General John Nanzip Shagaya is a retired general of the Nigerian Army. He packs an enviable CV traversing his major career in the military and as a politician who represented Plateau Southern Senatorial District between 2007 and 2011.
After the civil war from 1967-1970 during which he was posted to the 3 Marine Commando upon commission as a Second Lieutenant, he started a long and successful march to command a West Africa Multinational Force (ECOMOG) as a Major General. He became the first Field Commander to chair the Conference of the Joint Chief of Staff of the enlarged ECOMOG having Commanded the 1st Mechanized Division in the Nigerian Army including a Platoon, Company, Battalion and Brigade.
Senator John Shagaya is the longest serving member of the Federal Minister of Internal Affairs and a former member, Armed Forces Ruling Council, member of the Police Council and member, National Boundary Commission all between August, 1985-December, 1989. In this interview with Yakubu Busari in Jos, the Plateau State capital, he bares his mind on topical issues relating to the Nigeria military in democracy and the challenges to social harmony posed by the killings in Benue, Adamawa Taraba and Zamfara states. He expresses delight in the current fight against insurgents by the Federal Government but frowns at the politicising of every issues under the sun in Nigeria.Excerpts:
What is your take on the current killings in Benue, Taraba, Adamawa and Zamfara states by herdsmen?.
I condemned it. Nobody encourages the taking of the life of one person by another. I have said it may be likened to extra judicial killings in which case it is criminal. My earlier statements on it are elaborate enough.
There is the view that government was not proactive enough in Benue as it had done in similar cases involving violence such as the Independent People of Biafra, IPOB. Even when the police were drafted to the place, the did had been done. We even heard statements that those sent there lacked knowledge of the terrain. As a former military officer how do you react to these views?
The President is not a soldier, the president is not a military officer. He is the president of the land and resides in Abuja, the federal capital city. In Benue, the Governor is the chief security officer of the state. Besides, there is a commissioner of police, and officers of the Nigerian Customs, Immigration, Civil Defence as well as the 172 air born battalion and the Air Force. The President is not supposed to be a raffle man because there is crisis somewhere. I really consider the comments of some Nigerians on these issues as inconsiderate. And those blaming Mr president are doing so out of sentiments. They refused to understand the workload of the man called the president.
Within the communities there, there are district heads and there are big traditional rulers like the Tor Tiv in the case of Benue State. What role did the community themselves play either to make peace or report unfolding developments.? They couldn’t just have been taken by surprise, the people may have come from somewhere, meaning therefore that the responsibility of security first and foremost rest on the shoulders of every Nigerian. Not just on one governor or on the president. So, I disagree with those who do not know there are various step that should be taken before the president can intervene in a local happening in the country.
Mr president has taken on very seriously some crises which have sometimes taken international dimension and the example is that of the North East where some rascals took up arms and occupied seven local governments of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He moved the chief of army staff to Borno and he stemmed the crisis.
You cannot compare that to what happened in Benue state; one is a local clash, the other has international connotations. You asked about the IPOB. That one also threatened Nigeria’s sovereignty. The group had radio and TV stations abroad.
For God sake, let us be careful when we are making comparisons. The governor of Benue took very fast and quick steps and the military took very fast and quick step. Let me tell you, the police were overwhelmed. A policeman was killed. He was my nephew, so I share in the pains of that community. When I left Makurdi, I had to go home to bury that boy. It is a serious matter, as serious as that of the only soldier that was killed, a Taroh boy, because of the crisis in Benue state. We on our own lost two lives, one police, one soldier. We will not support the crisis. That is why we quickly moved in with the support of STF to condole with the Benue people and government on the killings .
Lets not allow ourselves to be confused by sentiments. I take the advice and the plea by the minister of information and which has been supported by Ortom who said he has forgiven everybody and said the media should please be careful of what they report and not allow sentiments to affect their reportage and cause more injuries, more damage to the situation.
You have just been appointed the Chairman, governing board of a prestigious institute saddle with the responsibility of initiating policies for the country. What is your view and feelings on the burning issue of restructuring ?
Restructuring could be interpreted in many ways. That is why I support the position of the Arewa Consultative Forum, where I am a member of the board of trustee. We held formal meetings and we agreed there is need for us to sit down as a people to define and know what it means, having borrowed the presidential system of government from American after abandoning the British system of administration. I think our Constitution needs to be looked into and the areas that need adjustments should be left for the citizens to discuss . All Nigerians should support it as one of the issues of the ongoing constitutional amendment. Anywhere in the world, constitutional amendment is an ongoing matter. Nobody should condemned it. Everybody should support it, every community, every geopolitical zone should be ready to come to the round table and make meaningful contributions by word of amendment or relationship for our constitution . For those who want to challenge the existence of the sovereignty of the Nigeria nation, I will fault them because we have come a long way as a people and a nation.
Since 1979, if you could recall, there has been one form of constitutional arrangement or the other. Even from 1956 and on there has been talk about self government and our republican status, meaning Nigeria didn’t get independence by fighting like they did in South African, where they had to struggle to attain independence. Restructuring should be allowed but with responsible contributions for Nigerians in the academia, politics, the youths and so on. From what I read in some newspapers, people are saying that a bicameral National Assembly is better for the country because the numbers that make up the National Assembly presently are too many.
There is nothing wrong for those people who advocate that position to come forward and defend it. Also, there are those who may want to raised the issue of autonomy and more power to the local governments, whether in the north west, south south, south west, north central, north east or south east; they are saying to give more power to the local governments because some governors have hijacked the powers of the local governments and no development is going on in them as the governors spend the money meant for the local governments in their various states.
And because of this, the chairmen have less to spend except to pay salaries. One of the National Assembly leadership while discussing the constitutional amendment was quoted as saying the issue of granting more powers to the third tier of government as it exist the constitution should take place.
There are also those who are even saying that we should do away with the state government because the wastage going on in that tier of governance is too much. You cannot fault or blame them. I will advice that if the six- geopolitical zones are agreeable to restructuring by the term of the wisdom of the present administration, then there should be discussion based on those issues that hinge on areas of the constitution as highlighted in the ongoing constitutional amendment. After the National Assembly and the House of Assembly in the 36 states have done their work on the laws and constitutional requirement that would bind you and me, that is our existence as a cooperate body, as a sovereign state in the comity of the nations, we should all support it.
2019 is around the corner. What role are you going to play?
INEC is yet to blow the whistle. It is still in the process of registering new political parties. What they have come out with is what must be done to guard the political parties. Put that into your prayers.
I have been hearing about you since I was a boy. Could you please tell us the secret of you youthful ness?
The secret, simply, is contentment. Throughout my military service in the army for 33 years I never served more than 15 years in training institutes, Staff College, Jaji, School of Infantry, Jaji, the Nigerian School of Defence Academy, all teaching I think that had made me to write many books even though I didn’t go to the university .
I am proud to say my contentment and focus has helped me produce four books credited to my name. After retirement also I believed contribute immensely to the growth of the society. Those of us from Langtang would bear me witness that those 33 years I spent in the army was done with responsibility. Nobody saw me with my official car and flag in Langtang or saw me in myuniform in Langtang, no. Whenever I got to Jos, I will leave my official car, take off my uniform and drive myself to the village.
I am part of the village, meaning I am not stressed. I do what I want to do. I am relaxed with all the age groups and I take pleasure in relating to those coming behind me because they are the succeeding generation. I believe in doing that because you must have first eleven and a second eleven. If the first eleven are my elders, I should be able to groom the second eleven below and behind me. I carry no stress, more so I am golfer. I play golf three to four times in a week, which is like walking seven to eight kilometres in the minimum. So I exercise a lot, I don’t chase after wealth but choose to go for interaction with other to developed our society. I am a happy and self- contented person.