General Don Idada Ikponwen is the former Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army and one of the leaders of the South South region. Apart from being a military lawyer, he is one of the leaders of the Niger Delta that made the amnesty granted to the militants in the region by the Federal Government successful.
As a security expert, he told in this interview that the committee set up by the Federal Government to look into the possibilities of granting amnesty to members of the Boko Haram sect was the right step in the right direction.
He however raised alarm that the nation may cease to exist if the insecurity and corruption in the polity is not sincerely tackled. He also spoke on other national issues.
What is your view on the recent committee set up by the Federal Government to look at the Boko Haram issue?
First and foremost, let me say pointedly that it is no longer an issue for argument whether Nigeria has turned a terrorist state or not. There was a time we used to have that argument about whether Nigeria is a terrorist state or not. Nigerian government does not promote terrorism as a policy but Nigeria has become a terrorist enclave, where terrorists operate either on their own or in conjunction with terrorists outside the region.
The truth therefore is that Nigeria has become a terrorist state and we are losing lives, we are losing unquantifiable properties, we are losing self esteem, we are losing our past glory to this perilous state of thriving terrorism in Nigeria. If therefore we are to move forward to this state of insecurity, government and leadership at all levels must be seen to make concerted effort to create an environment where crime and terrorism will be unattractive.
Terrorism whether they are from the North or the East is terrorism. It is the use of violence to attempt to overwhelm the legitimate government to prove that a legitimate government is bad and inefficient to win the heart of the people. Terrorism is based on deep-rooted anger and disaffection.
Therefore, it is very important that we find a solution rather than analyzing the differences between one form of terrorism in one area and another form of terrorism in another area. In the early days of this terrorist direction, some of us who saw it coming right from the time of Vision 2020 in 2009 laid bare as members of the security thematic group the modalities and the approach to reducing insecurity in this country.
The primary purpose of government is to provide security and guarantee the welfare of the people. If therefore government is perceived to be incapable of providing the security and guaranteeing the welfare of the people, the inevitable conclusion is that government is inefficient. St Augustine, a renowned philosopher and jurisprudence of his days, said there can be no government unless it is just.
The word just in that sense has a wild meaning. Let me put it more succinctly: there is no government unless that government is efficient. With the events that are happening in this country, the killings, robbery, murder, assassinations, kidnappings that flood this land, many of which the culprits are not traced or brought to book; with the way that stealing has become the order of the day, especially among highly placed individuals in government, when these people are not brought to book, when nothing serious is being done even to act as deterrence; the way that people are amassing wealth and nobody is asking questions; the way that materialism has become the essence of life; the way that we have so much vacuum in our system; the way that people find solutions to problems and nobody takes them seriously; the way that we create establishments and bring unserious people to run them; the way that we make government look as if it is there to serve the interest of those who are always friends of government, people who Nigerians call friends of any government in power; we as a nation has become a laughing stock, not only among Africans but the world at large.
I believe that we cannot continue this way. The morale of well meaning Nigerians is at its lowest. Recently a friend told me that nothing will bring his children abroad back even when he dies. So on the issue of the measure the government must take, I must say that one must applaud President Jonathan for the courage he has summoned, not only to express by implication, the readiness of his government to grant amnesty but also to start putting together a panel that will give the amnesty.
But let us put things in proper perspectives. In the Niger Delta when the government of Yar’Adua was considering amnesty for Niger Delta militants, amnesty was embraced by government before Niger Delta leaders. Government officials including my humble self went around the creeks to make physical contact with the militant leaders. South South leaders led by Chief EK Clark went around softening the minds of the boys, telling them that government was sincere, but the important thing was that amnesty was accepted by government and agreed upon before leaders moved in to talk to the militants. But the impression that appears to be given to the President is that there must be agreement among the terrorists; they must come out before you consider amnesty for them.
That idea was unthinkable because no terrorist will come out and walk straight into the trap of government. They must have high level of assurance from government. And those who continue to say that government cannot discuss with ghosts, that is another area that baffles me. Where are the ghosts? Are they not in Nigeria? The same government has told us before that they know that Boko Haram has infiltrated everywhere. If the same government is saying that it cannot identify these ghosts, that it is waiting for some individuals to bring these ghosts out, then that is mark of unseriousness.
And one must tell this amiable President that he must not allow himself to be deceived because at the end of the day, the bulk ends on his table. He is the one that has the mandate and so, the question of no bad leaders but bad advisers would hardly arise.
The President must summon more courage than ever before to declare this amnesty and convince everybody that government needs to negotiate to identify the causes of this disaffection that made these guys unleash terror on Nigerians. We must not look at it from the point of religion, we must look beyond that. When the terrorists attacked the Emir of Kano, it is not that they did not know that the Emir of Kano is not a Christian. It is also obvious that even there in the North, you have the greatest number of people who have ruled this country but poverty looms largest in the North.
The poverty level in the North is such that makes the situation there pitiable. Boko Haram, like Niger Delta militancy is a national security problem and ought to be addressed squarely by the Federal Government and the earlier, the better because the picture at the moment is dangerous. Nigeria at the moment stands on the precipice. I am praying that God gives President Jonathan the courage to embrace the truth; the courage to know that evil is evil and evil must be punished. Those who are causing Nigeria to look like an unserious country must be brought to book.
Those who mean well and are known to mean well rather than being regarded as undue radicals must be listened to so that Nigeria can really be a strong nation, the leading voice in Africa and among the leading voices in the world. If we must sustain these our natural resources, we must have efficient government, we must have visionary leaders and we must have leaders who will call a spade a spade. I believe that there must be no distraction on this path of peace. Whether we like it or not, Boko Haram is one factor today that is giving Nigeria a very bad image. This problem must be resolved soonest with courage.
But do you not think that granting amnesty to murderers will send wrong signal to other ethnic militias who may also decide to take up arms and fight for a cause?
Don’t go there at all. When Niger Delta militants were granted amnesty, some people also queried the granting amnesty to criminals and kidnappers. Behind every terrorist movement, there is a deep rooted anger and deep rooted sense of cheating. Terrorism is the same everywhere.What are these deep rooted form of anger? Government has a duty to identify them and know whether the dissidents and the terrorists have any point. If you don’t identify them and discuss with them, how will you now know what their grouses are?
I have always said that even when countries are at war, they don’t foreclose the avenues for negotiation. Battle goes on, diplomacy goes on side by side. It is no longer news that even in the Niger Delta, the first group that emerged as militants were funded and armed by politicians who used them for elections. Democracy has become a global norm which no body should depart from. So if things are not working the way they should, the society suffers psychologically and materially.
Even among the few that are enjoying the situation, there are those who feel bitter and who are bound to feel that to get out of this situation is worth any sacrifice. That is why you have suicide bombers. By the time a man becomes a suicide bomber, you will know that by virtue of desperation and frustration he has lost his normal thinking faculty and no longer values life. There are deep rooted anger and grudges in so many Nigerians because of the way things are and against this back ground, we should call a spade a spade and find solutions to the problems. Let this oil not be a thing for the few.
Nigeria is rich enough for everybody to live a comfortable life. When a good number of Nigerians cannot be convinced that our wealth is being managed in a manner that some few rogues controls the wealth, then there is a problem and our President knows that there is a problem. Even those speaking from the two sides of their mouth, they want to be seen working, so truth is abandoned and with rhetorics.
The world has become a global village. Rhetorics take nobody nowhere any more. Corruption is the apex of our problem. How can you have an efficient system when the polity has embraced corruption like a doctrine? How can there be efficiency?
But are you not surprised that despite the killings perpetrated by these terrorists in Nigeria, the Federal Government has consistently kicked against tagging Nigeria a terrorist state by the Americans and European nations?
I don’t think it is still an issue to argue whether Nigeria is a terrorist country or not. We are a terrorist country because terrorism strives here. Those who said Nigeria is not a terrorist country, that foreigners should not come to our aid are making big mistakes. The days of non interference principle which was a cardinal issue in UN Charter has gone. Today, the world strives on corporation and mutual support in the area of economy and security. Why did we send troops to Mali, Liberia and other places? Were those things not interventions? If intervention is for good purpose, let there be intervention.
The question of state independence in strict terms are no more. Countries now go out to seek areas of corporation. In Europe, they are all working for common currency. The whole world has accepted that democracy is a concept which everybody must embrace. Nigeria is party to many of these treaties of mutual support and cooperation, so what are we talking about sovereignty? If sovereignty cannot bring bread and b*tter, why are you talking about sovereignty?
Why will people complain when America helps Nigeria to track down murderers when this is one of our major concern? Anybody who is kicking against America’s interference is supporting terrorism or thuggery. If Nigerian government don’t care about the welfare of their people, other countries do. Do we not still go to America to train?
Tell me any senior Nigeria officer who has not trained in India, Pakistan or Britain. Please for God’s sake, let us as a people begin to think constructively what can bring good. Let’s not hesitate to seek cooperation of support where we need them.
Over militarilization of the society
We are a country under the rule of law. And we are governed by a constitution. And the constitution laid down how the country should be governed. From the constitutional view point the military is not for routine law and enforcement duties. We are taking after America. In America from 1878, they have had what they call a Pose Communicatus Act, it means that you do not use troops for any duty that is supposed to be civil in nature. In America you bring in Federal troops only when the crisis situation has reached a state of domestic war. And it looks like that is the purpose of our own constitution, the military is carved out for defense duties, fight aggression from outside.
The meaning is that the military has no business outside unless there is a situation of aggression. So if we are saying that the situation in Nigeria has reached a level that the police cannot deal with them, and we are saying that that applies to everywhere in Nigeria, yet we have not declared a meaningful emergency, then something is wrong. How will you say we are practicing democracy yet you see the military everywhere, is that compatible with democratic governance? We have not been able to create other agencies that can deal with emerging situations.
We have porous bothers both land and sea yet we don’t have an agency that is specifically tasked to sanitize our bothers. Funny enough we still have the navy being tasked to patrol our territorial waters and that is police work not military work. I think these inconsistencies must be resolved in our laws. It takes a thorough leadership to address these problems.
We cannot have an amorphous job where the job of one organ is not clearly defined and to cause confusion and rivalry. It is sad the Natinal Assembly areas they are supposed to make laws to ensure good governance, efficiency of government they are they doing something else. So I think patriotism is one asset a country is supposed to brag about. But in Nigeria you cannot find the patra (Fatherland).
Let me conclude by saying that the problem Nigeria has cannot be solved by one person. The problems are many but we can solve them if we all work together. There should be no passing the bulk, everybody must accept blames and realize that Nigeria is greater than anybody and we all have a duty to leave lasting legacy. For sure this country cannot continue that way it is, something must give. We either going to become a better governed country, better motivated people or we all will take the consequence to embrace the fact that we are gearing towards a failed nation.