Former governor of Plateau State, Sen. Jonah David Jang has cried out that Northern Christians are being oppressed in the North and as such, the people want to be separated from the core North, under a different regional identity known as the Middle Belt. He said the ethnic minority from the Middle Belt should be given the opportunity to produce the President Nigerians want in 2023.
He kicked against the rotation of the presidency between the North and the South and advocated that the Middle Belt should be included among the regions to benefit from the rotation of the nation’s number one job. Jang, a retired Air Commodore and former presidential aspirant in this interview with GYANG BERE in Jos said until the Federal Government gives Nigerians the opportunity to debate their coexistence with regards to restructuring the country, the imbalance in the constitution will continue. “When I was running for the presidency in 2019, I went to see one of the top leaders in this country and you know the presidency has always been rotated between the major tribes except Jonathan that got it because of the death of President Yar’Adua, I call it by accident. You remember, just to allow him to act before the death of President Yar’Adua, it was war. What was I told by that leader? He said as good as I may be, he cannot see how a Christian minority will win election in Nigeria, this is the first time I am saying this out. It has come to a time that we have to start talking out. So if there is going to be a rotation of the presidency, then it has to be between the North, the Middle Belt and the South otherwise, no Middle Belter can be President, I didn’t hear it as a rumour, I was told face to face. It means no Middle Belt minority can be president”, he lamented.
There have been a lot of debates and agitation as to where the presidency should be zoned to in 2023. Some said it should go to the South and some said it should remain in the North, what is your position?
The north has turned out to be one zone that produces the presidency and that is the Northwest. Even now, they are gearing up towards 2023. If the rotation is what Nigerians want, then the political parties must review it. When I was running for the presidency in 2019, I went to see one of the top leaders in this country and you know the presidency has always been rotated between the major tribes except Jonathan that got it because of the death of President Yar’Adua, I call it by accident. You remember, just to allow him to act before the death of President Yar’Adua, it was war. What was I told by that leader? He said as good as I may be, he cannot see how a Christian minority will win election in Nigeria, this is the first time I am saying this out. It has come to a time that we have to start talking out. So if there is going to be a rotation of the presidency, then it has to be between the North, the Middle Belt and the South otherwise, no Middle Belter can be President, I didn’t hear it as a rumour, I was told face to face. It means no Middle Belt minority can be president. President Jonathan who is a minority from the South South got it by accident and that was why he was removed, he wasn’t allowed to complete his tenure by running for a second tenure, so the chapter for us the minority is closed as far as restructuring is not done and this rotation is not changed by the political parties. The Middle Belt cannot be joined with the north, it is unacceptable to us, if it goes to the North, which ever is the description of the North, which I know that the North means North West. After all, when they were looking for North East Development Commission, they didn’t help us to get it at the Middle Belt, they left us to fight our own battle, I want the political parties to zone the presidency to the Middle Belt, I am not talking of the North or to the South, we are not part of that North rotation but we want the presidency in the Middle Belt in 2023 if possible.
Many believe that the PDP has the opportunity of bouncing back to power, what do you think the party can do to go into 2023 presidential election as a family?
Let me say this first, tell me which political party is without crisis? When the ruling party, APC, had to bring a serving governor to be their acting National Chairman against the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. If a governor wants the position of a Chairman, he has to resign as a governor, that is why I said they use the Constitution the way it suits them. Coming to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), every party will always have internal problem but I will tell you the problems of the political parties generally. It is this lack of internal democracy within the party, when you look at the problems in some states, some people cannot even deliver their wards, they will tell you that they are being cheated. How, what did they want, that we should seat down and share positions and yet they are the first to cry that there is no internal democracy. I think that is what is happening in a lot of states that are having problems in the PDP. Honestly, the first part of your question is what interests me, how PDP is getting ready to take over power in 2023. I want to say that the ground will only be conducive if INEC will truly be independent. I will also pray as a Pastor for the Judiciary to continue to uphold their independence. We know of the situation where people are interfering with the PDP in some states, and they say they tell them to just do it, when they go to Court they know what to do because they are in power. That is why it is very necessary for our democracy to succeed, the Judiciary and INEC must be independent no matter what. But we are still hopeful that the PDP will succeed President Buhari in 2023.
The governor of Kogi, Yahaya Bello has come out from the Middle Belt to run for the presidency, do you believe in his course?
I hope Governor Bello believe in the Middle Belt but if you say he is running just because the constitution gives citizens right to run, yes, the constitution does that but in the Nigerian situation where I have been told as a minority I can’t become president, I don’t know if APC will allow him to run successfully as a minority from the Middle Belt, I wish him well.
Nigerians have cried out on the need to change service chiefs due to the persistent security challenges in the country but the President from his body language is not ready to do that. As a retired military chief, what do you think is the way out?
When people like me started commenting on issues like this, people misunderstood it and thought that we were opposing the government of APC in the country even when one is saying something that is very reasonable that can help the country grow but it is seen as opposing the government of the day. I want to make it clear that whatever comment I will make, it is in the overall interest of the country, whichever political party is in power. Let me say as a retired Air Commodore, that is one star General in the Army, I served in the military for 27 years, the question of appointing service chiefs is the prerogative of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I have no quarrel with President Buhari if he decides to keep the service chiefs as long as he wants, my only area of concern is that when people are due for retirement and they are not retired, it becomes difficult for the younger ones to move up, if the service chiefs move out when they are due for retirement or they are changed according to the prerogative of the President, vacancies are created and promotions are done. I believe that what is happening today with the service chiefs, means that people are being promoted to keep the place quiet. I want to say here that the Nigerian Armed Forces were trained right from our time to fight wars, normal conventional wars, not insurgencies. I believe that some units in the Army should have been trained to fight counter insurgency wars which has not been done; soldiers just come out and they are asked to go and face these unconventional warriors with no idea of how to fight them. Unfortunately, our time and conditions in the Nigerian Armed Forces are still such that people are trained, like some of us who were not due for retirement and we left with some of our fantastic ideas. There are senior retired Generals, officers who have enough experience from our various trainings of those days that could advise on the way to tackle the insurgents. It is most unfortunate that military men are now found on the roads, doing what? I spoke severally when I was a governor on the need for states to have their security outfits to reduce the work of the Federal Government. Today, if you look at the number of Nigerian Police to the ratio of Nigerians, they are nowhere, what do you expect the police to do? But when the states have their own police and have their areas of assignment and the federal police have their own assignment, the coverage would have been far but again they are playing politics with the security of the nation. By my training, the Armed Forces only come in when the police cannot cope with the situation but the police have never been enough to cope. Sometimes, we blame the security personnel, we expect them to perform magic, the equipment that they are given are nothing compared with what the insurgents are holding. If you look at the situation that we are in, the federal government has a lot to do to get the Police and the Armed forces to be properly equipped, train and meet the demands of the situation on ground today. So for the service chiefs to stay or not to stay is not for any of us to make the decision, it is the President but we have too many senior officers in the Armed Forces that are not doing the job of their ranks, they are doing what the junior officers should be doing because they have nowhere to be posted to, Mr. President should look at the situation in the Armed Forces and do the needful.
You were among the prominent stakeholders selected from various ethnic nationalities across the geopolitical zones in the country that gave the Federal Government ultimatum on the Nigerian constitution and restructuring, where do you think is the imbalance in the constitution?
Frankly speaking, when some of us speak, the general saying is that ‘it’s you people that do did’, that is, those of us that were in the military and had opportunity to be appointed for political assignments while still serving in the military. The truth is that there is no way the military can draw a constitution that will serve the need of a democratic set up, unfortunately that is the situation that will find ourselves in Nigeria today. No matter how much we keep amending this constitution, if the people do not speak, meet and discuss on the type of constitution they should have, you cannot get justice, fairness and equity in the system. The first page of the constitution if you read says ‘we the people of Nigeria’, may be it would have read ‘we the soldiers of Nigeria, give you Nigerians this constitution.’ The fact that it says we the people of Nigeria, which means, Nigerians made the constitution. After I retired, I attended a constitutional conference set up by Gen. Sani Abach in 1994; if you bring out that document as presented to Gen. Abacha, very beautiful. It suggested the idea of geopolitical zones that we now have but we didn’t recommend North Central Zone, it was Middle Belt but it came out as Central Zone, these are some of the things that the military will tinker and come up with what they want. If you look at the creation of states and local governments done by the military, it was the most lopsided thing they have done. If you look at the number of local governments in Kano and Jigawa and then look at Bayelsa or if you want to look at the federal constituencies in Kano and Jigawa in the House of Representatives, they are more than the entire federal constituencies in the entire South East, how do you balance the debate in the House of Representatives? It is very clear that Nigeria needs to be restructured. For me, I love Nigeria as a country and as a nation and that is why we fought the civil war to keep Nigeria as one but Nigeria is not one today. We are a country, we are not a nation because there is no resemblance of any sort that Nigeria is a nation; people are talking of their region, their states and their tribes and the complete imbalance in the National Assembly. Even in the states, I take Plateau that I have governed for eight years, how can you have a federal constituency of Jos South and Jos East compared to Wase? Look at the population of Jos South, you might find the population of Wase three or four times in Jos South and yet you bring them together to form one constituency. Look at Jos North with the highest voting population, you put them together with Bassa, another heavily populated local government, you combined them together and gave them one federal constituency. How can you have balancing in the debate in the House of Representatives? I didn’t talk of the Senate because each state produces three senators. So it is the states that have the highest number of constituencies that dictate whatever happens in the House of Representatives. Also, when it comes to joint meeting between the House of Representatives and the Senate to pass a bill or take a decision, it is what the House says that overrides because the number of the Senators is far lower. So, you can see that we are running a unitary constitution in a federal system. What we are saying is that we are not dictating what Nigerians should accept but Nigerians should be given the opportunity and then the Government of the Federation today can bring us together based on our ethnic nationalities, interest groups and so on to look at the restructuring of this country. It was my main agenda when I ran for the presidency in 2019, there is no way we can develop this country under this kind of structural imbalance where power is so much in the hands of the President and yet we are running a federation and the states have to be running cap in hand to the President for so many things. You can imagine that a Governor who is the Chief Security Officer of his state cannot command the Commissioner of Police until he takes directive from the federal government. In fact, a Governor is a captive in his own state. A decision can be taken about even his life somewhere and he will not know, thank God that has never happened but it is as bad as that. If we are going to run a federal system, then we must share power between the federating units and the presidency should handle what is purely federal, that is the control of the Armed Forces, foreign affairs and other things that the state cannot directly handle. Let me say this that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture doesn’t own any state but every year so much money is voted for agriculture. I have been Governor in this country for 11 years, three years in the military and eight years under democracy. Even though during the military, when you are appointed into that office, you are under orders but now with the democratic set up, what is Federal Ministry of Agriculture doing with so much money when agriculture is at the state and at the local government level. Education should be with the state and the private sector; if you take the constitution and look at the powers that are given to the centre and the powers given to state and local governments, I don’t know the country that has this type of our constitution, even in Africa, the way Nigeria is. We are trying to reawaken Nigerians to see the reason why we are not progressing, we are not progressing because power has not been given to the right areas where it should be exercised for the good of the people at the grassroots.