By Chioma Gabriel,Â Deputy Editor
General John Shagaya is a serving Senator of the Federal Republic and Chairman of Northern Senatorsâ€™ Forum . In this interview, the Minister of Internal Affairs inÂ the defunct IBBâ€™s regime speaks on a number of issues including IBBâ€™s returnÂ toÂ politics, the Jos crisis and acting President Jonathanâ€™s trip to the United States.
It started with OBJ. Now IBB wants his turn as a democratic President. They were military heads of state and have hijackedÂ democracy.What do the generals want?
I will say that democracy needs generals like us. AndÂ if you ask me why, I will tell you there are three main reasons. The first reason is that the generals are Nigerian citizens and are of age to seekÂ the mandate ofÂ Nigerians to participate in the process of electioneering ofÂ leadership at the various levels ofÂ leadership in this country.
The second reason is that the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states nowhere that any professional body is banned from seeking the mandate ofÂ the citizenry. So, there is nowhere in the constitution except a coup situation that forces anybody not to be elected because he was an ex-military officer.
The third reason which is very selfish is that anywhere in the world, a military officer is better equipped to understand leadership, humanÂ management, resourceÂ management, international relations and respect for nations of the world.
Hence, inÂ countries like Britain, even among the royals, a prince and a princessÂ must be exposed to some military training, for that prince and princess to qualify to become a King or a Queen.
In the US, from the attendance ofÂ independence in the 17th Century, that is 1776, or thereabout till date, they always prefer a retired military officer to rule their country, beginning from Washington to whoever. Amongst all the Presidents of the United States, I think only one did not serve in the military and that is Bill Clinton.
And this shows that there is a merit in a qualification that is attached to an individual that has acquired certain discipline through military training. So, these three major reasons qualify any one of us to qualify for the mandate from our people to participate responsibly and reasonably in politics.
The individual or individuals compete with all those who are qualified from the constituencies. Itâ€™s the choice of the constituency to vote or not vote for the person. Itâ€™s not mere fighting an imaginary enemy and playing to the gallery or usingÂ the media profession to fightÂ ex-military or no ex-military officers. I will advise such people, the biggest ofÂ the critics of ex- military men to come out and seekÂ the mandate of their constituencies, to qualify to be elected and lets see how many of them will be elected.
The years when these former military dictators were in government were not the best years for Nigeria. We know the military mismanaged Nigeria.
Well, Babangida has thrown a challenge to Nigerians whoÂ play to the gallery. He raised the question that Nigerians should compare his era,Â the developmentsÂ of that period, the earnings of that period to developments in the country between 1999 – 2007. AndÂ then, you can say which one was more wasteful. He asked that question. And I think the media people should ask all those who are criticising him to find an answer.
It is not enough to say because John ShagayaÂ is an ex-military man, therefore, he is not qualified to be in the Senate. If we compareÂ the contributions on the floor of the Senate, research or whatever, the ex-military members are solid senators. I do know that Senator DavidÂ Mark, the Senate President has been able to manage the upper chamber very well.
In the history ofÂ the senate ofÂ the Federal Republic of Nigeria, no ex-uniformed person has been found wanting. General Ike Nwachukwu as a Senator did well. David Mark, the Senate President has done so well to maintain stability in the Senate and for over three years, no banana peels have been thrown at him. It means there is something in his quality of leadership.
But among the civilians, when the leadership of the Senate went to the East, in eight years, there were six Senate Presidents. Compare, contrast and provide for me an answer.
You are just speaking like a military man that you are. Perhaps you can say the military are gifted in the art of manipulation.
Well, I donâ€™t think that is the right word to use because if you use that word, then you are abusing or insulting the sensibility of veryÂ many educated Nigerians. Are you saying that if you take away the percentage ofÂ military men in the population, the remaining 140 million Nigerians are idiots? You are insulting the sensibility ofÂ the people and it is not right for youÂ to sayÂ what you said.
The outside world wouldÂ laugh at us and would considerÂ us so cheap that we would rather prefer mediocrity to quality representation. And so, wherever Nigerians find the quality of representation, so shall the person be elected. The question of whether the fellow was an ex-military man, or an accountant or a former Marine Navy is not the issue. If the individual is good, he is good.
You were the Minister of Internal Affairs in IBBâ€™s regime and so, your point is understandable.
I was the Minister of Internal Affairs under the administration of IBB. I modified that using the word administration because a regime is more draconian but the IBB regime was more democratic than even some democratic systems in Africa.
So, I will rather prefer you call it an administration because they were fewÂ militaryÂ men in that government. The larger percentage,Â about eighty- something were civilian brothers and sisters. There were a lot of very learnedÂ people likeÂ Prince Bola Ajibola, who was brought in from the Hague. Chu Okongwu, a financial wizard was inÂ the World Bank was also in that administration.
There were also Kalu Idika Kalu, Dr. Olikoye RansomeÂ Kuti, from World Heath Organisation and many of them. If you say the military are manipulative, you are insulting the sensibility ofÂ these other people. These were the people who ran the IBBâ€™s administration.
They were not uniformed people, but they were brilliant Nigerians who were broughtÂ into Nigeria to come andÂ runÂ the system. So, this is 2010. Let the Nigerian media begin to drift away from seeing the people in government as they are.
We did that in the early 1959 and sixties because we were fighting a colonialÂ master to win an independence. We won the independence and now, we should be speaking as Nigerians. We shouldÂ be trying to find solutions as Nigerians.
You spoke so glowingly about the administration of IBB who was in power for eight years. What does he want againÂ in Aso Rock? Did he forget something?
I think the question is, when it comes to voting, will youÂ be able to work out a counter strategy to tell Nigerians that you have a better candidate thanÂ that fellow. AndÂ ifÂ you are able to sell your candidate, for Godâ€™s sake, IBB will accept defeat because that will be the voice ofÂ Nigerians.
We all have a vote each. But if anybody emergesÂ as a result ofÂ the collective vote ofÂ Nigerians, it will be wrong for anyone of us to sit down to complain. It has been like this from the beginning. Until one dies, as long as there isÂ a calling for one to serve at whatever level and one has the strength and the disposition to serve, I think individual Nigerians, men and women, should for Godâ€™s sake be allowed to serve.
LetsÂ get away from suchÂ issues that are meaningless andÂ the man hasÂ said, if you have anything against me, go to court and challenge me. And in any case, all political parties in their nomination forms have a portion that individuals would be disqualified if they are found wanting, if theyâ€™ve been indicted, ifÂ theyâ€™ve been jailed. So, Nigerians can go and swear to an affidavit, that XYZ, is unfit to rule us. And it is also my right and the right of any other candidate to also sue when hisÂ accusers have no proof of their allegations.
We have been recycling leadersÂ from OBJ and a lot of Nigerians from pastÂ regimes are still in the system. What about the youths?
IÂ begÂ you Chioma, a lot of African countries wouldÂ love to have some of these our past leaders to come andÂ headÂ their countries. NoÂ Â matter what you think, no matter what you feel, there is nothing you can do about the voice ofÂ majority.
What is the beauty of democracy? It is the right to speak and that is why youÂ and I are talking today. You have the right to interviewÂ me, you have the right to inform Nigerians because your profession allows you to. And also, I have the right to share this experience with you.
Isnâ€™t it time for certain people to leave the stage for the young generation instead of all these recyclingÂ in the system. Now, we are being told the young people have nothing to offer.
Why donâ€™t you encourage any young person you think have the quality and the vision to lead the country to come on board? Let him get to the media house to present himself, come out and ask Nigerians to vote for him. That will put to rest any question in that direction. Until Obama became the President of the United States, nobody thought that anybody ofÂ black origin, who 245-250 years ago wouldÂ have beenÂ regarded as a slave wouldÂ becomeÂ the President of America. We must see ourselves in the light of progression, not retrogression.
And so, this question or challenges of who is qualified and who is not should not be discussed in our history. But we should be discussing who is the bestÂ material to handle a particular office in our country? That is what we should be discussing.
Is zoning still necessary in PDP?
Iâ€™m very incompetent to answer that question. Iâ€™m a very loyal party candidate and PDP card-carrying member and if my national chairman for the past 14 days have saidÂ that for the interest ofÂ Nigeriaâ€™s stability, the zoning system will be maintained, I have no reason to quarrel with that. Donâ€™t forget, that is a party decision but not the constitution. So, anybody is free to go andÂ run from another party.
Thank God, the Independent party is already added. So, if anybody wants to defeatÂ PDP because ofÂ its zoning policy and that independent fellow thinks he can come from any part of Nigeria, for Godâ€™s sake, such a person should come out to run.
So, can the Acting President JonathanÂ run for presidency on PDPÂ Â platform?
I canâ€™t speak for him. I think you better ask him.
I understand the so-called zoning policy is an opinion of one man and it is not even approved by the National Working Committee (NWC) ofÂ PDP and therefore, was not generally approved.
Well, I canâ€™t join issues with your own thinking and feeling . Itâ€™s better you ask those who are responsible for such pronouncements. So, I decline to answer that question.
Will the North have a consensus candidate under the platform of the PDP?
Once you begin to talk of consensus candidate, then, the polity may negate the democratic nature ofÂ allowing people to come out and vie and let Nigerians choose. If the policy ofÂ the party at the end of the day whether it is through primary, through whateverÂ means, producesÂ a candidate that could face many other candidates, he would go. Donâ€™t forget that Nigeria has 53 registered political parties, including the Independent Party.
Any of these parties could produce the President, why are we worried about the PDP ? Every Nigerian above the age of 40 years is qualified to run for the President of Nigeria. The coming out of one individual who thinks he is of age to run does not stop any other person from coming out to run. So, where is the issue?
Where is the problem? When people talk about a fellow like IBBÂ the way they do, then it means such fellow possesses certain qualities and potentials that so clearly make itÂ known to mediocresÂ that they cannot challenge him.Â It clearly glorifies him .
And so, the challenge now involves the media to discuss the issue. Let Nigerians check through the 53 parties and pick a candidate to challenge the PDP candidate, to challenge an ex-military man, to challenge an ex-accountant or ex-whatever. In the senate, we have people from the media. AdeyemiÂ is from the media and some others, like Chris Anyanwu.
Iâ€™m sure they are elected because they were good. We also have people like \professor Aminu, a former VC, a professor ofÂ Medicine, aÂ former Minister, former ambassador and today a Senator. It means that there are some good in him that Adamawa people have seen. Why narrow it to a military man? That is very negative for the purpose of development. Itâ€™s not progressive at all. I accept, there is an on-going debate on IBBâ€™s intention to return and Iâ€™m just contributing to the debate.
I hope it wouldnâ€™t be said, another â€˜IBB boyâ€™ has spoken?
Anybody who says that will be insulting my intellect because Iâ€™m a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I am representing a senatorial district. My constitution allows me to speak on behalf of those who have mandated me. I am speaking with you, sharing my views and I am also sharingÂ theÂ views ofÂ the majority ofÂ the people who thought I was qualifiedÂ in 2007 to be elected a senator.
I want to deviate from politics to enquire about Jos. What is the situation there now?
You are putting this question to somebody who is a member of the Presidential Committee that is looking into the crisis with a view to making a recommendation to the Federal government of Nigeria . Be it as it may, I will tell you that the situation in Jos is very much under control.
The committee has restrainedÂ itself from giving individualÂ interviews on the subject matter. We do not want a situation where, until the report gets to the President, different comments would be made about the recommendations of the committee. So, I wonâ€™t comment on that exceptÂ that the issue of the crisis remains isolated to that one local government, that is, Jos North and partially Jos south . It has not involved the remaining 15 local governments in the state. So, the state government, the military and the police have done well enough to isolate the problem within these two localities.
So, what is your prediction? Would peace ever return to the local government in question?
There is hope that peace will return.
But in the recent time, like Monday or thereabout, there were reports of some killings still going on.
You see Chioma, everywhere in Nigeria, everyday, there were reported killings, killings that are worse than the one you are talking about.
I believe this matter is escalating…
No, it is not escalating. We canÂ look at three weeks ago, the Director-General of NYSC, asked youth corp members deployed to Plateau to choose if they should be redeployed to other parts of the country. Unanimously, they said no, they want to serve in Plateau state and they are all serving in Plateau State and these boys and girls, numbering over a thousand come from the 36 states of the federation.
Now, we are in a civilian rule and we are meant to understand from the crisis in Jos that soldiers donâ€™t take orders from civilian governors. Is that the truth?
I donâ€™t know where you got that from. If you read your constitution, you will see that an executive governor of a state is the Chief Security Officer of the state. And where there is a situation of internal unrest and the military are ordered out of the barracksÂ by the President of the Federal Republic, the governor chairs the security meeting of that state.
That military general subordinates himself to the state governor. Iâ€™m yet to know if there is a deviation anywhere in our country.
There were reported killings of a Pastor and his wife in Kano recently and policemen being stationed in Bauchi to forestall an outbreak of religious violence. The Libyan leader, Gadaffi suggested Nigeria be split along religious lines. Should Nigeria considerÂ it?
There have been crisis in Ebonyi where communities woke up and started killing themselves for a piece of land. There have been fighting in the South-West, there have been fightsÂ in the Delta, there was theÂ Boko Haram crisis. There have been all kinds of crises in the country and each of themÂ had its own peculiarities.
The killings you talked about now happened in states outside where I am resident. I have no authority to comment on those. BauchiÂ has a governor. Kano has a governor and of course, we have the federal government outfit.
That strengthens the suggestion made by Gadaffi.
I donâ€™t want to joinÂ issues with Gadaffi. He is a head of government and a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria like me who is experienced will not join issues with him except to sympathise with Gadaffi, that being a member of the African Union, he had chaired AU and so also have many pastÂ leaders ofÂ Nigeria. He knows that there have been no complainants from Nigeria about the issues he raised.
I wonder how a judge can sit down and pass judgement on an issue that has no complainant and respondent. He should be educated enough, having chaired AU, having visited Nigeria many times that Nigeria is a multi-religious nation. IfÂ he doesnâ€™t know, his ambassadors would have advised him on Nigeria. It is unfortunate. If truly he made those statements, itâ€™s unfortunate. But lets believe that he may have beenÂ misquoted.
But when we look at our existence as a nation, one would be tempted to agree that perhaps, thatâ€™s what we really need here.
Maybe I need to take a few seconds to explain further what I mean. The community where I come fromÂ is Langtang, a local government that does not have up to one million people. We are about 900,000. And we have Christians, Muslims, non-believers and all other types of religionsÂ that are around the world has made Langtang a cosmopolitan town.
So, if you say now that you want to divide Nigeria along religious lines, are you now saying that my cousin who is a sheik in Jos will be taken to Sokoto andÂ my brother who is a Christian, to England because Christianity came from the West? So, lets not go into it. I donâ€™tÂ want to discuss that.
Whatâ€™s your opinion on acting President Jonathanâ€™s visit to United States?
I will imagine it would improve our diplomatic relationship with the outside world. Until few weeksÂ ago, Nigeria had one commonÂ issue to discuss and that was the issue ofÂ young Muttallab, who on the 25th ofÂ December, attempted to blow up a plane. Nigeria, a peaceful nation we are, now was unfortunate to be one of those countries that the US would pay close attentions to on issues of terrorism.
Now, the issue went on and on and was discussed severally on different platforms in Nigeria. The media was the greatest contributor on that debate and of course, sending certain messages to the United States that indeed that action was not fair considering our role in the maintenance of peace in other countries ofÂ the world, global peace if I can put it that way. We went on peace-keeping in many countries ofÂ the world.
And of course, you know our role in ECOMOG,Â in AfricanÂ sub-region, Africa and the world at large, and we deserve to be treated better than to be likened toÂ terrorists because of the incidence of one young person . So, the visit of the acting President to that country should tell Nigerians that a lot of good will is being extended to us, and that by the behaviour of one young kid, we should notÂ be maltreatedÂ by way of international relations.
And so, many of us are quite happy at that trip andÂ that the acting President was granted audience. Donâ€™t forget that in our last fifty years or so, it was not every head of government that was granted audience on visitsÂ to America. So for me , itsÂ a good omen.
Finally, what do you see when you look ahead of 2011 general elections?
Iâ€™m honestly reading the mood of the national assemblyÂ and the speed with which the national assembly took and considered the strong views of Nigerians and especially those that were expressed in some special reports like theÂ Uwais report that suggested that certain areas of INECâ€™s law need to be amended to give confidence to Nigerians to allow for the emergence of quality Nigerians, truly votedÂ Nigerian people and if that law comes into operation, I want to believe that the elections of the year 2011 will be better than other elections.
Let us also not forget that if we look at our past history, from 1959, during regional elections, all sorts of criminalities were practised. But as we came along in history, we realised that all thoseÂ have beenÂ minimised. So, as a developing nation, we are doing very well.Â WeÂ keep comparing ourselves with developed countries of the world forgetting that even though we made mistakes yesterday we could improve tomorrow.