His nickname during his heydays was Jerry Boy. He is now 75, but Senator Jeremiah Useni is not quitting the scene anytime soon. WALE ELEGBEDE writes on the curious 2019 governorship ambition of the retired army general in Plateau State
Nigeria and Botswana are both African countries. While Nigeria is in West Africa, Botswana is situated in the southern part of the continent. Expectedly, similarities and differences abound between both countries.
One of the incredible differences is in leadership recruitment especially when it comes to acuity on age bar adopted. Early this month, both countries manifested their perception of leadership and age. Whilst 30-year-old Miss Bogolo Joy Kenewendo, who holds a Masters Degree in Economics, was appointed to lead Bostwana’s Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry, a 75-year-old army retired general, Jeremiah Useni, who is presently a senator, declared his bid to run for the governorship seat of his state – Plateau. Although there have been insinuations about Useni’s governorship ambition, many waved it aside in the light of the generational shift ambiance in the country.
But like a general that he is, the lawmaker stormed the Plateau State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and formally declared his intentions to vie for the office.
One of the many things that colour Nigeria’s political landscape is having the old folks at the helms of affairs, and quite unfortunately, they are not ready to leave the stage yet.
Making his declaration at the party’s state secretariat in Jos, Useni said his principal focus is to restore peace on the Plateau. “I want to restore peace and justice to Plateau. I want to restore unity, love, dignity, and prosperity to Plateau.
Notable among positions he occupied include Chairman, Nigerian Railway Corporation; Military Administrator, old Bendel State; first Commandant, Nigerian War college; Minister, Federal Capital Territory; Chairman, Arewa Consultative Forum; Deputy National Chairman ( north) All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP); Chairman and financier, Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) and now a member of the upper chamber of the National Assembly. Useni, who was an active player in the July 1966 counter-coup, is said to have joined the Nigerian Army at the age of 14.
Another enraged social media user who is a prolific teacher and writer, Alex Ogundadegbe, wrote: “Jerry Useni, 75, wants to be governor in Plateau State. If you are 40 today, you were three when he was military governor in Bendel State.” Most young Nigerians appear miffed over the ambition ex- minister of the Federal Capital Territory especially because he became the military administrator of Bendel State (now Edo and Delta states) at the age of 41 – almost 34 years ago. Aside from that Useni has presided over important and juicy positions in the country from a very young age.
For those who know Useni, he doesn’t plant where he won’t reap. He doesn’t labour in vain. Since he bestrode the nation’s consciousness when he was appointed military governor in 1984, he has been an active player in the narrative of the country, be it the military or civilian era. When he served as military gover-nor 34 years ago, he was in his own world.
But he actually got more mentions when he became the closest person to former Head of State, General Sani Abacha and remained with him up to his last moments. Born on February 16, 1943, Jeremiah Timbut Useni, was seen as a successor to Abacha , but he lost to General Abdulsalami Abubakar due to what was described as protocol. Ten years after the late former military leader’s death, Useni insisted that Abacha died a natural death, contrary to speculations that he died of poison.
The former Minister of Transport and Quarter-Master General of the Nigeria Army, who was elected senator for Plateau South constituency of Plateau State in the 2015 national elections on the platform of the PDP, was head of a delegation from the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) to meet and discuss common goals with Northern state governors and other leaders.
In 2003, he was Deputy National Chairman North for the ANPP, but in November 2004, he was locked in an internal ANPP struggle with Chief Donald Etiebet, the then National Chairman. In May 2006, he left the party to become chairman of a new party, the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP), taking with him other members of the progressive wing of the ANPP.
However, he was suspended indefinitely in December 2008 for saying the death of playwright and activist, Ken Saro- Wiwa, was a national sacrifice. He was succeeded by Biodun Ogunbiyi, who criticized his poor leadership, resulting to the party’s failure to win any seats in the Senate or House of Representatives in the 2007 elections. Useni ran for election as senator for Plateau South in April 2011 on the platform DPP platform but was defeated by Victor Lar of the PDP.
Clearly, the Useni governorship ambition may be constitutional, but it has an ethical inquiry. At a time when the inherent challenges of running a government in the 21st Century is taking its tolls on even the younger elements, it is curious how the the lawmaker, who will be 76 years by the next general elections can cope with the rigours. If anything, the retired general should embark on the process of grooming and mentoring young men and women that will take over from his ilk and move the country forward.