Former Provost Marshall of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier General Idada Ikponmwen speaks on the high rate of economic inequality and insecurity in the country, among others with HENDRIX OLIOMOGBE.
Are you not worried about the high rate of economic insecurity in the country as the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ keep widening?
There’s no doubt about it that successive governments over the years since the return to civil democracy in 1999 have been unable to effectively address the issue of the economy. Nobody has been able to formulate progressive economic policies that will create employment and ensure that our dynamic youths who should be properly engaged in one economic activity or the other are gainfully employed. The result is that there is a lot of frustration among the youths.
It requires only the very best among them in terms of moral rectitude to avoid resorting to crime. When this situation is juxtaposed with the very sharp division between those who have and those who don’t have at all, it becomes very serious. There’s no more middle class because our government has wiped out the middle class. All you have now is those who have and those who don’t have. Many of these are people who have stolen government money. They are either those who were given government contracts and did not perform or civil servants who over invoiced bills or those who engaged in illicit trafficking in drugs. These are the people who have money and also those involved in big time advanced fee fraud, popularly referred to as 419. They are the ones who have money and they flaunt their wealth so much so that those who don’t have cannot but be infuriated with what they see.
How does the stark reality that you painted affect the attitude of the youths considering the high rate of unemployment?
These same factors are responsible for the behaviour of youths. They don’t believe that one has to work hard to earn wealth because they see the ones who make money as those short-changing the nation and it is not based on the excellence they achieved but just that they are very good at perpetuating fraud at the nation’s wealth.
These youths do not see morality in hard work. They don’t see the gain in being virtuous. This kind of attitude paves the way for all sorts of crimes, because faced with the difficulties that pervade the land, when people generally can hardly feed, afford to build their own houses or rent houses, they do anything to survive. Only very few can survive without resorting to crime and so the level of crime has direct bearing to the wide disparity between those who have and those who don’t have. Those who have did not properly acquire their wealth. It’s with anger and no sense of penitence that these ‘have nots’ resort to in order to make it and no amount of preaching can stop them. Is it the over-invoicing civil servant or the dubious politician or the governor who turned the state’s funds to his personal estate that is going to preach to them? Is it parents who are unable to feed their children that will tell them not to resort to Yahoo business or any form of crime? Is it parents who cannot cater for their children that will tell them not to resort to prostitution both within and outside the country? We have a very serious problem, considering the fact that the government appeared to have been completely unmotivated and lacked vision. The killings by bandits, Boko Haram, herdsmen, cultists, armed robbers, kidnappers are all evidence of total collapse of legitimate authority in our country.
In all of these, what do you think should be the role of the government?
People elected or nominated to serve are all parts of the government. Government is supposed to be there to pursue the best interest of the nation in terms of welfare and security of the people, but when the government seems to abandon these primary responsibilities, then, everybody is for himself.
What do you think is the way out of this quagmire?
Given the situation we are in now, I don’t see a straightjacketed immediate solution because governance is not about the executive, judiciary and the legislature alone but are all supposed to work as a team to ensure good governance. As of now in this country, there’s no arm of government that you can vouch for. There are bad people in the judiciary, legislature and the executive. They have all failed woefully. The majority of the people in the executive are just there making their money and caring very little about the people.
It is the business of a proper leadership to ensure that all following are done. First, there must be proper synergy between those in government and those they govern. The people who commit crime live in the communities and the people know them. In fact, many people believe that the police know the criminals, but people are afraid to give information about suspected criminals because if they do so, they endanger their own lives. There is no foundation for meaningful synergy between the people and those in government not to talk of those in the security services. Security cannot be achieved without proper intelligence and there cannot be proper intelligence arising from any community if there’s no information between the people and law enforcement agencies. Again, there is no reward for virtue in this country. Those who are getting awards everywhere have to do with politics. There are good people but they are not doing anything. The few that are doing something, their voices are like those in the wilderness.
Don’t you think the government must put measures in place to accelerate the growth rate of the economy so that millions of Nigerians could be taken out of poverty?
We are in a country where everything begins and ends with oil. We operate a mono economy. All our backgrounds of being an agroeconomy before the war have all fizzled out. At the height of the oil boom, former military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, said that the problem was not money but how to spend the money. All of that has translated to doom because we have not really benefited from the oil boom which has since translated to oil doom. The so-called infrastructure didn’t last. Show me one road that lasted for more than 10 years. We have not developed our people in terms of human capacity. In a country where there are values, individuals will be afraid to amass wealth whose source they cannot explain. But in Nigeria, the criminal will be called to be the chairman of a big gathering, while the professor will take the back seat. All that the people value is money, no matter how you got it. We have to identify the roots of the whole problem rather than fighting the symptoms. It is when you have effective, visionary and forward looking leaders that you can say you want to talk of good values. But the problem is who will assume a proper leadership position and determine what good values are and punish crime. The majority of those in government don’t have values. We must, for example, find out why Boko Haram are still fighting. We don’t really know why they are fighting. Mohammed Yusuf the man who was reported to have founded the sect was killed instead of arresting him and finding out from him why he took up arms. Take the Niger Delta too. Oftentimes, they deploy soldiers there because of militancy. I don’t think militancy has stopped there. It is still there and being reignited there with the Federal Government saying that the gold in Zamfara belongs to the state while the oil belongs to the Federal Government. This is the injustice we are talking about. We are only treating the symptoms and ignoring the real problem.
What do you think the government should do?
The government must block all areas of fraud. It must be seen to punish harshly any commission of fraud. The issue of immunity to governors, president and their deputies supposed to have control. Immunity must operate within the limit of presenting frivolous litigations and not when there is evidence that the governor or president has stolen or committed murder or arson. That in itself is in conflict with the provisions for impeachment which says that any governor, deputy, president or his vice can be impeached for serious misdemeanor. The road to the ultimate future starts now. The rate of the growth of our population needs to be checked. It is unacceptable. The growth rate cannot meet our needs for security, water, education, health and other critical sectors.
How do you see Nigeria in the next ten years?
We certainly cannot continue like this. The Boko Haram insurgency started in the North East but the state of insecurity has crept to the North West, North Central and the South. We need a security structure. We cannot have it when there’s a failure of leadership. The situation cannot persist for a long time. Measures that can be done immediately should be done while those that can’t be done immediately can be put in the pipeline. If nothing is done, the collapse of the Nigerian enterprise. Nigeria cannot continue to be like this and expect to continue as one nation. We can’t survive for any appreciable time if we continue like this. Restructuring is inevitable. Both the Consideration and the operators are bad. The Constitution is bad and cannot be amended. We should practice an autonomy and fiscal federalism instead of the unitary system which we presently practice. The government must set up a machinery in motion to restructure the country.
How about the call for the removal service chiefs?
The issue of the removal of service chiefs has become a matter of necessity. The same people cannot do the same thing over and over and expect different results. Security has failed and all those running it should go. If they had the solution we will be where we are now. Part of the solution that we must have the right man for the job at all levels. Public offices should not be seen as a place for settling the boys. There must be values for excellence, for knowledge, for experience, for intellect. These should not be sacrificed for anything. There should be a complete reawakening.
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