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LAND BORDERS: Closure is demonstration of govt’s incompetence — Ikponmwen

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…Says no difference between past military govts and civilian administrations

By Ozioruva Aliu

BRIGADIER-GENERAL Idada Ikponmwen, former Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army, a war strategist,  and a member of security thematic group of  both Vision 2020 and  2014 National Conference, in this interview spoke among others on how the closure of borders is hurting ordinary Nigerians and why we must deepen our democracy.

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On border closure

I feel the concern and worries of the present administration with regard to the very negative effects of cross border crimes, smuggling of goods, and fuel among other crimes. I know the danger that any form of unchecked smuggling can cause to the well-being and interest of any nation. There is no doubt that fuels made for consumption in Nigeria which are heavily subsidized are ending up in neighbouring countries and whereas those neigbhours are getting the fuel cheaper than they would get it in their own countries, Nigeria is paying for the subsidy they are getting. The effect is definitely bad for our government.

Again, the way we man our borders has direct bearing on the promotion or sustenance of crimes, illegal movement of criminally minded people, illegal movement of arms and ammunition especially small arms that are easy to hide and pass through borders. But there are also very fundamental issues that everybody must consider in coming out with policies about whether to close or open our borders.

The interest of the average person is paramount in any society. Granted, the Customs authorities or statistics have said that Nigeria is getting more money into our purse following the closure of our borders but where does that take us if the average Nigerian, underprivileged Nigerians are having to pay more than 50 percent for food commodities like rice? What good is it for government to amass money yet it does not impact on the people? I think the interest of the people is paramount and therefore government’s attention must be firstly to address the problem of the people. How can they sustain their lives, how can they eat, how can they move in the manner that is affordable?

Having said this, I believe that what the Nigerian government needs to do is to have effective management, control, and policing of our borders and these are jobs that are primarily meant for law enforcement bodies principally Customs and Immigration.

There are other security agents that are also supposed to render assistance. Our problem is to have efficient machinery for checking smuggling, ensuring proper passage of human beings that do not have criminal intentions, ensuring that weapons, especially small arms do not pass through our borders unnoticed. These are responsibilities for the executive arm of government whose duties are clearly written in our laws.

What we are seeing in Nigeria is failure of these organizations, ineptitude, corruption, incompetence in the management of our border security and this situation is worsened by the fact that our borders are porous and you cannot treat anyone in isolation. Nigeria’s borders are principally porous whether in the South or North and even worse in the North.

As a member of the Vision 20: 2020 and the  2014 Confab 2014 and in both cases I was a member of the security thematic group, we identified clearly that the porous level of our borders is inexcusable and unpardonable and we cannot expect security for anything if this porosity did not change.

Nigeria has failed to create more organs to correct these border challenges unlike what we have in other countries where several organs are created to man the borders both land and water. What we have in Nigeria is compromise upon compromise. If the security agencies are not doing the right thing, government will lack the will to ensure that the proper thing is done.

Bearing in mind the global trend of regional cooperation, regional integration, like those of ECOWAS and AU and other principles we have embraced, the closure of borders as we are doing today negates all the beautiful concepts of these regional and sub-regional integrations. I think that border closure is not the answer but clear demonstration of competence in governance.

His take on series of military operations such as positive identification, crocodile smile, python dance, etc

I know our President as a military commander, I knew him as a Brigade Commander, I knew him as a Divisional Commander, I knew him as Military Head of State and in these capacities, I worked with him. I worked for him so I can tell you that basically, I cannot deny this President of the good intentions he has for Nigeria. Many people say people change, things change, scenarios change but I still want to believe that the General Muhammadu Buhari that I know is a man who always want the best for Nigeria. The things he does still point to that even now but we all know that nobody is perfect and there is a lot about leadership.

Some people say there are no bad leaders but bad advisers but I think generally that we can do better. The problem we have did not start with the present administration, in fact, I have found it difficult to see any difference between the regimes that were supposed to be short-lived and curative and successive civilian administrations like that of Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan, and Buhari. I haven’t seen much difference because we have really not moved away from dictatorship, we have not moved away from authority flowing from the centre which is typical of the military to a situation where we have a military that is subordinated to the political leadership.

The problem there is that if the political leadership lacks the will, and the knowledge to do what is desirable to improve society, what do you expect of a military system that has been so well trained? They take the shine off the political leadership and that is why you see today that the military and security remained in Nigeria the most vocal and prominent. It is the security group that will say yes we are ready for election or the environment is not ready; it is the military that will say Nigeria is at war even when government has not declared war.

Our constitution requires that there should be a declaration of war before you embark on war. Although, one cannot even blame them because when you have terrorism, insurgency, banditry, militancy in the Niger Delta, Nigeria is at war in quote. And if Nigeria is at war, war standards will hold but my question is if Nigeria is at war, why do we pretend to be in a civilian democracy, under the rule of law?

Rule of law, democratic principles and rules of fundamental human rights are inconsistent with martial law. It means a departure from the norm under a civil administration to resort to military administration.

In sections 217 (1) and 305 of the 1999 Constitution, the military cannot be brought in for the  restoration of law and order unless there is a proclamation that has been approved by the National Assembly. So, if we have not conformed with the constitution say in a constitutional government then it means we are not ruling according to the rule of law, which says that before the military comes into operation it must be by the express permission of the president who must have had the approval of the National Assembly. Are there no other means of checking identification such as the banks, the police, the NSCDC, DSS? Are all these bodies not to act in synergy without involving the military?

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We are saying that the army should not be desecrated or demystified by being dragged into jobs that are not theirs. If all these arms of government are working properly together, do you need to drag the army to a situation where they are seen to be the ones oppressing people, going out of their constitutional duties? Do you want our military, which is the last hope in security to be our first leg in the fight against insecurity? The military must be advised to stick to their visible and clear roles as spelt out in our constitution. Resort to the military should be the last resort, when all the other measures have failed.

On the issue of President Buhari not transmitting power to his Vice when he travelled abroad recently

There is no person who is endowed with intelligence,  with all the gains that you get from leadership who will not know that there should be no vacuum. There should be no vacuum in our system. What we are seeing is a repetition of what happened in Yar’Adua’s time. We are all living memories to that. He was sick and he left and there was no handover and unfortunately he passed away; he was more or less smuggled into the country and everything was being painted as in order until it became irreconcilable and the National Assembly in their constitutional process  went to the extent of providing that such situation should never arise again that when the president is not around, somebody should act, it is embedded in the 1999 constitution which is what we are still using today. So quite frankly, there is no excusable reason for the failure to transmit power properly in line with the letters and spirit of our constitution.


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