Retired General Don Ikponmwen Idada is a lawyer and a former Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army. In this chat with OJIEVA EHIOSUN, he talks about the security challenges in the country, among other issues. Excerpts:
What is your view on General Theophilus Danjuma’s recent call on Nigerians to defend themselves against ravaging Fulani herdsmen while accusing the military of connivance?
This declaration must take us round several national issues of the moment. The declaration by General Danjuma, a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Minister of Defence, is a very loaded statement from a person whose view can hardly be ignored.
It has raised so many issues including the question of how Nigeria has been governed over the years, especially after the military era and up to this moment. It amounts to a serious indictment of the present and past regimes in the country. It also raises the issue of the role which the Army had been playing since former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime after Nigeria moved from military to civil administration.
It raises the question of what should be the constitutional duties of the military in a democratic system with particular reference to internal security and military aid to civil authorities. It raises the serious issue of what point in a civil crisis does the military come in? It raises the question whether the military can decline once the President/Commander-In-Chief orders them to move it. It raises the question as to what exactly is the role conferred on the military by virtue of section 217(2c) and section 305(3c) both being read together?
When a senior citizen of Danjuma’s standing says the military is biased and cannot be trusted to defend Nigerians and enjoins everyone to arm themselves in self-defence, it raises the point not only that everyone has a right to defend themselves but also the issue of whether or not there are legal limits to right to self-defence.
Is it right for every citizen to acquire weapons in self-defence?
Among the issues arising from General Danjuma’s declaration includes issues like the ones I have mentioned before, that is, where does this issue of self-defence start, and where does it stop? In fact, let me say for a start that having heard the two sides of this debate -the declaration by General Danjuma, and the response from the military- I would say there are merits on each side. When a man like General Danjuma comes out to say people cannot trust the Army or the government, it points to the fact that all is not well with our country.
This is particularly so if you look at it from the point of view that this man is speaking from his personal observation of what is happening in his own native area. The conflicts between the Jukuns of Taraba and the Tivs of Benue State. So, as a Jukun man, Danjuma must feel that he has the duty to speak when the lives of his people are gravely at risk. He must feel that something is seriously wrong before he spoke in the very bitter way he did. The military, on the other hand, represented by the Minister of Defence and the Army Public Relations Officer has responded.
Do you agree with the army’s response?
What do you expect a military set up to do when faced with this type of accusation? Yes, the military is bound to defend their actions. They see what they are doing as carrying out their own legal duty to the best of their own construction and understanding.
This is not to say that it is not also left to Nigerians, particularly professional experts, to examine whether the manner of this duty is in strict conformity with the dictates of our constitution. So, I would say that the military spokesmen appear to believe that they are doing their job, and they have a right to say what they said.
Having said this, looking at the two sides of the story, I don’t think their focus is legal niceties. I will leave that issue of detailed legalities for another day. However, I believe that what General Danjuma said is a clear indictment of past leaders of over 17 years in Nigeria.
Now, let me also say this, as long as the military is involved in taking action to curb civil disturbances of the nature of law and order, there is no way that they will not incur the hostility of one side or the other.
People would respond to military interventions the way they conceive it; the way it affects their interests. Some of which might be objective; some of which may be sentimental or emotional; some of which might be outright selfish.
What does it call to mind?
It calls to mind, in my view, the need to clearly, properly and in a meticulous manner, identify when the military should come by way of aid to civil disturbances which are normal police duty. Obviously, there are strict military roles given to the armed forces by virtue of the provisions of the Constitution vide section 217, 218 and 305.
The issue of military intervention by way of aid to civil authorities to be the last resort and is generally regarded as the extraordinary measure of dealing with civil unrest. It is an extraordinary measure that needs to clearly identify the appropriate time to bring in the military, it is an obvious responsibility of the government of the day.
Sadly, notwithstanding what some of us with security background have been saying for over 20 years, not enough effort had been made by any of the past governments to actually identify when to bring in the military in line with the strict provisions of the extant constitution.
The legislature must share the blame with the executive for the lapses over the years. In a paper I presented during IBB’s regime in 1989, I had warned the Army as an institution. I warned that with our imbibing presidential, federal democracy, the role of the Army in terms of civil disturbances had changed with the new constitution of 1979.
The provision of the constitution, both 1979 and 1999, made it clear you don’t involve the military until the situation had reached a situation analogous to domestic war when the involvement is authorised by the president and authorised by the National Assembly. So, in Nigeria, we have been embarking on domestic war, without proclaiming war. That to me is not in tandem with the constitution.
Won’t the military authorities share in the blame?
If the constitution requires the Presidential proclamation, gazetting of same and approval of the National Assembly, so, why do we blame the Army, if the Commander-In-Chief, who is the President of the country, orders them to intervene? To me, the problem is the problem of governments that have failed to adhere to the spirit and letters of our constitution.
We have been embarking on the war without properly declaring war. If you embark on war after following the proper procedure envisaged by the constitution, it means that the country would invoke martial law thereby removing the need for strict compliance with its full ramifications.
War is war and people say all is fair in war. General Danjuma was an integral part of the Obasanjo regime if the past governments had painstakingly addressed the issue of when to call in the military we won’t have been where we are now.
I can tell you strictly speaking that the situation we have in our hand in Nigeria today is precarious. As a country, we have refused to address the root causes of problems. MASSOB is also raising issues, we have militancy raging and holding sway in Niger Delta. What is even more, we have the problem of Boko Haram.
But the government says it has practically defeated Boko Haram. Don’t you agree?
But it is still there as we all know. Then you have lately the Fulani herdsmen marauding all over the place, killing at random. I think what General Danjuma is saying now is not far from the question of whether the Boko Haram and cattle herdsmen are out to destroy our country or whether or not the government is supporting them? It is not only in Taraba, the problem is across the North even Delta, Kogi and Edo States. There is no day you read any newspapers or you listen to the news without hearing one havoc or the other done by Boko Haram or herdsmen or farmers in retaliation. So, it boils down to the question what is the right measure to solve our problems in Nigeria particularly security-related problems.
Afterall, it is beyond argument that the protection of lives and property is the primary responsibility of any government? So, if we do not realise that everyone has a role to play in solving security problem and that government must ensure the prevalence of security in Nigeria and that all level of government must recognise this necessity and work towards achieving it, then the future of this otherwise beautiful edifice called Nigeria would remain bleak. These are to my mind, what this elder statesman and military guru are talking about.
A former US Secretary of State was meeting with President Buhari when he was fired by President Donald Trump. How will you interpret this in our international politics?
I don’t know the reason Trump sacked his Secretary of State.
This is a US matter; it may not be because he visited Nigeria. But to talk about the perception of the International Community about Nigeria, I will tell you that they worry about how we practice our democracy.
The International community will always be concerned with our posture towards the rule of law which in broad term includes the issue of human right; right to life and right to property.
The least one can say is that they want the concept of democracy to prevail the world over. They want us to adhere to our laws; good laws. They want the safety of the people and for us to do all that is constitutionally right to ensure the well-being of the citizenry and residents in Nigeria.
Nigeria is a signatory to all of these conventions that relate to fundamental human rights. I believe that the International community wants Nigeria and all countries that lay claim to democracy to uphold the tenets of democracy. They expect our elections to be properly organised, they expect your elections to be free and fair; they expect your elections to be done in a manner that points unequivocally to proper expression of the will of the voters.
What is your opinion on the Obasanjo coalition group?
I have talked about Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in several interviews, I have said that he says one thing but does not do what he says. He is a man who believes that everything should go his own way. I do not think he knows what the Presidential System of Government is really about. I have many reasons to say so. It was under him that the legislature made up of his own party, PDP, was at loggerheads with his executive arm of government. It was under him that Odi was invaded and destroyed by and Commander-In-Chief. Same in Zaki Biam in Benue State.
It was during his era that we had huge sums of money extorted from government contractors in the name of a presidential library. He is not our Messiah, he is not what Nigerians think he is and we must not be deceived. The time has come for us to begin to look for serious, conscientious and God-fearing leaders, who are transparent. Leaders who are ready to take responsibility for their actions; leaders who are true democrats. (New Telegraph)