By SIMON EBEGBULEM
Brig-General Don Idada Ikpomnwen is the former Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army and the lead prosecutor, in the trial of the five Admirals over the missing MT African Pride. In this interview, he commended the Anti Terrorism Bill recently passed by the National Assembly, but called for a separate body outside the present security organisations in the country to coordinate the operations of the outfit, so as to achieve better results. He commended the House of Representatives for the recent passage of the Freedom of Information Bill. On the allegations against the Chief Judge of the Federation and the President of the Court of Appeal, he called on the National Judicial Council, NJC, to ask the duo to step aside pending when investigations would be concluded. He also spoke on other national issues.
The National Assembly recently passed the Anti Terrorism Bill. As a security expert, what is your reaction to the development?
It is with great delight that I saw the passing of the Anti Terrorism Bill by the National Assembly. I am delighted and I expect every believer in
security, who believes that one of the major responsibilities of government is to provide security for the people should also be happy. Every Nigerian should be happy about it. However, after a casual look at the bill, I am one of those who feel that some of the contents, especially in definition of what constitutes terrorist activity, the fact that searches can be made on vehicles, houses, without search warrant, and a few other aspect of the bill, do not meet the standard expected of a civilized society.
For instance, when the bill says any publication that is capable of inciting people to violence or undermining government, any publication of that nature amounts to terrorism, I think that is going too far. Though it is good we start somewhere, with time, people will have the opportunity to express their views on whatever excesses or draconian face that are inherent in the bill, with a view to changing it in due course. As a matter of fact, the need to put a law to fight terrorist activities, had become over due in Nigeria . Because no responsible government will encourage terrorist activities.
From all we have been seeing in recent times in Nigeria, death arising from clash between extreme religious sects, Boko Haram incident in the North, particularly in Jos and Bauchi for example, the attacks on the oil installations in the Niger Delta, killings, assassination of oil workers and key personnel in the oil industries, the kidnapping of foreigners and their spouses, I think these are things that no government will fold its hands and allow them to be happening. It is no wonder therefore, that President Jonathan has on more than three occasions appealled to the National Assembly to facilitate the passing of the bill to fight terrorism in Nigeria .
Do you think Nigeria is a terrorist state?
It really depends on what you mean when you say a state is a terrorist state. The ordinary connotation of that nomenclature, a terrorist state will appear to mean that we are talking about a state, which by conduct and attitude believe in terrorism as a way of life. If you remember, America accused Iraq of being a terrorist state in the sense that the government headed by Saddam Hussein was keeping weapons of mass destruction and unleashing terror on people who are not toeing his line. So when you say a state is a terrorist state, it means that government is promoting terrorism. If we look at it that way, the clear answer is that Nigeria is not a terrorist state.
But if on the other hand you are looking at it from the point of view of whether activities that touches on terrorism goes on in a particular state, then I will clearly say at this point in time, with the Boko Harram incident in mind, with the bombing here and there, Warri bombing, Abuja bombing, Mugadishi barrack bombing, the recent Suleja bombing at a Peoples Democratic Party, PDP rally, all the kidnappings, killings and attacks on oil installations, I will definitely say yes, terrorism has come to Nigeria.
When Umar Farouk Abdultalah, the Nigerian young man, found to have kept some bombs in his under wears, that is when people started saying that Nigeria is a terrorist state, but events proved that the young man became radicalized, not in Nigeria but in Yemen. I will tell you clearly that our country, Nigeria, has never and I don’t ever see it as a country promoting terrorism. But obviously, terrorism has become a feature of the Nigeria environment. It is worrisome to all of us and so Nigerians have every reason to worry about terrorism and to press for measures to counter terrorism in Nigeria. Failure to do this, it will be a pointer to our failing, not only as a government but all levels of leadership in the country. So the law just passed is in the right direction.
Now that the bill has been passes, do you think we need a special body to coordinate it, for it to be more efficient?
I have not seen the entire bill and it need to signed into law by the President before it will be for public consumption. But thanks to the Nigerian media, a lot has been published about the content of the Anti Terrorism bill. It is clear to me that the bill puts the responsibility of fighting and combating terrorism on the foot steps of so many security agencies in Nigeria. The bill gives responsibility to the State Security Service, SSS, office of the National Security Adviser, National Intelligence Agency, the Police, Immigration and Custom Services.
So the responsibility is in the hands of all these gamut of security agencies. Surely, every security agency must have an in put to deal with the situation. So it is not wrong that each security organisation has a role to play but if you place the responsibility on all of them, all you will succeed in doing is that you will give responsibility to multiple security agencies. Each one naturally will want to excel to ensure that it does the job better. At the end, what you will get is inter-service rivalry. And with inter-service rivalry, without effective coordination by a central point, you end up with inefficiency. Every body knows that in fighting crimes, everybody has a role to play, but what is important is coordination. To have an establishment, no matter how economical it may be in terms of man power, you must have a body with the task to fight and combat terrorism in Nigeria.
But that is not to say that this organisation that is coordinating the effort will not relate to central headquarters, which may be located in the presidency to ensure that each security organ does its work properly and information is distributed effectively. For many years, we have lived with the problem of uncoordinated security, defense and law enforcement activities. And as long as that remains, it is wishful thinking to think that our defense, law enforcement, routine maintenance of law and order will be efficient, no matter how we do it.
Even though a lot of people say that there is proliferation of security bodies, we must not lose sight of the fact that day in day out in, the changing world today need to have specialized agencies and establishments to deal with biting and suffocating phenomenon in a society where crime is on the increase. Let us not forget that before colonization, the army, custom and other security agencies were under the police, but with time, we felt that there was need to have a special body to tackle each problem. Just like the need for a special security outfit to fight financial and economic crime, which led us to have the Ecomonic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
The whole world was losing confidence in dealing with Nigeria because of fraud but we tackled it. I was part of those who wrote the paper to establish the EFCC in the same way we have the need for a special agency to combat terrorism. There is no other way, you must have such an establishment so that the men will be give that special training to track down bombers, assassins, kidnappers, among others. But it is not enough for us to have the law establishing anti terrorist organisation, it is even more important that government look at the issues that promotes terrorism.
We are not saying that there are justifiable terrorism or unjustifiable terrorism, terrorism is terrorism but the fact is that if you look at the world around, most terrorist are caused by anger on the way many things are done, either based on religion or the concept of what is right or wrong. So government must reduce the causes of anger, injustice, and hunger. You cannot have peace in an atmosphere of injustice. Government must reduce the unjustifiable poverty rate in a country that has so much.
A hungry man is an angry man. Some of the things happening in Nigeria shows that we have not had the right government over the years. If we do not have a government that seems to be genuinely addressing all these problems, whatever law or structure you put in place will come to nothing. And God forbid that what is happening in the Arab world, which has spread to the Northern part of this country, God forbid they replicate themselves here. It will replicate itself here, unless there is obvious and manifest change in attitude, especially by those who receive the mandate of the people to lead us.
What is your take on the Freedom of Information Bill recently passed by the House of Representatives?
The FOI bill has been in the pipeline for over 12 years. Successive National Assembly evaded passing it and even when it was passed, it was not signed into law by then President Olusegun Obasanjo. I believe strongly that what makes good governance these days is not secrecy. I agree that there are certain areas such as defense, where we must keep our secret but on the whole, government must be run on transparency. Nigerians has a right to know how government is run and why it is run that way. Media men have a right to know what government plans are on any particular issue. Transparency has become the role not secrecy now in the world.
Developed world and even developing countries have come to realise that access to information has become a serious matter and Nigeria cannot be an exception. So I commend the passage of the bill by the lower House and I have no doubt that the Senate will soon pass the bill. It ought to be passed without further delay. I was saddened when a few weeks ago, a leading Presidential aide said he will prevail on the President not to sign the bill into law. That was sad because we have a government led by a learned person. But I was glad when the presidency came out to disown that aide.
The April general elections is less than a month away. How will you rate the chances of the political parties winning the presidency?
Party politics is about power, organising men and women to take power. No body wants to give power to people who only think about their pocket or their immediate families and friends. PDP appears the largest party not only in Nigeria but in Africa and ordinarily, it is difficult to see any other party that has the kind of followership that the PDP has over 13 years now. But we are in a new world and things are changing, people are beginning to ask questions. We are yet to see any party that is really guided by any ideology. For the PDP, we know what they have done and we know what they have not been able to do. But for the new ones, who are coming, it is difficult to even say what they can do, asides what they are saying they will do. So it is important to know that Nigerians are in for a change, change for the better. Change from corruption and disproportionate distribution of resources. So against this back ground, I think the people are the best judge and I think what will matter in the next few weeks is how the parties would presents themselves. Incumbency power can be there but we have seen that in many countries, incumbency can become a disadvantage, if the incumbent cannot pinpoint the positive contributions that had been made during that tenure.
What is your reaction to the controversy generated by the CJN and Salami face-off?
This is an issue that I will not like to discuss deeply but I must note that a situation where the head of the Court of Appeal and the Chief Justices of Nigeria have been trading words over election judgments has become very worrisome. I don’t think that the judiciary has seen any thing more disgusting like this before. I am, however, drawing a lot of relief from the response of the Judicial Service Commission, NJC, which has recently set up a five man panel to look into the matter and to come out with its finings and recommendations. It is a good response to a very unfortunate development at a time when Nigerians have increased their confidence in the judiciary. However, I have not heard whether these people who are now the subject of investigations are going to keep their positions while these investigations are going on. I think the natural thing is for them to step aside even if it is temporary, for a month or two that the investigation will last.