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You Can’t Continue to Keep Security Chiefs no matter How Good – Idada Ikponmwen, former army provost-marshal tells Buhari

I am inclined to think, and indeed to feel that the security system has broken down.

In this down-to-earth interview with Adekunbi Ero, executive editor, Don Idada-Ikponmwen, retired Brigadier-General and former provost-marshal in the Nigerian Army laments how “the security situation in the country has broken down” and expresses “grave disappointment” in President Muhammadu Buhari for his inability to handle the situation. A brutally frank Idada-Ikponmwen who insists that service chiefs are long overdue for change especially with so many security lapses, concludes that “Nigeria is having a terminal ailment. We cannot continue like this”.

I’ve never seen this country being so divided and the people in it being so bitter against each other all because of lucre

As a retired senior army officer, what are your thoughts on the security situation in this country?

I think the situation we have in our hands in Nigeria is terribly worrisome; terribly worrisome. It is killings here and there, insecurity problem everywhere. You have the bandits of late coming up in the North, even in the core North, the so-called core North. You have the problem of IPOB which some people decide to see as criminal and is not being addressed the way it should be addressed so it’s a problem there. You have even the insecurity in the Niger-Delta arising from a feeling of cheating and conscientious objections to how things are being done; that is a big problem. It may be suppressed from time to time, but the thing is still there. Every now and then, the Niger Delta militants come and say, ‘we will return to the creeks if you don’t do this, if you don’t do that’.

The Yoruba are crying for Oduduwa State. Nigerians know all of these. On top of all these is kidnappings, murder, rape, most of which we never uncover not to talk about the serious level of criminality; nothing serious happens to check these things. Investigations are done but we don’t see the end; they don’t follow through. I am inclined to think, and indeed to feel that the security system has broken down. I hate to say this as a senior retired military officer, but this is the true situation that we are not seeing the prevalence of insecurity in this country; we are not. So, what is government for? Just a few days ago, a lawyer was killed in Benin here and buried by those who killed him near the compound of the prime suspect. A few days ago, a 100-level student of the University of Benin was raped and murdered in a church in Benin here.

In this same Edo State, you have people coming from God-knows-where, more or less in the nature of an invasion; they drive away the indigenes, they occupy their farms and these have very serious effects on the society at large. And it’s not happening only in Edo State; so, it is in Anambra, Benue, Plateau and others. What exactly is happening? Why is it that we cannot overcome this problem? Why is it that we cannot get to the root of this sentiment that gives rise to some of these things?

Are you disappointed that the commander-in-chief being a retired General we are having a situation like this?

I am; anybody will be disappointed. Let me tell you, I have for many years been an admirer of General Buhari. He was my Commander, he was my GOC; I worked for him as a lawyer, as an investigator and as prosecutor. I was the legal chief during his regime in the special investigation panel. I was the one who did all the programming to ensure successful prosecution of those that they arrested. I have always believed in him; I’ve always loved him. And I was one of those who kept on saying that he was the answer to our problems in this country. I quarrelled with many of my friends; I don’t want to mention their names; those who held different views. But where are we today?

I’ve said this before that my disappointment over this situation is very grave; very, very grave. Something must have happened. Is this the Buhari that I know, a no-nonsense man? A man who has no tolerance for corruption. A man who wanted justice done any time, any day? A man who was detribalised? Well, unfortunately today we are seeing a different Buhari. Nigerians are seeing a different Buhari. And I will also tell you this, for the benefit of this country; after the 1999 election, I have never voted for any other president other than Buhari, never! I would have long been in Buhari’s party but of late, I am talking about the last six years or so ago. The very authority of Edo State who controlled the party and the government system deliberately didn’t want me in. When I declared for APC immediately after the election of Buhari, some people thought it’s because he won election. It was not because he won election because I felt there was no other way.

Even as a PDP stalwart, I told many of the members that I knew, top members ‘I’m talking about, that Buhari was the only way. And when they were doing their primaries in APC, I told top PDP men that if Buhari was brought as the candidate, then APC would have it. And that happened and one of the very big men called me and said Don, how did you know? I said yes sir because I had always known General Buhari to be a no-nonsense man and Nigeria now needs a no-nonsense man. Then I said watch and see what happens. But here we are. I am telling you the situation in this country is deplorable, deplorable; and I continue to wonder why those that are down are still afraid to fall. I continue to wonder when those who are supposed to be victims are the ones promoting the injustice and the unfairness in this country. We are in a perilous situation and if Buhari cannot do it, I don’t know who else can do it. Is it Atiku who will do it? Certainly not!

Jonathan lost the election because everybody was fed up with the regime. So many things happened so everybody decided it should be Buhari and when he won, many people were happy. I was glad too.

But now a lot of people are lamenting that things were not this bad under Jonathan.

Even me, yes, I will tell you the truth. Man, no dey die twice o, man no dey die twice. At my age, I am concerned about the good of my country. If the country is good, if the country is well-governed, then there will be peace and security. In the midst of injustice, unfairness, bitterness here and there; I’ve never seen this country being so divided and the people in it being so bitter against each other all because of lucre. I don’t know how we can emerge a better and a stronger country such that was envisaged by our founding fathers.

Today, even this morning, I was listening to radio and the boys who were analysing were saying, ehn, police were over-powered, the army didn’t come in; the SSS didn’t come in, the National Security and Civil Defence Corps didn’t come in. Is that how you run a country? Is that how soldiers come in when policemen in the roadblock are attacked, soldiers will just come in. Soldiers coming in and taking over from police at any moment and working side by side with the police have become the rule when in fact it is abnormal. Soldiers have no business with routine maintenance of security. It is when the police are overwhelmed, along with other security agencies, and everybody sees it that they are overwhelmed – the parliament is seeing it even the ordinary man on the streets is seeing it – that is when the president orders the army to come in. And when the army comes in, they act like the military. They don’t fire to wound; they fire to kill.

There had been strident clamour for the service chiefs to be changed as a way of re-jigging the security architecture of the country more so when they have exceeded their statutory years of service. What is your take?

I have spoken on this elaborately before. Everybody, National Assembly, people on the street, media men, all have said that service chiefs are overdue for change. I am not saying all of them are bad; I am not even saying anyone of them is bad. I am just saying that they are overdue for change. There’s nowhere service chiefs will serve outside their normal terms and conditions of service and you continue to retain them indefinitely, no matter how good they may even be, not to talk of a situation where there are so many lapses in the system; there are so many lapses and I am not going to start mentioning them in the media. I will just say the service chiefs are overdue for change, period!

There’s nowhere service chiefs will serve outside their normal terms and conditions of service and you continue to retain them indefinitely, no matter how good they may even be, not to talk of a situation where there are so many lapses in the system

Are there no other people lined up in the ladder of seniority in the service? How do you feel about a system that is stagnated? The top is heavy, and you are coming down the ladder it’s getting broader. People down want to climb up – come up with new ideas, new zeal. When the chips are down, people will see better; those who are not seeing now. I have no bitterness towards anybody. In fact, the chief of army staff is my friend and he’s been very nice to me as an individual. But we are not considering individual magnanimity but looking at the efficacy of the system. You cannot have peace and security in an atmosphere of confusion, in an atmosphere where the laws are not obeyed; in an atmosphere where we say we are a constitutional government, yet we do not follow the constitution. How can you have peace, how can you have security in an atmosphere of so many irregularities, very dangerous irregularities for that matter?

There was one video that trended in which some soldiers in the North-east were cursing the chief of army staff; I wouldn’t know if you saw it…

the system is faulty, gravely faulty and I hate to say that this country is having terminal ailment. Yes, we cannot continue like this. People don’t sleep in their houses

They were vilifying their chief of army staff. I saw it; many people saw it. I am not saying it is a regular thing for soldiers to be abusing their seniors or their chiefs, but something must cause something. Something must lead to something; one wrong thing leads to another. I am not saying they were right, or the chief they were vilifying was wrong. But I am saying the system is faulty, gravely faulty and I hate to say that this country is having terminal ailment. Yes, we cannot continue like this. People don’t sleep in their houses. In fact, in my own area, you hear gun shots at night. Who are the people firing guns? Policemen who are guarding VIPs; they are the ones firing guns and nobody can check them.

They are guarding House of Reps members; they are guarding commissioners; some are not even public servants. They are church leaders, contractors who have enough money to spare to the police to hire their men. So, when you hear ‘gboa, gboa’, you don’t know whether it’s armed robbers, kidnappers or whoever. Most times, its policemen firing guns because they are privileged to be guarding some “VIPs”. People who suffered and laboured for the system in the security services, doing dangerous work, they walk the streets without any security. And you have contractors and all what not, soldiers are brandishing guns in protection of them. I think it’s sickening.

So, where do we go from here?

Well, I must tell you I still have faith in Nigeria; it’s never too late but change we must change, and we must do the right thing. We must run a constitutional government; we must follow the rules of law. Some of the things that the regime is doing are very interesting and laudable, for example the recent pronouncement that came by way of executive order that the state judiciaries and legislatures should be given autonomy. It’s an over-kill, but an overdue over-kill. It’s an over-kill because the constitution is very explicit on it. Why would a state governor not comply with the provision of the constitution as far as the funding of the judiciary is concerned? Why do we have to wait for executive order for it to be implemented? I don’t want to be seeing only bad things happening. But I think there are too many bad things happening that it tends to sink the good ones and make the good ones very obscure.

 Idada-Ikponmwen Photo
Idada-Ikponmwen

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