot full of ideas but then let superior ideas rule over self interest ideas.
In the spirit of fairness, don’t you think the South East deserves the presidency in 2023 having been agitating for it for a very long time?
That is why I have told you that I subscribe to the zoning of the presidency; I was part of those who agreed on it at the National Conference. Have you anybody in the Middle Belt or North Central, if you don’t like the Middle Belt but I am telling you there is the possibility of Middle Belt being President; have you had any body from the North East who has been President, have you had anybody from the South East who has been President, these zones have the right, they are Nigerians, they are component parts that make up this country and so just like any other zones, they have the legitimate right to contest and be made President of this country, these three zones which have not produced a democratically elected President in this country have the right, not just South East alone, South East, North East, and North Central.
Will it be unfair to these three zones if the Presidency goes to the South West?
Absolutely, it can’t be fair because if the North West has had it twice now and the South West has had it and they want to have it again, it is unfair. Even in your house if you have three children, you buy a shirt for one, you have not given the remaining two and you went ahead to buy another one for the same child again, are you not causing trouble in the house, will that be fair?
Are you urging Nigerians to rule out the South West, South-South and the North West in the contest of the Presidency in 2023?
You can’t rule them out here, what we are saying in the spirit of fairness, in the spirit of equity and justice is that they should allow other three geopolitical zones that have not had a shot at the presidency to be given the opportunity to run this country too. The three remaining geopolitical zones because South-South has had a shot, South West has had a shot, North West is twice, North Central Nil, North East Nil, South East Nil, are we not Nigerians, did the Constitution say we can’t aspire to become president of this country, those of us who are from these zones? Yes, it is not unconstitutional, but did the Constitution say we are second-class citizens? No. We have the same right just like any other person.
What are your fears for Nigeria?
My fears are many, my fears are that those who are supposed to learn from the history of this country and those who are supposed to be the conscience of this nation, the elders are not living up to the expectation. Sometimes they are the ones sounding the drums of war, sometimes they are the ones sounding the drums of divisiveness, sometimes they are not living up to the standard as elders, instead of them taking the back seat and be directing from the position of elders, they are still struggling for the front seat so they cannot see what other elders are seeing from the back seat. When a pilot is being trained to fly an aircraft, the instructor sits behind him; he doesn’t sit in front of him so that from the vantage position he sees everything. My fear also is that Nigerians are more divided now than we were, my fear is that the state of insecurity has reached an alarming proportion, if we do not make concerted efforts to stem the tide, very soon state of anarchy will start running in this country, my fear is that progressively the state is loosing its authority, that is why you are seeing the trend of events where the governor of Zamfara had to negotiate with bandits at that level. The question I asked was that what made those bandits to take up arms against their fellow citizens in the first instance; what was their sources of arms and finances; did they have any links within and outside Nigeria; do they have sponsors that were wrecking this havoc in Zamfara, these are very serious questions that the security needs to ask. Those who claim to be leaders of the bandits, do they control all the bandits in that area; the fear is that those negotiations are not done without money exchanging hands and was there any disarmament, what was the plan of demobilization of those bandits, disarmament and rehabilitation, what are the plans? If they say they have laid down their arms, what are the plans because some of them will be relying on the process to rehabilitate them? The governor of Katsina has followed suit, we even heard that he was even going to their hideout, if they know their hideout why didn’t they blow it up, is there any link or does the security lack the capacity and capability that somebody has to go to their hideout? But I heard that at the end, they met at the Government House, these pertinent questions that I asked for Zamfara should be asked for Katsina. We should be very conscious about empowering certain individuals that would raise up militias later on, that will be too strong and have links in the high and low places and in the end creating more havoc for us than what is happening now, when they have more money they can rearm because the sources from which they were getting the arms are not known, I might not know but they would have doubled it. If we are not careful these people will leave Zamfara state to go to Katsina or move to Jigawa or Sokoto or Kano state and it becomes a lucrative business for them. We have conflicts merchants who have evolved for a period of time and they end up being multi-billionaires. The security must look at the nexus between these high rates of kidnapping and unemployment, youth restiveness; what is the nexus between drugs and this kidnapping and criminality, what is the nexus between kidnapping and terrorist organizations, Boko Haram, ISIS and others, they must investigate those nexus because they might be probably parts of their sources of arms and they too are part of the sources of money for the terrorist groups.