By Simon Ebegbulem
Brigadier General Don Idada Ikponmwen was former Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army and one of the leaders of the South South. He was lead Prosecutor in the trial of the missing MV African Pride.
In this interview with Saturday Vanguard in Benin City, the retired army general reviews the on-going Creek WarÂ in the Niger Delta and declares it illegal since, according to him, there was no proclamation sent to the National Assembly by the President requesting for deployment ofÂ troops to the region.
He says the House of Representatives goofed when itÂ gave blanket approval forÂ the military invasion of the region without any formal request from the President.
He faults the life imprisonment slammed on the 27 soldiers by a court marshal, saying the military authorities should not have charged them for mutiny since they were only fighting for their rights.
He expresses optimism that the Appeal Court will upturn the judgment which he says was too harsh for the offence the officers allegedly committed. Excerpts:
As a retired army general, how do you react to the on-going military operation in the creeks of the Niger Delta?
Without mincing words, the on-going crisis in the Niger Delta, which has obviously engaged the armed forces – the navy, the air force and the army- cannot be anything short of war.
It is true that the developing trend of kidnapping, pipeline vandalisation, murder that characterises the zone and isÂ fast spreading to other parts of Nigeria, is truly worrisome.
So worrisome that anybody, any genuine Nigerian, would be concerned about it and want to put a stop toÂ it. But I think that first of all, government must be thorough in addressing this problem.
I believe very clearly that the crisis has persisted over the years because of very bad governance, both at the national and state levels- governments that are insincere, inefficient, ineffective and buried in corruption.
TheÂ Niger Deltans who own the resources that sustain the nation, have continued to suffer unimaginable kind of neglect. No road, no water, no school.
The oil exploiters and explorers live far away in Lagos and the communities continue to suffer in squalor and no effort is being made to sort out the problem.
I think the level of injustice meted on the Niger Delta communities is so high that automatically, it cries for vengeance.
Military invasion of Gbaramatu Kingdom is illegal
OnÂ Â the issue of the war in Gbaramatu Kingdom, I think it is clearly an effort in the wrong direction. Government attention must be drawn to this and government must be told that this war, this annihilation of innocent people, must stop. You cannot beat a child and deny himÂ the chance to cry.
The people of the Niger Delta are being robbed of the good things of life that they deserve. The Federal Government must understand that theirs is a genuine agitation which has assumed some degree of violence.
This genuine agitation must be separated from the criminal aspect of the struggle. And, inÂ any case, they always say that the idle mind is the devilâ€™s workshop.
If meaningfulÂ employment and opportunities are created, I am sure that the young boys who have gone into kidnapping and other crimes would be too busy to do that. In addition, I feel very sad about the way the institutions of government address problems in this country.
This government has professed the rule of law, due process. Let us ask even if it has become necessary to take serious measures beyond police action directed at criminality, if it has reached a level where we must resort to extra ordinary measures as contained in our constitution, which is the use of armed forces in police role.
One would have expected that the proper procedure would have been followed.
There is a procedure in the constitution that guides the deployment of troops for internal security operation which is the extraordinary operation I spoke about, in section 217 sub section 2(c): that in the process of acting in the aide of civil authorities, the President can deploy troops, provided it was done with the approval of the National Assembly.
With the two Houses sitting to consider and approve a proclamation of the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, which already would have been gazetted and served on the two Houses of the National Assembly.
That is the purport of section 217,218 and 305 which deals with a state of emergency. A state of emergency can be declared where there is a total break down of law and order.
So, obviously, sections 217,218 and 305, point to the fact that for the military to be used in this extraordinary sense, there must be a proclamation and if that is not done, it means the Federal Government has not complied with the constitution.
And our public officers have all sworn to uphold the constitution. So, it is worrisome that this kind of thing can go on in our country.
It is worrisome that a nation can declare war on a part of itselfÂ Â withoutÂ complying with the constitutional requirements of proclamation before deploying troops. Deploying troops both internally or externally are serious matters, and it must be done properly.
In fact, the constitution also says that the President can deploy troops abroad but he must notify the National Assembly within seven days, and the National Assembly must within 14 days either give approval or disapprove. We cannot afford illegality, especially by a regime that has professed to the whole world its commitment to rule of law and due process.
I dare say that democracy and rule of law are together. So, what the Federal Government is doing right now in the region is illegal, and it is unfortunate that the National Assembly joined in the illegality by approving the military invasion without following the constitution.
House of Reps gave blanket approval to the military invasion of the Niger Delta even withoutÂ Â receiving proclamation from the President.
That, again, is a very sad development, in the sense that members of the National Assembly, who have sworn to uphold the constitution, can just decide, even without a request, properly put before them, to say we endorse the use of the highest level of force to unleash terror and destruction on communities within a section of this country without recognising the tenets of their calling as legislators.
Even if they said that the crisis demanded that high level of force, I think the least they would have done was to call the attention of the President to the requirement of the constitution so that Nigerians will see they are there to uphold the constitution.
I am very reluctant to think that some people just consider that the wealth and resources in the Niger Delta must be tapped at all cost, even if it means eliminating the people in whose backyard these resources are tapped.
I noted with concern, the expression by some highly placed Nigerians, who expressed the views that there was nothing wrong in dispensing with 20million Niger Deltans, if only to ensure that the other 120million keep going without any hindrance.
Although, I heard that apologies have come from those who made such comments, I know that that statement was very uncharitable, very unpatriotic and it is not in the spirit of Christianity or Islam.
Having said that, there are many of our people outside the Niger Delta who do not think the way these guys who expressed these views think.
I remember very well the wise contributions of former President Shehu Shagari who said that what has been given to the Niger Delta does not represent their contribution to the growth, development and sustenance of Nigeria, and there are a lot of Nigerians who also think this way.
N-Delta Tech Câ€™mite Report
It is worrisome that the report appears to be going the way of other reports in the past, gathering dust in the shelves of some offices. One must call on the President to give concrete action to this report because we must turn things around in the Niger Delta.
If Nigeria is to meet the millennium goals, if we must be one of the top 20 economies in the world, every component part of this country must be seen to be part of the system, not appendages to the arrangement called Nigeria.
No matter what ever happened at the amalgamation we must give meaning to this idea of unity in diversity. We must give meaning to this idea that Nigeria evolved on basis of National ethnic nationalities which formed a wider union and to ensure proper relevance, proper recognition and mutual respect.
If Nigeria is not turned around to be useful to every body, those people who think that any thing can go will soon realize that all this story of indivisibility and indissolubility as contained in our constitution and some other countries constitution are just words..
They are coming to nothing now because as democracy begins to grow and develop, the right to self determination is becoming more pronounced in the affairs of democratic regimes. And regimes are hardly regimes if they are not truly democratic.