Former Military governor of the defunct Western State, and former minister of Police affairs, Major General David Jemibewon (rtd), has expressed fears over the state of affairs in Nigeria. Indeed, he is worried about the future of the country and did not mince words in this interview with WILLY EYA.
President Muhammadu Buhari has been inaugurated for a second term in office and many think that despite the challenges facing our nation, the successful transition shows that the nation’s democracy is growing. Now that the APC administration has taken off for a fresh mandate, what agenda can you set for President Buhari?
Honestly, I cannot set an agenda for him. I cannot sit down here and be setting agenda for him and to do that is ridiculous.
So many Nigerians are full of expectations this time because the president has spent the first four years and has the benefit of hindsight. The agenda in this case will guide him more in feeling the pulse of the people. Don’t you think so?
Anyway, it is good I explained to you the way I started. Let me use this analogy. You are in a school and in a certain class, and probably while in that class, you aimed that you want to get ‘As’ in all your courses or that you want to make a First class but somehow, the exam comes and goes and after assessment, the grades you had expected, you did not get it in some subjects; what you do now is to do a kind of post-mortem and in that post-mortem, you may find that you did not do well in some subjects as you had expected. You have to look into it to ask why did it happen that way and you make sure you correct all those errors you identified. I would not call that setting a kind of agenda but I would rather say the president should sit down and make an assessment which could be done by a team to look at where the government has done well, where it has not done too well, where they set goals and ask did it match them with achievements; then correct the errors detected and improve on all those areas they think they fell short in their first term. I think this is what I will suggest should happen.
The problem with setting up a regular committee is that most times, such bodies are populated by politicians who may not actually come up with the real solutions that will address the feelings of the majority. Don’t you think so?
When I say committee, it is just a suggestion. When you work through committees, you get better information than when for instance you are dealing with one single person. I am talking about a committee that is made up of professionals including accountants, military officers, Police, doctors and so on so that you have varied experience and ideas from various points of views. In decisions reached through committee process, you get better informed. Maybe, what we are discussing now, he had already done it. I am sure that even at your work place, your Managing Director would not just sit down and take a major decision without getting information from you people, the staff. In whatever programme you are involved in, you set up a plan and I am sure the government set up a plan four years ago. They ought to find a way to do a postmortem like how have we performed for example in the education sector in terms of the goals we set for ourselves when we came in. By the time we are leaving, how have we performed in pursuing and achieving these goals? Where they feel they have not done very well, they make sure that in the next level, they try to reach the maximum in terms of the goals they had set for themselves.
A major headache facing the administration now is the spate of violence and insecurity in the country. The killings are spreading all over the country particularly the Northern part with many thinking that there is more to the ugly situation. If you deeply reflect on this, what do you make of it?
Yes, I am worried. There is no doubt about that because it makes movement in the country very unsafe, planning very difficult and above all, it does not give us good image. Everybody is now scared to move from one part of the country to the other particularly where I come from. In the past, it was easy for a father to call the son or daughter and send him or her to bring some yams and other farm products from the farm. Today in my area, no parent would do that because of the fear that the child may be kidnapped or killed. Sometimes, wives also go to the farms without their husbands. Today, it is no more possible and all these situations would have side effects. I am worried, uncomfortable and unhappy because where security is involved, you want to do something but you are not too sure you would achieve your objectives. Of course, you may feel unhappy and you should be worried.
Initially, the argument was that the violence was being orchestrated by disgruntled politicians but many are afraid that it is more than that and that there could be an agenda somewhere to destabilize the country. Do you agree with those who nurse such fears?
There are reasons to feel so but I do not know the solutions. What I would say is that everybody in Nigeria should see it as a challenge to the country. We should see it as something that we should all rise up and give government support to either eliminate or reduce the problem.
With the level of insecurity in the country, some are saying that time has come for the country to accept the creation of state police structure. What is your view?
I do not want to agree or disagree because merely having or pronouncing that we should have state police is not synonymous with good governance or saying that the problems of insecurity have been solved. My take is that whether state or not state, the police must be well equipped, trained and motivated to do their job. And education is very fundamental. So, if you create the state police without putting all these basic things in place, they would not achieve any meaningful result and they would probably end worse. Even if we go to the creation of state police which I am in support and all the requisite incentives are provided, there must still be the central police to ensure the obedience to federal laws and to where necessary, check the state police if they go beyond their constitutional powers.
What is your reaction to the shunning of the June 12 celebration as Democracy Day by the former Heads of State?
Other than what I read in the papers, I did not know the details but when somebody is invited to a function, I think he has the option to say he would attend or not. I do not know the details but I read in the papers where they said no former Head of State was invited.
With the gloomy picture starring us in the face ranging from ethnic division, poor state of the economy, lack of infrastructure to insecurity to lives and property of the people, what do you think of the future of the country?
I must be honest with you, I am afraid of the future of our children and our children’s children. I am very, very worried. Many people have invested heavily to train their children even abroad who ordinarily should come back to contribute to the development of this country but let me tell you, honestly, there is nothing attractive to them in this country. If they come, they ought to be employed but where will they be employed. They ought to feel safe but will they feel safe and so on.
What are your expectations from the crop of people in the 9th National assembly considering the strategic position of the legislature in a democracy?
I do not know whether it is not late now even though it is not too late. I think members of the National assembly are not doing enough to help this country. They are in a position to help in governing this country but some of the things they argue or fight over in the chambers, do not tend to give the impression that they are very concerned about what is happening in our country. People who are to make laws for the country seem to be the people who are always violating the law and making governance very difficult. I think there are too many people in the National assembly such that both the good and the bad are all there. There are many good people there but there are also people who have no business being there. There are many of them who have no idea of what they are expected to do. The National assembly is supposed to chart the way the country should be governed but they are not doing it. At the Senate, we have 109 people and at the House of Representatives, we have 360 members and yet, you also have the state assemblies. The number is far too much. They are milking this country and not only that, they are not making laws to improve the country. I do not know how we could do it; how could members of the National assembly come up with the idea that they are too many. I do not think that there is anybody there who would want to introduce that but that should be the starting point.
Some prominent Northerners are already saying that power will remain in the North after eight years of President Buhari’s administration. Don’t you think that is asking for too much considering the ethnic diversity in the country?
That is part of what I am saying. You can see how funny it is. You have not even settled down after the last general election which was only few months ago and you are already talking about 2023. You can see what I mean. To me, people could be thinking about it but not making the kind of noise they are making.
Another controversial issue that is dominating public discourse now is the purported approval of the establishment of Ruga settlements for herders in 12 states of the federation. It is a kind of settlement where the herders will live, grow their cattle and produce milk. Are you comfortable with that even with many states already kicking against it?
I am hearing that for the first time and I am not yet equipped to make any contribution on it.
The gap between the ethnic nationalities seems to be widening instead of closing. When are we going to achieve the much elusive unity in the country?
It is very unfortunate. I thought that education is an instrument that could be used to settle a lot of understanding but I am not too sure we are making use of what we have in terms of education. We do not make the benefits associated with sound education. Many governments in the past had made a lot of efforts to unite the country like when unity schools were established but I do not think that the present set of politicians are enthusiastic in those things. I do not know how the problem could be solved and it is rather unfortunate because things seem to be getting worse than what it used to be. We should continue to make efforts but I do not have answers to the problem.
Do you support those who are advocating that President Buhari should constitute a government of national unity and make appointments across parties?
For me, I think that President Buhari should look at the quality of individuals within any set up to make up his cabinet. I do not think that party should be the only criterion to consider in appointing a minister. There must be quality in that individual, he must be versatile in his area of specialty, he must believe in Nigeria and maybe should be a contributor to the development of his party. But what ought to be basic and fundamental is that the person is competent and has something to offer. That should be the major criterion, rather than party.