*Things are getting better under President Yarâ€™Adua
* Discloses how he once cross examined General T Y Danjuma for three hours
By Jide Ajani
When Brigadier David Medaiyese Jemibewon agreed to Sunday Vanguardâ€™s interview, there was a little bit of apprehension.Â Firstly, the Special Interview Series had just featured Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha, former governor of Bayelsa State – forcing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to hastily return some funds to Bayelsa State, funds hitherto undisclosed but for the interview.
Yet, Sunday Vanguard was able to get Jemibewon to reflect on issues of national importance.
For instance, Jemibewon expressed discomfort at a style of leadership which seeks to dictate, rather than collaborate with party members on how to move the party forward.
According to him, â€œOur Party, PDP, is a Fraudâ€, he declared.
He also said Things are getting better under President Yarâ€™Adua
But he also discloses that he once cross examined General T Y Danjuma for three hours during a court martial.
Your middle name, Medaiyese, sounds funny. Were there any compelling circumstances at birth which led to that name?
(Cuts in)Â I wouldnâ€™t know because I was not there. I wouldnâ€™t know, we can only imagine that it means you can not live enjoy life alone or live in this world alone.
My surname, too, we can only make an insinuation or guess that many children may have been born by the mother, but they didnâ€™t survive and with the new child, JEMIBEWON (help me beg them so that this one would live). But for me, I canâ€™t make a guess and mostly where I come from, similar names are given and our names are in the form of sentences.
People believe – and the records are there – that you had an accomplished military career. Why did you go into the military in the first place? Was it by circumstance or it was a conscious move, or both?
I will want to say that it was a combination of the two. Ordinarily, I never liked a sedentary occupation, may be until now that Iâ€™m getting much older. I donâ€™t like sitting down in one place for too long, I want activities and so in the secondary school, I was in the Boys Scout.
And when I left school, although I thought of so many professions, I ended up appearing in the military school in Kaduna. I wanted to be a surveyor and you know that surveyors donâ€™t usually sit in a room or the office if they are really surveyors.
But while in school, I had a friend who was in the army and I used to spend part of my holidays with him. But I couldnâ€™t live with him in the barracks, but he had another friend who was not in the military, who came from Yola – heâ€™s dead now.
I would stay with the guy. So, that gave me a first hand knowledge of the military. And each time, I wanted to go to the barracks to just say hello to him, we were always not given the opportunity to go into the barracks by soldiers at the gate – they call them korofo, not knowing that the word korofo was a corrupted word.
How did the word korofo come about in the first place?
I wouldnâ€™t know.Â It was later that I got to know that it was provost and provost is military police. So, itâ€™s a corrupted name or the Yoruba version of provost. I just got fascinated and since military work is not a profession that you do in the office and the opportunity to having contact with the military and the neatness and the opportunity to travel all over the world and to be adventurous, made me join.
Some have rationalised the coming of the military while others have criticised it and have actually heaped all the problems of the nation on military incursion. Now, when the Nzeogwu coup of 1966 happened, do you still have a recollection of what you were doing?
Yes of course. I was already a captain then – my colleagues and I in 1966.
Yes. I was at the training depot then. That is where recruits who will become soldiers are trained.
Can you remember any of these colleagues?
We had Abudullahi Mohammed, who was the chief of staff to President Obasanjo and for a while Chief of Staff to the incumbent President. We had Anthony Hananiya, who was former Corps Marshall of the Road Safety.Â Abubabakar Waziri was also with us.
There was Joe Garba, who was my course mate in NMS. There was one Adeniran from Ogbomosho . And there was one Oyewole who, is from Lagos here. But he was not promoted captain. There was Godwin Udeh, Ephraim Okpara. So, I remember my colleagues very well.
People have written, commented and given various versions of the event. What vividly can you recall what happened and your mood then?
I will answer the question for the purpose of this interview. Like I told you I was at the depot. But before then, I think there must have been an intelligence report; that there was need to be careful and be prepared.
Where did the report come from?
From the intelligence; its like when you press men have information and people will be asking you for the source. At my level and my rank at that time, it would not have been possible for me to know whether the report came from Jamaica or anywhere. But the point is that there was intelligence report. This is how far I can go on the information that was available at that time.
As a trained military officer who was taught not to interfere with governance, how did it strike you?
It was very disappointing for me and maybe for most of my colleagues. Some of us foresaw the possibility of crisis in the future and with the way things were going then, I knew we were heading for catastrophe.Â You know that the army consists of people with various backgrounds and affiliations.
BackgroundsÂ and affiliations
But it was a unified profession, where nobody cared about where people came from. There was a strong bond before the 1966 saga. With what happened in January 1966, everybody became suspicious.
Would one be safe to say that pre-independence suspicion harboured by a section of the political class, was further accentuated by the event of January 15, 1966?
It is possible. I am speaking from experience.
If you see the discriminate manner with which people were killed, you would know that it was the darkest phase in Nigeriaâ€™s history. Seeing that a lot of people who were killed came from a particular section of the country, you will become suspicious.
And it wasnâ€™t good for the country. I am happy that in recent time, we have started allowing history to take its course. But we pray such things will never happen again.
With the situation you mentioned, if you were to paint a typical war situation you were involved in during the civil war and when you look back at what you went through, was it worth it?
(At this point he breaks down in tears, mops his eyes with a white handkerchief and after five minutes, he regains his composure)
Sometimes when I read in the papers what some stupid politicians say either about the country or about soldiers, I become very sad. Each time I remember a particular situation, and what has happened to me now, I feel sad.
When my unit, I mean my 27Â battalion was at a junction, our commander then was Abisoye (Gen Emmanuel Abisoye). There was a village called Ovin â€“ I think itâ€™s Ovin â€“ and I think that must be the village where Ike Nwachukwu comes from.
To make sure we were safe where we were, you had to carry out reconnaissance in the villages surrounding wherever you were, otherwise, you could be attacked by the enemies.
So, I sent troops there. At that time, I had only two officers in a battalion that normally should have 28 officers.
One of those officers is called Abubakar from Maiduguri and the other is called Alabi from Ibadan and the reconnaissance I sent to that place had to be led by an officer. I could only choose one out of the two of them and I told Alabi that he would be the one to go.
Alabi became very unhappy â€“ because it was as if I was sendingÂ him to go and die – but I just had to choose one of them and then, they went with a rail car because we captured a rail car at that place called Kalabiri junction. On their way back, they were ambushed and Alabi was killed.
About how many people were killed?
Alabi was the only one killed and here was somebody who felt that I was sending him to a dangerous place that I knew he might not come back and he didnâ€™t come back.
I think the driver of the rail car was also killed but an ordinary soldier who should not have been in that train was the one who pushed the driver and took over the car train.
Ordinarily, I didnâ€™t know when the war would end but that soldier ought to be recognised with an award. Of course, because of what happened, it was necessary for us to go back to that village and clear the place. And I personally led the battalion to do the clearing, but it wasnâ€™t the same day, it was two days after because we had to prepare to know the effect of what wouldl happen and an investigation of the strength of the enemy troops was then carried out.
So, I led the troops and of course, we were under very heavy fire that we had to withdraw after fighting for sometime, which in military parlance is called hasty withdrawal and we managed to carry some of our wounded.
But again, there was a particular soldier, we didnâ€™t know that he had been injured and the injury was hidden from us but he was in pains. Because we did not know that he was injured we did not bother about him.Â We abandoned a human being that was in pain. Again, two days after, we had to go back there, and it was then that we found his decomposing body and also discovered his injury. (He again breaks down, sobs and continues)
There must have been people who had worse situations.
Take, for example, what happened to an officer:Â He was trying to park an armoured car and I think the driver lost control and rolled over him – thatâ€™s how he died.
When in this country you find some funny people just talking loosely, I tend to laugh.
When people say they donâ€™t care what happens to this country, that the army are the cause of all the problems in this country.
There are people who have made it in life, who didnâ€™t know their father, and who didnâ€™t know their mother and yet, they made it in life. For how long are we going to sit down here blaming the colonial masters?
America was a colonised country, but itâ€™s the most advanced country in the world. We were colonised, the colonialists have left long ago, for us to be able to make some progress far above what we have done is our problem.
We canâ€™t continue to hold certain people responsible for our inefficiency, ineffectiveness.
For example, are you going to say it is the military that planted corruption? Are you going to say that the colonial masters brought corruption? Even if they did, it is not at the level we are experiencing it now. Anyway I think I have answered your question.
Back to the military, it would appear that you are fairly close to General T Y Danjuma as well as General Obasanjo. What were those things that you saw that endeared you to them?
To be honest with you, in the military, there were certain times in the development of this country that they almost politicised the military. The idea of somebody liking somebody more than the other did not really arise.
At least your relationship with your colleagues, your relationship with your seniors and your relationship with Nigerians are those things that are the determinant factors which influenced me and my relationship with that particular officer.
I have never directly worked with either of those two officers but I had opportunity of getting involved with General Danjuma.
There was a particular period, IÂ Â learnt, when General DanjumaÂ Â was a GOC and you had to cross examine him during a court martial.Â Could you expound on that?
Yes, there was a time when he was GOC in Port Harcourt I defended an officer in a court martial. And one of those officers who gave evidence and who I had to cross examine was General Danjuma and General Danjuma was the GOC and he constituted the court martial.
He never showed any negative attitude to me doing that, something he had power to do.
What rank were you then?
I was a Lieutenant Colonel and he couldnâ€™t have been less than a Brigadier-General.
What year was that?
I canâ€™t remember. And then of course, he was one time Chief of Army Staff and so, I had greater inter-personal contact with him. But like I said, I think I had good relationship with everyone.
One thing that appears instructive in the issue of you, at that level – a Lieutenant Colonel – cross-examining a Brigadier General; was it because of the type of military we had then? Or it was the type of person General Danjuma himself was?
I think itâ€™s a combination of the two.
Because first, I wasnâ€™t a lawyer then and the officer I was defending, elected to ask me to play that role, because when an officer is going through a court martial, by the provision of the rules governing the process, he had the right to choose which officer he wants to defend him.
So, General Danjuma sat there for was it two or three hours and you kept hitting him with questions?
You know some few years back, some people who defended officers who were accused of taking part in a coup ended up being put in jail. Just because of the role they played defending, which is part of military work. They didnâ€™t do that to me, so itâ€™s a combination of the two â€“ the type of military we had then and the fact that General Danjuma was just like that.
Recently, the chairman of your party, the PDP, came out to say that the presidency has been ceded to the south-east. And some people are asking questions on the rationale behind that idea?
I did not read it. But if such a statementÂ was made, I would say that this is
a rather wrong time for it. It is too early. They should have allowed some level of stability for the man (Yarâ€™Adua) to function in such a way that the country can make progress.
That would have been better than throwing the country into another round of over-heating by a little bit of unguarded statement that can create some division that can only result in negative effect.
You were the governor of Old Western State from where some states were created.Â You retained Oyo State as your area of administrative control. In one of your books, you talked about the challenge of creating Ogun State?
I think, from your question, you read my book that it would appear you need to read that particular aspect again.Â What I said is that a particular person wrote a letter to me insinuating that I was opposed to their cause but from my description, those who know the political development of this area would be able to identify that person.
But I protected him by not mentioning his name because he was a man I had the greatest respect and admiration for. But again, he wanted to make a point and you find that politicians most of the time, they will want to make a point and in making such point, they exaggerate.There can be no reason why I could not have wanted Ogun State to be created. Inherently, I even proposed what the name should be and that is the name they gave it.
Otherwise they considered Yewa State , they considered Ijebu State and of course the capital that I proposed was not the place chosen. So, I did not say in the book that either the people or some people felt I was against the state creation, what I said was that somebody insinuated that in a letter he wrote to me.
You also pointed out that the reason why you did not suggest Abeokuta which eventually became the state capital is because of what you described as the challenges of developing the place.Â What would have happened if…?
(Cuts in) The topography as you must have seen, there is hardly any state created in this country that has gone out to a virgin area to develop what they considered an ideal state capital.
Itâ€™s the structures that are in place that they continue to use and luckily, I had a good knowledge of Abeokuta because I served in Abeokuta twice.
So, I had a good knowledge of Abeokuta and I felt it would have been easier to develop a beautiful befitting capital for such a state by virtue of its proximity to Lagos and somewhere in an environment that can bring out their efforts of development; particularly, supply of electricity, drainage, communication. These were things in my head at that time.
And thatâ€™s why I said, I think IÂ suggested Egba-Owode and if you look at it, you will find that, if Egba-Owode had been considered, it didnâ€™t mean it was the only place, but it was the thing that came to my mind and I happen to know the place.
You will find that there will be probably no need for people or civil servants to be struggling for houses that were not available as was the case with Abeokuta. You could come from Ijebu-Ode to Egba-Owode, you could come from Ijebu-Remo to Egba-Owode. Perhaps the only place that could be a little bit far away would be Ilaro and this is why I made this suggestion.
How was your relationship with General Obasanjo, the man from Ogun State?
Like I told you, I never worked directly with him because he was in Engineering Corps but I wasnâ€™t an MEI. I was in infantry but Iâ€™ve always admired him because heâ€™s hardworking, heâ€™s very energetic. If you have problems, you can tell him about such problems.Â Some soldiers were under my command at some point and they are from Abeokuta and by my own nature, Iâ€™m always accommodating. So, I think those soldiers who came from Abeokuta, at least those who were under my command, fared fairly comfortable and I remember that Obasanjo made a quick resolve that these chaps were happy under my command.
And the message must have got to him what I did for them. I think he believes in my ability
Because of my background, I like a language used by President Shagari when I wanted to leave the army and he called me for an interview, he said I shouldnâ€™t leave the army, that I was a bridge between the north and the south.
But I want to listen to you to know why you are asking these questions because youâ€™ve been twisting and turning me.
The Obasanjo you described as showing appreciation, most people do not see him as someone who appreciates something good. A good example: people who were with him before and during his presidency, especially those who helped him in becoming president in 1999 are no longer with him. How do you connect it with your view?
Those people have their reasons and I have mine.
For example some people who where judged to be good some years ago – when Obasanjo was Head of State in this country, people admired the way he approached things and until recently, he was also President of this country and people felt things could have been done in a better manner, particularly a person who had had an experience of having been in that position before. So, everyone has his own reason.
Even the later picture you painted, to a large degree, I share the views of those people.
The question you will ask is: what is the rationale behind saying that a man who was good yesterday is a bad man today. You should ask about the cause of that judgment.
Circumstances of yesterday are quite different from that of today.
The man of yesterday has grown older. The people who influenced him then, might not be there to influence him today.
All these are variables.
I am of the view that three factors determine human behaviour.
The first one is background of the person and those who worked with him. You will ask about their background as a group and on a personal basis. The environment in which they operated should also be taken into consideration.
Under the military, some people change government and say we want this man. When the man gets there, he will play along the lines of the dictates of those who put him there otherwise he will be booted out.
Each time he is doing anything he would consult with them and take an action decided by the group. But in a transitional period where you have an election which the winner emerges through the electorate, you donâ€™t question the wishes of the people.
You may say its academic, but that is the only way I can explain myself.
I asked you this question about Obasanjo and Danjuma because of the role Danjuma played in 1999. Looking back at how they parted ways, would you have ever imagined that they would ever part ways?
I deliberately did not answer the question because I knew you were going somewhere. General Danjuma is not a politician. I donâ€™t think he is in PDP. He loves this country. He doesnâ€™t need to be a minister. I want to believe that accepting that position was a sacrifice for the good of this country. He came to government to give it credibility. He thought the government wouldÂ perform.
That means Obasanjo did not perform?
Well I still believe that things could have been handled in a better manner.
But as I was saying, Bola Ige, too, came into government for the love of this country.
What is the salary that they would pay to attract people like that?Â You have been emphasising on Obasanjo and I being PDP members, I donâ€™t think Danjuma was a party member. He was a patriotic man. Some people in PDP today, left when they did not get what they wanted. And they came back when they could not get anything where they went to. Can you call them serious human beings?
That shows that people are not working for the interest of the country. Ordinarily, after elections, it is the business of the party to govern. That is why the party has executives. They should be preparing for the next election, instead of people in government choosing where the next president will come from. It was during Ali that it all started, when he said that the President is the leader of the party at the national level while the governors are leaders at state levels. Indirectly, it gives the President the power to manipulate the party.
Have you read anything like that about other countries?
What Nigerians saw in the last dispensation, was the wearing and tearing of the credibility of government in terms of providing the essence of governance.
And what you have pointed out about the President behaving like a party Chairman falls in line with this view.Â The President also went as far as instigating impeachment of senate presidents, governors and others. How did you feel at that time as a party man?
I donâ€™t think there are good people in PDP. But PDP as a party is a fraud.
Thatâ€™s your party?
Yes, PDP is a fraud.Â It is a statement I didnâ€™t want to make. But at my age I want the best for this country, I must say it. But the situation is improving with the new executive and the President.Â For example the number of the elections that have been upturned is a pointer to the fact that things are improving.
Those things were not accidental. Let me tell you, election is rigged at different levels.
But it starts at the party level. It starts where a party nominates a candidate.
I am happy with the clamour for internal democracy in parties.
Internal democracy helps the external to grow. I am not a professional politician; I got involved because I was called to serve my country. I donâ€™t go out begging for appointments. What do you expect when a man who did not pass through primaries is made a candidate? The system you used in forcing him on the people is the same thing you will use when it comes to inter party.
Would you say that there is nothing the electoral body could do to stop the bastardadisation of the process by the political class? Some people believe that it is the mentality of Nigerians that give room for the abuse of the process. They believe that it is not necessarily the electoral body?
No, no, no… it is not the electoralÂ body. For example, police willÂ Â not come to your house because it was burgledÂ without you reporting to them. So they are correct. And that is where good leadership is very important in all we do.
Look at the issue of decampment.Â If the courts had ruled against the first person who left his party for PDP, it would have reduced the incidence of crossing.
So, it is not primarily INECâ€™s fault. I donâ€™t believe that politics is a dirty game. It s those who play it that are either dirty or clean.
When the former VP left, the former president wanted to remove him, but the Supreme Court ruled in the VPâ€™s favour. That is what some people are holding on to in the face of recent cross carpeting. If you look at it with the events that came after, how would you describe it?
No two cases are the same. They had the same ticket. I am not at the Supreme Court. They may have ruled on the grounds of some legal belief. But a governor is a governor.Â He is the chief executive of his state the vice president is not the chief executive of the country.Â If it were the President who left and formed a party, probably, the ruling might not have been the same.
We had interviewed someone who said that there were reports of coups being planned during the Second Republic. He said that Shagari was always asking for a proof any time they confronted him with the intelligence.Â And the proof came with the 1983 coup. When you look at that situation and subsequent coups, what are those things that you think makes the military men always think that they have a duty in governance?
Many books have been written on this. Government doing the right thing is important. The views of members of the press are important and then of course, you know the press can influence a lot. Donâ€™t forget, the army, as far as an average Nigerian is concerned, has never sat down as a body in a round table conference to say we are going to take over.
Itâ€™s always a few people and they must have looked at few things and just decided to do what they wanted to do. At least as far as Nigeria is concerned, I can say with absolute confidence that the army has never sat at a round table to discuss how they wanted to take over power.
It has never happened. So, what Iâ€™m saying is that, I donâ€™t know what this man or that man is thinking and as a result, we can only speculate, but itâ€™s only few people and in doing that, you have to communicate with the man or the person who can compel him. It is when the thing is successful that everybody has a sense of participation or belonging.
Like you talked about the first one, you were not even anywhere near it or part of it?
You mean coups?
Iâ€™ve never taken part in coup not even taking part in discussions. You see, those who do these things, as I told you, there must be confidence. Even where you work, there are those you relate with up to a certain level and there are those you feel much comfortable that there is nothing you canâ€™t tell them. We are all human beings.
When Shagari said you were a bridge, he must have had certain things running through his mind…
(Cuts in) You see what happened was that I wrote an application, I wanted to leave the army.
What prompted that?
If I joined the army, I had the right to say I want to go. I just wanted to leave the army because I just felt I have had just enough. When he talked to me, I deferred it by one year.
That was what year?
1982; I had even almost forgotten, but at a certain time, I wrote that I didnâ€™t want to be promoted anymore so that they can just leave me. Maybe in some circles, they probably expressed that, maybe I didnâ€™t like the government and thatâ€™s why I wanted to leave. I have very high regard for President Shagari who then invited me.
What was your relationship with Captain Elegbede?
I think Elegbedeâ€™s full name was Abdulrazak Omogbolahan Elegbede. He was in the Nigerian army. Heâ€™s the brother to the one whoâ€™s in the navy.
Was he the one they killed?
Yes, heâ€™s the brother to the one they killed around Gbagada. Yes, I happened to be his senior, I joined the army before him.
When I finished, I was posted to 2 Battalion in Abeokuta. I went to the Congo and from the Congo, I was posted to 1 Battalion in Enugu and then, my second commanding officer was Adekunle Fajuyi. I could say I was lucky to go through these experienced officers.
And then of course, Elegbede was posted (when he finished in England) to Enugu and we became very close. I have never known him before, it was there that we became extremely close to the extent we became friends. In those days, the army had a way of monitoring officersâ€™ activities and when it found that two officers were close, it was envisaged that if they were separated, it may affect their performance.
So when I was transferred to Zaria, he too, in a matter of two months, was transferred to Zaria. I became connected to his family. And so, at one time, I was on leave – a lot of people even thought we were brothers, even though we donâ€™t bear the same name. So, when I was on leave and they were looking to recall me, they sent telegraphs to his parents for me to come back.
It was very interesting because our commanding officer in Zaria was W.U Bassey â€“ NA 1; officersâ€™ number start with NA and the number follows.Â They always liked the two of us to command the guard of honour, both under Fajuyi and when we were in Zaria. That was the relationship between us and then, unfortunately, the first coup took place.
On the night of that first coup, Elegbede was on leave and he travelled to Lagos by train and his girl friend, who later became his wife, Abiola (now Erelu of Lagos) was in the train. They travelled to Lagos together.
I think it was during the fasting period that the coup took place and Elegbede happened to be a Muslim. It was after the morning breakfast that Elegbede decided to go to the barracks and he was arrested and the officer coordinating those who were arrested was a colleague.
Now, the family was expecting Elegbede to come back home, but we didnâ€™t hear from him and it was only from me that they could ask for Elegbede. I didnâ€™t know where he was, I didnâ€™t know what happened until the time I had that he had been detained.
Luckily for us in the army, if you leave your station, you must have a pass. Until I received his letter from Biola, I opened the letter and that was my first contact with that letter and I found that they had travelled on the same train, Kunle promised to reach her, when he gets to Lagos but she didnâ€™t hear from Kunle, so she got angry. It was then I knew that they had problems. And so, I did whatever I could do and luckily I contacted Gowon who was a Lieutenant Colonel. I told him that Elegbede couldnâ€™t have been part of the coup. That was that. Later he was released. I did my best.
The second time was when he was again arrested and kept in Kirikiri â€“ I was instrumental in his release.
So, I am a member of the family. But unfortunately, he died in a motor accident but I was in the United States then.
When was that?
He died in an accident in 1972. He was returning to Akure and he died between Ife and Ondo. There were many things that were unsettled. Itâ€™s a relationship that I cherish. He was my best man when I got married. Even when his son was to get married, it was me the family called to be the father of the day and I felt highly honoured.