General Jonathan Temlong is the first Commander of the Multi-National Joint Task Force in the North-East of Nigeria. The retired General, in this interview with GYANG BERE in Jos, said the challenges Nigeria is currently facing were caused by the elite and should not be blamed on President Muhammadu Buhari. He advocated that citizens must take ownership of their security and exposed bad persons living around their communities.
As a security expert, how do you think Nigeria will resolve the problem of insecurity that has led to agitations in the country?
The security of a country is the responsiility of the state. Chapter 2 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, states that the primary purpose of the state is to provide security and welfare for the citizens. Agitations are not bad unless they become violent. Anybody who studies conflict knows that conflict is not bad but rather gives you symptoms that something is coming, but if it is allowed to reach the status of violence, then it is bad. So agitations themselves should be something that give the government an understanding to analyse that yes, people are agitating because of certain things. Then you will begin to look at those things. If true, can they be corrected? What measures can you take to correct them before they get to the point of crisis? Now, If you look at what has been happening, I think there has been a problem in this country, that leadership at all levels seem to have failed the citizens. When I say leadership at all levels, it doesn’t mean that you must be in government. Now, how do you of a sudden hear names of Sunday Igboho whom none of us has ever heard of? He has no pedigree. We have known the Yoruba to have had very educated people and respected leaders that we know and yet all of a sudden, those voices are silent. The same goes to the Igbo land. You hear of Nnamdi Kanu making noise, sitting down and dishing out instructions and insults, abusing the sensibilities of all the known Igbo leaders that we have known and suddenly there was a culture of silence, which is quite dangerous. Even if today, mark my words, if they give the IPOB what they want, what is happening in Sudan will re-enact itself in Igbo land. There will be serious crisis because there will be crisis of legitimacy of leadership simply because those who are going to take over leadership are not those who have been groomed in the aspect of leadership. If you see some of their pictures, you will cry for this country. That is the same thing happening even in the North here. Those who are leaders of the bandits are the ones making all the noise; the leaders of the kidnappers, it is these people you want to subject yourself to them or the leaders of the Boko Haram. Are these the people you want to subject yourself under their authority? Therefore, all right meaning leaders and citizens must rise up to their responsibility and check the slide to anarchy that is going on in this country. It is not just the responsibility of the government alone, there is no way you will blame all the challenges on Buhari and the governors. They have their own share of the blame but there is no way they will sit down and do all these things. Yes, as leaders, they need to give the direction for us to come together, but then there are situations where citizens will take responsibility for their security and come together and take a direction to put a stop to all these things that are happening. It’s not just a matter of the security architecture but it’s a matter of governance and responsibilities of citizens. It’s a Nigerian problem, not a Buhari’s problem and it’s not the governors’ problem.
As it is, we are gradually sliding into anarchy. If you sit down in your house, somebody will come and pick you with your wife. If the people of Nigeria rise against these evil people, they will not live one day. There are citizens who come about, guiding and leading them. Do they have maps of all the areas? How do they know the house of somebody that they want to attack if they are not working in collaboration with people within there?
With the clamouring for secession by different segments of the country, how do you think Nigeria can remain as a united country?
Nigeria will remain united if there is a sense of equity, a sense of justice, a sense of belonging, a sense of responsibility that everybody belongs to this country. There are people that, whatever you do to them, you will not satisfy them. But for the majority, if there is equity, justice and righteousness in the society, even in the United States, which is the model of democracy we are using, there are agitations. So we need to be fair to everybody. We need to carry everybody along and we need to be sensible to the needs of each other. We must treat each other as brothers and we must be responsible for the welfare and security of each other.
Don’t you think it is the Federal Government that will drive the process of enthroning equity, fairness and justice in the country?
You see, that is the problem. I get agitated when everything is slammed at the doorstep of the Federal Government. We have federating units and we have our peculiar needs and that’s why it’s a federation. People sit down and start giving all sorts of stories without knowing what a federation is all about. In Nigeria, people come out with names like true federation or true federalism. I have never heard of that word. It’s never in any of the lexicons of federalism. It’s either you are talking about the fiscal federalism. So which one is true federalism? The states are responsible for primary education. Are they giving education? We had a situation where the Federal Government had to go and establish Almajiri schools and people were happy. That is the responsibility of local governments. So, you see, we have everything, but we just lump it on the Federal Government. We are not even holding our local and state governments responsible because if they are doing what they are supposed to be doing and driving the process of governance at that level, some of these agitations will go down.
Some say power is highly concentrated at the federal level, leaving the states and local governments with nothing…
When people put up these arguments, do you take them seriously? When the President signed that the states should give the local government autonomy, has the states done that? What sort of argument is that? The judiciary had to go on strike for almost one year. It is the responsibility of the Federal Government and yet there was an executive order by the president to say if this is what you need, give them their autonomy. We carry everything and move to Abuja and we are blaming Abuja for holding everything. Why is Lagos not carrying everything to Abuja? There is one sort of laziness in Nigeria and it has become so endemic. We keep on accusing some people for our own faults. Why is it that we don’t want to accept responsibilities for our own failures and if there are failures, we don’t want to address the problem? And that is why today, everybody is telling you, we want state police, we want local government police, yet did the centralized police come from the blues? The government can’t pay civil servants and you are asking for state police and if you don’t pay them, you think you will have peace?
What’s your take on the devolution of powers, particularly with regards to the police itself? We say the governors are chief security officers of their states, but they cannot direct the police to take certain actions.
If you read the Sir Willing reports, you will see that people talk from the point of ignorance and start shouting that the state is contributing to the police. The regions should bear the running and the responsibility of the police because the police provide security for them. The question for them being able to direct the police is that, if you want to use the police for political purposes, it is wrong. If you read the constitution and you are aware of all these things, there is a State Security Council and a National Security Council. The State Security Council comprises the governor and the Commissioner of Police. So it’s the decision of the council, not only governors, to direct the police. If those people are responsible and decisions were taken together, come out and tell the whole world the decision taken by the Security Council for them to check certain things and they refused. Tell the whole world and write an official letter to the President, accusing the Commissioner of Police of not performing his duties and a copy of the resolution of the meeting should be attached with such a letter.
What do we need to do in Nigeria to checkmate the issue of banditry?
Nigerians must take responsibility for our security and must demand security from the President too, because it’s the duty of the states to provide the welfare for its citizens and the citizens must take responsibility for its security too. There is a case of an Emir who is on suspension in Zamfara State. Journalists should work more by investigating on certain things. You should engage more in investigative journalism and not stop at these topics that everybody is crying. When this Emir was suspended, I expect some journalists to do serious investigation and to expose what this man has been doing. The Federal Government needs to put more troops on ground to check this. We need to implore more technology as a force multiplier. We need to up our intelligence and we need the citizens to key in to this fight against banditry and Boko Haram. Government and citizens at all levels must be involved. It is the citizens that give the information to the bandits and Boko Baram. They buy their food from the markets where we buy also. They don’t refine their petrol. All the petrol and lubricants they use in powering their machinery are bought from the stations we buy ours from too. If we cut off those sources as citizens, we are cutting off their supply line. If we start giving information about citizens who are living with us, living a life that is doubtful where you don’t know the source of their income and even these politicians that we talk about, our members and the rest, we know their salaries no matter how high they are. The amount of money they play with by putting up buildings and the rest are so much that if we start reporting to financial intelligence units, it will put a check on them too because it is corruption that oils all these things. Corruption will not allow government to function well. Corruption will not allow you to get to where you are going.
Do you believe in restructuring?
This is what people sing about everyday. What do you think is restructuring.
Devolution of powers. We dealt with it at the National Conference. Today we have state judiciary and there is the National Judicial Council that disciplines and appoints judges. You can give the police the same structure so that any governor that wants to use the police for his own politics, the National Police Council or the Police Service Commission, or whatever you want to give those power will be able to check the Commissioner of Police for taking and implementing wrong orders. Unfortunately, the Nigerian system is weak in implementing laws and sanctions. People do what they want to do. Even the junior policemen, if you put them in the local areas, some of them will work for their families to oppress other families.
Some of them will work for their village against other villages because there is no effective sanctions that are being carried out. The moment you don’t sanction people for their wrongs, the moment you promote one for doing the right thing and neglect the ones doing the wrong thing, it becomes problematic for them.