More Money Won’t Help the North Now – General Useni
Jeremiah Useni is a personification of the popular Nigerian cliché “retired but not tired.” Sitting behind a huge glittering table littered with files and piles of papers, Useni, who retired as a general in the Nigerian Army more than 15 years ago, sees himself as a general doing general things. He cuts the picture of a busy chief executive, which indeed he is.
His residence and office in Jos, the Plateau State capital, and Abuja receive an endless stream of visitors. His day in the office starts at 8 am and ends late in the day as he moves from one meeting to another. His busy schedule makes him a slippery target for an interview. It was a herculean task getting him for this interview. Twice he rescheduled the interview, and twice he sent his apologies by text messages. But he did not do it in a condescending manner. For instance, one of his text messages reads: “Sorry, the day was very busy. Let’s meet next week.”
Throughout the one-hour chat, Useni made up for the unavoidable disappointments of the past weeks. He showed why his friends fondly called him “Jerry Boy.” Amiable and youthful, Useni smiles, laughs or frowns each time he responds to questions, and no question takes him by surprise nor would he parry any.
He shares certain taciturnity with his late friend, General Sani Abacha, former Nigeria military dictator. Useni has brief but witty answers to questions that require elaboration. He would not elaborate, not out of fear, but he just prefers to be that brief. Useni has a reputation for being forthright on issues and has rattled many with this trait. He would call a spade a spade no matter whose ox is being gored.
He is concerned about the leadership crisis in the North and is willing to dwell more on this to demonstrate the fact that the issue bothers him a lot. He squeezes his brow and shakes his head in obvious lamentation, explaining that although the North of today has many leaders, it lacks the leader like the late Sardauna of Sokoto.
He had said similar things to his colleagues at the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, warning them of the dangers of the current state of things in the North and why leaders must rise to the occasion. At a recent meeting of the ACF in Kaduna, he said the North had become polarised along ethnic and religious lines because leaders were not offering leadership to the people.
Useni is many things to different people. But many, however, would remember him more as one of the closest friends of Abacha, the late military dictator, who many still believe is Nigeria’s worst military head of state and ‘looter-in-chief’ of the Nigerian treasury. But Useni is not one to deny Abacha. He believes the late dictator was a prudent administrator who meant well for the country.
When he joined politics in 1998, it was the All People’s Party, derisively called Abacha People’s Party, he chose. “Abacha was my friend, so I said that’s the party I’ll join.”
But unlike in the Army where he rose to the rank of a general, Jerry Boy’s adventure in politics has not been remarkable. After many years on the sidelines, he co-founded the Democratic Peoples Party, DPP, on whose platform he contested the Plateau South Senatorial election in 2011. Though hugely popular among his Langtang people, Useni lost the election to Victor Lar, a former member of the House of Representatives, who contested on the platform of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Useni, former military governor and former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, bares his mind on major national issues in this interview with Tajudeen Suleiman, associate editor.
Full interview in the current edition of TELL Magazine, edition 15 - More Money Won't Help the North Now - General Useni