Simon Ebegbulem, Benin City
Gen.Don Idada Ikponmwen (Rtd) is the former Provost Marshal of the Nigeria Army. He was the lead prosecutor in the trial of the three Admirals over the Missing MT African Pride, the vessel that disappeared from Navy custody after stealing crude oil worth over N8.3billion in 2003. 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 account a thorough bread expert in Defense, Law Enforcement and Security. In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, he faulted the decision of the then President Olusegun Obasanjo to cede Bakassi Peninsular to Cameroun.
With the prevailing call for secession by some groups, the Army general warned that the nation may be heading towards disintegration, citing what he described as the alleged failure by government to guarantee security and good governance to the people. He spoke on several national issues and the recent Edo state governorship election.
A lot of Nigerians thought the removal of Gen.Andrew Azazi will end the Boko Haram insurgence, what do you think is still the problem Sir?
I know a lot of people believed that the removal of Azazi will change the security situation in the country but that cannot be so because like I have often said, the security problem in Nigeria is not just the question of who is where, it is substantially institutional.
The security organs and establishments must be seriously x-rayed with a view to making adjustments on the laws that set them up, which laws inevitably created duplications and replication of duties. All security agencies, SSS, EFCC, ICPC, they all operate as police establishments.
Each one having power to investigate, each one having power to arrest, each one having power to execute. That is a gamut of confusion. Like the confusion between the police and the SSS when they paraded the alleged killers of Oshiomhole’s Principal Secretary Olaitan.
The police said they arrested four persons who are being interrogated in Benin but the SSS paraded six persons in Abuja on the same matter. That is embarrassing for us as a nation. It shows there is no coordination in intelligence gathering in this country and that is sad. And in this kind of situation, there is definite role. Not only that I have consistently posited that an intelligent organization, starts from the NSA, Immigration, the SSS and others. In terms of intelligence, information gathering, analysis and dissemination, I can say without any fear of contradiction that these organs have not been streamlined in a way to ensure efficient gathering of information and efficient processing of these information.
Nor can we say that the highest organ in the security establishment which is the office of the NSA, has real authority or superintendence over the other security agencies. We cannot say that the office of the NSA is the head of security organizations, like his name says, he is just an Adviser.
He has no executive power. The fact that he attends the National Council of State meeting does not make him an executive. I have continued to say that there is need to review the intelligence sector. The intelligence management in this country must be properly reviewed, given a firm but workable mandate so that we can say yes there is an office for intelligence like the Homeland office in the US. We just must re-organize in order to we just must protect some organizations from undue exposure and publicity.
A situation where you have the SSS being exposed as the police does not augur well for any country’s intelligence gathering. Why should we unduly expose SSS officials. They are supposed to work under ground, and not be seen. Every body is busy investigating, every body is busy prosecuting. For God’s sake let us be serious as a nation. So when there is no efficient coordination of intelligence, all we get is confusion galore and the end of it is inefficiency galore. The nation suffers, the killing continues and tension brews every day.
State of emergency
I said it before that merely declaring a state of emergency in some Local Government Areas in four or five states of the Federation will have no effect. It did not really touch the issue and we have since seen that rather than abate the security situation, the Boko Haram trend has continued to worsen. So, it is not declaring of a state of emergency or the removal of one or two individuals that will enhance security.
We need a holistic systemic change. We need a system that will be able to ruthlessly deal with those who failed us in government, if you do not take up squarely people who fail you cannot pave way for efficiency and thoroughness. And in today’s world, it is no longer matter of rhetoric’s, it is time for action, action that will generate the confidence of the people. We need action on a day to day basis to show that this country have a government that wants to move from the present position to a position of seriousness, where not only in Nigeria but the world at large will take us seriously.
But there is this insinuation by Chief EK Clark that some Northern leaders are behind the Boko Haram insurgency which means our security problem is politically motivated?
That is a different matter. There is no doubt that there is a lot of power tussle in this country. There is no doubt that individuals and groups exist that are unduly constituted with acquisition of power just for the sake of the power, even when they do not have any plans on how to use that power to the benefit of the people.
There are some people who on the basis of unjustifiable love for power wants to remain in control for ever. But there are also some people in this country who know that power must not be the exclusive preserve of only a group and that is why we talk about rotation of power, devolution of power and zoning.
These are theories to check the undue love for power. But at the same time, power must be seen to go to those who have the capacity to use it. Who have the motivation, who have the charisma, those who have the vision and the courage to use it.
I do not need to go into specifics but I know that the problem of sharing power in this country has always been a very sore issue and it has continued to be so up till now. Some people think that the Boko Haram is straight away as a result of power not being allowed to go to the North.
But I think that, much as I agree that certain expressions were made by some people from the North that they will make the country ungovernable if the power does not come to the North, for me I will suggest that people should guide what they say because if things turn out to be unwholesome, people are bound to link that statement with what is happening. But I think the problem with Nigeria today is more than this one said this, or that one said that.
There is a question of justice, there is a question of equitable sharing, there is a question of power devolution, there is a question of democracy not working the way it should.
There is a question of individuals who feels that it must be them all the time. There is also a question that even if the power is shared or zoned to you, do you have the right motivation to exercise that power. Nigeria is faced with a lot of problems today.
Thank God that the level of awareness is increasing and we can say that Edo state leads in this crusade. The last governorship election shows that the people are becoming increasingly aware. And I think that if this trend is followed in other parts of the country, soon it will be a matter of the past that a few individuals use money, use blackmail, use deceit to garner power only to abuse it or misuse it to the detriment of the people. I think Nigeria is at cross road, there is no question about it.
The only thing that can save this country is efficiency, thoroughness and commitment to what is good for the people and good governance. Without good governance, without efficient government, without a government at all levels that works for the benefit of the people, it will be mere wishful thinking to think that Nigeria will even stay together as one.
What is your take about the confusion in Bakassi and the rising determination of some parts of the country such as the Ogoni’s to declare their own state?
The Bakassi situation to me is quite worrisome. I have no intension to review the history of Bakassi, tracing it from the secession of that part of the country to Germans by Britain as far back as 1930. Or how former Adamawa now came to become part of Nigeria and how the other part now went to the Cameroons after we achieved Independence and all the politics that inter played.
However, I can only tell you that the way that Bakassi was hurriedly ceded to Cameroun vie the green tree agreement that was signed by former President Obasanjo and former President of Cameroun Paul Biya was so terrible that it rubbished the status of man as member of a society and of a people who form part of the society.
Without any form of referendum they found out that they have been ceded to Cameroun. It is true that the International Court of Justice gave a ruling which was merely declaratory that the sovereignty over Bakassi resided in the Cameroons.
But there have been so many declaratory judgments all over the world. Palestinian and Israeli matter has been on. Eretria and Ethiopia land dispute which has been on for a long time despite the ICJ judgment. We all have respect for the ICJ but we must also consider the plight of our people who resides in that area and that ought to have given rise to the proper thing being done over the Bakassi issue such that the Bakassi people will feel that they have a government to whom their plight was considered important.
I have no reservation in condemning the hurry over which Bakassi was handed over to Cameroun, I think it should not have happened like that. We should not turn our individual ego of any ruler at a time he was in power, to be the yardstick in deciding the fate of the people.
The lingering dispute over the sovereignty of the Falklands, the persisting stalemate over the sovereignty of the lands occupied by Israel, the continuing dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia and even the stalemate over the retention of and treatment of the prisoners of war in the Guatamano camp in Cuba, despite the advisory opinion of the ICJ in each case, are lucid illustrations not only that nations are never in undue hurry to implement ICJ rulings without subjecting same to local imperatives but also that the interest of the subjects (the concern persons) are paramount in deciding what nations do.
It is my view therefore that the hurry in reaching the Green Tree Agreement to handover Bakassi Penisula to the Cameroons two years after the ICJ declaratory ruling, without recourse to the people of Bakassi in referendum was a manifest negation of the right of the people of Bakassi to self determination. It is only in Nigeria that this kind of thing could have happened.
Having said that, when you look at the Bakassi issue, the Ogoni issue, the OPC, the MASSOB, Egbesu, it all centers on the feeling of injustice, feeling of cheating, feeling of oppression. All these are not signs of an efficient system. We must come to grip with what is evolving around the whole world. What happened in the former Soviet Union? What happened in the Balkans? What happened in the Czech and Slovak?
These nations disintegrated. If the center cannot keep every body together then the doctrine of right to self determination is bound to creep in. The Doctrine of self determination has become a world doctrine. The world is no more governed by rhetorics. What people want is a government that will make them comfortable, happy, secured and put food on their table.
This is what a government is all about. So when you have a situation where large number of people in a society feels that their interest are not taken into consideration, you cannot rule out the issue of, call it inordinate demands or are they really inordinate? Will it not be a better approach to ensure there is efficiency? Will it not be a better approach to ensure that leaders are properly chosen and emerge on the platform of the people who has the power to choose their rulers. Will it not be better to ensure that we give better meaning to the issue of sovereignty belonging to the people as every body knows.
A situation where people are running for election, they can crawl to any home to beg for votes but the moment they are elected, they become inaccessible. I think we need to re-examine ourselves in this country. The moment we have a government that is accountable to the people, the moment the people demand their right consistently, the moment there is justice, the moment you know where to go and your problem is solved, the moment a government considers security as the primary purpose of government, then we will be able to say with all assurances that inordinate ambitions, unjustifiable demands will go.
But are you satisfied with the efforts being made by President Goodluck Jonathan to fix these problems?
I have never doubted the good intension of President Jonathan, he is a humble man, it is evident in him that he means well. Whether he has been able to put the structures that will achieve the desired goods, that will invoke the confidence of people, that will remove the fears of both the minorities and the majorities, is quite a different thing. Quite unfortunately, things don’t seem to improve since his assumption of office.
Then, I think the best thing is for everybody to put his hands on deck to find solution, advise, corporate with government so that we can move forward. Some people are also worried that there is conspiracy among Federal legislators to unseat the President. I don’t think that unseating the President should be the focus of any legislator.
But at the same time, as a lawyer, I know that the Presidential system of government strives on checks and balances. When there is undue, unwarranted and over emphasized corporation between the arms of government that is a negation of the Presidential system. Because the hallmark of Presidential system is the fact that one arm of government act as a check on the other. The legislature must check the excesses of the executive.
The Executive must get the approval of the legislator as regards spending, you cannot declare a war with the approval of the National Assembly. Because in this country, the constitution is supreme, the parliament is not supreme. Supremacy resides on the people.
The constitution, no matter the lapses for now remains the yardstick for which any action of government is judged. So checks and balances must be allowed. President is traveling and he is accompanied by legislators, governor is traveling and he is accompanied by Judges, those are a negation of our presidential system. That is not to say we cannot have a unity of purpose in terms of good objectives.
Edo state governorship election
Like I have always said, I am glad that Edo state has become a beckon in charting a way forward for credible elections. By and large the election was proved to be credible. We must give kudos to INEC, we must give kudos to President Jonathan, we must give kudos to the people whose awareness is growing every day.
We must give kudos to the media who monitored the process. We must give kudos to the civil societies who kept calling on the need for free and fair election. We are glad despite initial hitches which some people experienced on the day of election when materials from INEC were not getting to the polling booths in time .
Despite all these, the election went well, no ballot snatching, no killing, no fighting and the result which was overwhelmingly in favour of Oshiomhole has been largely accepted by the people even though there are discordant tones from our party, the PDP, the candidate wanting to challenge the result but the party said there is no need for that. I think we should be happy that Edo state has charted a course, a direction that now constitutes a sign post for the rest of the nation.