Why Nigerian leaders who are generals failed – Gen. Don Idada Ikponmwen
In this interview with Sunday Sun, he spoke on a wide range of issues, blaming some of the Army Generals who brought corruption to the Nigeria Defence Academy for being responsible of extending it to the country. Looking at the forthcoming 2019 general elections, he declared: “I can see very stormy political period in the future, I can see a very bloody election process, from the signal so far, there is a stormy weather ahead of 2019 elections.”
General Ikponmwen, who is now a practising lawyer, therefore, counselled Nigerians to stop following people who pretend they are the only messiah in the country, saying that such former leaders will offer them no hope.
Sir, killings in the country have been of concern to all Nigerians to the extent that there is fear that if the trend continues, we do not know where it will lead us to, so what do you see from what is happening?
The problem that we have been having in Nigeria which totally is touching on the insecurity of lives and property has definitely reached an alarming stage. It did not start today, the issue of Boko Haram dated back to about 2009. We have heard and discussed about that threat very seriously at the National Confab. Beyond that, the problem of Boko Haram really came to the fore during President Jonathan’s administration. Before then, there has been religious skirmishes here and there, even in the late Yar’Adua’s time which led to the theory of amnesty that was propounded at that time to address the problem of militancy in the Niger Delta. That one also took its toll on the lives and property of the people. Then Boko Haram came and even assumed greater dimension. At the time when Boko Haram was getting the attention of all Nigerians and people beyond Nigeria, some people were speculating that it was part of the whole idea of making the country ungovernable, which was contained in the threat of Buhari before the Jonathan’s administration. We are aware of the efforts that Jonathan made but Boko Haram did not go. It came to a point that Boko Haram was now in control of quite a number of local government areas in the North Eastern part of Nigeria. So, the issue of Boko Haram and the killings it involved was made an issue in the campaign for the 2015 election and the present president gave this issue of Boko Haram killings in Nigeria as one of the major plan of his campaign, which also extended to economy, security and the anti-corruption war. It appeared that at a time when the regime changed, the situation of Boko Haram problem actually reduced substantially to the extent that the government now said the problem has been practically eliminated, but everybody is witness to it today that the problem is still there. They are still killings here and there, especially in the North Eastern part. To worsen it all, now came the problem of herdsmen and farmers clash. Initially, everybody thought it was all struggle about the land, farmers needed the land to farm, herdsmen needed the land to graze and that appeared to have been the picture for a while until it assumed a larger dimension and we now started hearing herdsmen business, it is not just a question of clash between farmers and cattle rearers, but a grand design towards a repeat of the Jihad of 1804. It came to a point that everybody started blaming the president. Killings were going on at a high level in Borno, Benue, it spread to Taraba and even recently to Plateau. As if that was not enough recently, it spread to Sokoto, where so many lives were lost. The president, in reaction to the accusation that he was not doing enough or anything to bring this killing to an end, especially viewed against the background of, in fact, that security was the main issue in his campaign. The president in his defence said that the killers are not Nigerian Fulanis, but people from outside the country who were trained by the late Ghadafi. Be that as it may, the killings continued. So, obviously, we have a serious problem in the country, especially when you view it against the background that the security of the citizens of this country is the principal responsibility of the government. Society in the present age must be contrasted with earlier societies which people referred to as the state of nature where man was wolf to man. Through 15,16, 17 centuries up till now, political and legal philosophers have all come to say we have a society, the idea of countries and states have gone because of the need for the citizens to give up some of their natural rights to government by whatever name so that the government will now take responsibility for everybody’s wellbeing and the major thing expected from the government was security. Political and legal philosophers have gone to the extent of saying that if a state is not able to give security to its citizens, it automatically lacks the right to govern. And even the American declaration of independence and all the wars before it were all centred on the rights of its citizens. It is no longer arguable that the right to protection is the principal issue about governance and the people.
Do you think that there is enough intelligence gathering to stop the killings in the country?
Now, if all the past rulers have been making efforts and I must confess that they have been making efforts, the Army, Navy, and even the Police have been making efforts, but it appeared all the efforts are to no avail because the killings have continued and the state is unable to stop it
So, what is responsible for this state of affairs?
The least we can say is that the law enforcement agencies have by and large, failed to deliver on security to the people. And when I talk about the security agencies, I do not want to fall into the error that many people make by just grouping all the security agencies together and wanting to treat them all the same way. I have said many times and as far back as 15 years ago and most recently, during President Jonathan’s regime and I was widely quoted. I said it is a pity that Nigerian government cannot guarantee security for its citizens. I was widely quoted and criticized for saying all that and has it not become true? Why did I said so? The reason I said so was that even with all the military apparati that we have, call it security architecture, we have not been able to find solution to insecurity.
Why is it so?
This is what informed my comment after looking at the entire environment. The defence services, the intelligence services, the law enforcement and, of course, the relief agencies, they are so many. We treat them all as if they were all the same. That generalization is part of our problems. We must know who is responsible for what. The army defends from external aggression. They can come into security problem only when the situation has gone beyond the power of the police. The police is in charge of the enforcement of the civil law of this country together with the customs, prisons, fire service, are all law enforcement bodies. From there, you move to the intelligence services, people like the NIA, DIA, and the DSS and if you look at the National Security Act, it was written during the military regime, but it has been re-enacted under the Law of the Federation, 2004. They are the intelligence organizations. It is their jobs to acquire information and translate it to intelligence which can be worked upon by the law enforcement agencies. That is the relationship. It is when there is serious threat from above, that is outside our border that the military are supposed to come in, but it is not so in Nigeria. Now, we do not really know who has what job and even when we do, in practice, you find that because of the way the law enforcement agencies and the security agencies and all other agencies, their laws are carved, it is such that there is so much overlap between one and the other. And when there is this serious overlap or duplications, there is no effective organs to coordinate all the security work like you have in America. NSA office cannot coordinate the overall security responsibility in this country because the NSA is merely an adviser. By its nomenclature, and the National Security Act mentioned that the NSA will coordinate NIA, DIA and such other security agencies, but that does not include the military or does not include so many other law enforcement agencies some of which I have mentioned or those agencies that are responsible for the relief for operations. So, one big vacuum that we have in our security system is that there is no effective headquarters that can effectively coordinate all the security agencies together. NSA cannot do the job because NSA cannot coordinate the Chief of Army
Staff, the Chief of Defence Staff, the Chief of Naval Staff and the Chief of Air Staff because of his status. They are clearly superior to his office. How do you coordinate people who are bigger in status than yourself?
What does the Chief of Defence Staff do?
Look at our laws, the Chief of Defence Staff is merely mentioned along with the Chief of Army, Chief of Air, Chief of Naval Staff. The constitution merely mentioned them, it did not give any superiority to the Chief of Defence Staff, but by tradition, we know that the Chief of Defence Staff is supposed to be the boss of other service chiefs, but in practice, it is not like that. They all have access to the president, but who will be more influential depends on the president, who he calls more often and who he listens to more often. The constitution does not say the Chief of Defence Staff shall be or the others will be responsible to the Chief of Defence Staff. The constitution does not say so. And for many years as far as I know, even from the Army Training and Doctrine Command, we put that argument for a long time, but nobody has listened to it. That is a big flaw. America has created Home Land Security Office, powerful office with powerful people who when they cough, all other security agencies shake. In summary, until such a time that we have an effective information gathering and intelligence information processing system, which amount to intelligence and this organ is passing the necessary information to those who need to move against any perceived danger, until we get to that stage, the country will continue to be surprised, military barracks will continue to be invaded by surprise before you wake up, you will find out that the invaders have entered your territory. Has it not happened in Nigeria? Jaji was once overran by Boko Haram. They did the same thing in other locations in this country. These activities were carried out by rascals who are not well trained and equipped and yet they are making such marks in the face of a country defence and police services that have excelled not only in Nigeria, but all over the world in their roles as Nigerians security and defence forces being sent to other countries. They have excelled there but here in Nigeria, we are unable to identify when there is danger. There is no trace. The locals said information was given to some security agencies hours before the Chibok girls were carried away.
There is this theory of collusion and sabotage. Do you believe in that theory or outright sponsorship of these killings in this country?
We are in a country where selfish interest and individual interest and ambitions hold sway. Politicians are motivated by their own interest, what they want to achieve. Civil servants cannot also be excused. Name any organ of this country where you do not find selfish interest. Files do not even move in the ministries if you do not bribe. Is it in the judiciary, judgement is not given when you are not ready to give gratification, your judgement will not come out in time. So many surprises every where so that you can almost say in all certainty that the sense of service has not been built into us. In the Civil Service, for example, since the Murtala Mohammed purge, everybody knows that the Civil Service collapsed because of lack of confidence in their jobs. The fact is that your termination can be announced any time on the television or the radio and so, if you are still lucky to be there, and you do not know when next your name will be announced that you have been sacked, whatever you have before you to control, you make better use of it to cater for tomorrow. I am just using the Civil Service as an example and that example covers all the other aspects of the Nigerian life. I do not know if you can say today, if there is any organ in this country that is not polluted by corrupt people.
Against this worrisome background that you have just painted, how do we now achieve success in the corruption war?
There is no other way to achieve success against corruption rather than transparency. Transparency must be seen from the top. A Permanent Secretary who knows that his commissioner will not come to work until 10:00a.m will not go to work not until 9:00 or 9:30a.m. A senior officer who knows all the games going on above him that he may not be party to, you cannot stop him from making his own gains. They are going to recruit people and a minister has 20 slots allotted to him to fill why, so will the Permanent Secretary not want to put two or three? And if the man happened to discover, he will ask the minister also jokingly, how did the 20 names happen to enter? And there is nothing the minister can do. So, from up, there must be a resolve for us to be honest and transparent and it must come from up. And if it comes from the bottom, it means there is going to be a revolution. You know what that means for any country. People say those who do not pave way for peaceful change, they have prepared the room for a violent one. We must imbibe transparency, honesty and national feeling in this country from the top. The other method which must be added to the former one is that you must strengthen your system. Our system must be powerful. What we are doing now, we are encouraging individual to be powerful and they use this power against the state instead of a system being powerful. If a system is powerful, it will work and be efficacious. If we have a powerful Police Force, you can’t bribe anybody. The more you try to bribe, they will arrest you. So, your system must work and those who do well must be rewarded and those who do not meet the standard must be shown the way out and dealt with. In a little time, you will see everybody will sit up. Not to also mention the issue of the will power. This also goes to the issue of leadership. There is no state, if the state does not have the machinery to enforce its laws and the laws of the state cannot be enforced unless the law enforcement agencies are effective and not corrupt and if people are not to be corrupt, they must see good example flowing all the way down from up. They must see reward for being good. They must see encouragement for being good. In Nigeria more often than not, titles and national awards are given either on political ground or on the ground of friendship and compatibility. How many people who get national award can you really point to that this man has done something so remarkable, noticeable to everybody and if is not even noticeable to everybody, there is no way a man that is making impact in his own system will not be recognized within that system. And if our system is effective, it will project good people. We have a system where somebody who is not endowed is posted to be the boss over people who are more intelligent than him. You have a system where after a governor is elected, he picks his appointments from his political party. Nobody is saying you cannot pick from your political party, but let the people you pick be those who have excelled and there are records to show that they have excelled. And if our country was serious, why should we have Secretary to Government who is not a member of the National Institute of Policy and Strategy Studies or has attended such other institutions or is a man who has a combination of qualifications. Unless they belong to the dirty group that is the powerful group, they might not be seen. A country that does not reward efforts, inputs, has no future.
Earlier, you were talking about reasons for government which is the guaranteeing of lives and property of its citizens. Recently, Col. Nyam, as result of the killings, said Buhari does not deserve re-election. Would you subscribe to such position?
I am not the one to decide Buhari’s suitability or otherwise. Nigerians are watching Buhari. Some like him and some do not. Democracy is the government that is brought about by its own people. All we can say is that let our election processes be fine-tuned. Let it be seen to be effective and working well and if it is working well, it is the people who will decide their rulers. Sovereignty belongs to the people. It is not mere rhetorics. This is part of what we discussed. Why do we have government? It is not government that make people, it is people that create government. And overtime, in so many centuries, people have been discussing this idea of governance and the totality of it is that government exists to look after the interest of the people. People submit parts of their rights so that government can be the umpire and ensure that one man’s freedom stops where the other man’s own begins.The whole concept about society is, do unto others what you will have them do to you. The society will exist to pursue our own freedom. If you allow everybody to exercise his freedom to the extent of wanting to get every desire of his, some of which is obnoxious, you will not have a society. What we will have is a brute and wicked society. This is why many political philosophers have come to zero on the need for state to have power over its people. Even the people who put them there, they are accountable to the people. In Nigeria, is government accountable to the people or the people are trying to please whoever is in government. Why is the National Assembly saying the ordering of political election should be changed? I personally agreed with that idea, but before you can do it, the constitution must be changed because the constitution has given INEC power to do so. S o, if anybody is going to change it, it is the INEC. National Assembly can only make their own contribution. What is the difference between Nigeria and Britain? The major difference in our system of government is that in Britain, parliament is supreme. In Nigeria and all countries that have taken to the American system of government, it is the constitution that is supreme. And if the constitution is supreme, it means the judges must be able to look at whatever the executive or the legislature do and to say that the action of the executive is within their power given by the constitution or not and whether a law passed by the National Assembly is outside their power. So, that’s why I said in this our system if we really know what we are doing, it is like the judiciary is the most powerful because they can remove the president from office or anybody that they believe is not properly elected into office, but before the judiciary can be seen as the last hope of the common man, members of the judiciary must also prove that they are reliable. But you know, no branch can be better than the whole.
Elections are coming in 2019, we have seen the field, political parties are regrouping either to fight against individual or some individuals. What do you make out of this re-alignment?
One, there is something wrong with our electioneering law both from the constitution angle and the statute. This idea that a political party must have a particular number of persons across the country is not right. Unless you look at it from the peculiarity of our country but even so, some of our leaders in the past have, looking at the environment, said we do not need more than two or three political parties in this country just to avoid party taking religious or sectional posture. We are a complex system with different people and we are trying to form a union from a background of different people and cultures. It is difficult to say, but I think in the area of formation of different political parties, the rules are too stringent. A political party can be set up to win a local government election in a state. Beyond that, they are waiting to look at other parties that are bigger to align with. There will always be alignments. There will always be choice between one group and another. How did the present APC come into being? Was it not by at least five groups coming together to merge. Is there any law that is against that? And if there is no law against that, how do we fault it, 30 or 28 groups coming together to say we are one and let us work together. Provided they can have a common ideology of what government they want to run. And as long as they can de-emphasize personal interest. The whole problems revolve around selfish interest. Why is APC trying to break apart now? How are you sure if five or six parties that came together about three years ago is now having problem, do you not imagine 28 groups coming together will have even greater problems? When do we have time to imbibe the right philosophy and right thinking that will be centered on the good of the people rather than the individual good? When do we learn to look that if a political system is good, everybody stands to benefit? Because there will be focus, truth and transparency. And when you work under such an environment, inevitably you will be creating environment where everybody can aspire to his highest limit based on his own effort. Whether you call it a merger or a gang up, this will not solve the problem. The problem of this country will be solved when at least a greater majority of Nigerians see governance as a means of serving the good of the greater society not a place where you can go and grab for yourself and for your family. Because if the system is good, everybody will be happy. When a few managed to manipulate the environment and capture so much, what belong to millions of people, one or two people will just capture them, all you have is bitterness, anger and injustice. And injustice cannot produce peace and harmony.
There has been this feeling among Nigerians that the retired Army Generals constitute part of the problems you talked about. What are your views?
Alright, let me tell you this as truth from my heart as I usually do when I discuss with people of your class who communicate with the wider society. It is very erroneous to think that politics is not the field of the military men, Generals and others. On the contrary, look at Europe, America and Asia, you will find that most of those who have made marks in their country’s politics are the men with military background. They are so many, George Washington, Truman and others. You will find that a man who has been through the military is a man whether you like it or not, who has learnt so much about leadership. He is a man who has learnt to imbibe the spirit of sacrifice, hard work and he is a man who has been basically taught that it pays to be honest and transparent as a leader. In a larger instance, if you are not a military man, you will definitely lack some of the qualities that you need to be a ruler. And having said so, every country has its own peculiarity. Let me tell you, when I graduated from the Academy, I was posted to 4 Brigade, Nigerian Army headquarters, Akwa. I was posted to a battalion to serve under a man who was called Captain Iweze at that time. I served under him for some few weeks. The Brigade Commander decided to deploy me and six others of my course mates because we were professionals, regular combatants. As soon as we were promoted full Lieutenant, the man deployed us to go and take command of the battalions over the people who were commanding them, many of whom who were holding inferior commissions than us. And we were all boiling with that knowledge from NDA, do not do this, do not be dishonest and all of that. It was in NDA that I was first told by General Ejoor who was our commandant at that time. He said do not ever tell lies because if you tell one lie you will need to tell more lies to cover your first lie. So, a leader must not lie. We imbibed that, honesty, hard work, you must be ready to lay down your life for your country. All these things were taught and when I was given the command of a battalion, I have thousands of pounds in my unit that were coming to us every month. I did not have furniture in my official residence as the commanding officer and I needed to have good furniture because the G.O was my friend, Obi and others. I was the rallying point. This was immediately after the civil war. To buy furniture in my house which was going to cost about 20 pounds, I wrote a letter to the Brigade that I needed furniture. The letter got to the Brigade headquarters. The Brigade Major carried the letter to the Brigade Commander and both of them laughed. The next thing, they invited me to come to the Brigade and when I got there, he said C.O, you wrote a letter? I said yes sir. He brought the letter out and said you wrote this? I said yes sir. You need 25 pounds to furnish your house, I said yes sir. The man burst into laughter. I felt so embarrassed and I said to myself, why is this man laughing at me because I wrote a letter? He said wait, see the Brigade Commander. We both entered the Brigade Commander’s office and the Brigade Commander looked at the Major and they started laughing again. I was so embarrassed and the next thing, the Brigade Commander said we have looked at the statement of account from your unit, you have thousands of pounds in your unit account and you are writing us to come and authorize the buying of 25 pounds of furniture for you in your official residence?
They said is that not childish? Do you know what I told him? I said I am sorry sir. I was never taught in the NDA that funds under me should be used on my authority alone for procuring things even though they were meant for my official use. That I have to apply to the higher authority to give me authority to do whatever I want to do.They said go and buy anything you want to buy in your house because you are the Commanding Officer. I am just telling you what was our idea of leadership when we came out from NDA and over the years, did things not change? Loyalty, was it not in our presence a Major General was executed for plotting a coup? He was shot on the stalk so what is loyalty? What is respect, transparency when you are seeing these kinds of situations in your country? Was it not in our presence so many of our senior colleagues were sent on retirement without any explanations. So, that is why I said, depend on the environment that you are. But of a truth, ideally, a military man is a man who is prepared for leadership, but we have seen that in our country, we have departed from that. When it has come to a position where Army, Air Force or Naval Generals are digging trenches in their houses to bury money. When a Chief of Staff is now before EFCC, using the money that was meant for military procurement to fight a war, he is unable to account for it. So, what does it boils down to? You look at the individual, look at its antecedent and if the man is seen to be above board, good, but talking specifically about Generals in our politics, I regret to say that some of them have proven that they are not good leaders. A leader who continues to think that only him has the right to choose who will rule Nigeria and each time he will turn round to find fault in the person he has pointed to as being suitable, cannot be trusted. A leader who calls people thief, yet he has amassed so much wealth when you talk of landed property, in the area of money both in Nigeria and abroad, cannot be seen to be a good leader. I do not want to mention names, but I will tell you, some of the Generals who started bringing corruption into our premier institute, Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA, some of them are the same ones that brought corruption to the wider society. Some of them and we know them. I will simply say, Nigerians beware, for to be deceived once is alright, to be deceived the second time is not just so good, to be deceived the third time, it means you as a person, you are foolish. Nigerians must watch the people who pretend that they are the only messiah in Nigeria. Nigerians must be careful not to continue to follow such leaders because there is no hope in such leaders
Going by what you have seen, what is your projection for 2019?
I am not a soothsayer, but a human being like any other persons, but given the values that I have embraced, given the background that government is not government if it cannot guarantee the welfare and wellbeing of the people, I can see a very stormy political period in the future. I can see a very bloody election process. I can see that it will take time for us to get things right. Maybe, I hope it will be in our life time that we get things right, but from all the signals that we are seeing so far, there is a stormy weather ahead of 2019 elections.