By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin-City
Brigadier-General Idada Ikponmwen (retd) is a former Provost Marshal of the Nigeria Army and the defence counsel during the coup trial of former President Olusegun Obasanjo under the Abacha administration. Ikponmwen , penultimate week, resigned his position as a leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), citing what he described as the failure of the Niger Delta leader, Chief Edwin Clark, to carry key members of the group along. In this exclusive interview , he speaks on the state of the nation, describing his former boss, Obasanjo, as the worst example of a military general.“The former army chief highlights how the ex-President pleaded with him to save his life during the trial of alleged military coup in which Obasanjo was a convict under the Abacha regime while also speaking on the factors militating against the growth of the Niger Delta and ongoing efforts by President Muhammadu Buhari to bring peace to the region among other issues.
You resigned from PANDEF. What happened?
Chief Edwin Clark who is our leader is the problem. Recently, he unilaterally drew a list of PANDEF leaders to meet with then Acting President, who was visiting Edo State, and included a person who did not know how PANDEF was formed and all the efforts we have been making to bring peace to the Niger Delta in the list. EK Clark was informed and he allowed that because we believe he does not want genuine leaders to emerge in the Niger Delta. I cannot work with people like that and that is why I resigned.
anjo took over power as President, we must thank God that Nigeria has continued to exist. It is God that is sustaining this country. And many of us believe that Nigeria was founded to be a country that is united, even though the various components have different cultures and histories.
And that is why, all along, it is believed that Nigeria exists on the notion of unity in diversity. Nigeria was established to be a federal state. Federalism thrived up to the time we had four regions, Northern Region, Eastern Region, Western Region and later Midwest Region. The civil war came and laws were passed to bring all the sources of revenue under one control for the purpose of having enough funds to prosecute the war.
We could justify all that because of the need for Nigeria to be kept together. But problem came when the military was handing over to a democratic government under the Constitution of 1999, which was a replica of the 1979 Constitution. Confusion came because government under the unitary military was handed to a civilian government led by Obasanjo.
We handed a purely military structure to a civilian government without changing the laws that turned it from military to federal status. Those who have read the history of Nigeria will know that, after the Nzeogwu’s coup of January 16, 1966, it was then most senior army officer, General Aguiyi Ironsi, who took over government. And in less than six months, he was killed in Ibadan as he went on tour of the nation.
What did they say? They said he was turning Nigeria into a unitary system. It is the same military that entrenched unitary system during their era that further entrenched it in the 1999 Constitution. Those who wrote the Constitution did their job and the military tinkered with it, they rendered the Constitution completely a bad document. You now find that what came out is a forced document parading a unitary system of government as a federal Constitution.
And what made it worse is that Obasanjo’s regime which, for all practical purposes, was meant to be a democratic government turned out to be opposite of democratic governance. It was Obasanjo’s regime that started serious rigging of elections. The 1999 November convention of the PDP after the party had won the election is a total fraud because the Obasanjo government wanted Gemade to be the Chairman of the party while the man who was more popular for that job was Sunday Awoniyi.
Obasanjo begged me to help him
The Obasanjo government manipulated the election at the convention against those who aligned with Awoniyi. The PDP government under Obasanjo introduced corruption. It was Obasanjo’s regime that started to use Ghana must go bags to bribe legislators so that things will go the way it wanted.
When they brought Obasanjo to be President, remember he had been convicted, he had been sentenced to death by firing squad by a military tribunal that tried him under Abacha regime. I was the lead counsel for defence in that trial, and we fought to establish that there was no attempted coup. In fact, Obasanjo came to meet me pleading that I should see how to save his life, and I told him that although, he was not the one that invited me to the court, all of them charged for that coup had the same case; so the line of defence was the same.
Therefore if I defended one, I would have defended all of them. My take was that there was no coup, no meeting, no justification for convicting any body as General Aziza, the Chairman of the tribunal and of blessed memory, did. In the end, the military decided to bring Obasanjo for President in order to appease Yoruba people for the wrong done to them with the nullification of Abiola’s June 12, 1993 election.
That was how Obasanjo was brought out from prison. Meanwhile, the death sentence hanging over him was changed to life imprisonment. I petitioned then Armed Forces Ruling Council as the lead counsel for defence that all the things presented and used to convict those accused at the tribunal were either hearsay or falsely violently obtained evidence, and it was against this background that when all the people concerned read my report, they decided that they will not approve death sentence for Obasanjo. Obasanjo eventually became President.
I am reliably informed that Obasanjo had said he will do one term, and that is why the PDM led by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar decided to work with him. When the first tenure was coming to an end, he changed his mind to come back and that brought problem between him and Atiku and of course he used his presidential powers to manipulate the system.
Obasanjo regime carved out this new culture of intimidation, lying, bribery, yet Obasanjo still parades himself as the father of the nation whose direction must be followed; it is unfortunate. To me, Obasanjo is the worst example of a military general. The damage that his regime did will take a long time to correct.
A man with discipline that goes with the militancy shouldn’t have done some of those things Obasanjo did while in power. These regimes of Jonathan, Yar’Adua, even Buhari, are all traceable to the legacies, of deceit, lies of the Obasanjo regime and Mr. Know All. I pray that God will forgive Obasanjo of his sins against Nigeria and Nigerians.
What I want to say now is that we are not a federal state, we are a state where the federal has all the powers, collects all the money and gives out stipends to the states. Meanwhile, the states are too many, inconsequential, ineffective and yet some people are still saying we should create more states.
The problem of Nigeria is that we have not decided what we want as the model for Nigeria. Everybody is doing his own thing to suit his own purpose. The North has its own agenda, the East has its own agenda, the West has its own agenda and the South-South has its own. The result of this is that we have a country where each individual is doing things just to satisfy his interest; nobody has national interest.
But I can tell you that this cannot continue for too long. We are all witnesses to how millions of dollars have been found in the houses of judges, politicians, money was purportedly given to the NSA to fight Boko Haram but it ended in the hands of politicians to share to ensure former President Jonathan remained in government.“Even our military, it is not the military that I joined that I see today.
Thank God that the present leadership of the military set up a committee to look into the Boko Haram scandal and they have finished their work, and members of the committee have gone back to their stations, but we have not seen their report. Why set up a committee that is meant to put things right in the country and the report is not being looked into? That is part of the things that discredit even the Buhari administration.
You set up a committee on how soldiers allegedly went to rig election in Ekiti, a Captain confessed and all we heard is that those implicated have been dismissed. Is dismissal a deterrent to ensure that this does not happen again in this country? Even the Constitution itself is clear on what should be the role of the military: Maintain the territorial integrity of the country, protect Nigeria from external aggression and, when there is insurgency, the President authorises the military to quell it.
But today there is no clearly defined role for the armed forces, they are found everywhere, even on the highways, in the streets, hotels, on routine police work. In so far as we have not been able to come out in practical terms to define what the role of the military is, we are wasting our time on the bid to have good election in this country. Military should have nothing to do with elections.
Why Nigerians voted Buhari’
The reason most of us left the PDP was the obvious and manifest corruption spearheaded by the party even under Obasanjo and now Buhari, after three previous attempts, succeeded in winning election because Nigerians are fed up with the old politics of deceit and selfishness. Buhari is seen as a man with zero tolerance for corruption, a man who was consistent about discipline and order which he was known for as a military general.
Because we wanted a clear departure from corruption that was manifest in the regimes of Jonathan, Yar’Adua, Obasanjo, Nigerians voted for Buhari out of the belief that he has all it takes to change this country. But if you ask me now what I feel, I will tell you that the regime has been good for starting the anti-corruption war which nobody else would have done but Buhari.
And the Buhari regime has been good for coming out to bring the Boko Haram imbroglio under control. Because there was a time when Boko Haram was flying its flag in so many local government areas in the North-West. A war of this nature cannot end in one day but, by and large, we must praise Buhari and his Service Chiefs and, in particular, Lt Gen Buratai, the man is a hero as far as I am concerned.
Buhari has been wonderful in dealing with indiscipline in the army and trying to give a new face to the military. On the other hand, I can tell you that many Nigerians are not happy with the way the regime has fared in the last few days. It appears that some people are taking advantage of Buhari’s unsteady health to deceive him that only the North voted for him.
Most of the strategic government positions are held by northerners now to the obvious neglect of the people of the South. I can also tell you, with the benefit of my inside knowledge of how EFCC was formed, that we have not had the right persons to lead the EFCC. The people who have been given the leadership of the EFCC did not have the philosophy or the back ground to make that place effective. EFCC is today not investigating but also prosecuting. I gave government the blue print on how to run the EFCC.
There has not been compliance with those vital things we consider necessary for the effective running of the EFCC. A man to run a place like the EFCC must be a crack detective. He must be a seasoned administrator and he must be a man with sound legal background. Without these conditions in place, the EFCC will continue to beat about the bush. You hear of very few convictions, you hear more of plea bargain.
Cameron, a former British Prime Minister, said recently that the money stolen from Nigeria in the last few years, if it were stolen from Britain, Britain will not exist again. The money individuals have stolen is more than enough to run the affairs of this country. That is why I say our number one problem is good leaders; patriotic, selfless and visionary leaders. Until we have that at all levels, we are beating about the bush.“Our system is so bad that local government Chairmen rank above traditional rulers.
We are no more in the old times when we spoke about Oyo Empire or Benin Empire where government was in the hand of traditional rulers; we have a bureaucracy and those traditional rulers are supposed to be concerned now with issues of culture and tradition and to advise government. There is now dichotomy of powers and when there is dichotomy there is division and confusion.
You said traditional rulers are supposed to be apolitical but you flood them with political appointments. They are Chancellors of universities and Board Chairmen and you say they are not politicians. When the military came, they were wooing traditional rulers and making them look larger than life and the same confusion is still continuing. And that is why without visiting a traditional ruler in any place, the governor or President has not arrived in that area. I have my respect for traditional rulers but the limit of their powers must be clearly defined to avoid conflict.
Osinbajo’s tour of the Niger Delta
The Acting President (as Vice President Osinbajo was at the time of interview) is doing well. Buhari accepted that PANDEF has been formed and granted audience to the group to kick-start discussion. I see this visit of the Acting President as a follow up to that.
I think it is a good move. But don’t forget that there is a structural problem. All the resources like oil are concentrated in the hands of the federal government which is very unusual. It started during the military regime which is understandable but, in a democracy, that is inexplicable. It must remind us of the Willinks Commission of the 1950s that said the Niger Delta area was suffering deprivation and marginalization.
Now to change that situation, we require honest and committed leadership who believes in the well-being of the people and not leaders who are after their own interests. And when we talk of marginalization, we are even marginalizing ourselves by not being focused, by not being able to allow an effective leadership forum to evolve. South South Peoples Assembly, we existed from 1998 until about 2002.
When Obasanjo saw that our message was very clear and convincing, he tried to use coercive measures to neutralize us but we defeated him. Later we all merged and, in the end, there was deceit upon deceit and we ended up in court. We were out to say Obasajo did not treat Niger Delta well and to stop him from getting a second tenure. The man reconciled with us and sent Bode George and Anenih to meet us in Enugu to declare support for the South-South.
Thereafter, Obasanjo agreed that the President will go to the South-South, but northerners told him that if he brought a South-South person they will not vote for the PDP. So he changed his mind. When he changed his mind, some of our people, under the forum of South-South Movement, went and held a meeting, and in that meeting, the northern elements were led by the late Saraki and it was there they agreed that we will accept Vice President which SSPA was against if they will give it to an Ijaw person.
Meanwhile, they made sure that those of us who were the frontline fighters in South South Peoples Conference (SSPC) and SSPA were not invited to that meeting. That was another deceit. That was part of the things that led to the emergence of Jonathan plus the fact that Obasanjo, who wanted to have a third term, was angry with Peter Odili, he regarded as a friend, for wanting to be President when he, his Oga, wanted third term even though he was hiding it.
At the end, when some people met Obasanjo and said we had agreed that the South-South will take the presidency, he said they should not worry as northerners also wanted the presidency, so he decided to give them one that was dying. Then the man who had been in power from deputy governor to governor became Vice President on the basis of good luck.
Obasanjo wanted somebody he could control from Ota to be President. That is why inspite of all the efforts Odili made and inspite of the fact that Odili had become quite acceptable to even northern leaders, when the climate changed, Odili was already going round with Yar’Adua at Eagle Square as running mate when a message came from Obasanjo that it won’t be Odili but Jonathan.
You can deceive all the people sometimes but you can’t deceive everybody all the time. Did it not become eventually clear that even though it was Obasanjo who anointed Jonathan, they soon fell apart? Was it not Obasanjo who championed the dumping of Jonathan when he started recounting the sins of Jonathan and started talking in praise of Buhari.
I thank God then Acting President is going round the Niger Delta, he will see the deprivation, the effects of pollution, the effects of acid rain, the effects of lack of drinkable water in an area where everywhere is water. That is what the Niger Delta people have been suffering despite the fact that they are responsible for over 90 per cent of the national wealth.
We are not saying the wealth of any part of this nation should not be shared by other parts, but a situation where the place the wealth emanates from is in total neglect is unacceptable. Our community leaders did not help us; our Obas did not help us because the money they collect from the oil companies does not flow down to the people or bring infrastructures to the area.
That is why I say when you talk of marginalization, it is not only the North that is marginalizing us, we are the first culprits because of our selfishness. Our leaders want those they can pocket, our leaders want to be the only leaders in the system, they do not want to groom anybody, they do not want to pass their honest belief to anyone to take over. It is those who put them there they are loyal to.
Ask me what Jonathan did for the Niger Delta. His own people burnt his house in Otuoke. The money that comes to community leaders does not get to them. However, I hope that after all these years of suffering of the Niger Delta people, our people will begin to see that when government and leadership is good, everybody will be happy.
Among the other wrong things that have been pointed out in the approach to solving the Niger Delta problems is the sharing of the 13 per cent derivation funds that come to the states, which is based on the local governments that produce oil. What happens is wrong, it is injustice, it does not work for brotherhood, it does not create friendship, it does not make people feel like they are one.
Even if they were to say those that produce oil, let them get more than those that don’t produce at all, it is better than what they are doing now. If you are not oil producing, you get nothing; if you are oil producing, you get so much. It is wrong in the sense that this oil is not a spot commodity. The oil you dig out from one place is the collection of oil from a vast area where you pull it out.
Some of the oil that is in Delta is from Edo State. Government after government in Edo have said so. As far back as 2001, former Governor Duke told us when we went to Calabar that Akwa Ibom was getting so much money while Cross River was getting so little even though this oil is an area thing. I believe he was right. A situation where some are getting and some are not getting nothing is unfair and does not promote unity or development in our area.
One of the things that must be looked at is to review that approach; whatever percentage that is given to the Niger Delta as derivation, the money must reach every local government even, if it is not equal amount, everybody must feel the impact of it. It is unjust the way they are going about it, it brings hatred and animosity amongst people.