Brig. Gen.Don Idada Ikpomnwen (rtd) is a former Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army and a lawyer. He represented retired officers of the armed forces at the 2015 National Conference. Last Tuesday, Ikpomnwen defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which he co-founded in Edo State. In this interview, the retired general says he dumped the PDP the very day Gen. Muhammadu Buhari emerged the candidate of the APC ahead of the presidential election. According to him, the fall of PDP was predicted by some of them which was why he withdrew his participation in the party following what he describes as the promotion of mediocrity by the leadership of the PDP.
He gives an insight into the mood in the Army when the leadership of the military told the world that they were not in possession of Buhari’s certificate. Excerpts: By Simon Ebegbulem,
You were in PDP since 1998 until last Tuesday when you defected to the APC. Was the defection the result of the victory of one of your colleagues, Gen.Muhammadu Buhari, the president-elect?
The truth is that I was not just a member of the PDP, I was one of the founding fathers. I was one of the pillars from Edo that made sure that we went into PDP in 1998-1999. I worked consistently to ensure the success of this party in this state. I was a senatorial candidate.
I was shocked at what happened before and after the primaries. Later the leadership of the party appealed to me to calm down, that they will want me to go to the centre as a party official, I agreed. I got there and started working to ensure that I was elected into the position of the National Deputy Secretary.
The same cabal made sure that another person with less experience emerged. In the circumstance, after the rigged and fraudulent national convention, we went to court but the next thing was that our lawyer started saying things I could not understand and the judge was persuaded to strike out the case.
That led to my disaffection with the PDP and I stayed away for some time. Having experienced all these in politics, I decided to devote my time to the South-South struggle, which succeeded when Jonathan became the President of Nigeria.
Before then, our struggle was almost rubbished when, contrary to our belief that the South-South will not take the vice presidency, some people within the caucus went and arranged with the Northern Forum and they agreed that the South South will take the position if it is given to an Ijaw person.
That angered me and those like me because that was not what we were struggling for. I did not completely stay away from the movement, we continued to pioneer the whole thing from Edo under the South-South Elders and Leaders Forum, it was in this capacity that we operated when the late President Yar’Adua took ill, we kept on pushing that the then Vice President, Jonathan should be sworn as the President. Later the National Assembly agreed with us and went for the Doctrine of Necessity and okayed the Jonathan presidency.
But with all my struggles, the PDP has never treated me like a member and in my presence, they were promoting mediocre. They never gave people like us a chance, all because the powers-that-be felt we are too vocal, too idealistic, too principled and uncontrollable. I am not uncontrollable; the different between me and them is that I believe that in politics it is service to the people first. If there is any over flow, then everybody will benefit because they say sovereignty belongs to the people.
The PDP almost since inception was taken over by a cabal that can do anything, a cabal that wants you to lick its boot, that wants you to be a slave. I am not cut out to be a slave to anybody. I was trained as a soldier, a strategic thinker, a lawyer and I go for what is ideal. That was our point of departure. Just before the elections, they appealed to me to come and play a leadership role in the PDP but I told them that all these years they never allowed me to play any role, so how come now? This happened after the National Conference where I represented retired military officers. But the moment Buhari emerged as candidate of the APC, I knew they knew what they were doing. The convention that threw up Buhari was more democratic and the moment he emerged I spiritually became an APC man because this is a man I had worked with. I have in fact left the PDP since the emergence of Buhari, I have no choice. Nigeria deserves a political revolution and that was why I had to rally all my supporters to work for him during the presidential election. I am exceedingly happy about the development and I want to express my deepest appreciation to all those who helped in his emergence such as Asiwaju Tinubu, Governor Adams Oshiomhole, Amaechi and the APC presidential aspirants who conceded defeat such as Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Governor Kwankwaso. It shows that they knew what they were doing. They have put this nation on the path of visible change. I have worked at different times with the general and I knew that all they are saying about him was to run him down but Nigerians are wiser now. There is no way I would have worked against Buhari or my state governor Oshiomhole, who has brought visible change in Edo. That is why I am telling our people in Edo that there is no other wise choice than to join hands with this messiah that God had brought to bring credibility to Nigeria and make Nigeria a leading country in the world.
Why Jonathan lost
Jonathan’s administration has never been able to chart the right course for this country. Jonathan may be a good man on his own, he may have been a lucky man to emerge on the basis of emotions and sentiments, but certainly he does not have the liver to lead a country like Nigeria. Jonathan surrounded himself with people who did not mean well for Nigeria. That Jonathan failed to win the election as sitting President did not come to me as a surprise. You only win election in the world now when you are doing well for the country not this situation where there is no security, no power, no roads, nothing at all. The average Nigerian did not feel the so-called impact of the transformation, therefore, Nigerians have no choice than to embrace change. We needed change and that we got. I don’t care what I will benefit, all I want to see is a society where those who work hard benefit while those who are lazy will have themselves to blame. Let us have a government that will create the favourable environment for every Nigerian to achieve its best. Let us have an environment where we can move around freely and happy.
Boko Haram & Nigerian Army
We are all witnesses to how our soldiers have performed in international operations in the past, be it Congo, Yugoslavia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Chad. The puzzle is that this same Army winning laurels all over, all of a sudden became a force that could do nothing in the face of insurgency. The only explanation I have for that is that the military was compromised. The government contributed to rubbishing and destroying the army all because it wanted the military to be loyal to individuals and to those in power rather than to be a country. The Army moved away from its constitutional role and became an Army doing routine police work until Boko Haram began to hold towns and cities and operate as a regular force. I did not see the reason for our armed forces to be on the road, supporting politicians in power and being seen as agents to pull down the opposition.
But talking about the sudden turn, that is another intriguing thing. The military that could not curtail Boko Haram over the years began to record unprecedented success when election was on. It means the capacity to do it was there and you refused to do it and allowed our soldiers to be massacred. Nigerians who said government was supporting Boko Haram cannot be wished away because it looks evident that if government under President Jonathan wanted to stop Boko Haram they would have done so as they are doing now.
Army and Buhari’s certificate
What happened was sordid, shameful. For a professional army, for the military to come out to say that a former Head of State, a former Commander-in-Chief, a general did not have certificate in their record, the issue really is not whether the certificate was with them or had disappeared, the issue is that a professional army would have said, ‘we are not politicians, don’t drag us into this political argument going on. If you are worried about certificate, go to INEC, if you are worried about certificate, go to the school which the man attended’. But for them to say ‘we don’t have his certificate, we have not seen his certificate on record’, it brought the Army to ridicule, it brought down this country to ridicule. I think it points out to the fact that some people have compromised. And I was hearing a few days ago on the internet that the same certificate has been found. I think the Army have given good account of themselves in the past, they can continue to play that role as neutral people, as the last hope of the people.
What were the feelers in the Army when the certificate saga was on?
Officers will always be officers. We are in touch with ourselves when all these were happening. That issue tore the Army apart because we began to wonder whether this was really the Nigerian Army that we all served in. As soldiers, whether serving or retired, we are friends and many of us were discussing what was happening. It was most embarrassing for retired officers to see what they were seeing and to hear what they were hearing. The demystification of the military is demystification and rubbishing of officers who have given all they have in the service of this country. It has always been our wish that the Army remains an honourable profession that we knew it to be when we went there, that we strove to sustain and anything less than that embarrasses any good officer and many of our officers are good. Many good officers that I know watched helplessly as these things were going on, even me there was a limit to what I could say because a good soldier must run away to fight again. I know what I went through, I know the constraints that I had; so for a while I decided to support in a very subtle way those who we want to develop Nigeria.
Message to Buhari
Nigeria is lucky to have Buhari. I recall his days as military Head of State, a few things made people feel he was too rigid. The law that visited drug trafficking with death penalty, that was too harsh and it cannot happen in a democracy. Nobody is perfect but three things are important in a democracy and ensuring good governance, the right to choose your leader, the right to change him when necessary and the right and duty to make inputs into the goings on in government. If we all take interest in what is going on, we have already demonstrated our choice in what is going on now. If any government falls out of grace, that government knows it will go. Even before it gets to that point, if people continue to make their inputs and say what is good that government is doing and encourage government to do it and also voice out what they think is not good that it could be going on, the then government will be challenged. Any government that is not being challenged by way of having clear picture of what the people want is likely to go wrong. So we all have a duty to make sure that this good man that has been chosen stays on course, we should not be afraid to talk. To me, a strategic thinker, I will always say it as it is and, also importantly, I will do whatever is in my power to ensure that we enhance this government that is coming up. I did my best in this Jonathan’s administration to speak out the truth but they never listened to me.
I was called by the Obasanjo regime to look at the environment at that time to see whether we needed an organization that will fight financial and economic crimes. I sat down with my team chosen by Obasanjo and, within four months, we gave them a blue print. It was that blue print that gave birth to the EFCC. I did my best to put forward what I believe in because we knew what was happening. Like when I went to the constitutional conference, I also emphasized the need to improve the armed forces by improving the Act setting them up, the need to improve the policy decentralizing it, the need to have a decentralized police for effective federal system. The important thing is that some of us have done our best even in a hostile environment but I think we will continue to do our best now that we know we have a strong system in place with the emergence of Buhari.