…It’s time for FG to take measures to ensure justice for all
Gen. Ikponmwen, former Provost Marshal, Nigeria Army
From Tony Osauzo and Ighomuaye Lucky, Benin
BRIGADIER-GENERAL Don Idada Ikponmwen (retd) and former Provost Marshal of the Nigeria Army, has expressed worry that no concrete steps have been taken by the Federal Government to fulfil promises made to the people of the Niger Delta region when Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo visted the area early this year.
In this interview, Gen. Ikponmwen who spoke to Sunday Sun in Benin, recalled how the leadership of the region under the auspices of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) articulated the problems of the region and met with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, culminating in the acting President’s visit to the Niger Delta to meet with the people to assess the situation on ground.
He also spoke on the clamour for restructuring and his grouse about some of the recommendations contained in the 2014 confab report. Besides, he commented on the dangers inherent in the quit notice issued by the Arewa youths to the Igbos in the North and urged the Federal Government to take concrete steps to strengthen the unity and continued existence of the country by ensuring justice to all the constituent parts.
Why is the Niger Delta struggle unending?
The renewed struggle of the people of the Niger Delta over the issue of injustice in the benefits that accrue to the people in the region has been on since 2000 and this struggle is not unconnected with the issues that have been of concern to the area even since the early 60s and after oil was discovered in Oloibiri in 1964 or so.
It is also not far from the struggle of people like Adaka Boro who took it upon himself to draw global attention to the marginalization of the people of the region, particularly on the issue of the natural wealth of the people of this region, oil specifically.
One can also recall the struggle of Ken Saro-Wiwa of blessed memory, how he was eventually murdered alongside his close associates who were fighting against the injustice in Ogoni land.
Quite recently, the idea of an umbrella group for the region came to the forefront and moving away from the issue of South-south Peoples Conference and later SSPA, Pan Niger Delta Forum was formed with the view of it taking up the umbrella group for the people. It was at the instance of Chief E.K Clark. He kicked-started the meeting that held in Warri in August, 2016.
By and large, after a lot of in-fighting and disagreement with various groups including the ex-militants, militants which disagreement centered on whether the new leadership was acceptable or not, the panel was formed in Abuja by a large number of Niger Delta people, but notably Ijaw group amidst government saying they did not know who to talk to because there were to many groups and even the militants were not accepting the leadership.
By and large, the government came on board and I am aware that efforts are being made to draw up a constitution for the group which will lay down the modus operandi for the group, the aims and objectives, what will be the constituent parts of the group.
I think the main thing to point out is that, the President gave audience to the panel on November 2, during which, a 16-point agenda was presented.
It was quite a wide range of issues of construction works in Onne, giving real flesh to the idea of Maritime University at Okerenkoko, the issue of accelerating the PIB which had been in the works for many years.
We also struggled but succeeded in puting the development of the Gelegele Seaport right here in our shore into the 16-point agenda. In all, the vice president, functioning as the acting president of this country came to visit the region. He specifically made promises geared towards solving the problems of the region, particularly that the idea of modular refineries would be a good idea to create jobs, empower people in the respective areas so that we can do away with the issues of oil theft, bunkering and agitations from youths that felt that they have not been taken care of.
Amidst all these, the region suffered as a result of oil exploration and exploitation. It is quite worrisome that even after all the promises, there has not been anything concrete that one can lay his fingers on by way of realizing these very promises made by the acting president.
Are the people of the region worried?
The people are definitely worried that it looks like these pronouncements and promises made by the acting president are becoming mere lofty declarations. It has not been followed up in any serious and concrete manner by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
And at this point in time, there are so many agitations across the country, which we all know and the security problems fueled by different groups. IPOB and MASSOB in the East, the militancy in Niger Delta we can’t say it is over until it is over, the Western group is saying that they believe that the only thing that will guarantee the oneness and continuity of this country is to restructure or reform the country no matter the name they may choose to call it. But the important thing is that everybody including the Eastern group as represented not only by the Ohaneze Ndigbo but also the governors forum of the South-south, South-east, all are saying there is a lot of room for reform, restructuring and the general stand being that we must restructure along the lines of the 2014 confab, which made very many recommendations but I would not want to say every recommendation reached at the confab was credible but there are few that some of us have publicly declared as undesirable and inimical to the interest of Nigerians.
Which aspect of the confab report is undesirable?
For example, the issue of creating more states. Our anger with that, when I said our anger I mean some of us, is that some existing states are unable to sustain themselves, unable to generate incomes to sustain themselves but everybody is running to Abuja with cap in hand trying to take a share of the national cake, which national cake is actually more than 90% from oil and gas.
To worsen it, the problem of the quit notice issued by the Arewa youths, which appears to have had the backing of the elders of the Arewa. Some of the leaders have actually come out to say yes we support the youths. Even when you have some saying they are not in support of such notice. You cannot have everybody speaking in the same way. For example, in the East, the youths are saying nothing but Biafra. They are basing their reasoning on the right to self determination, which has become a global norm. Yet you have the elders saying that Biafra is not the solution but one Nigeria.
In truth, every well meaning Nigerian would see the strength in the unity that was put in place even as it is also clear that the amalgamation in the first place was not done in the interest of Nigerians but the interest of the British sovereignty.
Are you convinced that addressing all these questions would solve the problems of Nigeria?
With all these agitations here and there, it is clear that it is time for the Federal Government to come out with some serious measures to ensure the continuity, unity and corporate existence of this country.
It is not enough to say we must be one, we must remain one and we will not allow any breakup. We have heard that rhetoric for too long. It is time for concrete actions to be taken because the truth is clear that the idea of keeping nations together at this time and age cannot be based on history and rhetorics.
The best way if not the only way to guarantee the unity and cooperation of any countries nowadays, is to ensure that the union is beneficial to all the component parts. But if any of the component parts feel strongly aggrieved it is not in the right place to label the action as criminal. What I mean is that enough efforts have not been made to address all the grievances from all parts of the country.
There is no part of this country that has not expressed grievances. At one time or the other grievances have been expressed. There is no miracle about it. There is no need to say God is going to take care of it. Yes, it is true that God is there for everyone of us but God must be known and accepted as the one who is the creator of the world and the maker of human beings. And also, God has given us free will to order our lives the way we want. If we decide to go to Hell we will go and if we decide to go to Heaven, we bear the cost.
So, for any nation, the same thing as an individual. We in Nigeria, we believe in the strength of unity but I posit that what we are seeing in Nigeria today is not the same as the idea that informed the coming together before independence. It is not the thinking of our forefathers who said let have Nigeria, a country of unity in diversity, a country where the various ethnic nationalities that form the country would be able to hold sway, develop and grow at their own pace, a country where our government was supposed to be based on federal system of government.
Nigeria departed from the real spirit of federalism essentially during the war, which brought in military administration that knows nothing but central command, which also needed it as a government to harness all the resources and put them together to be able to prosecute the war.
So, whereas it was laudable and acceptable for fighting the war purpose to depart from the real tenets of federalism, there is no reason to have sustained this departure after return to civil democracy.
So, I think the major thing that is worrisome to Nigerians not only Niger Delta, the greatest segments of Nigerians have departed from the norms and the rational that informed bringing the various parts of Nigeria to form one.
It appears that some sections of this country prefer the unitary system of government. How would you react to that?
Definitely. Even as we speak, virtually all the segments, if we go by zone except the core North that is saying no, let the status quo remain. They are saying that they do not like that the Igbos are asking for a breakup and Biafra and then so long will it be. Also the Ndigbo out of their own, they have taken a stand and it is a stand that portrays grave danger.
The danger inherent in this stand is serious. In the first place, how does anybody distinguish between an Igbo man, Benin man or Ijaw man, any tribe rather than a Muslim? What it means is that even the Christian northerner in these areas that are saying Ndigbo must go what about those indigenous Christians that are not Muslims?
So, it’s a very serious problem which I believe and now is time for the government at the federal level to be very visible and present measures to ensure that the embers of wars are cast out and that we embrace peace and live in harmony through working justice and doing what is fair and equitable, making everybody feel like Nigeria is there for all of us.