My late father of blessed memory, Mr. Michael Itua Ehisuan, exited the stage when he was 75 years old. Four years before his demise in September, 2006, he terribly took ill. As a university undergraduate, I can still recall with sad nostalgia, how my father battled with poor health. When his body could no longer take the beatings, he bowed to death.
You see, no one can cheat age. Certain things I could do five years ago, I won’t dare again. Every day, our bodies grow weaker, but we always delude ourselves to believe that we will be young forever. One day, everything will come to an end. No matter who you are, one day, your strength will fail you.
At a time when everyone is pushing for generational shift, something happened during the week that just ended. A septuagenarian senator, Jeremiah Useni, joined Plateau State gubernatorial race, ahead of the 2019 general elections. You just read that?
Useni, a former military administrator of defunct Bendel State (now Edo and Delta states), currently represents Plateau South Senatorial District in the 8th Senate and he is one of the oldest serving lawmakers. On February 16, 2018, Useni officially clocked 75 years.
According to a formal letter addressed to Timothy Golu, a member of the House of Representatives also from Plateau State, Useni claimed that “his people across Plateau have endorsed him.”
In the letter, a copy of which I have in my possession, Useni wrote: “I write to intimate you of my noble intention to present myself for the service of our dear state by seeking the gubernatorial ticket under the platform of PDP.
“My decision to contest is based on calls from various political and other interest groups across the state urging me to contest the poll. It is in the light of the above, that I wish to kindly request for your support and prayers in actualising this ambition.”
Useni intends to contest on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The current governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalung is 54 years old. He is a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
If Useni secures the ticket of his party and eventually wins the gubernatorial race, he will become the oldest governor in Nigeria’s history.
Useni served as governor of defunct Bendel State in 1984, when President Muhammadu Buhari held sway as military head of state. The septuagenarian was appointed minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in 1994 by Ibrahim Babangida and was in the position till 1998 during the heisty days of Sani Abacha, until Abdusalami Abubakar took over briefly.
I wasn’t born yet when Useni was appointed military administrator of defunct Bendel State. I was in primary 4 when he was appointed FCT minister. Today, I am a proud husband and father. Today, I am old enough to be the governor of a state. Yet, folks like Useni want to reduce the ration of my generation. Is that fair?
Do not get me wrong. Like every other Nigerian, Useni has the right to vie for any position. Our constitution, no matter how defective, did not place a cap on a certain age, when people can no longer vie for public offices. This point is important.
I am rather going to appeal to our ever-smiling ‘Jerry boy’ as he was fondly called during his active days in the military, to retire and enjoy his old age with his grandchildren. To govern a state or a country at 75 no be beans. If he is in doubt, he should ask his ‘junior’, President Muhammadu Buhari.
Let me make other brief interventions before I end this piece. Nigeria is a unique country. Religion and ethnicity play key roles here. You can delude yourself by ignoring these facts. But that is immaterial. In this unique country, certain states must and should be governed by folks who are very cosmopolitan. Unfortunately, I sincerely believe that Useni does not fall into this category.
Jos, the Plateau State capital, is like the epicenter of ethnic minorities in Nigeria. Hausa/Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba, Edo, Ibibio, Tiv, Ijaw, natives, among others, converge there. Plateau State is equally a flash point. Any minor provocation can lead to a national bloodbath.
For a man who still harbours certain misgivings, more than 50 years after the first military coup in Nigeria, many people strongly believe that he cannot govern a dicey state like Plateau.
In September, 2013, Useni granted a no-hold-back interview and it was published by Vanguard newspaper. In the interview, he recalled with joy, how they carried out a counter-coup. He also gleefully blamed the Igbo. According to him, the Igbo were behind the first coup.
Hear him in this excerpt from the interview: “We realised that Igbo were behind all the killings, and were angered the more because they were not even arrested. Although, they were later arrested and taken to jail, but information came to us that they were just enjoying themselves there. Even their ranks were returned to them and they were wearing their uniforms inside the jail.
“We started meeting to find a way out. Our Brigade Commander, Maimalari was killed, Col. Pam, Tafawa Balewa and the rest were all killed. We continued to meet in secret and strategise on how to take revenge. But while that was going on, words started going round about what the Igbo officers were saying: that they had killed the snake, but had failed to cut off the head.
“Which meant those of us left might make them suffer later, that there was therefore the need to finish us off. Instead of them to show remorse and apologise, they were planning another sinister attack. We were together with Col. Remawa at the time, he was serving in Abeokuta, and we heard of a grand plot to kill our emirs.
“A meeting of all emirs was called in Ibadan. All our emirs gathered in Ibadan, where the head of state, Ironsi, would address them. So we said, are we going to let him come, address them and leave? Or should we just kill him or what? Our fear was that he was in the company of our emirs, and you know bullets do not select whom to hit.
“What do we do? We don’t want even a single emir to die. We also considered arresting him at his lodge before he goes to meet with them. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi was the governor of South West at the time, and the head of state, Ironsi, was staying in his house in Ibadan.
“So we didn’t want a situation where they would say he conspired with us. So we decided the best thing to do was to open fire there even if Governor Fajuyi was also caught, so that they would just be buried together, and that was what happened.
“Before that time, a party was organised for officers. They brought all sorts of drinks for us there. In fact, since joining the Army, I had never seen so many assorted drinks like the one they brought for us that day. The plan was to get us all drunk, so that they would just come and open fire on us and kill us all.
“That was what they planned for us at the 4th Battalion Ibadan because we were the most feared, because we were the ones who lost a brigade Commander, Lagerma.
When Murtala returned from Lagos empty handed, everyone was just crying because Lagerma was a very nice man. After the coup, Gowon was made the Head of State.”
You be the judge. At a time when everyone should work assiduously to make Nigeria function well, Useni is still trapped in his old self. With a mindset like this, just imagine what would be the fate of non-indigenes when and if Useni becomes the governor of Plateau State?
Let those who have ears hear what Fred Itua is musing.
I so submit!
One more thing…
Haba Senator Emmanuel Bwacha
Last Wednesday, the Senate rejected a bill proposing the option of female members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) wearing skirts. The rejection followed the presentation of a lead debate on the general principles of the bill by Emmanuel Bwacha.
According to him, the bill was intended to amend Sections 13 and 16 of the Principal Act. He said the bill sought to ensure that regulations made by the NYSC Directorate prescribing uniforms and exercise regimen didn’t violate the religious practices and beliefs of corps members.
“It is important to point out that while the scheme has lived up to expectation as a reliable platform for nurturing young patriotic Nigerians, fostering unity and promoting a better understanding of our religious and cultural differences, it has however become necessary to amend the Principal Act.
“This is with a view to address observed lapses and shortcomings. One of such lapses is that the penalty for offences contained in the Act is now outdated and in need of urgent review.
“Secondly, while Section 16 of the Principal Act mandates the NYSC Directorate to make regulations or bye-laws relating to discipline, exercise regimen, uniforms, welfare of corps etc.
“Uniforms and drills adopted by the Directorate have become a basis for tension and controversy between the Directorate and corps members and other members of the public.
“The major bone of contention is that some of the uniforms and drills contravene religious beliefs and practices of corps members and invariably their right to freedom of religion, thought and conscience under the Nigerian Constitution. This bill essentially addresses the above mentioned lapses in the Principal Act,” he said.
It was a sad day for me as a Nigerian. Over 200 people have been massacred in Bwacha’s home state of Taraba in recent weeks. He has not sponsored a motion to condemn that. Instead, he has elected himself to start an unnecessary debate which will obviously do us no good. Too bad senator.