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‘1999 military constitution is the most lopsided, cannot give us a nation’

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[FILES] Senator Jonah David Jang


•We are running a unitary constitution in a federal system’
Former military governor of Benue/Plateau, old Gongola States, and former civilian governor of Plateau State, Air Commodore Jonah Jang (rtd), recently spoke with journalists in Jos and addressed a range of issues from service chiefs, 90-day ultimatum given to government, 1999 Constitution, INEC and PDP’s chances in the 2023 elections. ISA ABDULSALAMI AHOVI was there

What do you make of the calls on President Muhammadu Buhari to sack the service chiefs?
President Buhari has the exclusive prerogative to keep them as long as he wants. But my quarrel is that when such high profile military officers are due for retirement, they should go. What is happening today is that when such high-ranking military cadres are due for retirement they are still kept. That means the promotion vacancies for the lower military personnel will be blocked. That is the only major area of concern to me, as a former a military general, who served for 27 years.

How do you assess the fight against Boko Haram insurgency?
I want to say that the problem of insurgency in Nigeria is that the Nigerian Armed Forces are trained for normal conventional wars and not for insurgency or unconventional guerrilla warfare. What should have been done would have been to create a special unit to fight unconventional wars. Some of us were kicked out of the military unceremoniously when it was not yet time. I had just returned from military training overseas after spending seven months and I was kicked out without any explanation. That also meant not tapping from the vast knowledge I had acquired overseas.

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It is unfortunate that today, military personnel are found scattered on our roads all in the name of keeping the peace. Then what do you expect the police to do? This is playing politics with the military. By my own training and understanding, the military will only come in when the police are overwhelmed.
 
On the insurgency, we want the military to perform magic when they lack sophisticated arms and ammunition and no adequate incentives? The federal government should take adequate care of our men. It is up to Mr. President to look into the problems of the armed forces and do the needful.

What about the 90-day ultimatum a group you belong gave the federal government to review the Constitution? How do you hope to enforce it?
I was a signatory to the ultimatum in the Lagos document. There is no way the military can draft a constitution to serve the needs of civil authority. It is the people (the civilians), who should sit down and decide what type of constitution they want. Without that, we cannot have a workable constitution. Our 1999 constitution begins with: ‘We the People of Nigeria.’ Who are the people? So, the military constitution we have now is the most lopsided. It is very clear that Nigeria needs to be restructured. I love Nigeria and that was why we fought the civil war. We are a country and not a nation. There is a complete imbalance in the National Assembly, especially in the House of Representatives.

I liken this lopsidedness to the country’s delineation. How can you have a federal constituency in Jos East and Jos South to form one constituency? Look at Wase having a federal constituency to itself. Give each state the same number of federal House of Representatives, as it is in the Senate so that there will be no cheating.

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We are running a unitary constitution in a federal system. Nigerians should be given the opportunity to debate what they want and the government of the day will then bring out and implement how we decide to run our country. That would have been my agenda when I ran for the seat of president in 2019. There is no way the country can develop without a people’s constitution.

You see, the commissioner of police cannot be given orders or commanded by the governor of a state. A governor is a captive in his own state. That is what I suffered when I was governor of Plateau State for eight years. 
 
If we are going a federation, then power must be changed whereby the president will only concern himself with what is federal in nature, especially the military and so on. We are awakening the reason why Nigeria is not progressing because power is not given to the people at the grassroots. So, Nigerians should be given an opportunity to debate their existence so that they can exist as a federating unit and not just a conglomerate of nationalities.

What is the unique status of the North Central zone in Nigeria?
I lament that the people in the so-called North Central are refugees in their own country. We said include or merge us with the North East, but we were overruled. What kind of injustice is that? I hope the present government will allow us to debate a new constitution so that we can have a federal system of government. This military constitution is not working.

How do you view the performance of the Independent National Electoral Commission so far?
The INEC is not even regulating the polity properly. It is one of those things to be restructured. I will recommend that the local INEC be cancelled. If INEC is truly independent, it does not have to take orders from government. INEC wants to go with the powers-that-be. That is why I say that INEC is one of those things that should be restructured.

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What do you make of current negotiations with bandits or insurgents?
As a military officer, you don’t negotiate with bandits. What is their relationship with the person negotiating with bandits? It will not be out of place to speculate that Boko Haram elements have infiltrated into the Nigerian fabric as a whole where they have their agents.

What is your position regarding the 2023 general elections?
I am not a believer in rotation, as it is unconstitutional. Again, there is no rotation in the 1999 constitution. Political parties do it for their own convenience. When the late President Musa Yar’Adua died, it was war before they agreed that former President Goodluck Jonathan should step in and take over as president. If there is going to be any rotation in the north at all, it should be between the North and the Middle Belt. That Jonathan from the minority South-South became President was by accident. Middle Belt cannot be joined with the North. We want the president in the Middle Belt and that is all.

What do you say about crisis rocking your party, PDP?
There is no party that is completely healthy in the country. It is PDP that is our party. If you don’t belong to it, you are not there. The issue is that of internal democracy. The ground will only be conducive in 2023 if INEC decides to be truly INEC, and as a pastor, I pray INEC will be independent. The judiciary and INEC should maintain their independence. I pray that PDP will take over government in 2023.

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