Gen. John Shagaya (rtd) was a Minister of Internal Affairs and a former Senator representing Plateau South senatorial zone in the Senate from May 2007 to May 2011. In this interview with CHINELO OBOGO, he speaks on the insecurity in the north, especially Plateau, which is his home state.
You were in the Senate for four years, how would you describe your experience especially with your military background and later in a democratic setting?
It will be wrong to say that in the military, things were not done in order. Any average military man is essentially a commissioned officer and therefore is used to having things done in order. The military is used to order and as an officer, you are guided by the laws of the country and the service laws and so the most appreciated and the most law abiding person in my own view will be the man who belongs to the military service.
Also, having had the good fortune of serving as the Minister of Internal Affairs and also a member of the Armed Forces Ruling Council, I had the responsibility of implementing laws and supporting the head of state. The difference there will be the accommodation of views and respecting the background of individuals who come from various constituencies and an Armed Forces Ruling Council, the only constituency we respected and knew was that the whole country was our constituency. My training exposed me to lawmaking of the nations of the world, especially for those of us who were privileged to go the Royal College of Defense studies which is the highest political institution in the world that have both members of the Armed Forces and civil servants so I had no problem in adaptation.
How does it make you feel, that a state like Plateau that boasts of many retired military personnel like you is now crisis ridden?
Unfortunately, Jos has lost its glory. But you must understand that those military personnel that are from there would not form 0.001 per cent of the total population of the State of about four million. So, if you are talking about a handful of retired personnel as against millions of people in the state, they may not be able to cause a change, if the political system will not allow them to bring their experience on governance to bear.
It is unfortunate. In the same way, many Nigerians will lament that with the wealth of experience of many Nigerians outside this country who are professionals that will be found in countries like the US and UK, no one thinks of bringing them back to the country, to use their experience for the growth of the economy. Yet we have very powerful manpower that shakes the world, so it is sad. We are talking about the need to recognize that there is value on the need to recognise and bring in people with experience to serve this country.
I will borrow from the example of Gen Ibrahim Babangida. Even though it is not the best example since it was the military era, but you will find from the quality of Nigerians he brought from outside the country to serve in the nation made the administration what it was and so far it remains in history that it is the one that brought lots of innovations in terms of governance and that can be found in my book; ‘Governance in Nigeria, the IBB era’. Why do I say so? That administration recognized that people like Dr. Olukoye Ransome-Kuti who was then working for the World Health Organization and he decided to reform the health sector.
A delegation was sent to him to return home. We had Kalu Idika Kalu and Chi Okongwu who was working for World Bank and IFC. We had Prince Ajibola from Ogun, who was brought in as Attorney General of the Federation. As at the time he was begged to come back to Nigeria, he was one of the greatest black arbiters working in Hague for the United Nations. So IBB’s administration went out and appealed to all these men in recognition of their professionalism and value to come and serve. There was no minister in IBB’s administration that was a push over and till now, none of them are millionaires or billionaires.
What we find now is that the first priority of any man or woman that is appointed minister is to buy plots of lands and build the choicest mansions in the FCT, to ride the latest vehicles that are available. You did not find this trait in people that served in those days. Ajibloa never took his salary, he usually gave it to the SOS home, yet he served Babangida. Olukoye never took his alary because he was earning his salary from the World Health Organization. He donated his salary to SOS homes. KIK and co were earning their salaries from World Bank and they never built mansions in Abuja. That makes the difference between the military administrations that thought it could make a change and were bringing good brains to come back to the country to work. We still have such brains in the country that if properly selected and appealed to will come to add value to the community. The point I am trying to make is that we could have experienced people, but if they are not called to service they will stay away because someone has the instrument of governance.
How would you appraise the efforts of the governor vis-à-vis the effort of people like you in stemming this monster.
I have difficulty in answering that question because it is not only in the Plateau, all the states of the federation have had crises. The simple reason is because none of the governors have been able to stem any problem in their immediate constituencies and I am yet to be convinced otherwise. Yet, all those governors have written the highest amount of money under security votes to stem any problem in their immediate constituency. Except for Governor Fashola of Lagos who said he didn’t want to see any soldiers on the streets, that is why there is no crisis in Lagos. But for all the others, the more money that is pumped into their states for security, the more crises they have. Nigerians have to ask why this is so. The second reason is that in the constitution, you talk of a three-organs of government, which is the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. Under the executive, you have the executive, you have the Federal, States and Local Governments. We have 774 local governments, 36 states excluding the Federal Capital territory. But if there is any quarrel in a local government, for instance, between a man and his wife, the first thing that the local government chairman does is to invite the Armed Forces. We have lost our sense of national and social collective responsibility. Where have all the traditional rulers gone? Where have all the elders of the communities and the religious leaders gone to? Why is it that for every minor crises, every governor cries to the federal government and hence the proliferation of soldiers all over our local governments. Once you have that, the society becomes like a child that at every slight cry, the parents of the child will get a whip and flog the child. When you over whip a child, he doesn’t fear anymore. So, at the presence of too many policemen and soldiers, the society either takes laws into their hands to address their issues when there are problems or they cry to the federal government. That is not what it should be. The style of our crises management has to change. Everybody has to have a responsibility. The councilors, traditional rulers, chairmen of local governments all have to have a responsibility. The people have to listen to them.
In Benin, if there are crises and the Oba of Benin says there are no crises, then there won’t be crises. Why can’t we borrow a leaf from that?
A lot of societies in Nigeria have leaders, so why can’t those leaders take charge? Why must it be Goodluck Jonathan who is in Abuja that should be responsible for a village where there are traditional rulers, councilors and local government chairmen? We are getting it wrong and if nothing is done, we may be heading for worse experiences than what we are having now.
So it is foolhardy for a governor to just push issues aside and say that it is a religious crises and that those perpetrating it are coming from Niger Republic. If you say so, which route do they take? How many states do they pass through before getting to your own state? Let us also remember that Solomon Lar was an executive governor of Plateau which then had the present Nasarawa State which has the largest concentration of Muslins, yet there were no crises during his time. Today, you cannot abuse him in Nasarawa State. He is called the emancipator. Fidelis Tapgun who was a Christian from Shendam was also a governor in the state and the state did not experience crises. Nigerians must dig deep into history before we draw certain conclusions that will put us into more trouble.
Would you say the state should be regretting the choice that it is having?
That was the first thing I said. Many of us who left the PDP did so not out of choice but out of principle. The state should be regretting and the leadership of the ruling party as at the time should share in the shame because of the type of leadership they have imposed on the people of the state.
You once described the governor as a commander without a command particularly when his deputy went to another party and was still his deputy without being impeached.
Even in the Armed Forces where you have the highest standard been maintained, the junior soldiers have the right to say they will not go to war under General X or Y. This has to do with the quality of leadership of the person involved. In civil rule, the choice of a leader should be that of the people. He should listen to their voices and take them along. Where he fails, then what you saw happen in the Plateau will continue happening.
Most part of the north is engulfed by crises and this seems to be affecting its economy. How disturbed are you?
It has not only rendered the region prostrate, but the country as a whole and this has to do with the leadership in Abuja because even the FCT has not been free of security challenges. It is unfortunate but I must have to say that since the Second World War, this is not the first time that we will be experiencing this type of security challenge. We had the Aba women riot of 1929 where the British leadership shot, maimed and killed women who were protesting over taxes. We also had the Kano riots of 1953 revolting against the political authority. We also saw the Tiv riots of in the 60s where the community was protesting against the leadership of the Northern Peoples Congress. We also saw a near war situation where undergraduates of University of Nsukka led by Isaac Borro took up arms and declared independence of the then Rivers States which is a carryover of the Niger Delta militancy. We also saw the aftermath of the senseless killings of politicians in 1966 that led to counter coups and the civil war, so this is not the first time we will be having such challenges because of the Boko Haram insurgence.
The unfortunate thing with the Boko Haram is that no one seems to know their agenda and who their leaders are, so government seems to have difficulty in stemming that. To get to the root of the problem, one should be able to know the grievances of those perpetrating the problem and those leading it. But unfortunately, we have buried that under religion. If we look at the genesis of the Boko Haram, we would see that the objective was known because they were sending text messages to the governors of the states where they were operating. Then, it was limited to Yobe and Borno. The governors of those states then were enjoying everything in terms of security and they had their families outside the country. Security agencies are not enough and cannot be the only agents that will quell the Boko Haram crises. Nigerians and the Nigerian society especially the leaders of the immediate environment where the crises seem to be unending have a responsibility to do something.
The leaders I am referring to are the elders of the communities where those perpetrating the crises come from, the traditional and religious leaders, councilors, local government chairmen etc. Yet we fold our hands and do nothing.
In Lantang, Plateau State, we had a situation where a group of youths went on armed robbery and killed some fellows whom I believe were coming from either Bauchi or Gombe and were going for a wedding in Shendam. They were robbed and killed and all they had were taken from them. It could have been turned into a religious issue, but the community leaders quickly met and in less than 36 hours, those youths were fished out and they are stills serving their terms in jail. The community gave them up because such things never happened in our community before.
It is strange that in other communities, such things are covered then they give it another name or coloration. After those young men were given up, a delegation was sent under Gen. Dogonyaro by the late King to that emirate where the people originated for a condolence message and to tell them that the culprits have been jailed. In return, the late emir sent a return message to thank that King for taking the steps he took because we nipped it at the bud. Other communities should learn to live up to their responsibilities, especially those charged with certain responsibilities.
One man cannot be a forest. So if you say you are a governor and you want to rule over three to four million people alone without consultation, you become an Idi-Amin because it doesn’t work that way. That is what our society is lacking.