Gyang Bere, Jos
General Jeremiah Useni (rtd) is the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the vice chairman, Senate Committee on Defence. In this interview, Senator Useni said that he has asked President Muhammadu Buhari who they worked together with in the military not to interfere with the Plateau State governorship election to enable him salvage the state from total collapse of insecurity and take the people to the Promised Land.
You have been governor and minister, what burden do you have in wanting to become the governor of Plateau State at this point?
Many people have asked me this question, why do I want to become governor. I have done so many things in life, the more you do things, the more you will continue to do, when you are vibrant and you do a lot of things, as they come by you don’t run away from them. The most important thing was that because of the problems we have in Plateau, many of my friends met me and said why can’t I go for governorship. They said I should come in to assist with the problems in the state, and I told them I will pray about it. Honestly, I am not contesting for this governorship because I want to be governor or I want to eat three square meal, I have been governor before, I have been military governor, I have been Minister of Transport and Aviation, I have been Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, I have been National Chairman of Traditional Rulers Forum for Nigeria, where we discussed with the Sultan, the Emir of Gwandu, and the Shehu of Borno, the most senior traditional rulers in the North, in the South, the Oba of Benin, the Obi of Onitsha, among others. I thought I have don’t enough, but people say I should still do more and that was how I came in, not that I am looking for name, not that I want to be on newspapers, I have been on newspapers since I was a captain. I have made up my mind to serve this country to the best I can, not that I have nothing to do.
Don’t you think your age is a barrier?
Some of the younger ones who are contesting with me said I am old and I told them if you think I am old, come let’s us do some wrestling to see who is stronger. In any case, those who read the Bible and the Quaran, leaders in these holy books are not young people. They must attain certain age before God make them leaders, old age depends on whether you are sound or not, if you are not sound or don’t have sound of the mind, it is not all about old people, even young people lose their senses. There is a country that voted for a 93-year-old man as its president. After serving for a long time, he was brought back to come and take over because they believed in him, it is a matter of people believing in you, it is either you disappoint them or serve them well. I am well and fit to govern Plateau, if I take some drugs it doesn’t mean that I am sick. Even if I am admitted, some people have been admitted for one year and they become very good and I have never been admitted for one year in my life. I have broken my leg for about three times, the first time I broke my leg was when I was in the military school, I was very good in football, I was asked to play against senior people and I broke my leg, after then I continued serving, I was just 16 years at that time. Also, I had gunshots on my leg during the civil war, I spent two months in the hospital and I became well again. When I was in India, I spent three months in the hospital because I played football and broke my leg again. I had another injury in the hospital that was why I spent three months, my colleagues left me there, but that did not push me back, I continued to do my best and work hard.
You said you were motivated to contest the election, can you tell us some of the needs that compelled you to come out to contest the governorship election?
Look at the killings going on in Plateau, I remember when I was Minister of Transport and Aviation and when I was Minister of FCT, I reduced most of these killings. Don’t forget that we have our problem also from where I come from, Plateau South, we had security challenges between the Tarok and the Hausa-Fulani, many people thought the fight was between people in Langtang and I said no, it was Tarok people inside Wase. This suffered serious disadvantage and we had to put our heads together to make sure that we brought peace, I was in government at that time and we made sure that there was peace and today we have peace in Plateau South and I will continue to work for peace in Plateau State and Nigeria. I am Senator representing Plateau and I am the Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Defence.
There are controversy surrounding the selection of your running mate, how have you resolved that?
In politics, so many things happen. Before we took the decision that governorship should go to Southern Plateau, we put it to debate before it was agreed and that deputy governor should go to Plateau Central, and people from the North said what will they have and we decided that they should produce the Speaker and Secretary to the State Government. I am from Plateau South and I contested for PDP primaries and won, we were waiting for Plateau Central to give us their nominee for the deputy, they took sometime, but you know there was a time limit. I got a letter which was not addressed to me but I was given a copy, the letter said the people from Plateau Central have sat and decided to give the running mate slot to Mangu and they sent five names to me. As we were pondering on that somebody just announced somebody as my running mate, approached the chairman of the party and said somebody annouced my deputy, are you aware of it? And he said he was not aware too. We found out that somebody within the party secretariat decided to announce the name of someone without our knowledge. Later, the party sent three names and made it clear that anyone I picked, they will be okay with it. The first name on the list, I happen to know him; he has attended a meeting before in my office in Abuja and when I asked him to take minutes he said he was not the secretary and he stood up to go until other members started abusing him and he then apologized, is that the kind of person that wants to be my deputy governor, none of you will accept him, so I cancelled his name. The remaining two, I looked at the papers submitted to me and the one I took has PhD in Accounting and people have been talking of corruption, so I picked him because he will advise on what the Minister of Finance or Commissioner for Finance will submit to me or not. When they will be going for monthly allocation in Abuja, he will assist me, so I picked his name and I requested that his name should be announced because they said they will accept any of the three names. The truth is that those who wanted to be deputy governor were the one fueling the news to show as if the wrong thing was done, no. I know the system I went through, so the matter has been resolved and all the traditional rulers in the area are happy with my choice.
You contested your party primaies with 13 other aspirants, what are you doing to ensure that they will work for you towards victory on March 2, particularly one of your sons, Sen. Victor Lar who was expected to go with you have defected to another party?
You said one of my sons, should my son contest with me? We are very indisciplined, if a son can contest with his father. Victor Lar, I sent him to the House of Representatives for eight years, when he spent four years, Jonah Jang contested primaries with Joshua Dariye in 1999 and Dariye won. Jonah Jang contacted me whether he can contest governorship on my party, that time I was the National Deputy Chairman of ANPP and I said good and I had Yohanna Dalyop who wanted to contest the governorship also and I contacted the late Da. DB Zang and he approved Jang because he is more popular and I accepted him and he contested and then he lost. Before then Victor Lar was showing interest for the governorship and I said no, we have agreed with him that the governorship ticket be given to Jonah Jang and I asked him to go back to the House of Reps or he should go and contest in a different party. I am saying these to tell you how sincere and open I am to the younger ones, I am working together with them and I will carry them along.
What programme do you have for the youths and women in Plateau State if given the mandate?
I will look after the youths. I told people that I am a youth that is why I am Jerry boy. I will look at the areas affected by these war and Killings, people left their houses and farms and if we don’t return them in time there will be hunger in Plateau State, we must do everything to restore them and I will make sure that is the first thing I will do, I will ask the Federal Government to assist me in doing that. You remember when the president came, the governor was saying that since he took over Plateau has been very peaceful, and that night they killed 27 people and the president was here. Why do we lie, we should talk the truth so that we can get help, there are things you can change from the state and there are many you can get from the Federal Government, we will make sure we return these people as quickly as possible, so that they will go to their farms, children will go to school. I shed tears when I went round the IDPs, I saw these children without them going to school. When I took over the governance, I should be able to get an idea when the children will go back to school, I cannot now. I was the only candidate that visited all the 17 local government areas, I went to all the IDP camps in the state and I gave my own donation as a citizen of the state; this burden of insecurity is deeply in my mind. We must secure peace, we must work together, we must love each other. We should not be laughing in the afternoon and then kill ourselves in the night. It is very wrong, especially when we call ourselves Christians and we call ourselves Muslims; we all have holy books, but it appears we don’t follow these holy books. Our children must go back to school, otherwise when you talk of handing over the state to the younger ones, which younger ones if they are not properly educated. There are many things old people can do and they the younger ones cannot, just like there are many things the younger people can do, the old cannot, therefore, the old and the young must work together.
What value are you attaching to the women?
We must respect women in the society, there are some churches you go to and you will see 10 men and 200 women. Women must be encouraged. In the parties that I was in charge, ANPP, DPP any contest between a woman and a man, there will be no more contest, the woman will take the seat, and I always made sure that I give women what belongs to them. Also, women should look after themselves too because they are jealous of themselves, but that is not the matter, we will do our own part as men.
You will be running election against an incumbent who haS government at the center, how confident are you about your chances of winning?
God will take control, the governor said he will not contest against a boy because they call me Jerry Boy, he is supposed to ask why did they call me Jerry Boy, I didn’t give myself the name, some people call me Baba Maitowab, “father who gives food.” I didn’t give myself the name. During my senatorial election, they asked the women who are you voting for, they said they didn’t know his name, but the man is called Baba Maitowo, everytime you go to his house, he will give you rice to go and cook for children at home. So, I didn’t give myself the name Jerry Boy, but each time you call the name Jerry Boy,it’s sweet, it was because of the way I worked with the younger ones because we are all created by God, even as young as they are , they may know certain things that I don’t know, so I get more information from them, I get more lively with them.
There are allegations that you have a divided loyalty because of you military career with President Muhammadu Buhari, whom you have had cause to do things together with in the military and you have a candidate, Alh. Atiku Abubakar in your party, the PDP, how will you explained this?
Well, those who were looking for governorship decided to used that General Muhammadu Buhari and myself have been in the same corps in the Nigeria Army, that is Supply and Transport Corps, a very important Corps because there is no movement except there is transportation. When he was appointed military governor of North East with headquarters in Maiduguri, I became the next person to look after the corps and we maintained that relationship. When he retired, I wrote to him and requested that he should join any party for politics. He decided to join the ANPP, we made him out presidential candidate, well, we lost the election, went to tribunal and we still lost. There were some changes that happened in all the parties, I remember that time Olusegun Obasanjo was looking for third term, some of us didn’t want third term. Of the nine governors we had that time in ANPP, only one, Governor Bafarawa of Sokoto State was against third term, I was against third term also.
For us to aviod being sidelined, those of us against third term decided to form another party, Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) which I was the National Chairman, we approached Gen. Buhari and told him that those of us who are against third term have formed this party whether he can join us to become our presidential candidate not knowing that some people had already contacted him earlier to do otherwise. Some of the governors told Buhari that Bafarawa was against him, but he did not know that those governors were the ones against him. So, we have maintained our relationship, friendship don’t have anything to do with politics, anytime I want to see him, I book appointment to see him. When he visited Plateau State, I didn’t have the chance to come because I was chairing a launching by Archbishops in Onitsha.
I was the chairman during the Pope visit to Nigeria, they approached the late General Sani Abacha because they were against the killings then and wanted me to be the chairman because I am a better Christrian and Abacha told them I am not a Catholic, why did they want me, they said I am a better Christrian, they are not looking for whether I am a better Catholic. When President Buhari came to Plateau, the governor was saying that since he took over Plateau has been very peaceful and the president was there in the dinner and they were Killing 27 people, I was told that Senator Joshua Dariye disappeared because that was his local government area. I went to see the President and I told him that the governor has not been saying the truth, I said I remember when you were in Plateau and you spent the night, at the dinner the governor was telling you that Plateau has been peaceful and yet they killed 27, he said yes, he knew. I told him that I have come to tell him by myself that I am going for governorship, and I don’t want interference, that was what I told the president. So, friendship is a different thing from politics.