By Ben Agande and Gbenga Oke
MAJOR-GENERAL David Jemibewon is one Nigerian,who does not hide his feelings when it comes to addressing national issues. When VANGUARD met him in his Abuja residence to talk about the emergence of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar’s as the Northern consensus candidate, he bared his mind on the role he played as one of the Northern elders. He also spoke extensively on zoning and the 2011 elections among other issues. Excerpts:
THE 2011 elections is fast approaching. What do fears fears in different quarters over the election portend for Nigeria?
It portends continuit. It portends development of democracy because when you talk of democracy, it involves a lot of things – party formation, periodic elections, transparency and so on. So, with the next election coming, it portends progressive approach to further cementing the foundation of democracy.
Do you think the structures on ground and carriage of the participants inspire hope that we will have a different election from what we’ve had in the past?
Assuming I give an answer and I say ‘yes’ based on what you asked that things don’t seem rosy, what is the alternative? That is the question I’ll ask you. So for any human being to completely lose hope means you are not progressing. To me, there are arrangements being made. The quality of people associated with these arrangements, the enthusiasm of Nigerians and participants indicate to me that there is great hope in the future. Based on the enthusiasm of Nigerians as expressed in many fora, there is development at each state no matter how little.
For example, some few years back, you might not be asking these questions because of this congenial political atmosphere propelled by the processes of democracy that have all combined to make it possible for the press to operate and for all of us to move from one point to the other and to be able to look back to the past and project to the future. So, it portends a great future for us except you have a dissenting view which you have the right to.
Some critics have argued that instead of talking about issues that will unite us, we are talking about zoning and that it is the turn of one part of the country or the other. Don’t you think Nigeria as a nation should have outgrown zoning?
Good. Is there a word ‘zoning’ or a word ‘zone’? If there is a word or there are words, is there or are there conditions under which such word or words shouldn’t be used? As long as certain words remain as part of our vocabulary or in the dictionary or even used among human beings; zones, like North, Central or South, do you think that a time will come when these words will be of no effect or such that we should not use them anymore? So, I think at all times, as long as words remain in existence, they are likely to be used. There are likely to be necessities and conditions for the usage of such words.
Don’t you think it is high time we started looking beyond usage of such words to define who should emerge as the leader of the country?
Excellent. Your question now are been specific and if that is the basis of your asking the question, then it is a valid question. But can one entity out of many entities be more or take over and dictate how other entities should limit their activities and usage of words? If not and even if it is so, I think the greatest organization in the world is the United Nations Organizations (UNO). Go and look into the charter of UNO, that charter is reflected in the constitution of the country. In the UNO charter, there is an aspect which says “In the employment of staff into the secretary general of UNO, the geographical divisions of the world must be put into considerations”. What is geographical division of the world?
Is that Zoning?
I am asking you because when we went to school, there are times when a word is underlined and you will be given five options and you will be asked to pick an answer that may be used in interchange with the underlined word. That simply means to describe an object, you can have several ways of describing it.
So geographical divisions of the world, what does it mean? It means the continents of the world, Europe, America, South America, Africa and Asia, about five continents. It was on that basis that African heads of state united by saying an African should be appointed the Secretary of the United Nations Organization and that was how Bitrus Gali became Secretary General. For the second time, Kofi Annan, also being an African, stepped into the shoe. Even our own Olusegun Obasanjo was sponsored by Nigeria but he did not make it. On what basis do you think an African qualified for the Secretary General of United Nations?
Can that be called zoning?
Thank you. In the first constitution of the PDP that I was privileged to also contribute to immensely, zoning was not there but for the greed of some people who ensured that zoning was put into the constitution of the party.
So what has zoning in the PDP’S constitution cost the party?
We have to learn that in our individual lives to endeavour to do what is right. Let us try not to cut corners because some of the problems we have today as individuals, organizations and as a nation, were problems caused in the past and we are suffering them today. So, if we can try our best to reduce the problems we create by doing the right thing, we will not only be helping our generation but we will also be helping the generations to come.
If the right things were done politically within the party in 2003 and 2007, the problems we have today could have been much less. So as I am telling you today, from what we are doing as organization and individual and as a nation, that we are feeling very happy with, are only creating problems for the future. Such problems will re-surface in the future and people around that time will be asking how the problems came into being without knowing they were problems caused years back. If we did the right politically, some of the problems we are having today, we won’t be having them.
The argument of those who are opposed to zoning in the Nigerian context is the fact that they feel we are too diverse in our ways and once this is playing out, the unity of the country will be compromised and in the present scenario, they said divinely, Jonathan has emerged as…
Do me a favour. If you are to continue with this interview, don’t use names because I don’t deal with personalities, I deal with issues not with personalities.
The South-South geo-political zone has never produced the president of the country. Now that a South-South person is in power and has constitutional right to aspire for the position of the Presidency, it was expected that other zones should have supported the move. So why can’t other zones support the South South?
Now you have asked a question. A lot of pressmen are doing good to this country while a lot of you because of limit of understanding, you create problems. We must know that we have rules but inspite of these rules, there is no reason we cannot live together. To dismiss it and say we should not remember where we come from simply means we are not being realistic.
What led to the recent political development that led to the emergence of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as a consensus candidate of the North?
I would say it is a great development in Nigeria and if you look back to many years, you will see that there were political parties in this country and there were elections, some elections were transparently conducted. And so many were not good enough and then of course, in 1999, we went back to what is known as political democratic process in which three parties emerged through certification by INEC and there were elections.
A party emerged, produced the president and the government and in 2003, there was another election in which case, we were making progress. In 2007, there was another election but the president that emerged in 1999 having done two terms of eight years had to leave and the new president came. The process through which that candidate that finally emerged is different from what we are likely going to witness in 2011.
The consensus committee was put in place by aspirants, not by any other group of people. These aspirants selected the people to constitute the committee based on an agreement among them to willingly submit to the committee and that the committee would not be influenced by any external person as to what their responsibilities should be and they have an undertaking that they will comply by whatever decision they came to in relation to choosing one of them.
To me, it teaches a lot of lesson because at the moment, a lot of people cannot completely understand but the future will tell. What it simply means is that a group of people subject and submit their ambition to a decision of a group of people that they believe will act honourably and transparently and it is believed that the committee has done exactly so.
Also, it is possible to learn a lesson that these people willingly believe that the committee will certainly do what is right. I think it is a great thing but it is too early now to appreciate the value, the benefit and trust that all come into force in this type of thing. For me, it is a great development which people cannot sufficiently appreciate presently.
Will the development improve your party?
I have an opinion and you have an opinion, even my own son can have a different opinion and he should. I cannot think for everybody, I can only imagine but as I have told you, the value, the benefit and trust and confidence cannot be fully appreciated now because it is issue of the moment. History will probably be in a position to decide better.
The day Abubakar Atiku emerged, a call was put through to you, you stated that the best consensus candidate emerged. Can you shed more light on that?
I did not say that, maybe you did not get me right. Having said that, the committee did a good job and in a situation where more than one person is contesting for a position, it is deemed that at the end of day, by whatever means other than fraud, whosoever emerges is the person who had been adjudged as the best.
Since the emergence of Atiku as the consensus candidate, there have been mixed reactions from the North including his own kinsmen in Adamawa State. How does the committee, which you also belong to, intend to bring about peace especially within the North?
Firstly, if you were a member of that committee and you had the privilege of being entrusted with such responsibility and you are being honest, a person who can decide honourably, would you have come up with one aspirant or you would have said four of them should go there? If, in your village or your town, they respect you, they think you are a honest person and matured and they are fighting for a position of the chief in the town and about four of them are fighting for it and you are a member of the committee to select one person, what will you do? You will surely select one person. So we selected somebody.
Have you conducted a research in the North or in Nigeria to come to your the conclusion?
What is democracy? What is fairness? When you think about issues like these, you consider them on the basis of necessities, need, less problem and priority. So what I am trying to say is that at any given situation, you do what appears to be right to you.
What you think is right might not appear right to another person but if you are clear in your conscience and believe in yourself that if you were in front of God or Allah, you could explain the basis of your decision, then you have satisfied your conscience.
As for me, I don’t lose any sleep and I want to believe I am a good Nigerian, having been a soldier and fought in the civil war to keep this country one. So if some people sit down together without me soliciting and say ‘General, we look at your antecedents and we have great trust in you and we want you to be a member of this team to do this job,’ I can say before God that I have done my best. But maybe in the process of doing the job, I was wrong, whatever punishment let it be meted to me.
Whether I will lose one second sleep because I feel I made the wrong choice or have done the wrong thing, no way.
Somebody called me from Lagos, he started praising the committee and congratulating me for belonging to the committee. He said on his own that none of the four aspirants happened to be his choice but the principle under which we were set up, the way we did our job, he had great respect for us and that only future will reveal that we have done a great job.
So the summary is this, it does not matter what people think about our decision. It does not matter what their views are. I want to thank you for coming to enquire for the truth.
Even before the decision of the committee was made public, a lot of people had been calling to confirm how we voted, who voted for who, but all those things are rubbish.
They called us names. Some never even believed we were going to succeed but we succeeded because those aspirants trust us and that was why they put us together. We would infact have failed this country if we did not do that job that we were set up to do.
Let me tell you, where I come from, politicians get angry when they hear that other politicians are holding meetings here and there. My view is that the more people hold meetings the better for this country and what we should be concerned more about is what was discussed at such meetings. Who are the people that attended such meetings? So if some people get together and say some Northern candidates are angry over it, why should they?
If the Northern group can come up with a candidate, Eastern group can come with a candidate, Western group can come up with a candidate, of course it simply means we have some compartments within the country and if there is peace in each compartment, it means there will be total peace in Nigeria.
If there are development in all these parties, it means the entire country will be developed, if there are crises in the East, we cannot claim that there is total peace in Nigeria. If there are crises in the South, we cannot claim there is total peace in the country and so on.