Kano underage voters: NASS must not allow INEC to derail democracy — Gen Temlong

Brigadier General Jonathan Temlong (retd) is the first Multi-National Joint Task Force Commander in the North-East and former senatorial candidate in Plateau State. In this interview with ISAAC SHOBAYO, he speaks on the abduction of 110 secondary school girls in Yobe State, insecurity, underage voting, among other issues.

 

THE issue of underage voting is more prevalent in the North, recently during a local government election in Kano State, large numbers of underage voters were detected and this has been generating serious public discourse to the extent that people are calling for the re-registration of voters in Kano State. Do you subscribe to this notion?

INEC has come out to say that it would investigate the matter, but I don’t know what the commission is going to investigate because I heard some people in INEC said they were threatened when they refused to register the young men. That is enough evidence, unless those people [INEC officials] did not report to their headquarters. If they did, they should have taken decision at that time. But the truth is that for the integrity of our elections, they must do something about it and stop this. If not, you will see in the next election that what is sauce for the goose will be sauce for the gander. Something must be done quickly to restore the integrity of our ballot and the INEC must act now, not next year when election is around the corner.

 

Don’t you think there is the need to review the entire registration?

That is why I said they must act immediately, not just the INEC, the National Assembly must not fold its arms and watch INEC derail democracy. Likewise, members of the civil society should not fold their arms and watch INEC derail democracy. If it means challenging INEC at  the Apex Court, they should go ahead. If they fail to act, it will spell doom for our democracy. It is a constitutional breach for underage to vote in this country. It is a serious offence; it is a national disgrace. For people to also say it was done during the last 2015 elections depicted the last general election was fraught with malpractices. All men of conscience must rise up against this practice; our democracy must not be allowed to derail.

 

Another set of secondary school girls were abducted in Yobe State, despite the position of the military that Boko Haram elements have been decimated. What is your take on this?

The elements have scattered from their traditional home, so where did they scatter to? That was why the military came out that the public should watch out for Boko Haram elements who are infiltrating the civil population. When you are fighting asymmetric war, no line is drawn between the enemies and combatant forces. They are within you. So, these elements that were driven from Sambisa forest filtered into the civilian population. Unfortunately, the warning of the military was not adhered to. They would have seen some of them regrouping in certain areas because it is impossible for the military to be everywhere. Security is the responsibility of everybody, including the state government and the apparatus of state. It is quite unfortunate because of how loose our system is. You can enter Nigeria from Niger borders and move freely without being stopped, provided you speak any of these languages. But you cannot entre Niger no matter how fluent you are in Hausa or Fulani language. They would know that you are a foreigner. The issue is that governance at the state and local government levels is very poor. You cannot hear the local government doing anything concerning security and that is the level that security is more necessary. This is the level which any infiltration can be detected. These people are looking for soft targets. They are looking for relevance. They want to keep terrorising people to make sure they are still there and remain relevant. They want to continue to make money. I can’t confirm this to you, but we were told that money exchanged hands to secure the release of the University of Maiduguri lecturers and some Chibok girls. The social media gave figures. It is very glaring that they are desperate for money. In some areas, there is an insinuation that they are being bribed or money is being given for the girls to be released. If that is the case, they must be desperate for money and this unfortunate situation happened where they abducted another set of secondary school girls.

 

The belief in certain quarters is that the abduction was questionable that the circumstance of the abduction was similar to that Chibok girls. Why is it difficult for the security operatives in that local government to track down those behind the abduction before they disappeared?

I want to ask this question. Where was the military location and when were they notified? Military operations are beyond what people are thinking them to be. Another question is this: were there no policeman in that locality and was there no other security agencies in those areas? These are just the first line; it is not just the military. What is the relationship between the police command and military command in Yobe State? These are the things that people need to ask before they push the blame on the military. It is possible these elements can be tracked down, but where is the military location in that area? And what time of the day did it take place? People are talking as if the girls were abducted in their living rooms. Military operations are beyond this. In any case, what happened and where were the police when the unfortunate incident happened? These are some of the questions we need to ask before blaming any group in the saga.

Another thing is that if the civilian population has been so trained in security awareness and others, they should have sighted the Boko Haram elements and told the military before they bolted away with the girls and the military would have use helicopters to monitor the abductors. All these have been recommended that we must build the capacity of people to report breaches of security in such a way that would assist the military. Let me give you an example of what happened in Dogo Nahauwa in Jos, when people were killed some years back.  The reaction of the military was slow because when the people were sighted nobody raised the alarm and when information was provided, it was misleading. The people said they were heading toward shel, whereas they were heading towards Dogo Nahauwa and the military did know where Dogo Nahauwa is. There were no road signs there was no good road to the place and there was nobody to take them until they grabbed somebody. When they eventually located the community, it took them another long time to get there due to poor road. So, what I am trying to say is that if it takes just 30 minutes before you get to the scene of the incident, that is enough for those elements to wreak havoc on the community and disappear.

 

But the impression in certain quarters is that the military has not done enough to arrest the situation.

This is a callous statement. With the intelligence network of the United States of America, Osama Bin Laden was able to organise his terrorist’s group and struck there, let alone here. Those with such statement should go to the Sambisa or any other operation zones and spend just one night there to see things for themselves and to see what these soldiers are going through. We must learn to appreciate these men. They are sacrificing more than enough to arrest this pathetic situation.

 

Another aspect of insecurity confronting the nation currently is the incessant clash between Fulani herdsmen and farmers. This is more pronounced in the Middle Belt states and in some parts of the Southern states. What is the way out of this menace?

There are problems that can be solved politically and there are problems that can be solved in a military way. There are also problems that can be solved diplomatically. There is what we called the national element of power of any nation. After your analysis, you decided which elements of power are best suited to use. I kept asking this question: In the 21 century, the population of Nigeria has been on steady increase, we have not sat down to think of how we are going to treat this population in terms of amenities and peaceful co-existence. The Fulani herdsmen we have now, are they the ones to provide the required beef of the country? Can they provide the dairy requirement for the population? If Nigeria is satisfied with the traditional method of rearing chickens at their backyards, I am sure by now we won’t be able to meet all our egg requirement and by now we would have been importing eggs into this country. We cannot continue with this method of cattle rearing in this century and think we would meet our requirements.

So, it is better for us to start looking at ranching. You are not going to take the type Fulani cattle into a ranch because average Fulani cattle will take three to four years before it is due for beef. So, we must try to imbibe best modern method of farming. Today, Brazil and Ausralia export beef because of their modern method of ranching. Even the leather we use for chairs are imported from Brazil. These countries don’t do this type of free ranging again. If foreigners came into this country with their cattle and discovered that all the cattle in this state are in ranches, they would not even come at all. Government also must begin to address the problem proactively. The deployment of troops to Benue, Taraba and other places are coming rather too late, even though it is better late than never. And once your country is under invasion, you must protect the territorial integrity because there are lots of Fulani mercenaries in these flash points across the country and to restore this, the best element of power to use is the military. But we need to go beyond that. We must find solution to this problem.

At 2014 national confab, our recommendation was that we gave five to 10 years by which there would be no open grazing again. Anybody who wants to rear cattle must have a ranch. For your information, in Saudi Arabia and some Arab countries, there are ranches, it must not necessarily be for cows alone. Some of the best horses you find in the world are reared from some of these countries. They don’t have grass; they import what they use to feed them. In this country too, we can encourage people to grow grass, the type that is used for feeding. This can stem migration as a result of desertification. That will reduce pressure on the Middle Belt states. But so long as the pressure is not released, man and animal will continue to find food and water and these are abundant in the Middle Belt and southern states.

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