In this piece, Seriki Adinoyi pays tribute to Senator Jonah David Jang as he turns 72
Former Governor of Plateau State and Senator of the Federal Republic, Jonah David Jang, today turned 72. It is a matter of joy for his family and friends to praise the Lord for his grace on the life of this distinguished and extraordinary gentleman.
Jang is reputed not just for the richness of his itinerary while he was governor, but also for his rare courage and the constancy in his conviction and political choices, which have remained unchanged even when they contradict the main stream opinion and fashion.
He is, first of all, a model of rectitude in his personal relationships; in most of his dealings, he is straightforward, candid, direct, and resolute. Many have attributed this to his military background. He is also absolutely reliable; he never dissembled, never recant his words. He is human – concerned with other people’s interests, sympathetic and compassionate, discreet and understanding. When he thanks you for something, you have no doubt that he really meant it. He will also not thank you when you don’t deserve it.
Without making him sound like a fanatic, for he is not, he gives everything he has to anything in which he believes and he’s involved. His enthusiasm is contagious. If there is a single personal characteristic that has set him apart, it is an inordinate, probing, insatiable curiosity- wanting to get reasons why justice should not be served equally to all parties. He continually seeks the why and the how; the reasons and the motivations behind everything. These become a way of life, which constitute not only a fountain of knowledge and feeling, but also a pursuit of excellence. Wisdom, they say begins in wonder. That is Jang.
His government was tagged as ‘stingy’ because he sought to know what every fund he was going to release was meant for. But this attribute contributed to the reason his was very prudent in spending, as all the officials that worked with him knew that they would be required to give account for every fund released to them.
In politics, an endeavour where egos regularly outpace dedication, his career was shaped by the abrasive action between his steely sense of the right as he saw it and the politician’s inclination to temporise. Jang has stood firm, not forgetting the people, never abandoning his dedication to their needs. He has not lost faith in the dream of what Nigeria, and particularly Plateau might be.
These rare characteristics, rather than endear him to many have unfortunately pitched people that have failed to cope with such straightforwardness against him. But for those that understand him, he is a treasure. He tends to think ahead of others; so, his suggestions may somewhat not be accepted immediately because many do not see what he has seen ahead of them.
Sometimes not too long ago, Jang had held a position on the need for the establishment of state police, arguing that such will bring policing closer to the people to address the myriad attacks on communities. But he was vehemently resisted and dismissed. He was thought to have ulterior motives of using the police to fight his perceived enemies. The then Police Inspector General thought Jang aimed to reduce his enormous powers. A few years later, nearly every governor and indeed every Nigerian saw reason for the same state police and began to clamour for it. And when the Federal Government was still reluctant about it, nearly all the states began to establish their private security outfits to tackle their internal security challenges, including the famous Civilian JTF that played vital role in the Boko Haram challenges in Borno State.
A recent one was his stance on the use of electronic card readers for the 2015 elections. He had foreseen the many failures of the cards, and had warned that many Nigerians may be disenfranchised. He even threatened to drag the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to court when nearly half of the population of voters in Plateau State did not get the card and were going to be disenfranchised. He suggested then that INEC look into others ways of accrediting voters, but the commission refused.
In the aftermath, everyone saw the many failures of the electronic card system of voting, and indeed how it marred the elections. The Supreme Court also had reasons to dismiss cases brought before it on the basis of the use of the cards because it was not part of the constitution. If INEC had listened, perhaps some of the problems would have been averted.
In 2008, Jang had cried out that foreign mercenaries in military uniforms were imported with dangerous weapons to fight in Jos during the mayhem that followed local government elections in the state. He complained that Nigerian borders were too porous. Many did not believe. The mercenaries eventually wiped out communities in Plateau State under the guise of being Fulani herdsmen. When they were done with Plateau, they proceeded to neighbouring states of Taraba, Nasarawa, Kaduna, and now Benue; with over 300 lives recently wiped out in Agatu. And may be if heed was given to his cry and the border properly guarded the menace of Boko Haram that spread across the nation like fire could have been averted or at least reduced.
Jang’s heart is big and it works overtime, but it is tenderer than any heart found among men of power. It is easily pierced by the tragedy and misfortunes of others, but it possesses marvelous powers of recuperation. When the Plateau voters rejected his choice for them in the 2015 elections, it was an open wound for a few moments. But then he gathered himself and began to climb out of defeat.
Like it was in the past, many didn’t see why he made the choice for them; many became beclouded by ethnic and zonal politics that they didn’t see why Plateau should be given a leader like Mr Gyang Pwajok, who possessed the intellectual capacity and the will to serve the state. But in years to come Plateau people will again understand.
His landmarks as military Governor of Benue and Old Gongola States are still there today as testimonies to his selfless services to the people; reason delegations were sent to felicitate with him when he celebrated his 70th Birthday in 2014. He is still a friend to the states up till today.
Jang may be 72 today, but he is young and vibrant at heart. He understands well why so many young people today, observing the contrast between their ideals and the reality around them, tend to turn away in discouragement and alienation. By the contagion of his confidence in democracy and love for the ancient Greeks that invented democracy, he will always encourage young people to stay involved in the political process – a reason for his choice in the 2015 governorship election in Plateau. Like the ancient Greeks, he has contempt for those who refuse to participate in the political process. He appreciates the fact that while democracy creates inefficiencies that are expensive for society, the alternative in the long term are much more expensive and deadly.
Those who know him, have worked with him, love him and have been inspired by him, are far better men for that association. In the words of Shakespeare, “the advantage of living is not measured by length but by use; some men have lived long, and lived little. Attend to it while you are in it. It lies in your will, not in number of years, for you to have lived enough.”
Let all men dedicate their lives – be they long or short touching the lives of others.
That is a value Jang has imbibed.
Finally, we ask not that a man be a hero, but only that he be everything that makes a man. Jonah David Jang is such a man. He has made a difference and cannot be forgotten, not on a special occasion as this. May your days be long and your strength increase. Like the Biblical Caleb, as your strength was while you vibrantly served Gongola, Benue, and Plateau states, so it is now, and even more as you serve the Nation at the National Assembly. You are a worthy Nigerian. Happy Birthday Baba!