Former Provost Marshall, Nigeria Army, Brig-Gen. Don Idada Ikponmwen (retd), has condemned the deployment of soldiers in the 2019 general elections. In this interview with TUNDE THOMAS, he implored the president to hit the ground running, and avoid a repeat of what happened in 2015 when it took him six months to form his cabinet.
How would you assess the 2019 general elections?
To me, 2019 general elections have been like all other elections we have had in Nigeria since independence before and after military interregnum. Perhaps, the only one that was somehow different was the 2015 election which brought in President Muhammadu Buhari to office. In terms of irregularities, all manner of electoral irregularities manifested during the election and these include vote buying, thuggery, and ballot snatching among a host of others. Power of incumbency combined with conspiracy between ruling parties, electoral umpire and security officials were also observed in several places.
In all these, the truth is that Nigeria is getting what it deserves. It can hardly be otherwise because neither the government nor the politicians, nor even the electorate are yet to come to terms with what democracy truly entails. In Nigerian today, election is viewed as the survival of the fittest and electoral success is determined by how much a candidate can offer.
In Nigeria, all candidates and parties seek to rig. They would rig where they have sufficient power to do so. This has been the trend over the years, so this is not a question of bashing the present government. The truth is that most past presidents rigged elections. Until Nigerians decide to embrace thorough democracy in every respect, it would remain a wishful thinking to expect genuine democracy to thrive.
This election witnessed the largest number of voided votes in the history of electioneering in Nigeria, yet INEC has not been able to explain the reason for such a trend. What is however most shocking is the declaration by the INEC of elections being inconclusive in areas where the opposition parties appeared to have strong bases.
I personally don’t want to believe the military played a biased role in the election process but the contradicting statements or press releases from the presidency and the military authorities appear to point convincingly to the fact that the military got involved in the election process, which is impermissible in view of the provision of our constitution and prevailing judicial pronouncement in Nigeria.
How would you rate INEC’s performance during the election?
From my observation in my Ward, Local Government and my state in Edo, I am unable to give a pass mark to INEC. Their officials on the field did not display sufficient control, and management in the handling of the voting process.
They were easily intimidated; they rendered themselves vulnerable to intimidation by party supporters and agents and in some cases appeared to have played to the gallery. I will expect better training, better orientation, and more confidence building measures and more commitment in future; I do not believe that INEC staff justified the name given them that it is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). INEC officials didn’t manifest any form of true independence during the elections because they rendered themselves amenable to all forms of external influence during the polls.
What is your take on the deployment of the military for the election?
The provision of our constitution of 1999, particularly section 217, 218, 305 together with those of Section 216 relating to the functions of the Nigeria Police, point unequivocally to the impropriety or illegality of involvement of Nigerian Armed Forces in the conduct of elections.
Even though the National Assembly has failed over the years to enact the appropriate laws to regulate the power of the Commander-In-Chief with regard to his deployment of the Armed Forces, the constitution, without more, is clear enough about the illegality of troops involvement in election processes. Military men should not be seen at all in the process of election not to talk of their being involved in control of access to polling units or collation centers.
I think the President and the service Chiefs must investigate the alleged involvement of troops in any location in the just concluded election. For the avoidance of doubt, as long as the President and Commander-In-Chief of Armed Forces remains on the seat and has unfettered control over the Armed Forces, so long would the yearning for proper electioneering and by extension, proper democracy involving the proper choice of rulers, remain a mirage.
Some Nigerians and international observers have decried the high death tolls and violence in some parts of the country during the poll, stressing the need to curb such in future elections; what is your take on that?
I am unable to actually place the real position of the international observes in the just concluded election in Nigeria. In one breath, they decry violence and lament deaths and violence; in another breath, they declare that the election was essentially free and fair. Again, I will say that violence and killings are not trademark of true democracy. I will add that in so far as we have not yet come to terms with the true spirit of democracy in all its ramification, violence and killings will remain intractable. We need true democracy to properly germinate and grow our politics. Without this, it will remain nonsensical to expect that we can have election without violence.
Furthermore, even though it is clear from our laws that the military should have no business in election process and even though the involvement of military by proper interpretation of our constitution, it is improper and illegal, it has become imperative, for the avoidance of doubt and to give flesh to our constitution that the National Assembly urgently needs to make laws to moderate the power excisable by the president as the Commander-in-chief such that any form of involvement of the military in election must have an input from the National Assembly. Such military deployment must be with the approval of the National Assembly. I also want to add that since drastic situations deserve drastic measures, our laws particularly our Electoral Act must provide serious punishment not only for those actually perpetuating violence but must extend, vicariously, to the candidate on behalf of whom the violators act.
What’s your reaction to President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory over Alhaji Atiku Abubakar?
It is not a surprise that Mohammadu Buhari was declared winner over his main rival. As I stated earlier, incumbency with all its trappings had always been an advantage. It has always been an advantage for the incumbent over his rivals. The sitting president would always do something, he would do everything imaginable within his power to retain his position or that of his choice successor. Buhari winning the election is not a surprise, after all, all his predecessors in office have always done two terms.
What is your view on the legal option Atiku and PDP have taken to challenge Buhari and APC’s victory?
As a lawyer and also as a true democrat who subscribes to the concept of genuine democracy, I support the legal option taken by Atiku and PDP. Legal option is clearly preferable to any other idea. I do not subscribe to the idea that Atiku Abubakar should abandon the legal option which is in line with the fundamental principles of our constitution. For all you know, this court option, whether it fails or succeeds in the end will bring to the full glare of the public whatever flaws there were in the just concluded electioneering process. No one will doubt the great contribution this development will make to our growing democratic process.
Notwithstanding all the skepticism and the opposition that arose from the recent handling of the Onoghen’s case and the level of lack of trust in our judiciary over the years and particularly in recent times, I still believe that this court option taken by Atiku is the best. It will be a further test of the independence of the judiciary. Anyone advising Atiku to resort to other measures to challenge his defeat is an anarchist.
What are the areas you expect President Buhari to accord importance during his second term?
Like I said earlier, the election that brought Mohammadu Buhari to power in 2015 was unique and spectacular. It was a reminder of the June 12, 1993 election won by the late M.K.O Abiola when Nigerians from every part of the country voted for Abiola and his running mate, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, not minding tribe and religion. In 2015, Nigerians believed that Buhari would be the solution to all their problems, whether economic, security, anti-corruption, democracy and everything else. But three years down the line, it is no longer news that Buhari and APC have not met the expectations of Nigerians.
The important issue Buhari should face now is how to reposition this country through constitutional, legal, attitudinal and political re-arrangement. It is my position that this re-positioning, re-arrangement and re-organisation need to be kept in focus in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign promises and the ideals of our founding fathers who believed in justice and equity, without ethnic or religious bias.
How to provide employment opportunities for our young men and women should also be properly addressed. This is also the time for Buhari to carry out the long advocated reform of our security architecture and the issue of our porous borders which has become a catalyst and boost for cross border crimes. Buhari can’t afford to disappoint millions of Nigerians who put their hopes in him. In fact in 2015, Buhari had a great number of Nigerians, indeed majority of Nigerians that saw him as the solution to the numerous problems confronting this country.
Now that he has been declared the in-coming president for a second term, I will suggest that he must stay focused on the cardinal principles of his erstwhile campaign promises. The president must know that the evolution of this country was based on true secularism, the concept of true democracy and social justice. It is pertinent to stress that the entire country is the president’s constituency and so he cannot neglect any of the component parts. President Buhari must do everything necessary to give effect to the strict separation of powers and allow for the inbuilt checks and balances, which are essential to our democratic environment.
The president must come to terms with the fact that the presidential system that we have imbibed demands far more devolution of powers from the centre to the constituent states. Buhari’s anti-corruption fight to which many have been inclined to read a lot of bias into must not be seen to be selective and one-sided. The anti-corruption fight must be total and multi-dimensional. There are many ways by which Buhari can reward his supporters but this must not allow for a situation where competence is thrown overboard.
Some people have advised President Buhari not to delay in forming his cabinet unlike what happened during his first term, what’s your take on that?
When a president or governor is elected to office, there is presumption that he already knows what the problem of the constituencies are, and consequent upon that, he should have a good idea of the kind of people who have the capacity to help him achieve his set goals for the benefit of the society. In view of this, the six months delay in appointing ministers into his cabinet in his first term is hardly defendable. He may have his problems that time due to the nature of the political association that formed his party but that is now a matter of the past. When sworn in, in May this year to commence his second term, it is expected that Buhari will hit the ground running.
President Buhari has told Nigerians that the next four years would be tough and his remark is being given different interpretations; what’s your own view on the president’s statement?
The remark “my administration in the next four years would be tough” ought to be given a positive and a progressive meaning. It can’t mean that he would be ruthless with the opposition or wage war with the other independent arms of government or that he would embark on any departure from due process or rule of law. In my view, his statement should mean that he will embark on all necessary measures to ensure the progress and prosperity of Nigeria in line with the proper tenets and requirement of our laws; and that he would embark on measures even against his friends, relations and political associates who run foul of the law and the imperative of true democracy and social justice.