Jeremiah Useni is a retired Army General, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and now Senator representing Plateau South in the National Assembly. In this interview with BERE GYANG in Jos, General Useni who wants to be Plateau state governor in 2019 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) spoke on various issues including how he ordered the killing of over 200 persons in old the Bendel State when he was the military governor. He warned that President Buhari is making the same mistakes made by his predecessor by surrounding himself with wrong advisers.
Are you satisfied with the way Governor Simon Lalong is handling issues of peace and security in the state?
Are you? You are a Journalist, are you satisfied. You used to write it for us, are you? The governor doesn’t stay here. With the problem we have, he is expected to stay here in Jos and get closer to the people. See the way he was dealt with when he decided to go round and visit IDPs; they stoned him. There must be a reason why the people do so; he must have done something to annoy the people. Imagine when the President visited Plateau and spent the night here and he was telling the President that everything was smooth, that since his assumption of office here, there has been peace. For three years now, we never had Local Government election, and he said there is peace. At the dinner when the President visited, they were killing people in Bokkos, so why do you lie? Why not say the truth so that the President can help.
As a stakeholder in Plateau and Nigeria, has there been any time you have ever advised the governor on the insecurity in the state?
The governor must accept before you advise him. He is a friend, we were communicating but when he heard that I am looking for the governorship seat, he doesn’t pick my telephone call again, so how do I communicate with him? We can communicate but if he feels that he knows all, then what do you do? I don’t do politics of castigating people in the news. I have been telling people around who are close to him that I like the governor but he doesn’t answer my telephone call again because I want to be a governor; so you can give advice and when it is rejected, what do you do?
People believe that Lalong was elected in 2015 as protest against his predecessor who wanted to impose his relation on the people; do you agree?
Very good, and that is why we expect him not to forget the fact that he got there on protest vote. Going there on protest vote indicates that he wasn’t on ground before he got that seat but what happened when he got there? There are a certain number of APC people that are not in good terms with him. Those of us who gave him that seat on protest vote, he doesn’t listen to us. I was a governor before; I expected that you keep in touch with people so that when you have a problem, you discuss with them to find a solution to your problem, but when you don’t discuss with them, they will leave you. I am from Plateau but when I was in Bendel as a governor, except we discuss in English, I don’t hear their language. They tried to speak Hausa and they said I am a Northerner but I try to work with them. I try to understand the problem of everybody. Those that I need their help, I contacted them to advise; we did that from time to time. Sometimes, I sent them messages to say I know you are very influential here, what is the problem here and they will give me some hints, they will say do this and do that or you need to talk to this and that person; that was how I secured peace there. Today, if I go to Bendel and they announce my coming in the church, some people will leave to come and visit me. You see, if you get the governorship seat and you now think you are next to God, that is mistake number one. It is only God that doesn’t make mistake; we all make mistakes. Therefore, we need ourselves to move forward and you must be a governor for all. There should be no discrimination, take everybody as equal and punish people according to their offence but when you don’t do that, you will start having problems. Ask the prominent APC people within the state, how many of those big people that the present governor is with now. His problem is not only with PDP but even with his own people; that is the problem.
Do you think your party, PDP will bounce back to power in 2019?
We are working hard towards that. What is happening in Nigeria today, if we don’t change our system, if we don’t work properly between ourselves and God, then we will have wrong people. There are people who may get there just because they have the money to splash around because of hunger and other needs. When you give somebody N10, 000 today and tomorrow another man gives him N2, 000, you will be surprised to see that he has forgotten it. The N2, 000 he is holding now, he will think it is important, that is the problem we have. We should pray to God to make sure that things are done properly and those who are given the job should do it properly.
In 2014, five governors including top PDP members defected to APC and Goodluck Jonathan was dethroned as President; now we are having a similar situation, where the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, Governor Aminu Tambuwal, Governor Samuel Ortom and some members of the National Assembly are leaving APC to PDP; do you think Buhari will be sent out in 2019?
If people are defecting to PDP, it means things are changing for good but I cannot predict until when the time comes but those people who defected have their reasons. It means they have tested the two parties and the thing should go this way. If people defected in 2014 and PDP lost election and today people are leaving APC to PDP, we expect the same thing to happen.
People believed that Goodluck Jonathan was a civilian and he relinquished power easily in 2015; do you see the same thing happening now that we have a retired General as the President of the country?
People have different opinions; sometimes people who work with you can be the same people who will run you down. The problem Jonathan had was that people ran him down; he had so many people who were not working in his interest. When General Buhari came in, you can see he started very well but now people are saying that the President is surrounded by wrong people. We are hoping to be able to make some changes, even the Senate requested for some Ministers to be changed. The Senate is saying that next time, the list of Ministerial appointments should include their portfolios. We only get the list and their credentials, which are usually good but they don’t fit into some ministries. I wish that the Senators coming in the future should take note of that; if a President wants to appoint a Minister, he should say the Ministry he wants to give him; we should not appoint Ministers who will go and rely on the staff.
As retired General, are you satisfied the way President Buhari has handled security issues in the country?
Maybe it would have been worst. Don’t forget before the President came in, Borno had about 27 local government areas and about 20 were already under the control of Boko Haram but Boko Haram is not controlling them now. The problem we have now is the civilians who are still hiding some of the Boko Haram members. We should know that winning a war and achieving peace are two different things. What we are trying to do now is to win the peace; the Boko Haram is not in a position to come and take over the local government now like they did in the past.
Insecurity has taken a new dimension now, having herdsmen who come to attack and kill people in the night in their homes; how do you view the situation?
New dimension, yes, people are complaining. I think enough effort is being made to arrest those involved. People have been killed and nothing is done, as if they came from heaven and fly back. I think some effort is being done now; if you look at Zamfara, at first they said Muslims are killing Christians, now Muslims are killing Muslims also, even within the Christian dominated areas, there are killings also, so it depends on what you are thinking at that particular time. When killings in Zamfara became very serious, the President had to send the Air Force to start flushing them; the situation is calm there now. The Senator from there was accusing the governor that he doesn’t stay in the state and that he doesn’t know what is happening; that as far as they are concerned, the governor and the deputy governor were colluding with those people. As a leader, you are expected to do something; it is good to work with the people, irrespective of tribe or religion. Any laxity on the side of the governor could cause this type of problem.
Recently, General TY Danjuma called on rural communities to start defending themselves; as Military General, do you align with his view?
Why not, people are being killed and I should throw away the gun; I shouldn’t shoot the enemy? If I have the gun, I will shoot. Government doesn’t understand the position of the people because those who are saying General Danjuma is trying to incite people, they are just saying it so that people will not be blaming them. Anybody who knows General Danjuma very well, he is not a person who talks anyhow and for him to say that, there have been cases. Some of these people used Army uniform, and when you see them, you will think they are soldiers who have come to rescue you, then they will start shooting, so what do we say about that. We expect the Military to investigate properly, so that anybody who has done so should be punished. If it is the military I know, they will take action; if they are civilians then, how did they get those uniforms. Some people were caught in uniform and investigation is still going on to find out who they are. Luckily, the Customs seized them; I am one of those investigating to know how those things came about and we have not finished the investigation. People have the feelings that those people came from Kogi; we are investigating to find out whether the governor there is involved or the people just live in Kogi, we want to get the facts properly.
As deputy Chairman, Senate Committee on Defence, are you satisfied with the manner in which the military has been handling the issues of insecurity in the Middle Belt?
Why are you talking of Middle Belt alone; this killing is going on everywhere, it is happening in North East, North Central and we don’t talk of Middle Belt again. There is nothing like that; we only have Middle Belt Forum but there is no Middle Belt region. We have people being killed in North West, Niger, Zamfara, Delta areas among others. The President is doing his best but he needs the cooperation of everybody. A whole state may have a division or even a battalion, how big is that division? A state alone may have about 5 million people and when you talk about North Central, how many troops will you put in a state which may have 3 to 5 million people; are you going to put the whole military there; no. It depends on what the people say about the military but imagine if there were no military, what will you do? Imagine one state is going for election and they deployed 30, 000 police, what do we mean by that. It means they are going to get the police in millions. Instead of some people to do their job but they are not doing it; they put everything on the military; that is unfortunate.
Do you mean that the military should not be blamed?
I didn’t say they shouldn’t be blamed but some of the blames are not necessary; they over blow some of these things. There is indiscipline everywhere now; it also means that people don’t take action on certain things and then they keep on colluding. When I was governor in the old Bendel state, the President was complaining about no food to feed prisoners; I said what do you mean? There is no enough food for people and you are talking of prisoners. I asked, how many prisoners do we have? They said 200 and I said for what? Those 200 are people condemned. Today, nobody is ready to kill anybody condemned but is that how we should run a government? I think I killed all of them when I was the governor of Bendel State; I never knew how they killed them. I went to the prison myself and they showed me somewhere, then they put the hanger down and they told me to move out and they pressed something and the place became hollow, which means if I had remained there and they put the hanger and the place remained hollow, three minutes I am gone. Even when I was there, some people wrote that some people had behaved very well and asked if I can release them and I said why were they condemned? They killed some people and I said if the family of the people they killed said they have forgiven the people, then let them be released. But if somebody comes to write and say they have behaved well, is that how we should do things? I said they should be killed; we don’t behave like Judges, if somebody is condemned by the court that he should be killed, he must be killed.
But that was during the military
No, it wasn’t the military that committed the offence, we took over.
I mean the decision to kill those people was taken during a military administration.
But it is going on even during the civilian. All these countries that we are taking after, are they not killing when they say condemned? If you are condemned, you are condemned, they don’t spend up to two weeks, if you are condemned by the court, you are condemned.
But today we have a lot of condemned prisoners, are you saying they should be killed?
Yes. That is indiscipline again, that is another problem we have because the governors don’t want to take any action. They are afraid that if they do so, the parents of those people killed will not vote for them, then why do we make the law?
If the court condemns someone and he is killed immediately, do you think that will reduce crime in the country?
It will enthrone discipline. Why do you make the law? If you are not going to follow that law then, don’t make the law? We always try to bring something to add to the law and that is ridiculous, why do we make such a law? Why do we make a law and then because of selfish interest, you say no, I don’t want to kill. You know you cannot release him and you cannot keep him there feeding him and you are complaining you don’t have money. The person condemned killed somebody; what do you think the parents of the person who is killed will be thinking? Ex-President Obasanjo should have been killed as he was already condemned.
So, are you saying that governors should not hesitate to approve the killing of condemned criminals?
That is what I am saying; you work on the law. If the law says for this offence this is what should be done, do it. We have to approve the decision of the court. It is just like when the court said release, you don’t just release, government has to approve it before you are released. We discussed at the Supreme Military Council and said Obasanjo should be given a life sentence; it was from that life sentence that it was further reduced to some number of years, and another government came and decided to release him. In life sentence, number of years, the incoming government can look into that but when the court condemn you to death, it is a different thing and once the government of that time accepted it, then you are already dead, you will be hanged. In some countries of the world, it is death by hanging or you are shot, it depends on the law of that country. If it is by shooting, they will go and hang you and shoot you to death, and sometime, they will say give him injection and you go. It is a thing that you cannot do anything about it. Imagine over 200 people all condemned to death, they were all kept there because of politics, so why did we make the law? The law should be changed so that there should be no condemnation of anybody to death, then we will know and that is adding to the whole problem. We have so many people who are condemned to death and they are there eating and are not working. Don’t forget that in the military, we say a dead soldier is useless to the nation, a wounded soldier is a liability because you still pay him his salary and still feed him. Therefore, you must always stay alive otherwise you are a useless soldier. We train soldiers to be alive, you may be wounded, you will be treated and not long you will come back and fight if the war is still on. I was wounded; thank God I was not dead.
What was your saddest moment in the military that made you feel you want to quit?
No, I was unhappy that I was shot; I had to be taken to the hospital while fighting was going on. I never had that feeling that I should leave, after all, I wasn’t forced into the military, so why should I leave? No.
You served under Ex-Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha and the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has received Abacha’s looted fund, has that fund been used wisely?
Yes, because Abacha is dead, that is why they are talking about him. There are many who are still alive and nobody is talking about them; you can’t tell me Abacha is the worst leader in Nigeria.(laughs). I am not in government to know what the money was used for, so go and ask the government, I am just in the Senate. I was in government when Abacha was alive; I was a member of the Federal Executive Council, member of Council of states where we meet with State Governors and Supreme Military Council which no civilian is a member. When, you are talking about the present government now, I am not in government, the government that took over should decide.
Are you satisfied with the fight against corruption by President Buhari?
Well, they have started now because there are a lot of people who should have been jailed; they have started now. Before, we will just hear that they arrested people with billions of naira and there is no case.
What do you mean that they have started now?
Buhari’s administration has jailed two former governors; is that not a fight against corruption? Even if it is one, even if he jailed one minister, they have started.
A lot people believe that the corruption fight is lopsided, that the President is witch-hunting your party, PDP
I am in PDP, I am not thinking so. If you are guilty, then you are guilty.
If the opposition PDP does not handle with caution the number of people that have defected into the party because of presidential ambition, don’t you think that will cripple the party ahead of 2019?
Well, we will see what will happen, I can’t comment on that now. In politics, everybody is free to contest election, we should not be talking of factionalization, everybody is free to contest if you are qualified; then the final crucifixion will be offered by those who will vote during the party primaries. If you are 100 and you are all qualified, you can go into it and the vote will determine. I read from newspapers on bye-election in some places; they said people were buying votes, people shouldn’t be buying votes.