Brig.General Idada Ikponmwen (Rtd) is a former Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army and the lead prosecutor in the trial of five Admirals over the missing MT African Pride. In this interview with some journalists, Idada who is also a prominent leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) says it is rubbish to assume that the nation cannot disintegrate amidst agitation for the sovereign state of Biafra, asserting that the Federal Government must find solutions to the inequality, ensure fairness and equity for all. TITUS AKHIGBE was there for The Daily Times.
Some elder statesmen are calling for the restructuring of the country, do you think that is the solution to the current tension being witnessed?
Yes, that is the only way, because we are running a faulty system. Our constitution is faulty in many ways. This was a constitution you said was given by the people to the people, but it is not so.
The one you called representative of the people during the government of Gen. Abdulsalami was seriously tinkered with and was almost getting out of shape because of the so many additions of the military.
So it is a lie to say this constitution was given to us by us. Secondly, the inconsistencies in the constitution are too many. In one breath, the constitution proclaims secularism, but if that is the case no state can declare its own religion.
But by virtue of section 38 and the clause that was forced in by the military, it became a contradiction to section 10. Section 38 became inconsistent with section 10 and if a latter provision in the constitution is inconsistent with the former one that is clearly unambiguous, the later one ought to give way.
So, section 38 together with the clause that was forced in by military addition are inconsistent. Those people that proclaimed Islam as their religion relied upon that section 38 and it was because during part of that Obasanjo’s regime, I was consulted and I told them that the secularism of the state is sacrosanct.
The then Attorney General said let them do what they want to do they will back out in due course. That was how that matter stayed otherwise Obasanjo had a duty to prevent any body turning Nigeria into a state embracing one particular religion.
But Obasanjo failed to do that and that was part of the causes of the current agitations because others believe they will try and succeed. Obasanjo and his Attorney General were naïve at that.
So many things are wrong with the constitution, so the whole constitution requires a holistic replacement. Not question of peacemeal amendment by the National Assembly, besides they are not the ones who are supposed to give us a constitution.
So, I am saying, if we can embark on restructuring we can solve these problems. 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 stipends every month, that is not Federalism. The concept 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 on 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 its own 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.
What is your view of the growing call for Biafrian state?
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 the time.
Today, the story is different flowing from example of Yugoslavia, Czech Republic, Soviet Union, even from Sudan, so you will see that the right to self-determination is a global norm.
So what keeps nations together is not force, or threat it is the willingness to remain together. It is the fact that the union is beneficial to all the component parts, if any of the component parts are feeling that it is not benefiting from this 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 these talk that Nigeria cannot disintegrate without us finding solution to the cries of the people are bullshit. It can disintegrate.
Do you foresee the military intervening in the midst of this tension?
You cannot rule out military intervention, the only saviour is that when you look around the whole world, the idea of military intervention have since become unpopular.
I said this to the military regime of General Abacha when he just came in that military regime are no longer fashionable, let us do things that promotes democracy which the whole world has accepted.
We cannot rule out any body 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 watch word. You cannot keep a country together unless each component part feels comfortable.
For instance, the quit notice given by Arewa youths to the Igbos is unwarranted and it shakes the very foundation of the Nigeria existence and our cooperate 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 segment of the country, but for whatever the basis 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 agitation.
Also relevant to the issues 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 of implementing 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?
To the first question, everybody must know from previous events from 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. To the second question, it is also evident that government cannot be trusted to have the capacity to properly and adequately protect those who would not comply with the quit notice in the event that violence breaks out.
Aside the above point, although the quit notice is directed at the Ndigbo, another relevant question 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 mean that it would be a matter of Arewa versus 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 to prevail on those issuing quit notice to sheath sword so that we can all imbibe the spirit of unity which will ensure justice and as a pillar of our country’s strength.
Are you also supporting the call for the implementation of the 2014 Confab report by Federal Government?
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 short comings in the constitution.
The non-justiciability 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 of the individual.
It would take many years for any government to put together any group that would match the number and spread of the 2014 Confab. For me, I do not see how any government can run away from the decisions of the Confab report.
It is on this note that I consider the implementation of the decision 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 pursuit of selfish interest.
What is your view on the acquittal of the 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 two years, 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 appears 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!
But would anyone now condemn the cry against witch-hunting. The good thing however is that the Attorney General of the Federation has resolved to proceed upstairs, I only hope he gets vindicated for the public who has watched the trial episode.
It would have been better that the APC leadership did not embark on the trip to the National Assembly to seek to resolution of the affray between the Executive and the Legislature at least for the credibility of this administration.
To the common man, the sanctity of the constitution would appear to be sacrificed on the altar of reconciliation of the feuding arms of government even as the integrity of the judiciary is put under question mark. God save Nigeria.
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 the time. Today, the story is different flowing from example of Yugoslavia, Czech Republic, Soviet Union, even from Sudan, so you will see that the right to self-determination is a global norm. So what keeps nations together is not force, or threat it is the willingness to remain together.