Gyang Bere, Jos
General Jonathan Temlong is the first Commander of the Multi-National Joint Task Force in the North East. The retired Army General applauded Federal Government’s effort in combating the COVID-19 pandemic in order to save lives of citizens and expressed gratitude that President Muhammadu Buhari was not a victim like his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari.
He described the pandemic as a war that must be fought with all the national elements and urged Nigerians to be disciplined by respecting government’s restriction order to help halt further spread of the dreaded virus. Excerpt:
What is your assessment of Federal Government’s effort in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria?
Given the circumstances and the state of the decay of infrastructure in the country, you will say that within the limited resources the Federal Government has, you will say the government has tried its best to respond to the pandemic. It could have been better, I think they could still do more than this, looking at the fact that we had two to three months window of opportunity for us to have started putting our house in order, but it appears we didn’t do much during that window. You could even see, it is just now that some state governments after the virus has been in the country for over one month are just going round trying to put facilities in place. Some of the things that some of the state governors are trying to do is not a product of strategic leadership, the leadership that we anticipatenis the leadership that is caring, the leadership that protects the lives of the citizens seriously.
What lesson should Nigeria learn from Covid-19 pandemic giving the fact that the health system in the country has not been given adequate attention over the years?
For every challenge that you have, there is an opportunity, even with this pandemic, we have the opportunity to right the problems that have been bedeviling this country. It’s sad that some people have to lose their lives, it is sad that we are in this state of frenzy and fear, it is sad that we are over stretched, it is also sad that our frontline medical personnel have been put in a precarious situation not because of their own doing, but because of our unpreparedness. For example, personal protecting equipment are not even there for them to wear and protect themselves to enable them save lives, they are not supposed to use their money to buy these. We have so many laboratories, technicians, and professors in Laboratory Science and biologist and so on. The National Veterinary Research Institute, Vom has one of the oldest laboratories in this country which the whole of the country was relying on and it is a pity that we have failed to upgrade that laboratory to be able to dictate the Coronavirus. Also, how some of the laboratories were even sited, are not in favour of one part of the country. It defies logical reasoning for you to say the whole of Northern states, you only have Abuja for the testing centre, you don’t need much to put one even at the Institute of Human Virology here in Plateau State. What baffled me most was that the state governors were sleeping, if the Federal Government is sleeping, the state governments that are closer to the people should not be sleeping, how much does it cost to establish a laboratory of that nature.
You mean the state governments in the North?
Yes, if they were being proactive, it is not out of place if one state cannot do it, they should contribute and say we will establish three laboratories in the North, do they have to run to the Federal Government? It is their citizens that are dying. Like I said, the opportunities are here for us, where this thing has bedeviled everybody; those who are on primitive accumulation, plundering our common wealth have suddenly frowned at it, it is of no use. If they had allowed that money to be invested in this country, in the health facilities and in education, they would have benefitted. Now, they have suddenly found out that the hospital that they couldn’t go to, they are sleeping there with us, it started devastating where they thought they will run to, the hospitals in Europe, Italy, Spain, UK are no go area even before it started manifesting here. So, what we learnt from this situation is that God gives leadership and position in trust for you to use, leadership is a trust not given out for you to go and enrich yourself at the expense of the generality of the people. Suddenly, some of our billionaires and the big corporate organizations have coughed out billions of naira now, that means their corporate social responsibilities were not being carried out and if they were doing that, they would have produced some first great hospitals and laboratories in this country, these are the opportunities that are opened to us. But whoever becomes the president of this country tomorrow will for the rest of the period of his administration invest in the health system to save themselves, save their families and save those who have given them trust to lead.
Would you suggest that the billions of naira that corporates organizations have given out to help curb this pandemic be channelled towards revamping the health system in the country?
Well, I think they have no option now, nobody wishes anybody death. What I see as I monitor the main stream media and the social media, nobody will wish anybody death. Boris Johnson is in the hospital now, at the ICU and the whole world is praying for him, our president was lucky because one of the people that brought it, his Chief of Staff, if God had not protected him, he would have been one of the first victims in this country, and God forbid if anything happens, the whole effect will be on governance and stability of this country. I think also as you said some of the corporate organizations like the NNPC group, the oil sector, upstream and downstream, what they are doing is their investment, they are not even giving to the government, because they are bringing better quality things that we have to key in, because even in this, some people are not even afraid of death, people are not even afraid of accountability, standing before God to account for our did, they still want to steal from what is happening now, wait and see, I pray that it shouldn’t but some of the things that they are acquiring during this pandemic will come to pass by the grace of God and you will see what will happen to what had been acquired. One uncontestable fact is that the day of reckoning will come, sooner or later, and it is better we retract our steps. The world will not be the same after this pandemic, there is a new world order that will be coming, the environment that we have treated with disdain, we will start respecting it, and the fundamental objectives of states will be redefined.
This pandemic has definitely affected the economy of Nigeria and what do you think should be done to improve on the country’s economy if we get out of the global emergency?
I told you that we are going to have a new world order, today some people are working from their homes, that is one way we will look at it. Secondly, we are relying on oil, this is something that people have always talked about, putting our eggs in one basket. Look at what happened recently, when oil price dropped to about 20 dollars, we were making just about 2 dollars per barrel as a country, so even prosecuting the war against Coronavirus itself was a problem, at a time they said there were about how many cargoes of our oil in the international market not sold; whether we like it or not, it has taught us that relying on oil as our major source of income is nothing, but a death trap. Thirdly, even diversifying into agriculture, you will still need to know that we must pump money into the human capital or educational system to change it, to make it in such a way that people should be making money everywhere. For our education to be functional, it has to be IT driven, it has to be science technology, engineering and mathematics based. In terms of production, we have closed down for how many days, people are not working, the industries have closed down, how will the economy be moving even though we are not even producing at home. Look at the example of Plateau State, I think is just about N30 million that has just been contributed to the government, where are the corporate bodies on the Plateau. All this while we didn’t care about empowering and investing, making sure that we have corporate bodies that could be able to stand on their own, you could see that something is wrong even with the economy of Plateau.
Federal Government ordered lockdown some few days back and we have seen protest in some parts of the country who could not stay at home because of hunger, will you suggest that the government should give out palliative just as it is done in developed nations?
Let me tell you, the truth is that China won this war…, it is a war that we are fighting. China won this war because of discipline, they have a disciplined society and to enforce discipline, the law is no respecter of anybody in China. One of the cardinal principles of any military, this war is being fought by all the elements of national power, everybody is involved in this war. You and me,the army or any organisation that is not disciplined can hardly win any war without major casualties. One of the mottos when we were Cadets in Nigeria Academic training ground was that the more you sweat during peace time the less you bleed in war because if you are trained properly in peace time, when the chips are down, your blood will save you. The major way to fight this thing is prevention, that is why when you came in here you were asked to wash your hands and there is a sanitizer in front of you there. We sympathized with the government, but we have never had this type of crisis in the whole world, it has never happened. Even during the second world war, the war was mostly fought in Northern Africa, East Africa, Europe and South East there. During the war our people went to fight, we were not directly involved into the war. We have never had this and even the government itself never envisaged this was going to get here. I don’t think they had all these indices or all the assumptions on the table, even if they had, they don’t have the capability and capacity to mitigate it. I have decided on my own to restrict movement in my house, nobody moves out, everybody has something to do but thank God there are telephones you can communicate and talk to people. The Palm Sunday of the Pope was on an empty Vatican, we saw it. I understand that Saudi Arabia has issued a notice that there is no hajj, this thing is real and it doesn’t respect anybody and the earlier we accept that it is real, we are in crisis and we must all fight our way out of this crisis, and we must be disciplined, if not, we may end up not having people that will carry our dead bodies for burial and I tell you the vultures might not even be there to eat up the bodies. So, it is real and I appeal to our people to exercise patience and obey the government and be disciplined and allow the government do all they can within their reach to alleviate the suffering of the people.
As a retired military officer, are you not worried about national security of Nigeria?
This pandemic is a national security issue and let nobody be deceived, that is why Western powers said it is war they are fighting and they have employed all elements of national power to fight it. Every evening when you see President Trump briefing, you will see the Army there standing and they will tell you how the hospital engineers are doing, how they put up hospitals within four days, these are elements of national power. The human population can either be a plus or minus when you are calculating your elements of national power, COVID-19 is a very serious threat to national security. You can imagine the devastation that is why everybody is putting in much effort. You can imagine in a day through one virus alone, you lost about 1000 people or close to that in a day. Look at Britain now, their Prime Minister is devastated now, he is in ICU, how many of the youths are productive there and how many of the doctors and nurses have been put to threat, it is a very serious national security issue. For you to tackle it, you must use all elements of national power and I am glad Nigerian government is using it. Everybody in the world is using it and we have to use it too.