Senator Jonah Jang is a one-time military governor of the defunct Gongola and Benue states and former governor of Plateau State. Jang, who was also a member of the eighth National Assembly, spoke with newsmen on a number of national issues, including constitution review, restructuring and insecurity. ISAAC SHOBAYO brings excerpt from the interview.
Many Nigerians have been clamouring for the removal of service chiefs on the grounds of poor performance in the fight against insurgency. As a retired General, what is your take on this?
I retired as Air Commodore, that is one-star General in the military. I served in the military for 27 years. Appointment of service chiefs is a prerogative of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I have no quarrel with the president if he decides to keep the service chiefs as long as he wants. My only area of concern is that when people are due for retirement and they are not retired, it becomes difficult for the young ones to move up. If the service chiefs are moved out when they are due for retirement or they are changed according to the prerogative of Mr President, vacancies will be created, adjustments will be made and promotions become possible. I believe that as a result of what is happening today, the Service Chiefs have not been retired or they have not retired themselves, it means that people are being promoted to keep the place quiet. This is just the major area of concern to me as a retired military man. In the newspapers and the social media, people complain that the service chiefs have run out of ideas and that is why the problem of insurgency, insecurity, persists. I want to say here that the Nigerian Armed Forces, even in our time, are trained to fight war, that is, normal, conventional war, not insurgencies. Therefore, I believe that some units should have been trained on how to deal with insurgency, which has not been done. Now people coming from the training depot are just sent to go and face these unconventional warriors and they have no idea of how to fight them. Unfortunately, the terms and conditions of service in the Nigerian Armed Forces are such that people well trained like some of us were not due for retirement when we were thrown out of the service, and we left with so many fantastic ideas. I returned from the Royal College of Defence Studies and seven months after, I was retired. In advanced countries, people like us would have been kept until they take so much out of what they put in us and nobody ever consulted any of us. If they don’t consult me because I have become a politician, there are many other retired Generals, senior officers that have enough experience from our various trainings of those days that could have advised on the best ways to tackle the insurgency.
It is most unfortunate that today, military men are found on the roads. I spoke several times when I was governor about states having their own security setup to reduce the work of the federal police. Today, if you look at the ratio of the Nigeria Police personnel to the population of the country, what do you expect the police to do? But if states set up their own police and have some level of assignments and federal police have its level of assignment, the coverage would have been a lot better but we are playing politics with the security of the nation and now think the army should come in. By my training and understanding, the Armed Forces only come in when there is a situation that is beyond the police. The population of Nigeria is getting to about 200 million. If you deploy all the armed forces and the police, they would not be able to cover the security of this country. Sometimes we blame security personnel, we expect them to perform magic, but the insurgents in the bush had AK-47 rifles ever before the Nigerian Army started using AK-47 rifles. If you look at the situation that we are in, I think the Federal Government has a lot to do to properly equip and train the police and the armed forces to meet the situation on the ground today. So, service chiefs staying or not staying is not for anybody to take decision about.
A combination of pressure groups in the South and the Middle Belt recently gave the Federal Government a 90-day ultimatum to review the constitution of the country and you were one of the signatories to the document. What informed that decision?
Frankly speaking, when some of us talk, the general saying is, ‘no be una do am?’ That is, those of us that had been in the military, especially in the ruling class, that is, those of us who had the opportunity to be appointed political assignments while still serving in the military. The truth is that there is no way the military can draw a constitution that serves the needs of the democratic setup. Unfortunately, this is the situation we have in Nigeria today. No matter how much we keep amending the constitution, if the people themselves do not speak, meet and decide what type of constitution they should have, we cannot have equity, justice and fair play in the system. The first page of the constitution says ‘we the people of Nigeria’. Maybe it should have read ‘we soldiers of Nigeria or the Armed Forces of Nigeria give you Nigerians this constitution’. It reads ‘we the people of Nigeria’. Which ‘we’? When did we meet to fashion the constitution? Some people might have said the military set up constitutional conferences but when the people argued and put down what they wanted, the military would now go and amend and give the people what they want. I will give you an example. After I retired, I attended the constitutional conference set up by the late General Sani Abacha in 1994. If you bring out that document as it was presented to General Abacha, you will see that it was a beautiful document. We suggested the idea of zones, I mean the political zones that we now have but we didn’t recommend Central Zone. We called it the Middle Belt and it came out as Central Zone.
If you look at the creation of states and local governments by the military, it is the worst injustice done to this nation. If you look at the number of local governments in Kano and Jigawa states and look at Bayelsa and if you take the federal constituencies of Kano and Jigawa for the House of Representatives, they are more than the entire federal constituencies in the South East, how do you balance debate in the House of Representatives? So, it is very clear that Nigeria needs to be restructured. I love Nigeria. We fought the civil war to keep Nigeria as one but the country is not one today. We are a country, not a nation because there is no sign of any sort that Nigeria is a nation. People are talking in terms of region, states and tribes. Look at the imbalance in the National Assembly and even in states. Take Plateau that I governed for eight years as an example, how can you have a federal constituency of Jos South and Jos East compared to Wase with one federal constituency? Look at the population of Wase and Jos South alone, you may put three times Wase in Jos South but you bring them together with Jos East to form one federal constituency. Look at Jos North with the highest voting population, you combine them with Bassa, another heavily populated local government and you gave the two of them one federal constituency. How can you have balance in any debate in the House of Representatives? I did not mention Senate because there is equality in the Senate. Except we give each state, irrespective of population, same number of constituencies, it is those that have more numbers that would always dictate what is passed in the House of Representatives. When it comes to the joint meeting of the Senate and House of Representatives to pass a bill or whatever, you find out that it is what the House says that overrides the Senate.
We are running a unitary constitution in a federal system. The government of the day can bring us together based on our ethnic nationalities, interest groups and look at the restructuring of this country. It was my main agenda when I ran for the presidency in 2019. There is no way we can develop this country under this structural imbalance where so much power is in the hand of the president and yet we are running a federation. The states have to be running cap in hand to the presidency and that is why some governors think they belong to the president, forgetting that they were elected on the same constitution with the president and they are supposed to have executive powers to run their states because they have state assembly and state judiciary. You call a governor the chief security officer of his state, yet he cannot direct the commissioner of police to carry out a security assignment. The commissioner will tell you, ‘let me go and consult’ and he will come back to tell you that he cannot do it due to order from above. I suffered this for eight years and that is why I am still agitating for state police. If we are going to run a federal system, we must share power among the federating units and the presidency should handle only what is purely federal, that is, control of the armed forces, foreign affairs and other things that states cannot directly handle. But whatever the states can handle directly, the states should handle. For example, every year, so much money is budgeted for agriculture. I was a governor in this country for 11 years, three as a military governor and eight years as democratically elected governor. What is the Federal Ministry of Agriculture doing with agriculture when agriculture is in the states and local governments? Education should be run by the states and the private sector.
So, all we are doing is that we are asking Nigerians to look at the reason why we are not progressing. We are not progressing because power has not been given to the right areas. I believe that Nigerians should be given the opportunity to debate our coexistence so that we can become a nation, not just remaining a country or a collection of nationalities that cannot decide properly. What Plateau people want is not what Kano people want but when you ask our representatives to go and push a case for Plateau, it is overruled. One of the areas where I still feel aggrieved is that crises started here on the Plateau. Nobody ever knew that there would be crises that we are having today in the North East and the North West but they brought a bill to create the North East Development Commission and we said the Middle Belt should also be given the same thing. They voted us out and we said if that is the case, include us in the North East Development Commission. They overruled us. Our people today are not in their homes; they are living as refugees within their state. Nobody is talking about them. What is our future as a people? They feel they can dictate to us because they are more in number. They take what they want and overrule whatever they want to overrule. What kind of constitution allows such injustice? We are setting the tone for the debate and hope that the Federal Government will allow Nigerians to debate restructuring, especially the imbalance we have in the constitution. If it means amending it from article one to the end, let it be done so that we can have a true federal constitution. The military did it because they were ruling with gun but military government is no more in vogue anywhere in the world. So, Nigeria cannot afford running a military constitution for a democratic system of government.
What is your view on state independent electoral commissions?
The Independent National Electoral Commission is not even regulating federal election properly. There was hardly any election, the conduct of which people were happy about. In fact, it is one of the areas where we need serious restructuring. INEC needs to be restructured for democracy to succeed. The state independent electoral commissions should be cancelled because there have never been any successful elections in the states. Most state governments are not sincere. Once local government allocations come, they don’t separate them from the states’ except during the time of Jonah Jang on the Plateau. Throughout my eight years, I never took a kobo from local government funds.
Do you support the idea of negotiating with bandits or Boko Haram by government as part of ways of arresting insurgency?
As a military man, my position is that you don’t negotiate with your enemy while you are still fighting. Negotiations are done when one side has decided to surrender. This is one of the ridiculous things one has seen in the Nigerian system. The person who is representing the government to negotiate with Boko Haram, for example, what relationship does he have with Boko Haram? Boko Haram has not called for a truce or said bring your own people and we bring ours but you start sending people to talk to Boko Haram, what is their relationship with Boko Haram? Insecurity will continue as long as so many interests are involved.
There was a meeting of Northern governors with a former vice president. They started talking about insecurity. I told the vice president that night that ‘you know where insecurity is coming from, what do you want us to do? We don’t have the police; you are the people who have them at the federal level and when we catch them and send them to you people, you send them away’. That was how the meeting ended.
For over 20 years now, there has been no delineation of constituency to arrest the imbalance foisted on the nation. What do you think should be done to correct the anomaly before the next general election?
To have successful elections in the future in this country, INEC needs to be restructured. Before we left the eighth National Assembly, we passed the Electoral Bill but the president refused to sign it into law. So, don’t blame the National Assembly. I heard that they are talking about electoral law again. What happened to the one that we passed?
Political gladiators have started scheming for the presidency ahead of the 2023 general election and one of the issues on the front burner is zoning. What is your position on this?
I am not a believer in power rotation and I will tell you why before I answer your question. There is nothing like power rotation in the 1999 Constitution; political parties do it for convenience. But if you look at it, anytime the presidency comes to the North, because most parties have adopted North and South, the North has turns out to be one zone that produces the presidency and that is the North West. Even now, the North West is gearing up for 2023. If rotation is what Nigerians want, then the political parties must review it. When I was running for the presidency, I went to see one of the top leaders in this country. It has always been rotating between the major tribes except Jonathan that got it because of the death of President [Umaru] Yar’Adua. I call it accidental because even to allow him to act before the death of President Yar’Adua, it was war.
What was I told by that leader I went to see? He said as good as I might be, he could not see how a Christian minority could win an election in Nigeria. This is the first time I am saying this out because it has come to a time that we have to start talking. So, if there is going to be rotation of the presidency, then it has to be the North, Middle Belt and the South, otherwise no minority, apart from Jonathan, can rule this country and that is why he was blocked from getting second term. So, the chapter for the minority is closed if restructuring is not done. If political parties do not review this rotation, the Middle Belt cannot be joined with the North. It is unacceptable to us. The North means North West. We want presidency to be zoned to the Middle Belt. We are not part of the North’s rotation; we want the presidency in the Middle Belt, if possible, in 2023.
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