By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin-City
Brig. General Idada Ikpomnwen (rtd) is a former Provost Marshal of the Nigeria Army and a military lawyer who participated in court martial on several occasions. In this interview, Ikpomnwen speaks on the movement of the military command center to Maiduguri to tackle Boko Haram insurgency as directed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
President Muhammadu Buhari ordered that the military high command be moved to Maiduguri to fight Boko Haram. What impact do you think that will have on this war against terror?““I am very glad the President ordered that the command headquarters of the Nigerian Army be moved to the war zone. I think that is the way it should be. The order did not come as a surprise because I know the President from his past records that he will leave no stone unturned in attacking the problem of security that faces Nigeria today.
Boko Haram is clearly the most outstanding problem we have. I am not surprised because I recall that when he was military head of state he brought Maitasine that insurgency under check. Even before he became head of state, when he was commanding the 3 Armoured Division of the Nigerian Army, he moved his Division to fight the“Chadian crisis then. The Chadians had been killing our people and even moving into our territory. It was Buhari as GOC of 3 Armoured Division that brought that crisis under full check.
These antecedents, and the fact that he clearly defined his position that he will not joke with the security of this country, make me feel that what he has done is true to type. Abuja is too far from the scene of action. There is no better approach than to have the military command that is dealing with this Boko Haram scourge in Maiduguri. I think it is a move that must be applauded. ““But how does that check suicide bombings?““The main thing is that there is a war. When a movement has reached a level where they have acquired large membership, they have secured territories, they have mapped out their modus operandi, it is no more a skirmish, it is war. The war is worsened by the fact that they have imbibed this idea of suicide bombing.
I think that the war requires not only using the military might and means to deal with it, but also embark on some kind of campaign, to preach to the people that it is not a good ideology to create problem for your country believing that what you are doing is right. I do not think that any good Muslim will believe that waging a war against his own country is in line with the true tenets of Islamic. So I believe the Buhari administration should restructure the military, improve its tactics and embark on a campaign to show the people, to show the world“that all that belief which forms the basis of the Boko Haram fight cannot be justified by the tenets of Islam.“
“Amnesty for Boko Haram“
“I am not surprised people are calling for amnesty for Boko Haram due to what we experienced in the Niger Delta. Just like Boko Haram, the militancy in the Niger Delta created serious problems. People were being killed, the economy was affected. But the difference many people have failed to point out is that in the Niger Delta situation, there was this belief of injustice, cheating, oppression, denial of the people who own the resources and the resources were being used essentially to their disadvantage.
Because when you look at the environment, you look at the effect of oil exploration and gas flare, animal life and human life in the area, you will agree that there was justification in the decision to fight the injustice. It was against this back ground that the Yar’Adua administration thought out this amnesty and decide to pursue it and thank God that pursuing it yielded the result that militancy was brought to a halt. I may not find any such justification to grant Boko Haram amnesty. I don’t think it is holy for anybody to want to kill in the name of religion. But having said that, I am one of those who believe that there is need for negotiation no matter the situation.
What is important is for us to have peace. In fact disagreements always ended with dialogue. That is why we have the military to fight, we have diplomacy for people to sit down and discuss. It will be too rigid for us to say we want to crush this rebellion without listening to the avenues for negotiation. I am saying in effect that nothing wrong is wrong at any stage in this war to accept any opportunity of mediation. In fact this mediation should have come earlier, the approach of the immediate past government, some of them were wrong. For example, the circumstances that led to the murder of Yusuf, the acclaimed leader of Boko Haram, was wrong.
That made it more difficult to identify the people behind Boko Haram or the reason behind Boko Haram. So I support every move to crush the rebellion, but at the same time I do not consider nonsensical any attempt to open avenue or to accept any avenue for dialogue because the efficacy of dialogue can never be ruled out.“
“Do you think the Amnesty Programme for ex-militants in the N/Delta should remain?“
“The Amnesty Programme is quite expensive, there is no doubt about that. And it is like it is not holistic either in the sense that it is wrong to say that it was only those who came out to take arms to fight, who went to the creeks were the only ones who fought the injustice. A lot of people fought, some fought by speaking, some fought by writing, some even fought by going out there to the creeks.
We went to the creeks under a panel set by the South South Peoples Assembly, to see the militants and persuaded them on the necessity to accept peace. I don’t think that the Amnesty Programme, as well thought out as it might be, is holistic. I think there are other ways that the people of the Niger Delta, in a more holistic manner can be made to benefit from the proceeds of their natural resources than the Amnesty Programme.“
“For example, we can strengthen how the zone can benefit on continuous basis by being made active stakeholders in the exploration, processing and sale of oil. We could make such arrangement that all the component parts of the Niger Delta have a way of earning more income from that source. We can also ensure that the area is replenished, particularly the areas where you explore this oil, so much damages have been done. Go to Oloibiri, you will find that the place has become an eyesore.
If government rehabilitates these areas that are directly affected by oil exploration and re-invest in one way or the other there, I think it will have a more far reaching effect. The President has said he may not be able to carry the Amnesty Programme, as it is today, beyond December this year. I really don’t see anything wrong with that, but I will urge the President not to forget to address much more holistically the way that the areas affected by oil exploration can continue to benefit and have respite even as exploration goes on. And I think there are many ways to do that.
I was impressed when former President Jonathan asked the oil companies to relocate to areas of their operation so as to develop those areas. He was speaking our minds. This is one of the ways the nation can holistically address the problems of the oil communities much more than mere Amnesty Programme whereby you put people on pay roll and train some youths. Training youths is not a bad idea but it is rather a one-way approach, let us have a holistic approach to it. Getting the people directly into the business of oil exploration that is the best.“
“Oil theft “
“Every undertaking that empowers some of our people is a plus, especially when you identify those people in the fore front of the struggle for the Niger Delta. But like I have said, these are not holistic approaches. Government must not run away from its responsibilities. The holistic approach would be to examine thoroughly what institution or organ of government can really take care of the security of our pipelines. Because of the level of contribution that oil makes to the economy of this nation, the protection of these pipelines must remain a top priority of government.
Nigerian must hearken to the call to create organs that will be charged with the responsibility of securing our pipelines. The same thing applies to our borders, the problem of our border fluidity is so serious that there is need for us to have a border establishment, well trained well armed, located in a reasonably close position to the border where they can readily move to the border when there is need for it, but at the same time not to be seen to be pointing guns at our neighbours. There is need for us to reconsider our security organs and to create a unit that will be responsible for patrolling our waterways. And we make them part of the nation’s armed forces.
In the United States, we have the Coastal Guards, they have the Marines, several organizations that are geared towards specific missions. I say this because, in truth, on the strength of our Constitution, the armed forces have so many responsibilities. They have the responsibilities of preventing external aggression, maintaining territorial integrity and to aid civil authorities in surmounting internal crisis.
If you look at the position of the Constitution in Section 217, you will find that it is not the routine responsibility of the military to do routine police work. It is not the responsibility of the military to do border patrol work or“pipeline monitoring or election matters. Therefore, it has become overdue that proper establishments are created by deliberate action of government to become part and parcel of the armed forces of this country to do this kind of military function. They must be armed, they must fight when need be and they must act like the military.
Therefore we need more establishments if we must solve the problem of pipeline vandalization, borders and monitoring the coast because these are beyond the routine work of the army and the police. ““It is not that these forces need to be too large, but they must be there capable of expansion when need be. Meanwhile, the nucleus of these forces must be well trained, capable of carrying out their responsibility. The new government has a lot of challenges. To me, President Buhari is inheriting a state that is virtually down. The situation we have in terms of the economy, in terms of security, employment, even infrastructure really calls for serious work. And at the bottom of this is the need to really fight corruption because corruption is the root of our problem. If we fight corruption even in the oil sector alone, you will see that