By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin-City
Brigadier General Idada Ikponmwen (ret.) is a former Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army and the lead prosecutor in the trial of five admirals over the disappearance of oil vessel MT African Pride several years ago. In this interview, Idada, who also is a leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), says it is a mistake to assume that the nation cannot disintegrate amid the agitation for Biafra.
He wants the Federal Government to find solution to the inequality in the polity as rhetoric cannot bring down the current tension. Noting that military intervention is out dated across the globe, he, however, believes it cannot be ruled out in the prevailing situation where there is chaos, insecurity and uncertainty. Excerpts:
Some people are calling for the restructuring of the country. Do you think that is the solution to the current tension in the polity?
Yes, that is the only way because we are running a faulty system. Our Constitution is faulty in many ways. This is a Constitution that is said to have been given to the people by the people whereas it was the same document that the government of General Abdulsalami seriously tinkered with.
So it is a lie to say this Constitution was given to the people by the people. Secondly, the inconsistencies in the Constitution are too many. In one breathe, the Constitution proclaims secularism; in another, the state gives preference to one religion.
Section 38 of the Constitution was forced on us by the military because it contradicts Section 10. Those people who say Islam is more recognised by the Nigerian state than other religions, a situation that compromises our secularity, rely upon that Section 38. But Obasanjo had the opportunity to correct the situation when he was president and Sharia became a controversial issue and he failed to do something, believing the problem will go away.
The fact that then government didn’t do anything and the sharia proponents got away with treating Islam like state religion gave rise to the current agitations because the agitators also believe they will succeed.
Obasanjo and his Attorney General were naïve at that time. So many things are wrong with the Constitution and the document needs to be looked at holistically. This is not a question of amendment by the National Assembly; they are not the ones who are supposed to give us a Constitution.
So I am saying is that if we can embark on restructuring, we can address some of those things that are wrong with the Constitution. Let me also tell you, the Constitution proclaims federalism but we are not doing federalism. What we are operating today is a unitary system where everything comes from the federal.
And all the states are going there to take stipend every month; that is not federalism. The wish of the founding fathers is that we should have unity in diversity. And that each of the ethnic nationalities should develop at its own pace. It is not the one that the federal will lord it over anybody.
There is no way that 36 states and Abuja can be sustained because these states are not viable, not because 36 states are too many because America has more than that but we are not the same as America. Each state in America has autonomy, they come together only on issues that are central, agreed upon by the federating units. But here it is not so. What we are practicing is not a federation.
Growing calls for Biafra
No unity can be sustained without justice and fair play. It is wrong for anybody to say we will fight to keep Nigeria one; that Nigeria cannot afford to break up. That is fallacious.
That is an error, we must move with time. Today, the story is different flowing from the examples of Yugoslavia, Czech Republic, Soviet Union, even Sudan; so you will see that the right to self-determination is a global issue. What keeps nations together is not force or threat; it is the willingness to stay together. It is the fact that the union is beneficial to all the components parts.
If any of the component parts feels it is not benefiting from the union, there is nothing anybody can do about it. The right to self-determination is a global concept. We are signatories to treaties like that and we are bound by those treaties. So all the talk that Nigeria cannot disintegrate even when we refuse to address the concerns of the people is ridiculous. It can disintegrate.
Do you foresee the military intervening in the midst of this tension
You cannot rule out military intervention. The only saving grace is that when you look around the world, the idea of military intervention has since become unpopular. I said this to the military regime of General Abacha when he came in and said military intervention was no longer fashionable.
Let’s do things that promote democracy which the whole world has accepted. We cannot rule out anybody pulling a surprise in the military, but, at the same time, we must admit that injustice, lack of fair play, lack of cohesion cannot be contained with exclusion.
There is no denying the truth that the concept of a united Nigeria will be wonderful, it needs to be sustained but we cannot sustain it at the expense of some people feeling terribly cheated and short changed and being unfairly treated in the system. Justice and fair play, equity are the watchwords. You cannot keep a country together unless each component part feels comfortable.
For instance, the quit notice given by AREWA youths to the Igbo is unwarranted and it shakes the very foundation of Nigeria and our corporate well-being. At first, I considered this threat as a misguided statement by unserious youths. My worries increased when I heard very notable Nigerians from the Arewa Consultative Forum saying that even the elders supported the quit notice. At that point I began to entertain fears for Nigeria.
I began to see it as a well-orchestrated and thought – out approach, maybe in response to other grievances or issues raised by some other segments of the country, but, whatever may have been the basis for the threat, I believe that anybody who loves Nigeria would first think about how we can work together as a people and work to remove all those things that are the causes of agitations.
Also relevant to the issue of grievances is the continuing operation of laws that are undemocratic and out of tune with federal system of government that we have adopted as well as visible denigration of the principles of democracy and other global norms that have become binding on all civilized nations of the world. The point to consider is whether those who are dishing out this quit notice have the capacity to implement their threat and whether government can be relied upon to prevent any violence likely to arise in the event of non-compliance with the quit notice.
On the first point, everybody must know from previous events in this country that the quit notice cannot be dismissed as empty threat because those issuing the notice must be presumed to have the capacity to unleash violence.
It has happened before. On the second point, it is evident that government cannot be trusted to have the capacity to adequately protect those who would not comply with the quit notice in the event that violence breaks out. Aside the above points, although the quit notice is directed at the Ndigbo, another relevant point is how anyone would distinguish between the Ndigbo and other southerners.
I dare say that such a distinction will be difficult to make especially in the event of an outbreak of violence. It therefore means that it would be a matter of Arewa VS all southerners based in the North. In conclusion, those who would not want to see a fight must first prevent the quarrel. October 1 is still a little distance away, therefore I urge government and all in leadership at all level prevail on those issuing quit notice to sheath their sword so that we can all imbibe the spirit of unity which will ensure justice as a pillar of our country’s strength.
Are you also supporting the implementation of the 2014 Confab report?
The convocation of the 2014 CONFAB was a desirable measure even though it took President Jonathan a long time to embark on the measure. I remain unshaken in my belief that the decision would have been one of the hallmarks of President Jonathan’s administration if he had embarked on the implementation of some of the major decisions of the CONFAB. That CONFAB did a wonderful job and made wonderful recommendations to government.
The CONFAB addressed all the shortcomings in the Constitution. The non-justifiability of Chapter Two of the Constitution was resolved and the sanctity of the secularity of the state was established making religion no more than a personal affair. It would take many years for any government to put together any group that would match the number and spread of the 2014 CONFAB.
I do not see how any government can run away from the decisions of the CONFAB. It is on this note that I consider the implementation of the report of that CONFAB as imperative for the country. The failure to implement the decisions in the 2014 CONFAB report by any government can only be traced to the pursuit of selfish interests
Acquittal of senate President Bukola Saraki by the Code of Conduct Bureau?
Very frankly, on hearing that all the 18 count charges of false assets’ declaration were struck out and the accused person discharged and acquitted on the basis of no case submission rendered by the defence counsels, my feeling was that of pity for the ongoing anti-graft war of the present administration.
I have since become aware that many Nigerians considered the development quite disgusting, especially those who have been identifying with the Buhari anti-corruption crusade and stance. It is quite sad that after nearly 2years, the prosecution ended up unable to gather enough evidence to get a conviction even on one count. That leaves one with the feeling that either the investigation or prosecution were completely incompetent or they were out to persecute ab initio or that the trial judges were compromised. None of these are acceptable.
Sadly, this verdict is coming only a few weeks after the visit of APC leadership to the National Assembly, a visit that was meant to find solution to the impasse between the Executive Arm of Government and the National Assembly. The coincidence is too much and so the reasonable man would feel that the parties really struck a deal- which appear to be “rub my back and I rub your back”.
It may well not be so, as I said the timing is wrong and the outcome visibly suspicious. The effect is therefore bound to have a negative effect on government’s anti-graft posture. What is worst? The issue is that the National Assembly would appear vindicated that their frequent refrain of witch-hunting has been proved. I wish this didn’t happen!