From Gyang Bere, Jos
Brigadier General Jonathan Temlong (rtd), the first Commander, Multi-National Joint Task Force in the Northeast has cautioned the Governor of Borno State, Babagana Umara Zulum to stop demoralizing soldiers fighting Boko Haram in the Northeast. Temlong said that for the governor who is a public figure to make a general statement that soldiers are collecting bribe without acknowledging the supreme price most of the innocent soldiers have paid to protect innocent citizens in the region is demoralizing those fighting the insurgency war and their families. Excerpt:
What are your thoughts about Nigeria after 60 years of independence? Do you think we have progressed or retrogressed?
The issue of whether we have progressed or not is a very complicated matter because we have improved in certain areas and done so badly in some areas; in some areas, we have maintained the status quo. So, it is not like a yes or no answer. We have made progress in certain areas and gone down in some other areas. That is the much I can say about Nigeria. It is not a win-win or lose-lose situation. We have done badly in some areas particularly as it pertains to maintenance. This is because I remember in the 60s when we were kids, any small pothole, using that as an example, any small pothole that you see anywhere, there are people that will take care of it. Every state had what we called PWD which did maintenance. Any small pothole they will patch it. Look at our expressways today; it is not supposed to be so. They are supposed to be maintained as they deteriorate. But now they would leave the road until they are completely washed off before we start talking of fixing them. So, we need to do something about our maintenance culture. And Nigeria as a state, I am not going to blame the civilian government or the government of Buhari, Jonathan or whoever because if you check the number of years they have ruled this country, it is not to be compared with the number of years the military ruled. The military ruled Nigeria for too long. So, this decadence you are seeing today did not start today. It started way back. And we need to do something to correct the situation. We need to have a firmer leadership. We need to do something about our political structure. I believe that we need to reconfigure Nigeria or probably go back to the old system; that is, the loose federation. I believe in loose federation. That is why America is working. We need to devolve some of our systems like the security. In America, the strongest police forces they have are owned and managed by the local governments. So, we really need to restructure Nigeria. The governance should be diluted to the extent that the local government should be empowered so much that they can take care of the immediate environment. The federal system we are running can never work. We need to do something about it.
By loose system, are you referring to restructuring which most Nigerians have been demanding for?
Restructuring is the only option that Nigeria has. That’s what I am saying. The system America is running is what we copied. But somewhere along the line, the military changed the whole system and consolidated power at the federal level. It will never work. What will work is a loose system like what the America is running. The states are independent. They only pay taxes to the federal government. The states run their affair. Whatever you generate you use it to maintain your state and pay taxes to the federal government. American government does not own any business. All the airports, hospitals, not one; the only thing that is owned by the federal government of America is the post office, customs, and then the security agencies like the CIA, FBI and so on. They don’t own any business. But here in Nigeria, government owns airport, owns everything. American government does not do business. Business is not for government. But here government owns everything. They own airport, seaport, and the rail lines. These things are not owned by government in America. So, we need to dilute the system and empower the localities. If you come and see the extent of security arrangement in America, it is amazing. People don’t have fences like we have. Everybody lives on the street. No fence. They are not even allowed to build a fence and they don’t have security doors. Some of them don’t even lock their houses and nobody steals. The police know everybody because they are all local police. Everybody knows the police chief. Assuming Njikoka Local Government owns a police force, within one year they will know everybody. So, that’s why their security system is working. But here, everything is federal government. Before police can do anything they have to take clearance from Abuja. It doesn’t work that way.
What are your thoughts on the issue of Nigeria’s president of Igbo extraction? For a long time now, our people have been saying that it is the turn of the Southeast to produce a president in 2023. Do you also hold such view?
Well, nobody gives you power. If you want power, you have to work for it. Yeah, we are qualified to be president of Nigeria. It is even also fair that we are allowed to rule. But at the same time, nobody gives it to you. We have to work for it. So, I am not expecting the rest of Nigerians to fold their hands and tell Igbo ‘Okay, go and bring the president.’ No! We have to work for it. We have to lobby people. You don’t force people to give you power. You work on them. So, if we work on them and the rest of Nigerians, I am sure that they will allow us to produce the next president come 2023.
Looking at the Southeast region as it is today, do you think the Southeast governors have been impressive with their performance so far?
I don’t want to be unnecessarily political. But the truth is that some of our governors have done very badly. And I feel so disappointed with some of them. Some of our governors in the Southeast are very disappointing. I don’t know why they can’t see or feel the system. That shows the height of insensitivity. They should be able to see and feel the system, but it is unfortunate that our governors are very disappointing. I cannot mince words to tell you that I am disappointed with some of our governors in the Southeast. Most of them are my friends; they are the people I know and when I see them anywhere I talk to them. ‘Please, Your Excellency, do this.’ Some of them will give very clumsy reasons that are not acceptable anywhere. I was talking to one of the Southeast governor’s sometime last year about a particular road in the Southeast. I met him in the aircraft. I told him ‘Your Excellency, why not do something about this road.’ He said that it was a federal road. And I asked him, ‘the money you are going to use to do it, is it your money?’ It is not your money. You are going to do it for the masses who own this money. It doesn’t matter if it is federal road or not. Go and fix this road. In fairness to him, he did. He told me ‘Senator, I will do something.’ He said that the money the Federal Government owes them for the roads and so on it did on its behalf has not been refunded the state. I said: ‘It is not important. Go ahead and fix this road. The people that own this money with which you’re going to fix the road are the people that are using this road. It doesn’t matter if it is federal or not.’ So, I don’t buy into this idea that this is federal project when your people are suffering. People were sleeping on the road. From here to Enugu will take you like two days. That is unacceptable. I cannot be a governor and allow such a thing to happen. Never! What does it take to just clear the road? It wouldn’t take you anything. I am not saying you should asphalt it to the end. Just make it motorable. And some of them use the road because when I saw him in the plane I said: ‘Your Excellency, did you come with helicopter?’ He said no. I asked, ‘how did you come here?’ I said ‘Your Excellency, you people have to do something because I am sure you used the road I came from too.’ And in fairness to him, he fixed that road. He told me he was going to do something about it. I said ‘you don’t need anybody. Fix this road. Get your Ministry of Works to go and grade it; brush it, let it be motorable. Pour, even if it is chippings on those very bad spots and he did. So, I am not impressed with some of our governors; to be honest with you.
You were once in the National Assembly as a senator. To some Nigerians, the present Senate and the House of Representatives are just rubberstamps; to some others, they are doing well. What are your thoughts about the National Assembly with regards to their legislative duties?
You cannot completely write off the National Assembly. You should also know that the legislative arm of the government in Nigeria is so incapacitated by the system we are running. So, you cannot give me a knife and tell me to go and engage somebody that has a gun. That would be unfair. If our National Assembly or the legislative arm of governance of government of Nigeria is empowered as they should be, then you can now hold them responsible for anything that they are supposed to do that they did not do. I am not trying to defend them, but I am telling you that they are so weakened that they cannot do much.
What do you think the citizens should do here in the Southeast especially the individuals that are wealthy to make here better?
If you look at Nigeria as a state, there is no part of Nigeria where individuals contribute to the infrastructural development of the zone as much as the Southeast. It is only in the Southeast that you see individuals that tar roads, sink boreholes. If you have 500 boreholes in the Southeast, I can bet you that 400 were done by the individuals. There is no place you will see it in any zone in Nigeria. So, the individuals are doing a lot; giving scholarships, tarring roads worth billions of naira, building schools, churches. It is not done anywhere in Nigeria. No part of Nigeria does that. We build markets too. Most of the markets in the Southeast were built by the individuals, communities and so on. Not anywhere in Nigeria, are such done. I don’t want to talk about other zones in Nigeria, but the Southeast indigenes are doing a lot more than any part of Nigeria as far as infrastructural developments are concerned.
There have been arguments about the 2021 governorship election in Anambra State. Some people from Anambra South Senatorial Zone say that the governorship is their turn. Some others say that Anambra is one and therefore there is no need for zoning. Where do you stand on this?
Well, I was one of the first people that criticized that claim. I believe in zoning because it creates fairness. But as far as I am concerned, personally, with no apologies to anybody, we have completed the zoning in Anambra State. So, any zone in Anambra is in a right position to contest this election. We have completed the zoning. If anybody wants me to explain it, I will explain it. We have gone round. So, we are starting a new zoning regime. So, any part of Anambra – South, North or Central is qualified to contest the next governorship election.
Maybe you will explain it for the reading public?
Well, Mbadinuju was governor. Mbadinuju is from the South. Peter Obi and Ngige are from Central. Obiano is from North. So, we have completed the circle. If you want me to go even further, the South that is saying that it is their turn. How is it their turn? Okwadike (Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife) was governor; Etiaba was governor, Mbadinuju was governor. If you want to be fair, we have given them more than their due share. Ekwueme was the Vice-President of Nigeria. He was from Anambra South. Ojukwu ruled Biafra. He was from Anambra South. So, let us not talk about it.
Distinguished senator, do you not think that this argument may end up polarizing Anambra State?
\No, it is not going to polarize us. We will always come back together. We are only going to have one governor. We are also going to rally round him. If a southern Anambra person wins, we will support him. If a central person wins, we will support him. We will always come back together.