Major General David Jemibewon was at different times military governor of the old Western State and old Oyo State. He was minister of Police Affairs at the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999. In this interview with some journalists, Jemibewon says a combination of efforts is required to solve the country’s current security problem. He advocates the setting up of a trust fund, akin to the one established during the civil war, to help those on the front lines of the war against terrorism. Anayo Okolie was there. Excerpts:
How would you evaluate the extent of Nigeria’s security challenge, and how can the situation be dealt with?
What is happening in the country today is very sad. I just imagine if I were still in the Army as a young man, what would I have done? I don’t have what I may call total solution. It’s just to express a view based on your question and then also to work on the suggestions being put forward by most Nigerians. I think it’s unfortunate, but we must understand that conventional war is slightly different from the situation we have today. It’s not exactly a total war because in a war you know your opponent and your opponent knows you. Even by the uniform he wears and by the weapon he carries, you will know your opponent. So that when you hear the shooting of a gun, by your experience, you can almost say this is the calibre of the gun that is being shot. But now, you won’t know who is a member of this group. So, to say that our soldiers are not well equipped, not well armed, based on the few things in the papers are not appropriate statements. But I can understand that many people who do the writings or who make the statements never had any form of military training and this is why in some societies they advocate compulsory military training.
If everybody had gone through military processes, they will know that this is not total war and that makes it more difficult to fight. So, I am just hoping that solving this problem will require a combination of most of the suggestions being put forward by various Nigerians; that is that it would be solved through dialogue, negotiation and through a little bit of application of force and action. Again, we must realise that with these girls adopted in Chibok, if we apply full military force to attempt to liberate them, they would be killed. So at the end you will ask yourself what have I achieved.
Some people are of the view that the Boko Haram insurgency would have been resolved long ago if Nigeria had done enough in the area of intelligence gathering. Would you support this view?
I will ask you, what is intelligence gathering? Intelligence gathering is simply information gathering before and during events and then you project into the future to see what is likely to happen. For example, I will expect that some people ought to be assembled somewhere to be thinking what would happen if this Boko Haram crisis comes to an end because it will still have some after effect. It is just like what we are doing in this workshop, trying to promote peace before, during and after the election. Perhaps, our problem as a nation is that we did not anticipate what is happening so as to get prepared for it. But now that it has happened, how do we get information, analyse the information and also anticipate that when this will come to an end, what should we do? This is important because even when it ends, something will come out. We ought to learn some lessons. For example, how are we going to rehabilitate those who are bereaved and what actions are we going to put in place to prevent re-occurrence of such attacks?
Intelligence comprises many things. For example, those giving us headache today, it must have taken them some time before they acquired the strength they have acquired, the weapons they have acquired. They live within human beings. Soldiers were not based in those areas. If these people had come to the appropriate authorities to say we are seeing some strange faces in these areas, etc., that is intelligence.
What is your take on the alleged sabotage of the military operations by some officers and the alleged infiltration of the military by insurgent elements?
I will attempt to answer your question but you should ask questions that you will probably get a reasonable answer. When some people sit down and make allegation and I am to sit down here to say I agree or disagree with the allegation without facts, is not possible. It is possible what you read in papers is correct. It is also possible what you read is not correct. So, I won’t sit down now to say I agree or disagree with the allegations until facts emerge.
Don’t you think the incessant military disruptions of the country’s democratic experience in the past are responsible for some of the problems Nigeria is facing today?
That sounds ridiculous to me because it is similar to the general statement that the British created the problem of Nigeria. If after independence e we are still blaming the British, then I feel sorry for that. It is like a lady can go to the hospital to have a baby. Probably, the father of that baby has died. In the course of birth the woman dies; the child that is born could grow up and become an important personality, not just in his country, in fact, he can be known worldwide. So, I have to relate that to you at your age blaming your father for not making a success of your career because you didn’t listen to your dad when you were in school. I use that analogy in relation to this.
Would you advocate military training for the Nigerian youth?
It has been written many times in the past. It is becoming very stale now. In fact, the National Youth Service Corps should also be introduced to basic military training. They should be taught how to handle weapons.
Some people in America predicted that Nigeria might breakup in 2015. Don’t you think the current security challenge in the country might be a prelude to that breakup?
Yes, I read it at a time. They did mention it. At that time many people were writing in newspapers insulting the source of the information, instead of working towards ensuring that it didn’t happen. So, I am praying that the country doesn’t break up. But thanks for the information that was brought to our knowledge many years ago, which is what I said in terms of intelligence, that was the kind of information we ought to have worked with. But, unfortunately, we didn’t.
Are you not afraid that the breakup may be imminent?
I wouldn’t say it is imminent. But in any case, what we have to do is to work towards ensuring that the prediction does not work. And to ensure it doesn’t come to reality, it is the responsibility of all of us to promote peace, promote understanding. And in this regard, the press becomes a very vital organisation.
Do you subscribe to the view that Nigeria need restructuring to make progress?
Perhaps, they should let us know what they mean by restructuring and the nature of that restructuring. You see this shirt that you are wearing that some persons are admiring you that you are wearing a neat shirt, if you don’t take care of it by washing it, cleaning it, some people might run away from you because of the odour coming from it. Your washing your shirt is the restructuring of it. Keeping it clean to make it good, which is also making you good. So, even a country you may assume is perfect, there is also need for discussion to make what is good better.
So, restructuring at all times will always, in my view, occur on the basis of what I have just said. The country requires restructuring. There was a time there were no states in Nigeria. Then we started with 12 states. We went to 19. Now we have 36 states. That is restructuring. Those advocating restructuring, I don’t think they are wrong. But let them come with what exactly they mean and how do we see that restructuring. But merely making statements, I cannot say it right or wrong.
The South-west said the minimum requirement for them to remain in Nigeria is the devolution of power to the regions?
I want to believe other regions could also have their positions. But what does an association mean? It simply means a group of people who have agreed to form that association. There will be certain discussions, one or two will disagree with, and at the end, if they really cherish their coming together, there must be a way by which they must reconcile their differences by coming to a consensus for the good and unity of that association. Now they are in a conference. There must be trade off if they still want the existence of this country, one way or the other. What will be surprising is if they are so rigid, not flexible.
A stakeholders’ meeting similar to the latest one was held before the last governorship elections in Edo, Ondo and Anambra states. Considering what happened during those polls and the violence in some parts of the country in 2011, do you think Nigerians have learned considerably from the attempts at peace building?
The question I will ask you is, have you sat down to imagine what could have happened if these seminars were never held. I think that is the way you should look at it. Now, when you are teaching something, you should allow for gradual assimilation. Without those workshops, maybe the situation would have been worse. And I am sure that as these seminar hold, each state will ensure that the result of its own election will be better than the previous ones. I don’t think because one or two of your children didn’t do well in school, you won’t send the third one to school.
How would you assess Nigeria’s democratic experience since the return to civil rule 15 years ago? And what is your opinion on the recent contradictory statements from the authorities on the whereabouts of the kidnapped schoolgirls?
To be honest with you as a person, I don’t understand what it means. We had democracy before in this country but, unfortunately, something went wrong politically and the military came in. Thereafter, between the various military governments, they attempted democracy again. Then from 1999 to date, we thank the Almighty God that there have been no political disruptions.
On insurgency, it is difficult. Sometimes if you criticise you will be making things difficult. I think there ought to be a central point where information must go to and where decision as to what goes out or is disseminated is taken. But I know that there are competent people there that probably know better. But to answer your question, I think there ought to be a central control.
However, what we need to do now is to encourage the military and wish them well. I am using this opportunity to put forward a suggestion. I have sat down to look at it critically. If we all believe that what is happening is a national tragedy, something that every Nigerian should be concerned about, then we ought to make an effort at the national level to support our security men. I deliberately didn’t use Armed Forces but security men –the Army, Navy, Air Force, Civil Defence, DSS, Police, etc. During the Nigerian civil war, some people came up with the troop comfort fund and it encouraged us. The fund raised was applied in many ways, providing food and other needs. So, I advocate the setting up of a security trust fund. All those involved will know that the Nigerian society sympathised with them and know how this money will be used. Now, many of our troops, including the police, may come back with amputated legs and hands. This money can be ploughed into a central medical centre for the rehabilitation of those who would have been maimed during this crisis. And the fund will be such that every Nigerian who believes that what we are facing now is a big tragedy for us will contribute to the fund. This is my idea. We need a national security fund to assist our security men in this operation, particularly, if you believe that this is a national problem and needs the support of everybody.
Recently, you chaired a sensitisation workshop for political parties and stakeholders in Ekiti State. How would you describe the exercise?
When something is good, you build on it. The objective of this seminar is to promote peace and harmony before, during and after the election. So, I think it’s a good idea, a good strategy to promote peace in our country.
For some time now, in the course of the campaigns, there have been reports of violence in Ekiti State. How do you see this development?
It’s unfortunate, but to put a stop to it or to reduce the intensity of such unworthy actions is the reason for this workshop. I am sure one of the objectives of this workshop is to bring all the contestants together, the stakeholders and even those of us who stay by the side to look, including the press, of course, to discuss, to dialogue and to arrive at a consensus to promote peace and understanding. Let’s face facts, what is election? Election is just a way of selecting leadership, particularly in a democratic setting and if the constitution makes provision for just one person to occupy a particular position, whether there are 10 or 20 contestants, it is just one person who would get there. So, we must learn to accept the winner. However, those who lose must be convinced that the process leading to the emergence of the winner was a proper process. That is to say that the purpose of this workshop before the elections is for all to come to a conclusion that we want peace so that whoever deviates from that decision has really created a problem. I think this kind of seminar or workshop is a good prelude to the election.