•Says comment by ex-Defence Minister is a serious indictment of Obasanjo and others since 1999
•‘How outburst may affect 2019 polls’
• Calls for law to allow mature citizens to acquire small arms for self-defence
BY SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN CITY
Brig.Gen. Idada Ikponmwen (ret.), a former Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army, was elected Edo State Chairman of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) last weekend. In this interview, Ikponmwen dismisses the insinuation of a conspiracy against President Muhammadu Buhari following separate statements by retired Generals Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida and T.Y. Danjuma critical of the current federal administration. He also speaks on the controversial sequence of elections among other issues. Excerpts:
It seems Generals IBB and Obasanjo and recently Danjuma are at war with their colleague, President Muhammadu Buhari. As a retired general yourself, do you see that as a conspiracy to stop the President from going for second term?
I will not say there is a conspiracy because when you talk about security, these are the people who appreciate it most when there are security challenges. Though we have civilians who are security experts and strategists, ordinarily these people who are involved in security are likely to take more interest and more appropriately analyse the situation. What they are saying has merit. When you discuss this type of matter, the message is more important than the messenger. So, obviously, a lot has to be done to improve the situation. This is not talking about Buhari, we are talking about the entire system. There is no one who does not know that the security situation in the country is still very bad despite the efforts made by the President. How does the ordinary man see the economy, the availability of food, necessary infrastructure? So a lot needs to be done to take this country out of squalor and government should take into consideration all these issues.
Do you think the comments by IBB, Danjuma and Obasanjo can stop Buhari in the event he decides to seek re-election?
They certainly will have effect because this particular one by Danjuma shows the man believes that we have no government to protect us, and if that is the way people see it, it will definitely affect the trend of voting especially among the enlightened and analytical minds. Successive governments have not been able to give us security and it just shows that matters have reached the peak. On the letters from Obasanjo and IBB, some people are quarrelling about the message while some about the messenger but, at the end of the day, if you have to make a choice between the messenger and the message, the effect of the message will prevail over the issue of the messenger.
The issue will affect voting and political alignments here and there. Danjuma´s comment is a very serious indictment of successive governments of this country, especially since our return to civil democracy (Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari administrations). It is a big indictment coming from the man who has been Minister of Defence and who, before then, was Chief of Army Staff. His utterance connotes so many things. It brings into question the way we are governed or the way we have been governed over the years. It brings into question our use of the military especially for internal security operations. It raises the question of whether or not we are using the military properly in terms of the provisions of the constitution. It also raises the question of the understanding of the military with regards to their constitutional role.
It raises the question as to whether we are embarking on internal wars without declaring war as prescribed in the constitution. The reaction of the military, as represented by the Minister of Defence, is only to be expected because the military is a service under the executive arm of government, answerable only to the commander-in-chief whose responsibilities include determining when to bring in the military during civil disturbance in line with the law. Danjuma’s statement represents the concern of a man who feels that the military is not being used in the proper manner. We must say that the problem with a very visible army in the civil democracy, especially when it is seen to be carrying out responsibilities that ordinarily belong to the civil security organizations like the police, is bound to incur the wrath of some people and the applause of others.
So this is all the more reason that extreme care ought to be exercised in the deployment of military forces for civil crisis. In the past, I was one of the most vocal voices in expressing the requirement for deploying the military only when crisis has reached a level equivalent to domestic war, but government did not listen. And that is why we got to this stage where a very senior member of the society can now come out to denounce the military. It is like him saying this is not the army that I knew. As a senior member of the society, he could have reached the President directly and would have been able to draw his attention to the lapses he observed.
Therefore, this open declaration would have been better justified if efforts to reach the President did not work. On the whole, I want to reiterate my concern that successive governments of this country since 1999 have been embarking on internal wars without properly declaring war, thereby rendering themselves vulnerable or susceptible to attacks or opposition from different sectors of the society. I think Danjuma´s declaration is food for thought for the present government, to reposition itself in addressing the various problems of this country particularly in the area of security. To avoid the problem of self-help following the perceived misuse of military power, government must follow the law.
The right of everybody to acquire arms for self-defence will lead to serious security problem. I will rather say that, given the security situation in this country now, government must consider liberalisation of the laws governing acquisition of small arms to mature citizens in the society. If a kidnapper knows that his victim may be armed, he will be more careful in embarking on such journey.
But how do you think this government can tackle the problem of insecurity?
I think we have passed the stage where we can say that all is well with us. And that is why you see security experts complaining. A lot of people say that we have never had it so bad with problems like IPOB, militancy in the Niger Delta, herdsmen, kidnapping, killings among others. But that does not really change the fact that government has always come up to say ‘security is our top priority, we are addressing it’. It is inevitable to say that so many people believe that insecurity in this place is not in check.
That is not to say that the military or the civil security agencies are not doing anything. What they are saying is that the problem is still there despite all they are doing. But you will recall that before now Boko Haram was in control of some local governments in the North-East. We can say that, to a very large extent, the military has done a lot to address the Boko Haram issue but for the issue of herdsmen, the general feeling is that enough has not been done.
The recent Dapchi incident was sad but thank God the girls have been rescued. But I was shocked that the President ordered the Inspector General of Police to relocate to Benue State to address the insecurity problem there and we also heard that the IGP disobeyed the President. So Nigerians are wondering, if the IGP disobeyed the President, the commander-in-chief, what is he still doing in office? Why has nothing been done to bring the man to book for disobeying the order of the President? The President owes Nigerians a duty to explain why the man is still in office after disobeying the order given to him by the President. The answer to how to provide more effective security in Nigeria lies in many areas. To mention a few, the security organizations need to be re-organized in such a way that they will achieve maximum security. Second, the populace needs to be encouraged to see themselves as inevitable stakeholders in achieving best society level in this country.
No matter how good your security agencies, the truth remains that unless there is proper synergy with the civil populace, it will be wishful thinking to expect that there will be desirable level of security. You will agree with me that even the welfare of security agents needs to be improved by way of allowances, post-service enumeration. If the welfare of security agents is not adequately catered for, I do not expect how we can see those men to lay down their lives without assurance that if they die, their families will not suffer. I think also that we need to actually come out with proper measures that will ensure that those who commit crime are actually punished in a way that will scare potential offenders. Also those who achieved good result in the performance of their duty must be compensated.
How do you feel being elected as PANDEF Chairman in Edo State?
I thank God for the confidence my people have reposed in me by electing me by consensus. Our duty in PANDEF is to improve the lot of our people in the Niger Delta in the scheme of things in Nigeria. At the same time having at the back of our minds the need for Nigeria to grow from strength to strength. PANDEF is not out for disintegration, it is not out to show that we are a selfish people in the Niger Delta, it is not out to show that we have no regard for the feeling of others.
We recognize that Nigeria as a nation was brought into existence to ensure that the various component parts are happy, retain their identities and, at the same time, promote a nation that will be among the leading ones in the world. But the way things have been in the country, the idea of a central government taking the responsibilities that are common to all and constituent states unable to stand on their own and form their own policies appears to be fading out because of our recent historical developments. Military intervention for over thirty years affected our system and a lot of things have remained unchanged. Most of the states of the federation, including those of the Niger Delta, have been unable to sustain themselves.
The quarrel of the Niger Delta people, over the years, has been that we are the source of the wealth of the nation, yet we are suffering. No jobs, no roads, no water, farming has been our major source of livelihood but it is no more because of the effect of oil exploration which affected our ecosystem, affected our agriculture. So, what is central government doing about replenishing the dwindling environment? Are they doing it? If they are not doing it, we are going to advise the government on what to do for our people. Government has been trying to address some of the problems but the people are saying that the speed at which they are addressing it is slow. So we have a lot to do.
What cooperation is PANDEF getting from the Niger Delta governors?
There are obvious signs of hard work among our governors. There is no governor who will not want to work for his people. But having said that, the truth remains that the resources available to some of these states are nothing to write home about. What is available to them is not enough to execute projects and most of them are in debt. That is why they go cap in hand to Abuja to get money to pay salaries. At least twice in the life of this present regime, the Federal Government had to come to their rescue. It is this state of affairs where states are going to Abuja to look for funds that is not desirable for our states.
This practice is not in consonance with the federal system that we are running. Many of the governors in the Niger Delta don’t belong to the ruling party. Only Edo is in the ruling party; that is the more reason we must have expected that if the governors properly identify the problems of their people, they will be more vocal in advocating changes. It is a little intriguing that does not appear to be the case. The governors are not championing the struggle for a thorough and holistic change that this country needs to move forward. Again, it is not because of party allegiance, maybe the governors feel so comfortable that they do not want to be instrument of change; they do not consider so seriously the plight of their own people.
It is against that background that organizations like PANDEF, which is a non-partisan pressure group, are able to detach themselves from whatever may be the position of governments in their areas. We must identify the real problems of the zone and bring them to the attention of those who need to act on them. It is not only the President but all the arms of government and leadership at all levels.
There is this brewing crisis between the executive and the National Assembly over attempt by the latter to re-order the sequence of elections. As a lawyer, what is your take?
The conduct of elections, who fixes the dates and order, is clearly the responsibility of INEC. And since we are running a presidential federalism, it means that what is in the constitution must prevail over executive or legislative action. Clearly, this job is vested in INEC; therefore it is illegal, unconstitutional and improper for the National Assembly to want to impose the schedule of elections on INEC just the same way the executive cannot impose the same thing on INEC. The constitution we are running is very clear that, in a presidential system, the constitution is supreme and superior to every legislative action and to any executive action.
Flowing from that, the judiciary has the responsibility in ensuring that the provisions of the constitution are upheld. So if there is any conflict between what the legislature is saying and what the executive wants, the court must look at the constitution to look into who has the responsibility for the job.