Former Minister of Police Affairs, Major General David Jemibewon(rtd) is not happy over the state of affairs in Nigeria. He believes that the nation has all it takes to be great. He made the remarks and more in this interview.
One of the talking points in Nigeria is the establishment of a security outfit known as Amotekun by the South West region. The Federal Government declared it illegal and it has been generating a lot of controversy; what is your take on that?
I don’t know more than what I have read in the papers but I do not see why it should generate controversy. If people have a problem, they then look at how they can solve the problem and they came out with an idea of how they can help themselves. It was not established to compete with the Nigerian police. Honestly, I think the organisation they are trying to put in place would be supporting the police. I am not too sure if any individual or organisation needs to ask for permission to be responsible for his own security as long as it does not conflict with any other person’s plans for his own security. The main purpose of government is the protection of lives of citizens and their properties. From what we read in the papers, killings and kidnapping have been going on and in fact, I feel that such an organisation could have been established long ago. I know how government operates. The South West government could not have just woken up and started establishing the security outfit without having discussed it at certain level, even if for contribution of ideas. I am not too sure that the way some of us heard about it is exactly the way the Federal Government heard about it. I am sure the Federal Government must have known of the plans and how the effort progressed before they announced the establishment of the organisation. They just reduce things to Boy Scouts way of doing things but even the Boy Scouts are organised. They do not go to camping without planning for it. I don’t see it as something that should be generating controversy. It is basic and elementary that if what ought to be done had been done, and people took responsibility, the arguments and uproar that trailed it should not have been so.
Do you agree with those who say that the establishment of Amotekun has kickstarted the long-awaited restructuring of the federation?
I do not think that reasoning along those lines is logical. As I said, we have state governments and what is the purpose of governments. What of a man who just builds a house, he has a gate and he employs a gateman? Why does he put a gateman? And in some cases for example, if you go round Lagos and in particular GRA, those people we refer to as big men, they even have police security; and they do not even hold any position in government just because perhaps, they can pay for police services. So, how do you explain that? You have some people travelling on highways and they have police escorts and they are not government officials.
How do you see the position of the Miyetti Alah Kautel Hore who are of the view that herders are the target of Amotekun?
Government is such a powerful organisation and it has better means of collecting information than any individual or group of people. So, some of the things you as an individual or a group of people could complain about, government is already aware. How did Miyetti Allah come to the conclusion that, that is what they would use Amotekun for? If they say Amotekun is aimed at them, a security organisation was established purposely for them, then it means that they know that what they are doing is wrong. Would you say because certain groups of people feel that police would be used to arrest them, then police should not be established in their own zone or local area. If a group for instance somewhere in Agege has been creating problems and harassing people and those people come together and make requests for police presence, can the Miyetti Allah come and say they are requesting for police presence, would they say they requested police to attack them. Why do they do those things that would make the police attack them?
The controversy still goes to show an increasing distrust between the North and South. Why I say this is because the entire Southern region and even the Middle Belt support the establishment of Amotekun unlike those from the North East and North West. Why the dichotomy?
I don’t know but I just feel that there are people out there whose main objective is to create problems. If you look critically, there is hardly any progressive idea that does not start with problems in Nigeria. Take for example, when the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) was established, some people kicked against it. Today, if you want to cancel it, do you think you can succeed? So, the thing is that some people are always creating problems.
The Federal Government has always claimed that it has defeated Boko Haram but information available indicate that the sect is still causing havoc in the Northern part of Nigeria. Will the government ever defeat the group?
Honestly, I do not know other than what we read in newspapers. We have no other means of knowing exactly what is happening in the country and sometimes, it is not everything that one reads about is true. One too feels uncomfortable. This is the conclusion I have come to, otherwise everybody is worried but I don’t know how true some of these stories are.
Recently, the Nigerian civil war was 50 years and the Federal Government glossed over it but when Rwanda marked 25 years of her own similar experience, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo represented Nigeria at the event. Do you think it is fair to ignore such a historical even like the Nigerian civil war?
I am not too sure I would agree with you that nothing was said about the Biafran war. I read a lot of things like seminars, conferences and so on that were organised in commemoration of the war. Maybe what you want to say is that it was not recognised at the national level. If that is so, it is a good observation but I do not know why it was not marked nationally. And you see, when you celebrate certain things, you are reminding yourselves of the event that had taken place. Perhaps, some lessons would be learnt from those experiences so that what gave rise to those situations, if it is on the negative side, you pray that what gave rise to those things would not be allowed to happen again. Or you want to remind those who were not born then of the event for them to probably learn a lesson from it. You can bring out the bad and the good to ensure that it never happens again. I am not in government and I would not know why it was not recognised but people mark such past events because of the lessons they would learn from it.
There are records that most countries who witnessed such wars came out stronger after it because of the lessons they learn from it but in the case of Nigeria, it is not so; examples are countries like Germany, Japan and so but why is it different here?
I think the major difference between the Nigerian experience and those countries you mentioned is that you find that in Nigeria, we constantly talk about civil war. The other countries you mentioned did not fight tribal wars but external wars like the Second World war. So, that may be a major difference. In other words, you may call our own domestic war and some people may argue that in domestic matters, the earlier you forget it, the better. But I think that whether domestic or not, some lessons are learnt. You can always remind yourselves and say don’t let us resort to this kind of misunderstanding again. You would say we had it before and we did not gain anything. You say people should refrain from what would cause problems among the people.
What is your position on the Visa on arrival policy considering that the borders of Nigeria are currently closed? Is that not a contradiction that Nigeria shut its borders and at the same time opening her doors for every African?
Like I said before, the government has more information than individuals or groups of people. But I think with the problems we are having in terms of security, the Visa on arrival to me should only be reserved for a certain class of people. It should not just be an open-ended policy.
Some prominent people in the North have continued to insist that power would not come back South after President Buhari’s exit in 2023; how does that come to you?
We are in 2020 now and 2023 is still a long time from now. Nigeria is not as peaceful as we would have loved it to be and we are not making as much progress as we would have liked. I think it would have been better to concentrate on the present situation than talking about 2023 which is still a long way to go. We should think of what we can do to improve the security situation in the country which can then lead to progress in other areas like manufacturing, creating jobs for the youth, improvement in our education and so on. I think such areas should be given priority attention than fighting in 2023 for a position meant for 2023. Honestly, I think politicians are not helping the country.
For the sake of equity and justice, don’t you think 2023 would be an appropriate time to have a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction?
For me, with my experience serving and retiring in the Army, Nigeria is my constituency. We must all have been born somewhere but irrespective of that, Nigeria is my constituency. I don’t care where the president comes from so long as he does justice to every Nigerian. So long as the president takes every opportunity to improve this country, I do not care where he comes from. That is what I wish rather than fighting what tribe the president comes from. If we say Yoruba must be president, Igbo must be president and Hausa must be present, what of other small ethnic groups? Are they not Nigerians? We should try to improve our relationship and unite ourselves by ensuring that democracy that we clamour for every day would work. If we know that we want a particular tribal man to be president, why then did we create states and even political parties. See the way people are jumping from party to party. It does not show us as responsible people.
Our debt profile is rising and we are yet to diversify the economy; what do you make of the future of our country?
If we do not correct this situation, then the future will be bleak. I think that is what we should be working towards to change the situation and not fighting for who would be president in 2023.
Nigeria will be 60 this year and there is still a growing dichotomy between the Northern and Southern part of the country; when will Nigeria achieve unity among her people?
We cannot continue like this because if we do, I am not too sure the existence of this country in some years to come because some people are losing hope. When I was young, we were hoping that the future would be full of opportunities. But within the time we have existed, things we knew were good about 50 years ago are no more there. Sometimes, I get very worried. I give you one simple example; when I built my first house, I bought cement at 8 shillings, 10 pounds. But when you hear what they sell a bag of cement now, you would marvel. I just gave this as one example. Peugeot was being sold under N3,000. Today, how much do they sell Peugeot? Like the house I am now in Abuja, I applied for N12,000 loan to build it that time. Today N12 million is not even sufficient to buy cement for the same building. So, I am wondering if within a period of less than 40 years we have this situation, what is the future of our children. I am not an economist but I do not need to study economics before I know that we face a very bleak future. That is how I look at it and it is frightening to me.
You retired as a Major General, looking at the Nigerian Army of your time and that of today, what similarities or differences do you see in terms of commitment, patriotism, advancement in technology and so on?
Should I be honest with you? I do not like criticizing the Army, Police and in fact all the security agencies. That is because I do not know how well equipped they are, their welfare package and so on. I do not understand or know the nature of the training they undergo. So, it would be wrong to just sit down and make a critique; it may not be fair. I do know perhaps that when you look at the leadership at all levels in Nigeria, the standard has fallen. When we were in the Army, we had people we looked up to that we wanted to be like. I am not too sure of what is happening now? What I read in the papers now, it does not matter the profession, the standard has fallen. People are now fighting for who is the richest and who have the best cars? That cannot help the country.
How do you see the nation’s electoral system in view of the controversy that trails every election?
Everything seems to be unclear in Nigeria and my worry honestly is that we have a leadership that knew what it was yesterday and it knows what it is now. If for instance we have a novice there now, it could have been a different thing. The present situation does not suggest that the future will be bright. To me, how I feel generally is that, we have got three levels of elections. One is that you go through nomination of your party and if you are lucky and survive, you go through the election proper; and even the man who get nominated by his party cannot guarantee anything until the day arrives. Assuming you are the candidate and you go through the process of elections and you win or somehow you are declared the winner, you would not confidently say you are through because even when the election results are announced, you may still end up in court. A candidate has to go through those processes and I don’t think it ought to be so.
Considering the challenges facing Nigeria, if by chance you meet President Buhari today, what advice would you give him to make Nigeria better?
This is difficult. All the institutions put in place to make government effective, he should try to put people who are competent and willing to interpret the laws and regulations to meet the intention of creating those organisations. It is so difficult to put it in words but let us come out with principles that are necessary for running organisations and stick to those principles, rather than deviating from them for whatever reasons. Personally, I can claim that I knew Present Buhari very well. No one individual can run a government. President Buhari had always been a principled man when we were still in the Army and you can be sure that he would do justice in all situations. But from the way things are happening now and from complaints of the majority of the population, it appears that many things are happening without his knowledge. It is so difficult for those of us who know him very well to believe that some decisions we read in the newspapers could happen under him like the issue of Amotekun. By the way Buhari operates, he should not have allowed it to become a general commodity. My advice to him if I have chance to meet him, is that I would say your Excellency, let your appointees base their judgements on equity and justice to all Nigerians. He should do a survey and ensure that his appointees should be those who believe in his principles. He should go for people who are detribalized; those who see Nigeria as one entity, their constituency and country. There are many Nigerians who do not care where one comes from; that one is from the East, West, North or anywhere, I don’t care because I see myself as a Nigerian.