Nigerians Vote For Values, Agenda, Not Party
Major-General John Gbor, the 2019 Presidential candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), is a former Commandant in the Nigerian Army Education Corps. In this interview with Leo Sobechi, Gbor talked about the issue of declining morale in the military and challenges insecurity poses for the 2023 general election.
There were suggestions about Government of National Unity by people who picked holes in the Constitution, with some calling for restructuring or referendum. Do you think the election will hold in spite of the security situation?
The way people are being kidnapped in all parts of the federation, particularly Southeast, Southwest, Northwest and also in the Northeast, it will be difficult to carry out an effective campaign.
If we go by air from one city to another, that will be very expensive campaign. If we take buses, take vehicles to go across the road, you are not sure whether you will reach there, because you may be ambushed. Some of you may be killed, some of you will be kidnapped and they start demanding for ransom.
So, there is so much uncertainty that one cannot say for sure whether the election will take place. And, if the election cannot take place, one thing I know is that effective campaign may be difficult. Campaign will take place quiet okay, but for people to go from house to house, village to village, city to city, that is going to be a problem.
It is left to government to take a decision and I am not in government so, I don’t know. It is left for government to decide whether election will take place or they will come out with another arrangement or an extra ordinary law will be made to ask the President to continue or whatever. But, it is left to Nigerians and the President and government to take that decision.
For the past seven years, does the National Assembly inspire confidence that they know what it takes to stabilize this country?
When I was contesting for the presidency of Nigeria in 2019, I made it clear to Nigerians that when I become president, any Nigerian that is killed within the country or even overseas, in a foreign country; there must be consequences, there must be consequences for any Nigerian that is killed.
If it is overseas, that country must be held responsible and we will get the detailed information on how and why the Nigerian was killed and if we are not satisfied, there will be consequences. I said we will not invade foreign countries, but there are consequences. There are things we must do to express our displeasure to that country, because we have foreigners here and we are protecting them and we will continue to protect them. So, I want my fellow citizens in all countries of the world to protect my own citizens.
Then, within the country, any Nigerian that is killed, whoever does the killing, wherever the person goes, we must get him and deal with him.
Now, after the election, a lot of people were being killed and I am not hearing much from the National Assembly and Nigerians are being killed in the East, in the North Central, in the West, in the Northeast, Northwest, everywhere. You hardly hear them talk about it, it is once in a while that somebody comes out in the National Assembly and shouts.
But, I expect the National Assembly to come out unanimously to protest or to do something to check these killings. It is only when the bandits or terrorists threatened to attack President Buhari and (Governor Nasir) el-Rufai and start attacking some Senators that we hear them coming out to say they will impeach Buhari.
The idea of impeaching Buhari shouldn’t have come in. From the beginning they should have come in to make sure that these killings don’t take place. They should have worked hand in hand with the President to make sure that these killings stop; even if it means bringing foreign mercenaries or foreign troops to assist.
Our own troops went all over the world, even in Congo, all over the world to assist other countries. So, if we need assistance we should as well ask for it, but they kept quiet. So, in a way, I am disappointed with the National Assembly, especially on the insecurity matter. They should have come in more vehemently, not at the late hour, and start asking the President to go.
They should have come in from the beginning to assist the President, if the President was doing something wrong, they should have made it known to him and they will work together- the legislature, the judiciary, the executive- should come together to work to save this nation.
Unfortunately, they didn’t do anything and people are talking about splitting this country, because of frustration, not that Nigerians don’t like their country. Nigerians love their country a lot. People are talking of Biafra, Oduduwa Republic, Middle Belt Republic and so forth, because they discovered that the government does not care about their welfare, about protecting their lives and even taking care of some of their poverty situation. That is why people are talking about splitting.
But, Nigerians love being Nigerians and the National Assembly cannot just sit there and people are talking about splitting and they are keeping quiet, it is not good. Their performance, as far as I am concerned, on this idea of the unity and security of Nigeria, I am not satisfied with their performance.
If the Presidency did not carry out their resolutions, they should know what to do, they have the constitution.
What will you tell Nigerians six months to the election and the fact that the country is on a precarious situation?
What I can tell Nigerians is that we are going through a period of insecurity. There is a lot of uncertainty and I know that the Nigeria armed forces, particularly the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Air force are doing their best to ensure the country is secured, though terrorism continues to threaten us.
Presidential candidates have emerged in most of the 18 political parties approved by INEC. They should study these presidential candidates very carefully and get the best leader. They should not go for political party, let them go for a person who can secure this country, ensure peaceful coexistence of all Nigerians and put behind us this agitation of Biafra, Oduduwa, Middle Belt, Arewa Republic, unite us.
Somebody who can come and unite us, take care of our youths, take care of our women, make them happy and bring economic prosperity to the nation. The insecurity we are suffering will surely come to an end. If it doesn’t come to an end before President Buhari leaves office, I believe it will come to an end as soon as the new regime comes in.
As Nigerians, we are known for our resilience. So, let us remain resilient and let us keep on praying to God to protect our lives, to protect the nation and even to protect our leaders. And let God give us correct leaders that will lead this country in 2023.
You contested to be president of this country in 2019. What inspired you?
I contested for the presidency of Nigeria on the ticket of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the 2019 presidential election. You will recall that the APC candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari, came first, the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar came second and I came third. Nigerians highly appreciated my values and my agenda for Nigeria and that is why I was voted for in all the states of the federation.
After the election I continued receiving awards, particularly from Nigerian youths, who feel that I understand their predicament more than any other Nigerian.
So, when the 2023 presidential election started coming around, I decided to come out and aspire again in APGA, but I have not been fortunate enough, so I didn’t get the ticket.
There were reports that there were pressures on you to change political party; how did you respond to those pressures?
Yes, when I was aspiring in APGA, there were some friends of mine in different political parties that wanted me to leave APGA and contest for presidency in their political party or just join their party for the sake of being there.
But, in a way, I was sentimental about APGA. Number one, APGA is the party that brought me into the limelight and I love APGA and I was voted for on the ticket of APGA nationwide.
So, my fear was that, even if I leave APGA and go to another party, when I am presidential candidate of another party, when the time comes, people in the rural areas may still be voting General Gbor in APGA, instead of voting for me in the new party. So, that is one of the reasons I have kept to APGA and then until it became clear to me that the presidential ticket was going to the Southeast.
But, did you at any point get hint about any leadership tussle in the party?
I am aware of the division, there are two major factions in APGA and each of the factions has its own presidential candidate. The one lead by Dr Oye and the other one lead by Chief Njoku and each of them have their own presidential candidate, I am aware of that.
At some time in the past, the daughter of former president of senate, David Mark, contested on APGA and she left the party. How would you rate the performance of the party in Benue State now?
When I was presidential candidate, APGA strived a lot. APGA was well received in the majority of the states of the federation. I was voted for en masse in Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi and Kano. And, in my state, Benue, we won three House of Representatives in APGA. So, APGA did very well when I was presidential candidate.
Does the security situation in the country worry you?
The security situation in the country worries any Nigerian that cares about this country. Any Nigerian who is patriotic, even when things are not happening to him directly, you are hearing somebody killed in Sokoto, somebody killed in Borno, somebody killed in Enugu, somebody killed in Anambra, somebody killed in Imo, it is very disturbing especially to somebody who loves this country, and somebody who put his life for the survival of this country.
With my other colleagues, I joined the military and it didn’t occur to me that any time in the Nigerian history that this type of thing will happen, because Nigeria was so peaceful. One could drive from Lagos, all the way to Zaria and, even at night, we keep on driving until you say okay, let me find a place to sleep.
So, now you cannot even drive easily from Abuja to Kaduna, because of the fear of being kidnapped, so it is not a good thing. Definitely it is very threatening, very disheartening and very disappointing too.
Do you think the country can get away from it?
Yes, surely the country will get away from it, it is a phase in the development of Nigeria. I believe that some people got it wrong, but where we have gotten it wrong, God will get it right for us. That is my belief and I believe it will be soon too.
Most times we hear references to the security architecture and all that; do you think that the security architecture of the country needs a review?
You see, I am a retired military officer of the Nigerian army and I have written a lot on the history of the Nigerian army, the performance of Nigerian army in peace keeping operations all over the world.
I have also written another book on the history of Nigeria from pre-colonial times to the development of the colonial army and then the present day Nigerian armed forces. We have an army that the entire nation was proud of.
Even now, we are still good, the only thing now is that there is a problem somewhere. I am no more in the military, but I know that there is a problem somewhere. But, there is something I am fully aware of when the military regime handed to the politicians in 1999. I started observing that politicians began to interfere in the recruitment of soldiers, recruitment of Nigeria army officers, military officers in NDA (Nigeria Defence Academy) and interfering in many aspects that were strictly regimental and restricted to the members of the armed forces.
In the military regime, you had the military head of state, then you had Chief of Defence Staff, the military head of state was Commander-in-Chief. We had Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff and Chief of Naval Staff. Although the Commander-in- Chief was a military man, he would hardly interfere in the day-to-day running of the Armed Forces; from what the Chief of Defence Staff was doing, what the Chief of Army Staff and Service Chiefs, he could tell them what he wanted and leave the rest and that is what it is supposed to be. His own is just to command. So, he gives his command and it is left to the General to sit down and interpret the command and execute it.
Under the civilian dispensation, have the other politicians allowed the Commander-in-Chief, just by himself, to handle the armed forces? Are they not interfering in one thing or the other?
I wanted to assist, somebody wanted me to get his boy admitted in Nigerian military school, then I took his name to the Army Headquarters, to the officer in charge, Chief of Military Training. When I got there, I met some junior officers there before I met the Oga. They said, Oga, don’t waste your time, the Senate President alone has given him 300 names for your state. There are only 12 names, maximum 20, for a state.
Now, the Senate President might have had a genuine request and maybe one or two names, then he asked his PA (Personal Assistant) to carry the names there, then they will keep on adding names to the name of Senate President and that is what civilians are doing.
But, one thing with the army is that they have highest respect to civil authority. They respect the civil authority very well. So, if the first lady sends names, Senate President sends names, and all these politicians send names, they will want to respect them, because it is our tradition to respect the civil authority, especially now that the civil authorities are in charge.
So, the service chiefs or the officers in charge working on behalf of the service chiefs will not want to flout the orders of the civilians; so this is how they tamper with recruitment process. There is a standard of who is a good soldier, who can be recruited as a soldier, there is a standard of who can be enlisted as a military officer, army, navy or air force, there is a standard.
But, when military officers are being cajoled to just get a name and if you don’t include the name, you may be in trouble with somebody and everybody is there to protect his own interest, his own job; so he doesn’t want somebody to inform his Chief of Army Staff or Chief of Naval Staff that he was given a name and he didn’t do anything. So, they also try to protect the interest of their service chiefs.
I saw these things immediately the military handed over to the politicians and then, I started writing in newspapers and warning the civilians not to tamper with the setup of the Nigerian Armed Forces, because if they do that, they will destroy the Nigerian military to their own disadvantage. Now, everybody is suffering insecurity. These are part of it.
So, if we love this country, we should know who we are bringing into the military. And, when the civilians came in, they began to use the military as a place to settle their families, where they can go and get jobs and so forth. It is not a question of getting job, it’s a question of serving this country.
Some people in analysing the current security situation argue that the retention of the former Chief of Army Staff and other service chiefs beyond their retirement time impacted on discipline and interagency collaboration…
You see, these are some of the things I am saying. If we leave the Commander-in-Chief alone to command the armed forces without undue interference from his political lieutenants, I think things will go well.
But, you know before this administration came in, there was a tradition of changing service chiefs every two years or two and a half years or so, that one was established. If we have been doing that before okay, but if you come in and all of a sudden that tradition is changed and you did not let people know, then somebody stays as a service chief for four or five years. There is an extent to which an officer can stay on a rank. If you’ve been on a rank for a particular period and you have not got promotion, you will be retired.
So, if a service chief leaves, then, the other Generals will move up and when they occupy appropriate positions and promotion, then they will remain in service. But, if you remain in service for some time and the promotion has not come, then you will be asked to leave.
When all that was happening, many officers lost morale and there was some kind of discouragement. A lot of officers were retired, a lot had to retire and it’s affected service. But I cannot say that that is the reason why we are suffering insecurity, because we still have generals, we still have service chiefs, expert generals and the generals operating under them are also experts. They are all trained, so I shouldn’t say that is the reason of continued insecurity.
At the onset of the APC administration, President Muhammadu Buhari, the Commander–in-Chief, once gave an order, that the Chief of Army Staff should relocate to the theatre of the insurgency. Looking back, some people complain that there wasn’t a concerted effort to anticipate where the insurgents will go when they are dislodged. Do you think that was a mistake of strategy?
What do you mean by where will they will go. Where did they come from? If they are dislodged they are either killed or destroyed or go back to where they came from.
…They moved to northwest…
Well, I don’t think so. If they moved to the Northwest, don’t we have the same armed forces operating in the Northwest as in the Northeast, so I don’t think I buy the idea, because wherever they went, if the Commander-in-Chief gave orders, wherever they went, they are supposed to be followed and dislodged.
Your governor, Samuel Ortom, who belongs to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has vehemently cried out about banditry and herdsmen’s attacks. How far do you think these attacks have impacted agriculture development in Benue?
Benue people are principally agricultural persons. That is why it is referred to as the food basket of Nigeria. Food items are carried from various markets in Benue to Lagos, to the Southeast, to Port Harcourt, to the North; tuber crops go mostly to the South, while the grain is taken mostly to the Northern part of the country.
And, where there is insurgency, herdsmen or terrorist attacks on farmers, it discourages production and sometimes even when people are not attacked physically, when they (herders) carry lots of cows through somebody’s farm, they finish the farm, they render the farm useless, it doesn’t produce again, they destroy the farm, so it has discouraged agricultural productivity in Benue state.
But, this is not to say production is not going on, there are people who are very resilient and they are still producing, regardless of the destructions that is going on.
From your perspective, what are the critical issues that bother citizens of Benue regarding governorship election that is coming?
The critical issues in Benue State are, number one, security of the people. Number two, to secure agricultural productivity; number three, to ensure that schools are running effectively.
I believe that whoever takes over from (Dr. Samuel) Ortom will continue with these activities to ensure that there is security in Benue State, that agricultural productivity continues unabated and education is sustained.
Does your party, APGA, have any chance of winning the governorship?
It is difficult to tell. In my party, APGA there is a gentleman there and he is campaigning very well. But, there are also other people who are also campaigning very well in their political parties, particularly the APC (All Progressives Congress) candidate. He is a very popular priest and it is being anticipated that he may win, because of the type of popularity that he is receiving and the APGA candidate is also doing very well.
This issue of zoning that has affected your presidential ambition; why is Benue not observing zoning?
I am not in Benue so why are you asking me things there. I was a presidential candidate and you are taking me too low to Benue. You can as well take me to Anambra or to Kano.
Now, talking about Kano, in 2015, the election, which the resident electoral commissioner faulted, could not stand, but because of his demise it was appropriated; using that as a background, do you think that the Electoral Act 2022 will enhance the credibility of the elections?
Yes. I believe so. The Electoral Act as amended will enhance the electoral process in Nigeria in 2023, especially as it is going to be electronic voting.
This time around, I don’t think the youths will cart away boxes and run away with them as they used to do, because it is through the server. So, once somebody votes, I believe that vote will count.
What about incidences of vote buying, is there an answer to that?
Nigerians who buy votes are thieves and they know pretty well, that they are sinning against God and destroying this country. Every individual is given his or her PVC (Permanent Voter Card) to choose the candidate of his or her choice.
Now, in the process of governance, you make people so poor, they are not well fed, they are not getting jobs, those who have jobs, they are not getting good salaries, they are not even paid regularly.
And people are hungry, members of their household are hungry, people are looking for N200 to feed, to buy guinea corn or whatever to feed, then they begin to see that oh, if I can sell my PVC for N500 I will buy some food, then they do it.
Then you who should know better, go and pay for about 1,000 youths and collect their cards, you are destroying this country. Even if you win election there is a curse on your head and if God keeps quiet, at the appropriate time, He will answer you.