General, recently General Theophilus Danjuma made a strong statement by calling on Nigerians to defend themselves against the ravaging Fulani Herdsmen. He also accused the military of supporting them. What is your take on this, sir?
This declaration must take us round several national issues of the moment. Anyway, that 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 has been playing ever since 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 the role of the military in internal security with particular reference to 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 himself or herself for self defence, it raises the point not only that everyone has a right to defend himself but also the issue of whether or not there are legal limits to right to self defence. In other words, is it right for every citizen to acquire weapons for self defence? So, 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 ‘own 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 have responded. What do you expect a military setup 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 nicecities. 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 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 outrightly 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 is normal p[olice duty. Obviously, there are strict military role 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 extra-ordinary measure of dealing with civil unrest. It is an extraordinary measure the need to clearly identify the appropriate time to bring in the military is an obvious responsibility of the government of the day. Sadly, not withstanding what some of us with security background have being saying for over 20 years, not enough effort has 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.
Sir, what has been your efforts as senior military personnel to ensure that the laws of the land are followed to the letter?
As far back as the year 2000, a year after the PDP came into office at the centre, I presented a paper at the National War College, as it was then called, which clearly defined at what stage of crisis the military should come in. In fact, the News Magazine of the same year reproduced the main purport of my paper under the caption of ‘When to call the Army’. Even before then. In a paper I presented during IBB’s regime in 1989, at Nigerian Army TRADOC Seminar, which paper was captioned ‘The New Legal Dimension to Internal Security Operations in Nigeria’. 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 the 1999, made it clear you don’t involve the military until situation had reached a situation analogous to domestic war, when the involvement is authorized 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. If the constitution requires Presidential proclamation, gazetting of same and approval of the National Assembly it means bringing in the military is a serious business and ought to be embarked upon only when these conditions are met. So, why do we blame the Army, the Chief of Defence Staff,Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff or Chief of Naval Staff if 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. Like I said, we embark have been embarking on war without properly declaring war. If you embark on war after following the proper procedure envisaged by the constitution, it means that in 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. Like I said earlier, 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. IPOB is causing serious wahala in the Eastern area, 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. Government says it is practically defeated but 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 are not far from the question of whether the Boko Haram and cattle herdsmen are out to destroy our country or whether or not government is supporting them? It is not only in Taraba, the problem is across the north even Delta, Kogi and Edo State. There is no day you read any newspapers or you listen to 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 realize that everybody have a role to play in solving security problem and that government must ensure prevalence of security in Nigeria and that all level of government must recognize 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 is talking about.
Just recently, the US Secretary of State came to Nigeria to meet with President Buhari, and he was fired by the US President, Donald Trump, ever before he got back to America. How will you interpret this in terms of international politics and what would you say is responsible for this?
I don’t know what actually happened. I do not know the reason Trump sacked his Secretary of State. This is US matter; it may not be because he visited Nigeria. You know what many think of President Trump. But if you are trying to make me to talk about the perception of the International Community about Nigeria, I will tell you what 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 International community wants the concept of democracy to prevail the world over. They want us to adhere to our laws; good laws. They want 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 signatory to all of these conventions that relate to Fundamental Human Rights. And I believe that the International community wants Nigeria and all countries that lay claim to democracy to uphold the tenents of democracy. They expect our elections to be properly organized; they expect your elections to be free and fair; they expect your elections to be done in a manner that point unequivocally to proper expression of the will of the voters.
Sir, recently General Obasanjo formed a coalition group aimed at fighting the APC. The same Obasanjo worked against Jonathan in 2015 elections. Does he mean well for Nigerians?
I have talked about about Chief Obasanjo in several interviews. I have said that Obasanjo says one thing but does not do what he says. Obasanjo is a man who believes that everything should go his own way. I do not think Obasanjo knows what Federal Presidential system of government is really about. I have many reasons to say so. It was under Obasanjo’s regime that the legislature that was principally made up of his own party (PDP) members was at loggerheads with his executive arm of government. It was under Obasanjo’s regime that Odi was invaded and practically destroyed by none other but the President and Commander In Chief of our country. Same to Zaki Biam in Benue State. Yes, I do not think he should have risen to the level he did because he is of low morale and has no conscience. Obasanjo is simply a selfish person who cares about nobody. But I must say that it was during his era that we had huge sums of money extorted from government contractors in the name of Presidential Library. Obasanjo has acquired all kinds of properties all over Nigeria and is getting away with all of it. Obasanjo 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 – leaders who are transparent; leaders who are ready to take responsibility for their actions; leaders who are true democrats. Any country that parades people like Obasanjo as their saviours certainly have no future.
General Don Ikponmwen Idada(Rtd) is a reputable lawyer and a former Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army. In this chat with ISAAC OLAMIKAN he talks about the lingering security challenges facing the country and other sundry issues.