Major General David Jemibewon (rtd) like many Nigerians, is not happy with the current state of affairs in the country. The former military governor of Oyo State and former Minister of Police Affairs believes that many things have gone wrong in Nigeria.
However, for him, the situation is not irredeemable if all can join hands to lift the nation. In this interview, he opens up on a lot of national issues.
First of all, let us share your thoughts on the state of affairs in Nigeria with particular focus on the economy.
Truly, the situation is really gloomy. This is because people who used to have, do not have again and people who did not have but were hoping to have, their hopes have even been further dashed. Honestly, I do not know how to describe the situation but the situation could be better.
Do you see the government making enough efforts to get the nation out of the woods?
To be honest with you, I do not know because I am not in possession of information to lead me to the conclusion that the government is not doing the right thing. I am not in government. There are times when people outside misunderstand what the intentions of government are or what they are doing. But the government should try to have the means of informing the public what they are doing. So, to be honest with you, I cannot say that government is not doing the right thing because I do not have sufficient information other than what I read in newspapers. So, from your question, if I make a statement, I should be able to support it with evidence.
From your wealth of experience both as a consummate soldier and former governor and minister, what is your understanding of the killings in Southern Kaduna? Are you not surprised with the sudden upsurge in the spate of violence there at the moment? Is the situation more than meets the eye?
Any violence perpetrated anywhere in the country should be condemned. Nobody has a right to take the life of the other because we did not have a hand in the creation of that person in the first place. No matter how sick a person is, there is still hope he would recover. That is why they say that when there is life, there is hope. When you terminate the life of a human being particularly under a very painful circumstance, it is not right and it is condemnable. I travelled out and when I came back, I started hearing about some of these things. We have so much problem in this country that we should be telling people that taking other people’s lives is not right and it should not happen. We have attained the level of civility and civilisation that this kind of thing should have been a thing of the past. So, that kind of violence, it does not matter where it happens, it is condemnable.
Not long ago, the Federal Government came up to say that it has defeated the Boko Haram sect and up till now, we are still suffering from the activities of the insurgents. Do you think that strategically, it was right for government to have declared victory over the sect?
You know that I cannot be a spokesman for government. It depends on the classification of the operation. You consider operation or even crisis in different categories, say A, B and C. You can represent them with green and blue with the red being the highest point of the crises. What it means is that by the time you get to blue, there is peace. If you move the point of success in the crisis to 75 percent, you can say that you have defeated Boko Haram for instance. You may not wait for a situation where you succeed 100 percent before you say you have defeated the enemy. So, maybe it is on the basis of that government came out to say it has defeated Boko Haram. At one time, we all saw the activities committed by Boko Haram but presently, that have reduced and the frequency of the attacks has reduced. Based on that, government can say it has defeated Boko Haram. And in any case, do you expect the government to come out to say we have lost to Boko Haram. You must give hope to the public. You would not want the government to lose hope in the capacity of the authorities to control the situation. Government must find a way to be diplomatic in giving out information on such a sensitive issue. I do not think government is wrong to have said it has defeated Boko Haram because the level of killings, atrocities and the anxiety among the public and so on, have gone down. For the government to have reached the point where it is today, that means the backbone of Boko Haram has been broken. Let us take this for an example. You put traffic wardens on the road, police and other national security agencies because you are trying to reduce road accidents on the road. But even with all those agencies on the road, there is no way you would achieve 100 percent success in checking accidents but you can say yes, we have reasonably controlled the rate of accidents. So, this is the way I can explain the basis upon which government came out to say that it has defeated Boko Haram.
But seriously speaking, why do you think that the Boko Haram scourge has refused to go. When the group came up, not many took them seriously but it seems they have become part of us.
It would go but you know that it is easier to destroy than to build or rebuild. Boko Haram can only go when all of us believe that we can defeat it. What is government and who is government? It is the people and the people must rise up and fight the ills of the society. Boko Haram is one of the ills of the society and we must come together and fight it. We know that there are people in various states who are closest to where it is happening. There are people who are in the periphery of where it is happening. But the soldiers are physically there and the civilians in the affected areas must support the armed forces. And even those of us outside the flash points must give support one way or the other by donations, good wishes and so on. So, it is the responsibility of all of us. We should consider it a national problem than a problem of a particular area. The problem if not addressed would affect all of us.
Do you agree with those who insist that there is an international connection to the Boko Haram insurgency?
There is an absolute possibility. If such people do not get support from somewhere, they would be running out of resources, materials and all that they need for their activities. However, I have no concrete evidence to say so but I know that there is a possibility of an international connection to all of this.
Let us seriously look at the issue of policing in Nigeria. As a former minister of Police Affairs, what do you think is the problem of policing in the country?
First of all, there is hardly any professional calling in Nigeria that does not have one problem or the other. The police as an organisation, is a reflection of our society. If you do what is right and everybody does what is right, what would happen is that the police, Navy and the Army would do what is right because they are members of the society. Whatever profession you look at is a reflection of the society. It is as simple as that. We must all rise up and work toward doing the right thing.
There is a resurgence of agitations in the country. Do you think it is part of the failure of President Buhari’s administration? What is the way out of the situation?
To me, that is the tragedy of the situation in this country. Every time we think we would improve but at the end, we do not improve. I have said it many times that until we face the reality, I do not see how we can achieve peace and development. If a criminal is arrested and he comes from Yoruba land, some people would come up and say he was arrested because he is Yoruba. And they know that he is corrupt and that he has committed an offence. If an Igbo man is arrested, some Igbo would come out to say he was arrested because he is Igbo. They would defend him even when they know that he is corrupt and has committed an offence. It is so with all other tribes. I do not know how we can solve the problem. From the time I was a young man, this type of thing has been happening and sometime when we think we have overgrown that, the same attitude keeps coming up again. I do not know how we can go about it. People keep hoping that the country would change but unfortunately, the country has not changed. The situation in Nigeria is very worrisome.
What are your greatest fears about Nigeria?
I have never given it a thought but if I want to think of anything now, it is lack of development in the right direction. When I was a young man, we used to hear politicians say Nigeria has potentials and even today, many years after, what you still hear is that Nigeria has potentials. Then the question is, when are we going to realise these potentials? Nigeria at 20, you are saying Nigeria has potentials, at 30, Nigeria still has potentials, at 50 the same thing. So, when will Nigeria realise these potentials that we have been hearing all these past years. That is part of my fears. We continue to blame the issue of ethnicity and anything that happens, we believe it is ethnically based. That is the tragedy of our situation.
Part of the problems of President Buhari is that he appears to have been insulated from knowing the reality of the situation. Many talk about a certain cabal that has not allowed the president to function. What are your thoughts on such insinuations?
I do not agree that Buhari has been hijacked by a cabal. I have been hearing the word cabal for many years. The word cabal in association with those in positions of authority is no more new to me. I do not agree with that.
Recently, your friend, former president Olusegun Obasanjo publicly expressed support for the South East to produce the next president of the country. Do you share his view?
Obasanjo is not my friend but my boss. I have special likeness for him. It is just like my late friend, Ojo Maduekwe said some years ago when people were talking about Igbo presidency; Ojo Maduekwe came out and said that there can be no Igbo president but a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction. So, if Obasanjo is supporting the South East to produce the next president of the country, it is okay but I do not think there can be an Igbo president but a president of Igbo extraction. I have never heard of any Yoruba president but you can talk about a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction. The Yoruba is not a country and I do not know how they can have a president. Also, Igbo is not a country and they cannot have an Igbo president of Nigeria but there can be a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction. There can be a Nigerian president of Fulani extraction, Yoruba extraction, Tiv extraction etc. I am not sure that Obasanjo is advocating for an Igbo president.
On the road to 2019 general elections, what do you see?
What I see on the road to 2019; it is hard to say. I can just pray for a better Nigeria. Already, some people are fighting for the 2019 general elections. I am just praying that we should work for the good of the country. My expectation is that we should all work hard for the progress and development of the country so that Nigeria can be a pride for all of us. So, ahead of 2019 for me, it is more of prayers than anything else. Honestly, this country is not making the progress it should make. The youths, I am not sure they are encouraged with what they are seeing. I am praying to almighty God to redirect those who are in charge of running the country to put the country first before their interests. Is the country for some people or for all of us? I do not know really. I am at the beginning of the age of 77 now and we are still talking about the potentials of Nigeria. There is no way I can spend half of what I have already spent in life.