BY SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN CITY
General Don Idada Ikponmwen, former Provost Marshal of the Nigeria Army and one time Director of Army Legal Services, was the lead prosecutor in the popular trial of the three Naval Admirals over the MT AFRICA PRIDE (Missing Ship Saga) in 2009.
General Ikponmwen is also an alumnus of both the National Defence College and the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS). He is on this accounts a thorough bread expert in Defence, Law Enforcement and Security.
In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, the General reviewed both the social, economic, political and security situations in the country and warned that the nation stands on the principals if not at the risk of disintegration if urgent, visible and immediate measures are not embarked upon to redeem the present despicable and reprehensive situation in Nigeria. While proffering solution to the security challenges facing the nation, General Ikponmwen urged President Goodluck Jonathan to set up as a matter of urgency Presidential Committees for the implementation of the recommendations of the various Thematic Groups of Vision 20:20:20 in order to facilitate the realization of the goals of the vision that have been so efficiently and professionally crafted.
Among other things, he has advocated the immediate establishment of an effective coordination center for the effective coordination of defence law enforcement, security and intelligence apparatus of the nation. With no less emphasis, General Ikponmwen has canvassed the imperative for the review of all extant laws creating the existing security agencies so as to remove unnecessary and worrisome duplication of roles the inevitably pave the way for unhealthy rivalry.
The security challenges in the country is now becoming scary considering the activities of the Boko Haram sect and others, as a security and defence expert, what is the problem with our own security system?
It is no longer news that the issue of security has been a biting problem in Nigeria over the years-security of life, security of property and even security of all cherished values. It is sad that successive governments in the past failed to attain for this nation an appreciable level of security.
The present state of security on account of several threats arising from armed robberies, assassinations and until recently armed militancy in the Niger Delta Region are cases in point. In the last few years, gruesome killings / murders premised on religion on ethnicity, evidently politically motivated have been the banes of our society to the disgust of all right thinking persons. The Boko Haram threat has indeed become the mother danger of all today.
The fear of Boko Haram looms large hanging over every head like the sword of Damascus.
Some say that disintegration is a natural consequence of a state where government is unable to provide for the security and welfare of the people-and argument that seem predicated on the concept social contract as well as the classic concept of democracy that any government that is unable to guarantee the security and wellbeing of its people automatically looses legitimacy. Herein lies the challenge for the Goodluck Jonathan administration which has happily enough pledged to reform and repackage the Nigerian system.
This reform is a sine qua non for the sustenance of the Nigerian Federation. I do not find the task enviable but it just must be done and done without further delay.
The security situation in Nigeria appears to growing from bad to worse, would you agreed?
You are definitely right. It is no exaggeration to say that we are move from the realm of security threats to an arena of real and present danger. No body anywhere sleeps with his two eyes closed. We now have dare-devil robbers, dare-devil kidnappers, suicide bombers now thrive in a society where such was hitherto considered as outright insanity. The fears of ubiquitous Boko Haram have become the beginning of wisdom.
Only about a week ago, University of Benin premises was deserted as students and workers ran helter skelter on rumours of pending Boko Haram blast. The days of rhetorics must be over and proved to be over and the time is now. Only recently did we manage to have a kind of cease fire in the issue of militancy in the Niger Delta.
It is not that the problem is completely over but the dangers in the Niger Delta have reduced considerably even though the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta ( MEND) still looms large with due regard to the recent threat against any attempts to celebrate the 51st Independent anniversary. The spate of kidnapping has continued to be on the rise.
While armed robbery on banks nation wide have continued unabated. Here in Edo state no less than six prominent indigenes have been kidnapped recently. Some of them were released after the payment of undisclosed ransom while some where not so lucky loosing lives as well as money. Where does our succor lie if not principally from government; in a system where the security organs are centralized?
NEED FOR RESTRUCTURE
The central government must act immediately especially as we have all the security agencies including the law enforcement, Defense agencies, intelligent agencies centralized; there is need to revisit the structures and duties of our security agencies so as to ensure that each organ knows its specific roles and function, and so as to ensure that the laws establishing these agencies are clear on who does what.
There is at the moment too much duplication of roles there must also be a supervisory authority backed by law such that the supervisory power of this authority will not be left to mere conjecture. A situation where different organs are tasked with the same responsibility cannot lead to any efficiency more so when there is no organ that can efficiently coordinate the activities of these organs. I don’t think that, given the present or extant laws, the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) which was only giving a casual mention, in the National Security Act can effectively coordinate these security agencies because even if other things are in place, the truth remains that by the authority and status of the various law enforcement agencies- Defense, law enforcement and Intelligent units each has direct access to the President. Thus, it cannot be taken, hook and sinker, that the various heads of the services are practically amenable to the authority of the NSA. The Service Chiefs would hardly be expected to attend coordinating periodic meetings with the NSA; they would at best send representatives.
The President himself, who is both executive and ceremonial head of the country, is too busy on his own to effectively coordinate all the numerous security agencies. Thus the effectiveness in terms coordination of the office of the NSA must remain doubtful. There ought, therefore, to be an individual, an office that would ensure effectively coordination of these agencies within the
ambit of unambiguous laws. In a system fraught with ambiguity and duplicity of roles you certainly cannot expect efficiency. This is a large part of our problem today in the area of security. Furthermore, both the constitution and the Armed Forces Act merely paint a picture of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). So in practice the CDS remains a mere figure head, a primus inter paris without visible authority over the service chiefs of the Army Navy and Air-force that ought to be his subordinates. This situation cannot promote discipline and efficiency and is to that extent a structural lapse or minus for the defence / security system.
But people are still worried that the Jonathan’s administration has not really done much to address some of these problems, what is your take on that?
I continue to wonder why we are in this situation. Vision 2010 was set up by the Abacha administration, they did made very useful contributions even though their work was not duly implemented. I can tell you that, when Vision 20:2020 was put in place by the Yar’Adua administration, a lot of the write-up by Vision 2010 team was made available for Vision 20:2020. I was a member of the security thematic group and there were thematic groups on all segments of the nations- Agriculture, Education, Banking / Finance, Economy, Aviation, Media, etc. These thematic groups were made up of professionals, experts and practitioners in their various fields. Without doubt, the thematic groups turned in excellent report and recommendations.
One expects that these recommendations would get the attention of the Jonathan administration in its well reasoned reform agenda as a measure not only to ensure immediate turn around in security spheres but also for the progressive realization of the aims and objectives of vision 20:2020 which is to package Nigeria to be one of the first twenty leading economics in the world by year 2020. Undoubtedly, the realization of vision 20:2020 would be a fool’s dream or a mirage in the desert without adequate security now.
FG low key celebration of Independence
The truth is that I really don’t think that what Nigeria needs today is grandeur celebration. I think the way things are in Nigeria compels the leadership to involve themselves in sober reflection so as to identify appropriately, what measures need to be taken to move this nation forward. It is not the business of celebration here and there, spending billions even when states are crying that they cannot pay minimum of N18,000. Nigerians must think about these evil traits of unemployment, in a country where you have thousands of graduates being turned out by the universities year after year. There is no job opportunity. And we are in a country where despite of all the money accruing from oil, still more than 70 per cent of Nigerians are living below poverty line. Infrastructure, roads, railways, they are all in a state of comatose, is that what will call for celebration? I am not saying that it has all been bad because for once, we should thank God that we are still together as a nation after different ethnic nationalities were forced into a union that was informed mostly by what was good for the British government. We are still together despite of the differences in religion, language, still relishing the idea of unity in diversity. But we know that this unity in diversity has also brought so much pain to a lot of people, so no matter how we see it, we should concede to the fact that God has been good to us. But that is not to say that we should not face the fact that socially, economically, politically, we are far from where we ought to be. More so if you look at other countries that started the race to freedom with us. The people must see themselves as partners with government and leadership at every level to make sure that we work changes that will make democracy of real benefit to the people. Nothing is too much to sacrifice to make sure that our people get the best. Governance is for the good of the people. We need a government in which the economy is operated in such a way that the average person does not see hopelessness or helplessness. I think that is the challenge before the Jonathan administration.
How can we get it right?
The situation as bad as it may seem is to my mind not irretrievable. President Goodluck Jonathan must take the bull by the horn. Mere rhetorics and declaration for reform are not enough. Nigerian people need to have the confidence that the central government of the day can come their rescue. They must see that practical measures are embarked upon the reverse the very despicable and reprehensible situation we have at hand. Government must adopt the authordox as well as conventional measures to address the security problems of today. We must for once view the system like President Theodore Roosevelt of America did when he said that ‘The American president, as leader of the free world and within the context of presidential system could do anything desirable in the interest of the America State unless such a measure was expressly prohibited by the constitution or by statute’ this is a positive reflection of dynamics of the presidential system we adopted since 1979. There is mighty power in the president to be used for the benefit of the country and this power flows directly from the people.
As to specific recommendations for the way forward I prescribe the following measures:-
There is a visible need for a clear understanding of the role of intelligence agencies as against those of defence establishment and those of the law enforcement agencies. This distinction must be understood by all especially the agencies involved so that roles would be properly and appropriately allocated to the various organ generally and vaguely referred to as ‘Security agencies’ . Secondly, all the law establishing the various security organs need to be reviewed in such a manner as to avoid duplicity and duplication of role which invariably create room for unhealthy rivalry especially in the absence of a effective coordination center.
Thirdly, specific problems need specific solutions; the approach of the US government after the 9:11 bombing of the World Trade Center Complex in establishing the Department for Homeland Security is worthy of emulation in our present circumstance. There is need in Nigeria of today for a powerful coordinating Headquarters for effective coordination of intelligence. That departmen5t must be backed by law and seem to be practically and effectively coordinating intelligence and law enforcement agencies for the enhancement of national security.
Fourthly, the armed forces should, in line with our constitution, separate from the routine duty of law enforcement as is currently prevalent so that the military is not demystified from its constitutional duty of safeguarding the nation from aggression on land, sea and air. Indeed, it is only on extra-ordinary situations that the military, on proper authorization of the President and on the approval of the National Assembly should step in to restore normally when law and order is visibly broken down in part of whole of the Nation. See section 217(2)(c) and 305 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999). Fifthly, the police and other civil law enforcement agencies must train, retrain and be equipped well enough to cope with all internal security threats short of insurgency and armed rebellion.
Finally, let me say in broad terms that all those ills that tend to promote anger, disaffection, frustration and indeed everything that promotes distrust for government and leadership at all levels, be they abuse of office, corruption, arrogant display of ill-gotten wealth, inefficiency, unemployment of teaming youths, failure or absence of desirable infrastructure-all these must be seen to be decisively addressed so as to promote a healthy environment unsuitable for criminals tendencies and activities. Vision 20:2020 thematic group on security did marvelous work and made far reaching recommendation for the achievement of effective security in Nigeria, so did other thematic group for other segments there is therefore no need for further delay in constituting presidential implementation committees for each thematic group as a way of speedy change in Nigeria. The continue reliance on the traditional ministry and parastatals, which has hardly work in our system for long must give way to the imperatives of the moment which require speedy implementation of agreed progressive measures. In this country, governments have always been quick to identify the right brains for identification, analysis and suggestions for solution to problems but thereafter appointing people to important positions in government becomes a matter of patronage for the boys, for the kinsmen and for stogies. That practice has led to abysmal failure in the past and should not be part of the new reform agenda.
The task for president Jonathan as Chief Executive of these otherwise blessed country is to courageously and fearlessly steer the sheep of state in a manner that would show, from day to day, week to week and month to month that Jonathan’s reform agenda is loaded with progressive action, out of the ordinary and truly reformatory nothing less will save Nigeria, the status quo having failed to take us out of the doldrums.