Sunday, 26 January 2014

Governors Treat Jonathan Like Their Houseboy — Jeremiah Useni

The Chairman, Board of Trustees, Arewa Consultative Forum, and former FCT Minister, Lt.Gen Jeremiah Useni (retd.) tellsADELANI ADEPEGBA that the proposed national conference is a waste of time and that northern agitators should allow President Goodluck Jonathan contest in 2015
It’s been some time since we heard your voice in the political circuit. Why have you been quiet?
Unless there is something important, one doesn’t make noise. But I don’t have to make noise before you know I’m around. Yes, I only talk when there is an issue of concern to me, when there is something of general interest and when I think my voice may be of relevance.
As a retired general in the Nigerian Army, how would you rate the Federal Government’s fight against terrorism and insecurity across the country?
Government is doing its best, no doubt about it. But we started late, if we had nipped it in the bud, the issue would have been different. It is just like the civil war, where we started with police action. It had become a full-scale war before we took proper action and it took three years to stop the Biafran war. It is just like this case, but like I said, everything is being done to get it off our neck. Government is doing its best, a division has been created for that zone, the Seventh Division of the Nigerian Army. Service chiefs have been changed to give new impetus to the campaign. I see more improvement in clamping down on those people.
Would you agree a carrot-and-stick approach is the best in handling Boko Haram?
I don’t know whether that is going on now. Even in war, those who surrender, you treat them nicely and those who refuse to surrender, of course, you deal with them appropriately.

It is widely believed that the North is against the proposed national conference. Is this true?
That is not true; I am the Chairman, Board of Trustees, Arewa Consultative Forum, the umbrella body of all the associations in the North. We believe that the members of the National Assembly are the representatives of the people. They should be able to speak for the people; they should be able to see whether something is good or bad. Can you give a man a job and still sack him  and say there is a group of people that should come and do the job? Don’t forget, you still have  to go back to them again and they can disagree with what you have done. That means nothing will come out of it. That is why some of us are saying we must tread with caution. Has there been any talk that lawmakers have failed or that we think they are useless and we should get a new crop of people? I don’t understand. We are not against it, we are just saying it should go through the National Assembly.
Do you believe the conference is necessary at this point in time?
It should be the National Assembly; it’s a procedure, it’s a system. We are talking of how we will go about it. What are you going to get differently? We had a national conference during (Chief Olusegun) Obasanjo’s regime, but what happened? That conference was an attempt to give Obasanjo a third term. When we realised, we kicked from the North. During our meeting at the ACF then, I led a delegation as Deputy National Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum. Then I led a delegation of Afenifere, Ohanaeze and South-South Assembly to the National Assembly to say no. So, Obasanjo was not happy he didn’t get the third term. He didn’t take the report of the conference seriously, but there were very serious points, useful suggestions, and recommendations in that report. I don’t know whether people have looked at it. I think it’s because the hand is different from the palm; that is what they are trying to do now. But where is the palm, is it not in the hand? When you talk of national conference, this-and-this conference, they are saying the same thing, it’s just different English. So, I believe it can be handled by the National Assembly.
It seems the government is bent on conducting the conference. Do you think it has an ulterior motive for doing this?
I don’t think they are bent on carrying out the conference, it’s people that are instigating the government to do it. The government never suggested it. So, it will be wrong to say government is bent on doing it. It is people, for their own interest, that are pressurising the government. That is the position. It is not because the government is bent on doing it.
Would you have joined the All Progressives Congress, if you had remained in the All Nigeria Peoples Party?
Yes, or alternatively, I would have left the ANPP.
Do you see the APC as a better alternative for the electorate in the 2015 elections?
I don’t think so. They are having problems too. Look at Kano, Ibrahim Shekarau and the governor are not in good terms. Shekarau was governor and he contested the presidential election, now Rabiu Kwankwanso who lost, is governor. Now, by their constitution, the state leader of the party is the governor and Shekarau would not take kindly to Kwankwanso being his leader. The same thing in Sokoto. The governor there was deputy to Attahiru Bafarawa and if they say the governor is the leader of the party, Bafarawa would not take kindly to the governor being his leader. So, they are having problems there and they haven’t settled them. The same thing with (Col. Buba) Marwa (retd) in Adamawa, they haven’t settled. So, everywhere, there is problem, we can only watch and see. Many people left the Peoples Democratic Party because they wanted Tukur out. Now Tukur has left, maybe some of them will come back. So, I don’t think they have won over PDP yet. APC can’t say hallelujah yet because some people are rushing to join them. Let’s just watch and see.
Looking beyond the crisis, as an elder statesman, do you think APC is a credible alternative for Nigerians? Can you recommend it as a better alternative to PDP?
As it is now, they are next to PDP. When you are talking of credible alternative, all I know is that they are next to PDP. If PDP is not there, they are the next biggest party to PDP, full stop. Whether they are credible is a different thing altogether. I won’t like to say anything on that aspect because that would mean talking about the individuals that make up the party.
How did you feel working with a military dictator like Gen. Sani Abacha, who many believe was the most ruthless of all dictators?
He wasn’t a military dictator; that was the word coined by you, newspaper people. You will agree with me that today, many people would like to have Abacha back. He was a good administrator. When you talk of accountability, Abacha had it; when you talk about holding the nation to his heart, Abacha had it. How much was a dollar during his time? You would talk of N70 to N80; how much is it today? No discipline. When people say dictator, of course, every military man by nature is, you could say so. I know why Nigerians are saying so; they say he was a dictator because he was not democratically elected, that is all, but not that he acted as a dictator. It is Obasanjo who started painting Abacha like a bad guy. How many did Abacha kill? So, people are not looking at that.
You said Abacha was not corrupt, but billions of Naira stashed away in foreign bank accounts were traced to him after his death…
They never said this was the money found in Abacha’s account. It was his boys, his children, they never said they found money in Abacha’s account, they were talking of Mohammed (Abacha).
You mean Abacha didn’t have any hand in those stolen funds?
Not to my knowledge. You see, if my son steals, it doesn’t mean because I’m the father, I automatically have a hand in it. They are mentioning Mohammed Abacha and associates. Recently, I heard they are re-opening the case.
Are you saying Abacha was not corrupt?
It depends on the interpretation; every Nigerian is corrupt. If you are talking of corruption generally, every Nigerian is corrupt. But when somebody is found guilty of an offence, or of corruption, if he is charged to court and found guilty, then it will be on record; otherwise, it’s all accusation, allegations. What you people have been writing about; that I have $900m, £800m; I have so-and-so overseas; who has recovered a penny? People can also say I’m corrupt because of those publications. But, one has to be found guilty before you can say a person is corrupt.
Are you absolving yourself of the corruption in the Abacha government?
To the best of my knowledge, compared to what we saw later, Abacha did nothing. What they accuse Abacha of is nothing compared to what we saw later. Of course, I don’t speak for him, but I was a part of that government. I don’t have the same bank account with him, but as a part of that government, I know that the man was very careful with spending government money and that was why he set up the Petroleum Trust Fund and we all know the usefulness of that fund. You can still see the signboards of the boreholes, which were done by that fund in many remote villages. Since the name was changed, do you hear anything about it again? That is why he appointed somebody like (Gen. Muhammadu) Buhari (retd) to head the fund, somebody who is careful with government money. Buhari would have left the fund if Abacha had interfered with him. These are some of the things we don’t look at it. Because you hate somebody, you give the person a bad name just to hang him. But history will vindicate Abacha, people are already saying it. People were demonstrating in Lagos after Abacha’s regime and they sent the soldiers to stop it. So I said, ‘Look, even during Abacha, they never stopped demonstration, and this is a democratic period.’ I don’t understand why they should stop demonstrators. You know  Wole Soyinka was one of those condemning it, he was forced to speak because he was seeing reality.
Regarding Buhari, some Nigerians feel he should be considered for the Presidency in 2015. Is this your opinion too?
He is a good chap. If he is given the opportunity, I think he would do well, being a disciplinarian. But we are in a democratic set up and the majority counts. If the people say they don’t want you, what do you do? But he is a very disciplined person; that, I can vouch for.
Can Buhari function within a democratic set up?
I don’t know, he hasn’t been a democratic head of state, so I can’t assess him. During the military, he did well, he set up the War against Indiscipline programme and we saw how people were queuing. Are they doing so now? People were not throwing dirt out of  the windows of their cars then, but that is going on now. During the military regime, the governors were disciplined. Forget the fact that they were military governors, they had respect for the president. The President has the whole country as one constituency, but the governors have only 36 constituencies, yet the present governors have no respect for the President. They behave anyhow, talk to the President anyhow, as if he is their houseboy. The same governors will not allow a local government chairman talk to them anyhow. So, I can’t assess whether Buhari would be a good civilian president or not.
In August 2001, it was reported that you led a delegation of Arewa Consultative Forum members to meet and discuss common goals with northern state governors and leaders. What were these goals, have they been achieved?
What we did was that we organised a peace conference about two years ago with all the northern governors, and the vice-president was there to discuss peace among ourselves. To that effect, we have achieved a lot. What is happening in Borno is a different thing altogether, where most of the people causing this trouble are not even from Nigeria, not to talk of whether they are from the North or Borno. We have achieved a lot. Don’t forget that we settled the rift between the Tivs and the Jukuns some years ago. I was deputy chairman to the late Chief Sunday Awoniyi. What we did then was to talk to the two groups, talk to their traditional rulers and the governors. We achieved peace, long before the Federal Government panel started sitting. They just had to wind up.
Is it possible to have a permanent solution to inter-ethnic rifts in the country?
Life itself is not permanent, so no one should say we can have a permanent solution to the various inter-ethnic crises in the country. Definitely, there is what we can call near-permanent peace, but not permanent peace; and to achieve this, we are saying the government should blow hot and cold. You can’t blow hot all the time and you can’t blow cold all the time. The citizens have their responsibility also. You don’t wait until security personnel get to a scene; how many people are in uniforms compared to the population? If it were those days, you could discipline any child; every child was yours. Is it happening today? Touch somebody’s child and he would take you to court. So situations have changed and we need people to also change. Most of us have forgotten our creator, thinking we can do it all on our own; but no, we need the backing of God. I believe in the saying that where there is life, there is hope. I think there is hope.
Is it true that President Jonathan had a one-term agreement with the North?
I have never been in the PDP, so I don’t know. That was a party thing. I don’t know anything about it. The  discussions were at the party level, not elders level, so I don’t know.
Some Niger-Delta activists are threatening bloodshed if Jonathan is not allowed to contest in 2015. What is your take on this?
I agree with them on this. Jonathan has the right to contest to complete two terms in office. There is no reason why Jonathan should not contest in 2015. If Yar’Ardua were alive, he would be finishing his eight years now. The man (Jonathan) took part of it. I can only say these four years that he is about to finish will be really his own. So if you don’t want him to spend another four years to make eight years, you can say let him spend two-and-a-half years or so, of what remained of Yar’Adua’s tenure to make up his own eight years. Definitely, there is no reason why Jonathan should not go for it in 2015, unless people reject him. It is not that he is not qualified, he is over-qualified.
So, are you opposed to agitators who want power to return to the North?
I am from the North, I don’t agree with them. The calculation is wrong, the calculation is selfish.
How do you assess Jonathan’s government?
The only thing I would say is he (the President) should blow hot and cold. Too much of cold compared to hot is why this nonsense is going on. He should balance it. I think he is doing well. One tree cannot make a forest; he cannot run the Federal Government and also run the states. State governments are there to do their own bit, so also are local governments.
Are you still in Democratic Peoples Party?
I’m still in DPP.
But DPP has almost fizzled from the political landscape?
No, I am still there. How can you say we have fizzled out? We are having meetings and looking at the whole set-up.
Any plan to field a presidential candidate in 2015 or merge with another party?
No, we have no plan to field a presidential candidate, but we may merge with another party, preferably PDP because that is where I believe we have more friends. But we have not concluded on that yet, I am just talking about preference.
How would you react to the recent appointment of service chiefs?
It’s a normal thing. As a service chief, you are there at the pleasure of the commander -in-chief. He can appoint you today and remove you tomorrow. So there is no rule or law that says you must spend this number of years there.
The new chief of defence staff at his first press briefing said he and the other new service chiefs must end terrorism in the country before April. Do you think this is feasible?
I don’t know from what angle he was talking, I saw it and I was surprised too. Personally, I wouldn’t make such a statement because I would need time to look at things. I don’t know whether he has been briefed by the field commanders; that’s why I said I don’t know what angle he was talking from. So, we will wait and see.
What’s the solution to the Jos crisis?
We don’t have much crisis, it’s just some ding-dong, that is all. Just some ding-dong; it keeps you here, keeps you there. The governor is doing his best and we are putting our heads together to assist the government to make sure that all the nonsense is stopped, once and for all.
Are you impressed with the Special Task Force? People complained that they don’t respond to distress calls in time.
No matter how prepared you are, you don’t know from what angle a thief is coming. He will just surprise you. The STF is trying its best. People expect that the moment they are attacked, in two minutes, the STF should arrive. It’s not like that. In an area that you think is calm, these people will just show up; they are evil, they are always planning attacks.

culled from Punch

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