Retired Major-General David Jemibewon, a former military governor of Oyo State, tells ADELEKE ADESANYA that the move by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to freeze the bank accounts of the former First Lady, Patience Jonathan, is right. Jemibewon argues that no Nigerian citizen should be seen to be above the laws of the land. The former minister of police affairs also speaks on other national issues. Excerpts:
President Muhammadu Buhari was roundly commended by world leaders, including the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, at the just concluded General Assembly held in New York, over his efforts in curbing insurgency in the country. As a retired Army General, do you think this administration has defeated insurgency?
When you have problems like that of insurgency that we are facing in Nigeria, it is not when you conquer the problems 100 per cent that we will begin to celebrate or that our leaders will be given accolades for their efforts. If for example, you are in Lagos, you are going to Ibadan and you leave Lagos, after some time, it remains few miles for you to get to your destination; don’t you think you deserve a congratulatory message for, at least, leaving Lagos? All those people who have decided to go to Ibadan with you, will they not be happy that you have almost gotten to the destination?
Do you get the analogy at all?
When you start a race, some people will be commended for coming third, some second, some first, and some, for participating in the race, because they are all participants. Anyway, having said this, if I may ask, the atrocities of Boko Haram in Nigeria, is it the same thing as it was last year? The intensity has almost gone totally. Unlike last year, you don’t hear anything like bomb here and there and every day, no school students have been held hostage by Boko Haram again. This administration, so far, has been able to bring relative peace with some calm. On the basis of that, there is no gain saying that there has been improvement under the government of Buhari and probably, that is why he was congratulated by world leaders at the UN summit in New York. Anyone who opposes that is far from seriousness. So, to me, he deserved to be given the kudos he received from the world leaders.
Political and economic experts, including Senate President Bukola Saraki and business mogul, Aliko Dangote, have been calling for the sale of some national assets as a possible solution and way out of the lingering economic recession. Do you support this?
Well, with their calls so far, I see it as suggestions and they have the right to make suggestions. They are great Nigerians that occupy important positions in the country. In terms of business, Dangote is the largest employer of labour in the country; in terms of investments, he is well respected. With a lot of investments, which involve a lot of money, he also has experience on this topic. He also has competency, economically and knowledge-wise. And by this, I believe that he wouldn’t have just spoken; he must have done a lot of findings before he could say that.So, the suggestion that some national assets should be sold doesn’t mean complete sale of national assets. These people that you mentioned are key people in this country, who are vast politically, economically and otherwise. And the situation of things in this country urgently needs a swift action, so whatever can be done, I think government should embrace it.
To me, I think their suggestions should be considered, because they are reasonable. Having said this, I know that no condition is permanent; soon we will get out of the recession. Several countries of the world have experienced the same and they got out of it. If they can, we will definitely do, soon. Nigeria should forget about pride this time and look at available options to explore at this critical moment. We should consider the assets to be sold and consider their benefits to the country. So, I am not opposed to their views at all.
The pendulum of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s fight against corruption in the country recently swung to the side of a former first lady, Patience Jonathan and her bank account was frozen. Mixed reactions have trailed this action of the EFCC; as an elder statesman, what is your view on this development?
The EFCC itself is a government organ. I want to believe that it is guided by the laws that put it in place for the good of this country. If it acts outside the ambit of the law, then citizens can take legal action against it. But when its actions do not contravene the laws of the country, definitely, I do not see anything wrong in the move.
Or are you saying if somebody contravenes the law of the country, the agency put in place to check such misconduct should just keep quiet and look the other way? Don’t you have laws that guide your behaviours? As a person, no matter how big you are, if you contravene the laws of the land, the agency should not spare you. If we say people’s misdemeanours should be overlooked because of their status and such other things, then our country will just turn to a lawless society.
So, I don’t see anything wrong in the move by the EFCC to have frozen her account. As good citizens of this country, we must always guide our conduct and be very careful in our dealings because we are in a country where the law prevails over whatever we do.
As a retired Army General, what advice would you give to the Federal government in handling the threat by the Niger Delta militants to declare Niger Delta Republic on October 1?
The Federal Government must not underrate them, but despite this, we must realise that those who created this situation are not necessarily the elders or prominent Nigerians from that region. So, while it is disturbing, I don’t think we should take it as being the decision of the majority of the people in that region. We must not treat the action of few dissidents as that of the people of the region and come to the conclusion that it is the entire population of the region that is against the unity of the country. Like it had happened in the past, I want to believe that the crisis will be a thing of the past.
Wherever the threat is coming from, I want to believe that with determination and unity, we will overcome the threat. If it is the entire Niger Delta region that is against the country, it is a different matter. It would have been good to have total unity in the country, but it is not so for now. Even in the United States, what unites them is their powers, their unity. Yet, you have people taking guns here and there and killing people. While we take the threat very seriously, we shouldn’t lose too much sleep over it, because those in authority, those in charge of operations of government are in support of the unity of the country. You cannot but have some dissidents, who are not happy about certain things.
That is why I am saying we shouldn’t dismiss the threat, but we shouldn’t allow the threat to get us stuck. We must ensure that we improve the quality of life of the people in the society in which we live in and I am sure government is doing just exactly that.
There have been series of calls to restructure Nigeria, as an elder state man, do you support this?
I have always said that we need proper definition of the word restructuring before we know what we want to do. For me, restructuring can be applied to any situation. It can be applied to personal life of human beings by way of restructuring a pattern of behaviour. It can also be applied to a family, a community and a country as well. But it requires definition so that we know the content of that restructuring. I think we need to have a proper definition of the concept. When we have arrived at a consensus as to what we mean by restructuring, we can now say this is the plan for restructuring and these are the consequences. Nobody should be afraid of restructuring once it is well defined. But what are the contents of restructuring? That is the way I want to go. And that is why there is a need to talk first and have a proper definition of it.
There have been several calls on President Buhari to reshuffle his cabinet in order to get things right. What is your take on this?
In my own view, I don’t think that is what is needed at this point in time. What we need right now is for all of us to come together and make sure that we are out of the current economic crisis we’ve found ourselves. Have you ever seen soldiers at the war front disagreeing with one another? Never, they will not do that. Even if they are not friends, when they get to the war front, they will come together to overcome the situation before anything. This is what I think everybody should be doing now, not blaming some people, and calling for them to be removed. This country has come a long way together and we need to start getting things right.