Brigadier-General Jonathan Temlong (retd) speaks with ISAAC SHOBAYO on the prevailing political situation in the country, especially on the anti-corruption crusade of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration; the recently-appointed Ken Nnamani Electoral Reform Committee and other issues.
What is your perception of godfatherism in Nigeria politics?
The issue of godfathers in Nigerian polity is as long as the evolution of politics in the country, but I will like to call it mentorship. In political settings or in any profession, you need mentors: Those who will mentor young men and guide them to bring them to the peak of their professions. I will give an example of when [Barack] Obama made his speech at the convention in the United States; it was there that the democrats picked him and said this is a presidential material and kept mentoring Obama until he became the president of the United States of America. Chief Obafemi Awolowo mentored many young people who later became forces to be reckoned with in Nigerian politics. Nnamdi Azikiwe mentored quite a lot of people, likewise the late Sardauna of Sokoto.
Mentoring or godfatherism as people would like to call it in Nigeria is not bad; it means you are directing or grooming people who will eventually take over from you or who have potential to serve in certain posts and once they are there, you guide them. So, it is not bad. But the negative aspect of it as we do it in Nigeria. They believe that the moment they put you there you there, you are a stooge and they control you. I don’t know whether they want to control or correct; people misconstrue this based on their perceptions. And if you want to correct somebody and he thinks you want to control him, I think that is wrong, because you might want to tell him that what he is doing is not correct. In that case, you listen to your mentor, but sometimes the spoils of office get into people’s heads and they pick up a fight with their mentors. We can fine-tune political mentorship. In politics, you need people who will sit at the back and correct you, who will take the big stick and whip you inside but not in public glare. It helps, even in traditional settings, those emirs, obas and chiefs, they are not absolute; the have people who call them and advise them behind the scenes.
But the issue of godfatherism has begun to threaten democracy and politics, with some of the crises rocking major political parties having to do with this, especially in the APC. What is your view?
If you mentor somebody, it means you should have the same mindset and objective; the policy direction shouldn’t be different unless something went wrong. You work out the policy together on what you want to do, if there is problem in APC now, then it is unfortunate. Sometimes, those who are supposed to be mentored feel they should be in the saddle themselves and if you take the role of a mentor, then you should take the back seat and allow somebody in the driver’s seat to move things and you who is in the driver’s seat should realise too that there is another driver at the back seat. So, we should have the same vision and objective if we want to achieve, when we are marching, it should be with the same goal. If there is a problem, the person on the driver’s seat should have courage to tell the man sitting behind what he is seeing, and they can discuss and fine-tune policies. There should be maturity in handling situations like these. If there is instability, it can affect government and that is why you manage problems before they become big. But we have a problem now because instead of us trying to build institutions, we are building individuals.
The anti-corruption crusade of this administration took another dimension recently when some senior judges were arrested in a commando-like operation and charged to court. What is your take on the arrest and the way and manner they were arrested?
Fighting corruption is healthy for our democracy; but fighting corruption in a democracy must follow due process, because democracy stands on the rule of law. The judges and everybody are equal before the law but they are in a sacred place dispensing justice. That is why they call it the temple of justice. So, those in the temple are supposed to be above board. When you cross the boundaries, then the law is not a respecter of persons and as I said, if you don’t follow the rule of law in democracy, democracy will fail. One of the pillars of democracy is the rule of law; if you break that pillar, democracy will fail. If justice is for the highest bidder, it means you have broken the pillar. So it is either way, because if there is corruption in the judiciary then it will breed anarchy. If the pillar is broken, democracy will limp and if there is anarchy, democracy will not thrive.
There is a complaint by Nigerians, especially those in opposition that the fight against corruption has been focused only on members of the opposition party while there are corrupt people in the ruling party enjoying their loot. What do you make of this?
That is why I said everyone should have access to the rule of law and that there must be equality before the law. If for any reason the pillars of the rule of law are broken, then there will be problem. The pronouncement of the president now and his body language are that even his people, his ministers should be investigated. In the beginning, I said we should try to build institutions. If you remove President Buhari from APC now, will the credibility this government has still be there? This is the question we must ask ourselves. If APC rode on the credibility of President Buhari, then it must strive to build institutions of democracy that would stand a post-Buhari period. It is not just APC; we must build our institutions, even the political parties. Look at the problem in PDP, the party is struggling to find its feet. Those who think such in-fighting is good for the country and democracy are wrong. Multi-party system provides for an alternative; if Nigerians, for any reason, say in 2019 that they are fed up with APC, we should have a choice. But where is that choice going to come from? So, Nigerians must try to build strong institutions that will outlive us; institutions that will take care of the tyrants and the weakling.
Most elections conducted after 2015 general election were dubbed inconclusive. Do you think INEC has the capability to conduct credible elections in 2019?
What I see happening with the inconclusive elections is that it is good and bad at the same time. It is good in the sense that INEC is trying to put itself together to ensure that they have credible elections. In the process, those who have been used to getting things right have not been able to do it, so it has become inconclusive. But the bad thing is that it has to be fixed as quickly as possible, because, in 2019, it is going to be general election. It means you are going to deploy to the whole country simultaneously. I heard that the police are going to deploy 24,000 policemen to Ondo State for the governorship election, now can the police be able to deploy 24,000 policemen to all the states that will conduct election in 2019? Do they have that kind of manpower? So you see the danger in it? The earlier we get our acts together, the better for us in Nigeria.
With the political scenario in Ondo State resulting in legal tussles across the different parties, do you think we are advancing politically in this country?
If institutions are well-built, there will be no crisis. You saw how the primary in America was conducted; they started with debates and some dropped out on the way, this is because the institutions there are strong. So, let us build our parties for them to be solid and formidable. We should also allow internal democracy to function in the parties. If there is no internal democracy within the party, there will be no virile democracy in the country, because people come on the platform of parties. If you don’t have money, you cannot give me money. So if the party does not have internal democracy, they cannot give Nigeria democracy.
Recently, the president set up the Senator Ken Nnamani Electoral and Constitution Review Committee and Nigerians have pointed out that the issue of elections into local governments should be addressed. What is your take on this?
The committee wants to look at all the past reports; Ken Nnamani was a delegate at the National Conference. We were there with him and he knows the decision we took at the national conference. What we said was that an elected government will succeed an elected government. If an elected government succeeded an elected government at the federal and state levels, what stops elected local government from succeeding elected local government? Is it not democracy too? What constitutional right does a governor have to terminate the term of elected local government chairmen and put caretaker committees in their places? Once you remove people anyhow, it is equivalent to a coup.