Jonah JangTo Become a Nation, Nigerians Must be Allowed to Debate Our Coexistence


Retired Air Commodore Jonah David Jang was governor of Plateau State from 2007 to 2015 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He also represented Plateau North in the Senate from 2015 to 2019. He had previously served as Military Governor of Benue State and later defunct Gongola State. Jang is currently a member of the Board of Trustee (BoT) of the PDP. This frontline politician from the North-west shares his thoughts on the clamour for the restructuring of the country and unending insecurity among other issues with Seriki Adinoyi

Are you expecting any improvement in the security situation of the country, given the appointment of new service chiefs?
The appointment was a good development considering that Nigerians had repeatedly called for the change. There can be improvement if they change their strategies, but if they continue the way their predecessors did, there may not be much improvement. Like I said earlier, I believe the military needs to study its warfare and then train its personnel on the best way to tackle it.

There have been agitations for the restructuring of Nigeria by a section of the country. What is your own definition of restructuring? Should Nigeria restructure to remain one country and to promote unity?

To start with, I must say that there is no way the military can draw a constitution that will serve the need for a democratic set-up. Unfortunately, that is the situation that we find ourselves in Nigeria today. No matter how much we keep amending this constitution, it will not conform to the wishes and aspirations of the people.

After I retired, I attended a constitutional conference set up by the late Gen. Sani Abacha in 1994. If you bring out that document as presented to Gen. Abacha, it was very beautiful. It suggested the idea of geopolitical zones that we now have but we didn’t recommend North Central, it was Middle Belt but it came out as North Central. These are some of the things that the military tinkered with and came up with what they now call Nigeria constitution.

Now, if you look at the creation of states and local governments by the military, it was the most lopsided thing they have done. The number of local governments in Kano and Jigawa, and the federal constituencies in Kano and Jigawa are more than the ones in the entire Southeast. How do you balance debate in the House of Representatives?

It is very clear that Nigeria needs to be restructured. For me, I love Nigeria as a country and as a nation and that is why we fought the civil war; to make Nigeria as one, but Nigeria is not one as it is today. People are only preoccupied with their states, their region and their ethnic nationalities.

Besides, there is complete imbalance in the National Assembly. Take Plateau State that I governed for eight years, for instance; how can you have a federal constituency of Jos South and Jos East compared to Wase? Look at the population of Jos South, which is three to four times more than the population of Wase. Yet, you bring Jos South and Jos East together to form one federal constituency, and make Wase alone a Federal constituency.

Look at Jos North, with the highest voting population; it is joined together with Bassa, another heavily-populated local government, to form one federal constituency. How can you have a balanced debate in the House of Representatives? It is the states that have the highest number of constituencies that dictate whatever happens in the House of Representatives.

Also, when it comes to joint meetings between the House of Representatives and the Senate to pass a bill or make a decision, it is what the House says that overrides because the number of the senators is far lower. So, you can see that we are running a unitary constitution in a federal system.

What we are saying is that Nigerians should be given the opportunity and then, the government of the federation today can bring us together, based on our ethnic nationalities, interest groups and so on, to 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 kind of structural imbalance where so much power is concentrated in the hands of the President. Yet, they say we are running a federation, but in reality, the states are running cap in hand to the President for so many things.

You can imagine that a governor who is the Chief Security Officer of his state cannot command the Commissioner of Police until he takes directive from the Federal Government. In fact, a governor is a captive in his own state. A decision can be taken about even his life somewhere and he will not know; thank God that it has never happened, but it is as bad as that. If we are going to run a federal system, then, we must share power between the federating units and the Federal Government should handle what is purely federal; that is the control of the armed forces, foreign affairs and other things that the state cannot directly handle.

We are trying to reawaken Nigerians to see the reason why we are not progressing; we are not progressing because power has not been given to the right areas where it should be exercised for the good of the people at the grassroots. I believe that Nigerians should be given an opportunity to debate our coexistence so that we can become a nation. We cannot just remain a country with a collection of ethnic groups that cannot really decide properly. What Plateau people want might not be what Kano people want, but when you ask Plateau people to go and push their case, they are over-ruled.

I will tell you about one area that I am still very angry about. Crisis started here on the Plateau and before you know it, there were crises in some parts of the country. They brought a bill to bring the North East Development Commission (NEDC) and we said the Middle Belt should also be given the same thing, but they voted us out. We requested to be included in the NEDC, they equally over-ruled us. Our people are here today, not in their homes; they are refugees in their states. Nobody is talking about them. What is our future as a people?

This is because they have more numbers; they take what they want and over-rule what they want to over-rule. What kind of a constitution do we have that allow such injustice? We have set the tone for the debate for the nation and I hope the government of today will allow Nigerians to debate restructuring, the imbalance in the constitution so that we can explore whatever legal way we can use to amend the constitution.

Would you say the North is not interested in the restructuring of Nigeria?
From all that I have explained, you should know the answer

Do you also believe that the President should resign over his inability to contain insecurity across the country?

Earlier in this interview, I had said that what the President needs now is prayers. I cannot ask Nigerians to be praying for him, and at the same time ask him to resign. Nigeria’s security situation is really a complex one.

Definitely, I am worried. Having been a military governor, having been an elected civilian governor for eight years, and having been a Senator for four years, I have seen and I know how life had looked like compared to what it is today.

I also know how university graduates in those days used to enjoy life, and to see that graduates today, some even with Masters and PhD roaming the street without jobs. It is really unfortunate and heart-rending. It has become even difficult for medical doctors to get work in Nigeria. I know of a daughter of a friend that returned from UK to Nigeria after a postgraduate studies in medicine, and how it took time for her to get a job in our hospitals here in Nigeria.

With all these, it is clear why there is so much despondency in Nigeria.

More so, our security personnel; the Armed forces and paramilitary are now half-baked. They are also overwhelmed because they are poorly equipped and are inadequate in number to guard densely populated country as Nigeria.

That was why as Governor of Plateau State, I seriously advocated for the establishment of state police to complement the Federal Police; a synergy between the state and federal police would have reduced a lot of security problems we are currently facing today.

The constitution makes the state governors Chief Security Officers of their states, and also gives the state their legislatures and judiciary, yet it does not give the state its security powers to enforce the laws.

I recall that I inherited a lot of crisis as Governor of Plateau State. During this time, we made arrests and the Commissioner of Police will come back and tell you that he got an order from above not to investigate the crime but to send the criminals to Abuja, and once they were sent to Abuja that was the end of the case. There are so many reasons internally that have created the situations we now found ourselves today.

Some believe that the current crisis has political undertone, what is your view on that?

I disagree with that because some of the people that are behind the crisis are themselves in the government. When we were in power, we believed it was the opposition that was creating the crisis. The then opposition is now in power, yet the crisis has not stopped. They are also thinking it’s the opposition.

It’s like passing the buck. But most often, the people causing the crisis are usually in the same government.

But come to think of it, if Sheikh Gumi will always go to negotiate with the bandits for the release of their captors, on whose behalf does he (Gumi) do that, is it not on behalf of government?

Do you believe in negotiating with the bandits?

Who has ever negotiated with criminals? Where on earth has any government ever negotiated with criminals? What do we have laws in the country for? Negotiating with criminals will only make them richer and make them commit more crimes. You arrest criminals, try them and punish them. If Sheikh Gumi could negotiate with bandits, it means government is aware of who the bandits are.

Let me say this, I want to believe that our major problem is that government, past and present, has not seriously committed itself to tackling security problem in Nigeria.

How many people do we have manning the borders?

Security has become more electronic today, but we are putting human beings to protect our border; what length of the border can they guard with the kind of guns they are carrying?

Government should think of how to monitor the border with some electronic surveillance gadgets and aircrafts, and I believe we have the resources to do that. This is because I believe that our security challenge is caused by connivance between internal criminals and the ones outside our borders.

I grew up with our Fulani brothers on the Plateau, but until now, I have never seen this huge numbers of Fulani and cows on the Plateau and indeed in Nigeria.

The number of Fulani and cows that have entered our borders is definitely overwhelming. They were carrying sticks then, but now they carry AK-47. Where do they get these weapons from?

Are we saying that government is not aware of these people coming in across our borders? You cannot leave your borders open to everyone and expect to have security in your country; it does not happen anywhere. There must be restriction on how people enter into your country.

As a retired military officer, where do you think the Nigeria military is missing it in its war against terrorism and banditry?

I will attribute that to these reasons. First, the military are trained for conventional warfare, and not for guerrilla warfare. Boko Haram and bandits use guerrilla tactics; they are not conventional. It’s not a nation attacking another nation. So, the military now have to change their tactics and get their personnel properly trained for guerrilla warfare. We keep hearing that our soldiers are ambushed, of course if they had been trained on guerrilla warfare they won’t carry themselves to give to people that are hiding on trees and bushes around. So, there is need for the military to train its personnel on this warfare tactics to be able to tackle the insurgents.

Secondly, the military is inadequately equipped, and the number is too low/small to meet the security situation confronting us as a nation. Again, that’s where I have to talk about having state police, because that will reduce the work of the Federal Police and the Armed Forces.

In my days, you don’t see military men on the road manning checkpoints, but today, soldiers now man checkpoints. What are they doing there? Even the Police should be patrolling the roads, and not mounting checkpoints. When police patrol, robbers find it difficult to know the exact place they will be, so they are afraid to start robbing. But when they mount checkpoints, their locations are clear to the robbers and they could conveniently rob and escape before the police arrive.

You just begin to wonder if security operatives are bereft of some basic ideas. Yet they will not consult those of us that have retired to see if we could lend them ideas from the training we’ve had in the past. Many of us retired while we were still very young.

Even when I went to the Senate as a retired one-star General, and put in Air Force committee, the committee was headed by a civilian that does not know anything about the Air Force and security in general.

What’s your advice to the government and Nigerians?

Security is the business of everyone; every Nigerian should take responsibility. The citizens should be able to pick up their phones and notify the police when they see crimes being committed. But where government does not care for its citizens, such will not happen because the citizens feel neglected. Sometimes citizens call to alert the police, and at the end of the day they get arrested instead. Such a citizen will not call the police next time. The truth is that our Police are not properly and regularly trained. That’s where I can’t but blame government, because monies are voted for these trainings that are not done.

My advice to government is to restructure Nigeria; we need restructuring. There is too much power in some hands at the federal level. We are supposed to be running a federation, but we are running a federation by unitary (if there is anything like that).

The constitution should be amended immediately to allow the states to have their own Police, and to buy arms for their own security forces to be able to secure their own borders. They should be allowed to implement laws that their Houses of Assembly have passed. This will reduce pressure on the federal government.

The armed forces should be engaged in what they are trained to do. It is disgraceful to find the military manning checkpoints. They should also be trained on guerrilla tactics warfare. The Police should do regular patrol.

Governor Ortom of Benue State recently suggested that every Nigerian should be allowed to carry guns for self protection. Do you agree with the suggestion?
We all see what’s happening in the United States. I don’t think we want to turn our country into that. In fact, the US is a country I don’t want to live in. You’ll be going on your own and someone will just come and point gun at you. I don’t think we want to turn our country to that. If we are ready to sanitise our society our society people don’t need guns. But if we don’t sanitise our society, people will carry guns. In fact, you don’t have to give them the license before they’ll do so. But you can stop the people from carrying arms by stopping others.

The president recently ordered that anyone found with AK-47or any other dangerous weapons should be shot. Do you think that’s a good development?
I know the President. We were officers together in the Armed Forces; I know he said this out of anger, because when you have a people that are not doing the right thing, and it seems as if there is nothing you can do about it, you can just get angry. But I think we should be praying for him; he needs prayers. My prayer is that God should give him wisdom to guide him to know what to do about the current situation in the country.

QUOTE: I know the President. We were officers together in the Armed Forces; I know he said this out of anger, because when you have a people that are not doing the right thing, and it seems as if there is nothing you can do about it, you can just get angry. But I think we should be praying for him; he needs prayers. My prayer is that God should give him wisdom to guide him to know what to do about the current situation in the country