…What I know about Buhari
By Willy Eya
Former Minister of Police Affairs, Gen David Jemibewon (rtd) believes that Nigeria is not a failed state despite the current challenges she is facing. However, he acknowledges that so many things are wrong with the nation. In this interview, he speaks on why the country is not making progress among other issues.
Recently, Nigeria just clocked 56 years. What are your reflections on the state of the nation generally? Would you say Nigeria has done well or do you think Nigeria has failed?
There is no doubt, Nigeria cannot, from my perspective, be regarded as a failed nation – certainly not. So, that clears that aspect of your question.
I think one can reasonably come to some conclusion by saying that Nigeria could have done better than we have done. But certainly, it is not a failed nation at all; but that is my personal view.
If you look at Nigeria today, there is a high level of division, suspicion, lack of trust amongst people of the ethnic nationalities. From independence till after the civil war, we have not witnessed this level of division amongst the people of Nigeria. What do you think is the problem?
Incidentally, luckily for me, I saw the day that the union Jack gave way to the green white green Nigerian flag, I happened to be a young man and I was in Lagos, so I saw it. I left secondary school in 1959. I was in Lagos already working in the General Hospital; I was a student of radiography in the General Hospital. So, the eve of independence, I spent it in the National Stadium and it was a night of jubilation – fireworks and many other activities.
Expectations were very high, people were very joyous and I think people were looking forward to a fantastic bright future and so that’s what it was.
But looking at Nigeria today, do you think that we will get over it?
Do you think that there will be a time that different people in Nigeria will have that trust and love for one another?
Yes, it is rather unfortunate because in those days really, I am not sure, speaking from my own personal experience that the young ones were divided along the line of tribal origin. I’m almost certain also that the elderly people who were then involved in politics, looking back now would seem to have, what I could call progressive and developmental rivalry rather than rivalry based on ethnicity, tribalism, and so on. And I’m basing this on the fact that I was growing up to know what was going on and I could observe what was happening and few years after independence, what we saw was a very positive competition. I think today things have changed. People are working for personal aggrandisement, for personal pockets, and generally, they employ unholy manner of doing things by claiming to be doing those things for the benefit of their people but honestly from what we see now, that cannot be true. At the end of the day, they work for their pockets and for themselves and maybe members of their family. Take for example the village setting, family setting; I think in fact the system has broken down. So we just need a kind of rebirth, reorientation and refocusing.
When President Buhari came on board, he came on the altar of the ‘change mantra’; his party promised to bring a lot of positive changes and there was a lot of enthusiasm amongst the people. Looking at Buhari’s administration so far, do you think that he has met the expectations of Nigerians even halfway?
First, I do not know the expectations of Nigerians but Buhari is not a magician. In most countries, politicians say what they intend to do before they get to positions. I’ve always said it, the difference between politicians or politics as a profession and soldiering as a profession, is this: before a soldier gets into an operation, he would have carried what we call ‘reconnaissance’. In other words, if he wants to go from A to B to capture an objective in B, he would have read his map – both aerial map, ground map, he probably would have sent reconnaissance either by air, by land to find out what is the strength of the enemy or at least the opposing side in the divide. So, before he leaves for the battle, he would have gotten sufficient information. He would even have gotten the nature of the weapons, ammunition, the support that the enemy has; he would have gotten sufficient information, for which he will prepare because he should know that to win, he needs to, at least, have an edge over the enemy. For instance, if the enemy is made of 10 battalions, it will be ridiculous for him to go and attack the enemy with two battalions. This is how the military man thinks. If there is an obstacle on his (the soldier man) way that he has to go through a river, you have to be prepared. If for instance, you want to go from Benin to attack Awka and you know there is a River Niger on the way, you have to be prepared as to how you’ll cross River Niger and at what point to cross River Niger; what is the speed of River Niger, where is the best point to cross the River Niger? Now that is for the soldier going on operation.
The politician, because, election is an exercise, similar to going to fight war; you’re going to fight a political war because there must be minimum two opposing sides wanting to achieve the objective. So, it’s like a war; the only thing there, it’s not a gun war or war of gun.
But they all require sense, deep sense, deep thought and good planning that the politician unlike the soldier, who thinks ahead, does a lot of study for purposes of information which will lead to planning and the planning leading to victory. The politicians will say ooh! Come on, when we get to the river, we’ll cross it. He gets to the river without plan; he just jumps into water until he’s drowning and except miracles happen, the chances are that he will drown and get killed and in the process, his objective will be unattained and unattainable.
This is the problem. You see, politicians, before they get there, they don’t know how fat the treasury is. They will tell you they will paint the road with gold when they get there; they will even construct railway line in the sky and only to get there to find that either the treasury is empty or the treasury still has something. But whatever the case, because they didn’t plan ahead, they end up generally failing except those who have been extremely experienced, who can adjust immediately to redress the situation you find.
But in this case, the man at the helm of affairs has the experience of a soldier and he knows how to weather the storm, he knows about strategy, about planning, about anticipating obstacles and how to overcome them. From your analogy, why is it that Buhari cannot apply all his wealth of experience in the situation Nigeria finds herself?
The point really is when we were in school, there was one general saying: a tree does not make a forest. He can’t just stand in place of APC. APC is made up of many people and if you look at the history of APC, there are not less than three major components. But for somebody like Buhari, in fact, they’ll have scattered and the possibility of their scattering is very high. Incidentally, some years ago, a good friend of mine was celebrating his 78th birthday and I told another good friend who was invited to that party, Lai Mohammed, that what they were doing, that they had great hope. But I told him that I’m afraid that when critical times come through individual ambition, the party may scatter. That he should emphasize it to members that they should just take their time even though I happen to be of PDP. I told him that they shouldn’t over struggle for 2015 elections; they should aim at 2019 when hopefully at that time I was thinking PDP would still win. But my advice was based on the fact that look, by 2019, Jonathan won’t contest anymore and that it would be easier for them. I said therefore they should take it easy because I knew if they didn’t give themselves time to solidify their foundation, the likelihood is that they’ll have problem. Anyway recently, I saw him and I had to congratulate him because what I had thought he should fight for to achieve in 2019, they achieved it in 2015. So, in other words, the achievement came four years ahead of my expectation but it has some cause to it; they were not well solidified, I don’t think they were sure that they would in fact win, so they were not forward looking and so they weren’t well organized.
But some insist that Nigerians over estimated Buhari and that he has not got that capacity that people thought he had. Judging by his achievements so far, do you agree with them?
I cannot agree with that. Number one, do they really know who Buhari is? Where did they work with him to have come to that assessment? Just like I told you, they too know the quality he had or he has that’s why they went for him. Isn’t the same Buhari that they didn’t vote for in the first two attempts? So, circumstances made them to vote for him and not because they love him. Don’t forget, as we grow older, that enthusiasm, that energy also gradually departs from us. If Buhari were president 10 years ago, of course, there would be much difference between then and now. I mean taking myself as an example, I’m a little older than him but the strength I had 10 years ago is not the same strength I have today. And I’m sure he wanted to prove a point, that’s why he continued to try to get to the position he is today. It is the same people who voted for him years ago that also voted for him last year. But as I said, with the support of Obasanjo, others may lay claim to it, but if Obasanjo had given him the support he gave him last year in his first attempt or second attempt, he probably would have gotten there. So to me, Obasanjo was a major factor and the people Buhari is working with today, he knows little about them.
Do you agree with those who also say that he’s clannish, that he’s not broad minded and that he is not in the mould of an Obasanjo who has friends across all ethnic nationalities or even Babaginda or Atiku for instance. That he is so narrowed to his core northern ethnic region and that it is affecting his leadership and even how Nigerians perceive him now?
Of course, in a country as large as Nigeria with her large population, you cannot but have varied opinions. I cannot necessarily support those people and I wouldn’t actually say I disagree. Some aspects of their statements may be correct, some may not be correct but I can tell you in this country, it doesn’t matter what you do, you’ll be criticized. There is no doubt yes, Obasanjo, you know, he did a lot of good things but we would also be wrong to say or to conclude that everything he did was right. But let me tell you, he did a lot of good things; he had the great capacity to work and he had good friends.
There’s no doubt about it! Then of course, when he operated as Head of State, he selected some of those younger ones to work with him and so, he had an advantage. One, advantage of being Head of State and some got together and said that’s the man they want at that time which included General Danjuma, a man highly respected in the military and outside the military. And so, at that time, anything he wanted to do, he would table it and everybody had the opportunity and freedom to express his opinion. He worked successfully and in 1979, he handed over to Shagari and then later he became a democratically elected Head of State. So, he had all these experiences and because he handed over the elected government, he had respect of the whole leaders across the world. Then, he was a co-founder of this anticorruption organization, Transparency International and that also increased respectability for him. So, he had all these great qualities. I know Buhari for one thing; Buhari does not want to hear anything about corruption. We knew it in the army, he’s a straight man. But he never had the opportunity that Obasanjo had in terms of longevity in leadership. And then, he didn’t have the followership; both military, civil, in the intelligentia, in the business community and political community. He didn’t have all those good things associated with society; he did not have them as Obasanjo did. Then of course when you talk of Babaginda, even in the military, Babaginda is a character that everybody likes; I’m telling you this.
It’s the nature of human beings. What you will do that some people will hate you may be done by Mr. B and some people will admire him for it. And then, Babangida is social; he will go out, both the young and old admire him, he will play with him. But we cannot say that everybody must be like that? So, even twins, sometimes, they say oh! these twins are look alike. Sometimes, if you see twins, they
may even look alike but their character might not be the same and you start wondering but they say these are twins!
Do you agree with those who insist that the power elite in the North are the major obstacles to Nigeria’s development?
I do not agree! I think the problem of this nation is because of those who are dishonest and who don’t want to tell the truth.
What would you say are your regrets in life?
I’m not too sure I have any major regret. Nobody has ever written application that he wants to be born; you just find that you exist and you have parents. But personally, if it were possible that you have advance notice whether you like to be born or not, maybe from the suffering one faces in this world, you may say leave me where I am, I don’t want to be born. We just have to face the world, face the situation. I have no regrets.
How and why did you join the army?
One, I hate sedentary occupation. I don’t like sitting down too long in a place. That’s one. Two, as a young man, I joined the Boys Scoutv and I like the activities associated with Boys Scout. And so, all this things were supportive of my decision to join the military. And I had a good friend, much older than me, he’s dead now; he had the educational background to have joined the army as officer cadet but he went as ordinary soldier and he was always coming home. So, when I was in secondary school, I went to spend my holidays with him at Lafenwa Barracks, Abeokuta and this was in 1958. And I liked the smartness of soldiers although in those days, it was short knickers; they were smart looking. The first time I went to spend my holiday with him, they had no marine quarters, they all lived in land; when we say in land, it means dormitory.
But he had a friend though not married too but had spent much longer than him, so he was in a rented personal apartment in town. This my good friend from my village happened to be called Joseph Idowu and I think I still remember his number till today 1NA18147605 Idowu DG. His friend, he had to talk to him for me to stay with him and I was sleeping on the same bed with the good friend of his that I’ve never met before and I was a small kid and I went to Ofa Grammar School. His friend is called Jackson Ngbanti and he came from Newman around Yola. So, before this, when I left the army, I tried two places. In fact I took the army form about two or three times before I made it. I almost went to the police but police never really appealed to me. So, all these things put together were my reasons for joining the army and I have no regrets. I’m grateful to almighty God that He made it possible for me to succeed because my orientation is slightly different from the orientation of many people of my age, and my patriotism to this country is slightly different. So, many things are wrong with this country. If a man steals in this country, if he’s a Yoruba man, if he’s arrested, you find a lot of his people crying even including those you expect to be more civilized. They claim he is being persecuted because he’s a Yoruba man. If he’s an Igbo man, the same thing. If it’s somebody from the North, the same thing. Yet at the time he was stealing or doing those unholy things, we knew that he’s Yoruba man, he’s Igbo man, he’s Hausa man but we said nothing. It is only when the law catches up with him we’ll start saying they persecute him because he’s Igbo man, Yoruba man, Hausa man. This is why we are notmaking progress and it’s very sad. It is very, very sad because I don’t know when we’ll outgrow this.
Is there politics in the army in the context of struggle for power?
When you say politics, you need to define what politics says. To me when I was in the army, there was no basis for it. If you use the word competition in performance, yes. Personally, I wanted to be the best within my set but if I’m not declared the best in my set, that would not detract from my efforts to measure up to standard and I’ll congratulate whosoever is the first, I will work along. So, if you talk of this uncontrolled ambition as the basis of your question, I’ll say during my time, it never existed.
Why I asked that question is because some say that even coup plotting that was very prevalent at some point in our history was because of ambition, because of struggle for power and some consider it as also part of politics When anything happens, there’s room for imagination, there’s room for you to come to some judgement and conclusion. Some of these calculations and conclusions, some might be right, some might not be right. Some might remain in the realm of imagination. So, I want to believe there may be some elements of truth but generally, it’s not of general application. When people get together to stage a coup, those of us outside that coup arrangement will only be imagining what could have formed the basis of this people doing what they’ve done but we do know that they must have given serious thought to what they’ve done because they know the consequences of failure. So I mean, I will be wrong to say yes that such people, you know, this must have been their motive. We imagine that so, so, so, and so must have been their motive but really, we’re not in position to say our conclusion is absolutely flawless.