Brigadier-General Don Idada Ikponmwen (rtd) was the former Provost-Marshal of the Nigerian Army but now a Legal practitioner. In this interview with Victor Ofure Osehobo, he spoke on a wide range of issues, blaming the orientation of the Police for its challenges and how insecurity in the country can be resolved.
Q: The ruling party in Nigeria, All Progressives Congress, APC has just lost the governorship election in Edo State. What in your opinion happened?
A: It went the way it did because APC members were seriously divided. Some voted for APC and a great number of them voted for the PDP. Those who supported his going to PDP voted for APC and those who opposed the move voted for the PDP. So the first reason is division among the APC members. The second reason though not in that order is for obvious reasons the people of Edo Central who has not produced the governor for some time they produced a governor who did not last two years in office-they have always been anxious to price a governor, which is normal in a Democratic system like ours. The governorship has eluded them for a long time now. Obviously for them it was better than Governor Obaseki continue for another four years than for Ize-iyamu to come and spend another eight years. So the majority of Edo Central were for Obaseki. Not only that the deposition of the traditional ruler of Uromi by Oshiomhole did not go well with the people and especially those in Uromi. Besides Edo Central has always been a PDP stronghold dating back to the times of the late Chief Tony Anenih. I also think the third point is Oshiomhole’s overwhelming role in Ize-Iyamu’s campaign did not help matters at all. Am not to write about Oshiomhole but obviously not a few people disliked the way he carried on after he became National chairman of the APC. I think they were highhanded in handling the affairs of the party. Many people think the matter between him and Obaseki should have been settled and not allowed to degenerate to the extent it did. But be that as it may you will remember that the PDP used Oshiomhole’s campaign against Ize-Iyamu in 2016. The message is that nobody should be a double talker. Edo people did not want to be pushovers, dancing to the tunes of an ever changing, inconsistent parry leader. On the statement by Senator Ahmed Tinubu, if you look at it very well, he said that Governor Obaseki did not hold himself as a true Democrat in way he manipulated the exclusion of some legislator select who were eventually locked from being sworn in. Whatever be the merit or demerits of that position the truth is that Tinubu is entitled to his own opinion. Some other people said so. I also said so that the way the whole thing happened was not good enough. So really there is a lot that the common eye cannot see about the role of Tinubu. Some people have argued very strongly that it has to do with the 2023 programme of some of the party members and that the earlier that Tinubu was out in this proper place, the better to forestall any plan. You see the problem with our polity. We are in 2020, 2023 is three years ahead and people are already thinking and rooting their actions on 2023.its funny but that was it. Edo people visited Tinubu’s speech with anger. So all the above are some of the reasons why the APC lost the elections in Edo state. But by and large it is not that the elections was won on merit, it was by personal interest and selfish interest in some cases. But it went the way it did”.
Q: But how do you feel considering the fact that you supported te APC candidate, Pastor Ize-Iyamu, in the election?
A:” Its not news that I supported the APC candidate, Ize-Iyamu. I supported him because I saw a clear and distinct programme as compared with the ,’wake and see’, of Obaseki. I did not like it that Obaseki was quarrelling with his leader and the members of the party that supported him to win the lection in 2016. In Benin we say ,’aigbobo no gbeno vban’, meaning you don’t fight your benefactor. Obaseki should have settled with his erstwhile boss, even though he still had his way. Things would have turned out differently. My advise for him is that he should learn to work with people and to learn to respect and value those who support him. That’s a every strong point.I say this because I know as of fact that he Obaseki rejected efforts to settle the matter: there were efforts from the Oba’s palace, from Benin Chiefs, the National Assembly, even the President. That was not enough and who ever was advising him to do that may feel that they have had their way but all the same my advise for him is that he must learn to forgive, forget and to reconcile with people when necessary. Besides talking about being democratic really, Obaseki’s government ought to have given greater attention to the independence of the Judiciary. His government stands out as one of those that did not support the state legislature and the state judiciary to function as independent arms of government. And that is not the hallmark of a person who believes in democracy”.
Q: What do you think should be the agenda of the Governor now that he is coming back for a second term?
A: “All said and done there are certain areas Governor Obaseki’s attention must be drawn to. Number one I would say he should let the people be at the centre of his team. Democracy is about people and he must ensure that they benefit by way of improved roads, by way of creating jobs. Not just talking about them and making declarations, providing education and health facilities. I shudder to think to how the College of Education, Ekiadolor was eventually killed and the idea of Tayo Akpata University which never really took off. All entreaties to him to make sure that the promises of his predecessor were given effect with regards to the university did not succeed. Like I said before the separation of powers is a cardinal aspect of our Constitution. The Executive must face its executive job, leave the business of the Judiciary to the Judiciary not just in terms of funding but allow their funds to go to them and also to the Judicial Heads to deal with judicial matters. I think these are the things I will like to draw his attention to. Our roads are bad there is no electricity. College of Agriculture Iguorikahi is not working. All the jobs ostensibly created are not there. Government is about the people. Jobs must be created. There are too many people without jobs especially among the youths”.
Q: What do you think is responsible for the growing insecurity in Nigeria, I mean the issues of insurgency with Boko Haram, banditry in the North, Herdsmen- farmers clashes?
A: The issue of banditry in the North, the Boko Haram and Herdsmen/farmers clashes are all sad developments. You will recall that those who started the Boko Haram anchored their grouse on disappointment. Boko Haram means ,’western education is evil’ and it must be forbidden and that means in actual fact that they have lost confidence in their leaders. These are leaders who have all had Western Education. Farmers -herdsmen clashes is another unfortunate development. We have always had herdsmen in Nigeria as a country. There was mutual coexistence but in recent times it has become different. I think governments even before President Buhari did not take time to look into this matter and grazing must also continue. But this must go on in line with modern trends and developments. These days we don’t talk about marching cows from over hundreds of kilometres from the North to the South, from East to West . We talk of cattle ranches. That’s what is happening in other countries and those who are involved in animal husbandry must know that they are doing business like all other businesses and they must follow the modern trend in trading and doing the business of animal husbandry. The time for cattle routes and cattle colonies are gone. The state governments have responsibility for land and the Federal government cannot just decree cattle routes or colony or even the issue of waterways bill. These are all mysterious contraptions. I think we must go to the roots, know why people are angry. As for banditry it is another thing which has resulted from frustration and anger especially from the younger people who have no job to do. The fear of bandits, the fear of herdsmen has become the issue of the day and even the President once said, not too long ago that the herdsmen that are causing havoc in Nigeria are not Nigerians but are from beyond Nigeria. My prob!em with that statement is that we are admitting that our borders are porous. We know they are porous but it is even more dangerous when the government admits it: that anybody can come in and go out, bring in arms, herdsmen crossing with ammunitions, these are dangerous things. I think they must go to the root of the problem and find solution. The root is: why are people angry? why are they resorting to arms? Why farmers and the herdsmen not reconcile and each do their jobs the way they should?. This government must take the initiative in resolving that instead of beating about the bush. There is no problem without solution. The problem is we have not had leaders with the will, the political will to solve our problems. And as long that situation remains we will be far from the Eldorado.
Q: Many Nigerians are hopeful that the government of President Buhari might still usher Nigeria into that Eldorado. I asked this question knowing that you are proud supporter of the President. Is that your position?
A: “Some of us have said it time and again. We all said so. I have been Buhari’s man from inception. The only time I did not vote for him was when he contested against Obasanjo but thereafter it has been Buhari, Buhari for me. I know him. I believe he was a no nonsense man, that he is man with zero tolerance for corruption. A man who was Minister of Petroleum. A man who was a governor. A man nobody was able to fault. We clamoured, and we fought to get him to become the President of the country and we succeeded but unfortunately things have not gone the way we expected. And it is not all Buhari. The situation in this country after 16-years of PDP rule has been deplorable and it cannot be resolved overnight. I still believe in Buhari and more so when I remember that he himself said recently that the people he appointed has disappointed. That is a good point, confessing that things have not gone the way he expected. The bad point is that the buck stops on his table. In a presidential democracy like we have, he takes the blame or the praise for whatever goes wrong or whatever goes right. All said and done I think there are three more years to go and I cannot think of any other person that can do this job better than Buhari, for now. Therefore my entreaty to Nigerians is continue to give maximum support to Buhari. Let him serve his term peacefully. Let him enjoy the support of the people.
Q: Looking at the current fight against corruption by the the Economic and Financial Crimes Commision, EFCC, which coming to life you were part of, how do you rate the journey so far?
A: .Well the EFCC when it was set up was supposed to hit the ground running but it did not. I was a member of the committee that sat for more seven months before we became up with the blueprint on the need to establish the EFCC and how to run it. We said the headship had to be properly selected: a man with experience, a man who was a crack detective and a man who would not be afraid to speak to the President or whoever was Minister supervising the EFCC. Unfortunately, that did not happen. We had recommended that the man to head the EFCC must be from the security family with requisite experience but not still in service. Not because some of us were retired but because we believe that some maturity of mind was required – independence of mind – was required of the EFCC chairman. But they started with a man with inadequate administrative training. Note that I am not running him down. I am talking of training that you get from the War College, from the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies. He was an Assistant Commissioner of Police. That was good enough but the man who appointed him wanted a man he could control as his hunt dog. So the EFCC started on a wrong foot. On Magu, the National Assembly had decided that he should not be appointed. The Directorate of State Services even voiced its opinion that he was not suitable. Yet the government made him to continue. And that is what the government must try to avoid. Government must work in harmony. When the Constitution says you must get clearance or approval from the arm it means what it says. If they say no, you drop the man and look for someone else. So it has not worked out well. The commission and the man who was appointed and even all of them who have ever been appointed there have always left there in disgrace. When we were making recommendations for the EFCC we strongly opined that the ICPC be merged with it. But this was not done and in the end there is duplication of roles. And this is what is common in the security services, all ending in unhealthy rivalry.
Q: in reference to the Constitution, the National Assembly has been trying for sometime now to amend the Constitution: why do you think they have not succeeded?
A: “We have a fundamentally defective Constitution in so many ways. From the beginning to the end the Constitution is bad. Its not a good Constitution. The draft that was made by the previous military administration was ‘panelbeated’ out of recognition and they came up with what we have today by, ‘We the people of Nigeria’. The National Assembly has been finding it difficult to amend it because they are politicians and owe their allegiance to their party and their party leaders. The only way out is for Nigeria to have a constitution conference where the people can sit down and come up with a Peoples Constitution. To call that conference the Government of the day must play a big role, recognizing that the people of Nigeria are desirous of having a Constitution that is their own. And I also think such a conference as a matter of fact must study all the results of all other conference before it.”.
Q: The Federal Government recently got the Police to scrap the SARS following nationwide protests by youths. What is you take on this development?
A: “Am happy that our President has once again demonstrated that he is man who believes in what is right. That is what his response to the SARS protest demonstrates. I am also happy for the Nigerian people especially the youths who because of their persistence and consistency on SARS going wild, once in a while, came out and demonstrated everywhere and the demonstration gathered momentum and spread everywhere. I congratulate them. Why I congratulate them is that it has become obvious that if people want something they will get it. In other wards, people get the kind of government that they deserve. There is no government in the world no matter how cruel that will ignore the genuine and firm demand of the people. The #EndSARS demonstration has proved that. I think it is a phase in the life of this country and it is for anybody in the country to know that exercising authority in government by being in government means putting the people at the centre of your government Democracy is about the people and democracy suffers for the people.
Q: Coming from the Inspector-genersl of the Nigeria Police, SARS is no more and is replaced with SWAT. What is your take about this development?
A: “Coming to the issue of whether SARS should be disbanded, scrapped or replaced with SWAT, for me, that is not the solution. The question is how was SARS set up? Was it set up by a statue or by an instrument or by administrative decision documented? If that was so, one expects that its modus operandi would have been provided for by that instrument. If it does not have a role or modus operandi, it cannot just be wished away on a fire brigade approach. Nigeria and Nigerians must recognize that when the Police or part of the Police start to kill people and destroy things without just cause, the people involved commit serious crimes that ought to be met with heavy punitive measures. I believe that the SARS, whatever maybe the conduct of its members, from time to time have served some purpose in the past; you cannot say that all members of SARS have been bad or they have achieved nothing. And this is why scrapping it is not the solution. If you look at the Nigerian Police and I am not condemning every member: there are good policemen and there are bad policemen but if you at the whole set up you will know that there are a lot of problems. Starting even from the very beginning of their set up. The Police was set up to be a police of the British colonial administrators to deal with dissenting voices. They gave it the name ‘Area’ Police. It was not the ‘Nigerian’ Police like the ‘Nigerian’ Army. So the orientation has not changed. Over the years not just now, there have been so many people calling for police reforms including retired Police Officers. All they are saying is that the orientation was wrong and that we should reorientate the Police. So that has not been done. The Police sees itself as the police of the government and government people and not the Police to safeguard, fully the people and that is wrong orientation we are talking about. Orientation forms part of training. Beyond orientation the training and equipment of the Police has been neglected for so many years. Police work has been given to the Military and the Police has been totally neglected. That is not fault of the Police but of the government. So I think in the long run which starts from now, the government must begin to address what is the Police meant for? How are they supposed to work? Is there any difference between Police work and military work? Is it not true that the routine maintenance of law and order is the duty of the Police? Why is that after 21 years of civil rule, the military is still there responsible for even law enforcement duties?. This is bad. My take is that the Police must be trained and we must continue to be retrain the police for their role. We must continue to equip the Police for their role. Are those armored vehicles and tanks supposed to be used for work, by the Military or the Police? Or give the role of the enforcement of law and order in the country to the Army instead of sidelining the police. So when the correct people in an establishment are properly identified and that establishment performs its duty, then that establishment can become efficient. There is also too much overlap of responsibilities in the security agencies, making the system inefficient. The reason why our Constitution is that voluminous is to avoid doubts and stop people guessing. You cannot allow the role of the police to be performed by the military because all that will lead to inefficiency and it not work. The DSS, the Police, they are police officers: arresting and prosecuting . We have not learnt to distinguish between agency services, law enforcement services, defense services. In Nigeria there is no difference. The same people are the same business. This duplication of roles can never bring about efficiency, more so in a struggling democracy like Nigeria. We must learn the differences and keep the people in their proper boundaries.
Q: What is your response Sir, to calls for Community Policing in the light of all that you have mentioned or referred to?
A: “One government after the other have been talking of community policing. How do you place community policing at the Federal level? How do you make community policing the duty of the Federal Police? I think by now, Nigerians and those in government must recognise that there must be different levels of police. There are Federal laws as there are state laws and so there ought to be Federal police and state police. The governors, they say, are the number one security officer of their States. People say they don’t want state police because state governors will abuse it. We identified that in vision 2020 and in Confab 2014 and everybody agreed it that it will be proper for us to have state police and even local government police. So we have not addressed the real issues. Are we going to scrap the whole police? The various areas of Police must be equipped for their roles. We must train, retrain, equip the police and there must be… there is no substitute for States having their own Police.
Q: The youths are still demonstrating even with official response to their demands. What do you think is the way forward?
A: “The youths have already made their point by demonstrating but I think now is the time for them to relax and give the government the opportunity to respond properly; especially now that the government is aware that you cannot suppress the will of the people. They need to give government time and continue to articulate their views in a nonviolent manner, in respect of anything at all: because it is the people around whom government revolves. No government should refuse to respond to the genuine wishes of the people as has been ably demonstrated in a violent mode”. #