Lieutenant-General Jeremiah Useni, CFR; was a military governor in the defunct Bendel State at the onset of the Buhari-Idiagbon regime in 1984 and subsequently he was minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT in the military regime of General Sani Abacha. On his retirement he joined politics and was a chieftain of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, and subsequently, the Democratic Peoples Party, DPP before his recent defection to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Gen. Useni was also chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF and he is presently the PDP candidate for Plateau South Senatorial district in the forthcoming election.
In this interview, the elder-statesman gave reasons the Senate is not a training ground for young men and shares his experience on politics and life generally. Excerpts:
By Marie-therese Nanlong
WHat informed your defection to the PDP at this time when fellow northerners are in the lead to oust the party from power?
I have very good friends in the PDP and for a long time, they had been asking me to come so we could move together. However, at that time, I was not prepared and I kept saying it was not yet time. Now, I feel the time has come for me to join the party. Not that I am afraid of being in the opposition, not that I don’t have people, there are people even right now in my former party, I am the only one in position that won a local government election in Plateau; in the last local government election in the State.
We won positions in my local government. Out of 18 councillors in Langtang North Local Government, my former party has nine seats, APGA one, PDP has eight which means that PDP is a minority in Langtang North.
You can see that within the short time I came in, I have made impact and I had victory which means that God blessed my coming in.
Do you agree with the submission of some northern elders like Prof. Ango Abdullahi in the Northern Elders Forum that the PDP has been unfair to the North?
Well, because he is not a member of the PDP, he can say so but I don’t know how many PDP members from the North would say such.
Professor Abdullahi who I know has a different idea. I got to know him fairly well and his ideas when I was the Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF.
I made it very clear that whatever ideas they have; they should bring it to Arewa Consultative Forum; any group from the North should know that they are working under the umbrella of the Arewa Consultative Forum.
If they don’t bring it to the ACF for blessing; then they are on their own. As far as Arewa Consultative Forum is concerned and especially when I was the Chairman, Board of Trustees, we never made such statements.
We are for the interest of the Arewa alright and we can say interest of the north in particular and the interest of Nigeria in general and we always support both the states and federal governments.
We routinely visited Mr. President and the Vice-President to commend them for what we think is good, and if there are areas that we think he should improve, we give such suggestions. That is what we were doing especially when I was there until I left. I know Ango very well; he is on the other side of the divide so he can say so.
You once said a former governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sherrif inspired Boko Haram until it becomes a monster it is today. Now, both of you are in the same Party, the PDP. How do you feel about this?
No; being in the same party does not mean we must always agree. Even between twin brothers, they must not always agree. Yes, when Boko Haram started, I said so that I am not surprised this will happen there because I saw what transpired in Borno State when I visited there.
I saw people selling petrol in jerry cans in a filling station and we were in a vehicle queuing up to take petrol, we were in the same car and I said, Mr. Governor, why do you allow people to sell fuel in gallons in a petrol station like this.
Way of making a living
He said no; no; no; they should not be disturbed because they are very useful during elections to deal with opponents.
Well, he denied that he did not say so but he admitted that he met those people there but he said because it was a way of making a living and he did not want to disturb them; that is what he said. Now that he decided to join the PDP and the PDP has decided to accept him, it means people are changing; a criminal can change, isn’t it? We are friends; we have not fought before, it is just that I had to say things as I saw them because I didn’t hear the story from anybody. But we are still friends, there is no problem.
A former Minister of FCT, Dr. Aliyu Modibbo once accused you of bastardizing the Abuja Master Plan when you were a Minister. You were also accused by your former Party, the DPP of poor leadership.
Now, you are in PDP and aspiring to represent the people of Plateau South in the National Assembly.
What is your take on these allegations?
Modibbo is a friend and I am not aware of him saying what you said but I know people like El-Rufai and one other minister saying so.
I did say that if El-Rufai wants to know the truth of what happened, the facts are in the office or if I am in Abuja, he could come and see me but the truth is that whatever he was trying to accuse me of, if there was any bastardization at all, it had already been done before I came in and I did give examples.
For example where the secretariat is, it was not supposed to be there. It was supposed to be a coordinating centre for all modes of transport like trains coming in, buses etc but later, it was decided that it should be a secretariat.
Where the Vice-President’s house is; the one close to the Villa is not supposed to be there. I gave instances that it wasn’t General Useni who changed them.
Cancellation of plots
So why don’t the people check the records and challenge me, I wasn’t the one who did that. In any case, for the first time in the history of the FCT, Federal Executive Council has never sat down to look at plots allocations to the extent of cancelling some and returning some to owners that the FCT administration under El-Rufai cancelled.
It happened under El-Rufai. So, who bastardized the place? It was under him that even public spaces, green areas they called it were given out as plots to individuals so that any where you go it was El-Rufai; El-Rufai.
The federal government never sat down to see what happened on allocations but it happened during El-Rufai, there was more harm there. All these things are just politics.
I never left Abuja except to travel home, go overseas, come back, I was always there for anybody to come and check records and I do invite people to come and show records.
I first discovered some of these things and was making amends because some of these houses were built on sewage lines and the rest. When Abacha died, I left but the records are there.
For Modibbo, I have never read what you said he said about me, we are friends and we work together.
The DPP thing was politics because some people wanted power so they thought they should try and downgrade somebody but definitely as you know, nobody removed me. I was the leader of the party, nobody impeached me instead they made wrong allegations.
Talking about your aspiration to represent the people of Plateau South, what do you have to offer the people that should give you an edge over your opponent in APC?
Well, I don’t want to start making comparison with anyone.
General Shagaya was there before and if the people feel he had done very well then it is left for the people to say okay, we don’t need a new man, but if I win, it means that the people think they need a change. We are brothers and we are together.
You are aspiring to be a Senator, how do you rate the Nigerian Senate?
I rate the Senate very high, all the fighting going on in the National Assembly is mostly in the House of Reps not in the Senate.
The Senate is for gentlemen that is why when you see young people struggling to go there one wonders why? Senate is where you go and sit down and make laws because you already have experience since you have travelled wide, you are to sit down look at the present and future and see how you can make laws that will be for the good of the country. It is not a place where you start learning how to live a new life.
You are there to make fair, honest and proper laws for the good governance of the country.
Are you comfortable and satisfied having governor Jang’s successor from the governor’s zone?
Well, even people from the northern zone, not every one is satisfied. All we are saying is that whether there is zoning or no zoning; it is not fair that we are brothers and you have held this position; the other one has held; it should go round that is what we are saying.
I am not against Pwajok, he is intelligent, I am not against him but there are so many intelligent people anyway in Plateau, in all local government areas, there are many intelligent people.
Even in Nigeria, when I was a governor; Bendel State under General Buhari, we were told in clear terms that we should not answer Excellency because we were not the most excellent in the state, there are many excellent people.
Do you think President Jonathan has done enough fighting the insurgency in the country?
He has done enough like I said it very recently during his presidential campaign flag-off in Lagos. When this thing started, yes; we were not properly equipped, the soldiers came in without any sophisticated weapon. Let’s say we took it as a joke; we made such mistake during the civil war.
Then, we started with police action which means you don’t have to go into full war. Police were given all the opportunity to do everything and the army was behind but we realized that it was more than what the police could do.
Biafra had imported sophisticated weapons which we never had in our inventory so General Gowon had to declare full war and that’s how we finished the war but because of the initial delay, it took us three years; it shouldn’t have taken us three years and that is what happened now.
It takes time, don’t forget we don’t manufacture these weapons here and you don’t buy them in a shop like bread where you take your money, buy and go.
Type of ammunition
You are going to discuss, you are going to order the type of weapon, the type of ammunition; then they will go into production before it comes and there are certain weapons that it must be government to government; no private person can just get it through like that.
So, these are the things, these people had already come prepared so what we are trying to do is get these things in place and as far as I know, the military and President Goodluck Jonathan have done very; very well with the limited and unsophisticated weapons they had but things are improving. Weapons are coming and I think he has done very; very well.
Nobody should underrate our troops because we have fought with some level of sophistication in other places; we fought and restored democracy and peace in Liberia and Sierra-Leone and we have good records fighting UN operations and don’t forget a Nigerian was UN Commander in Dafur.
Our President, Goodluck Jonathan has done very; very well; it is unfortunate that this thing happened and because of our gentle nature; we like peace in Nigeria and we thought it is something that could finish quickly but more and more weapons are coming in now and I believe this year is our year.
I am not trying to predict that we will finish it within one month or two months but I think this year is going to be a very good year for us to deal with insurgency.