To different people, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark means different things. But to friends and foes alike, the elder statesman and leader of the Ijaw nation is an enigma. What is even the more curious about this Ijaw son is how at 90, he still combines the wisdom of his age with the vibrancy of the youth to culture the challenges that come with old age. Articulate, cerebral and innately fearless, Clark has been involved in the affairs of Nigeria from the onset. He has the history of the country at the back of his palms and recalls with ease, presence of mind and amazing accuracy, past occurrences in the polity. At 90, Clark remains very relevant and his views are still much sought after on national issues. In this interview at his Asokoro, Abuja residence, Clark bares his mind to Funke Olaode on the state of the nation, the Niger Delta, and the restructuring debate, amongst other issues. Excerpts:
As you celebrate your 90th birthday, what are your reflections on the state of the nation with respect to the many agitations going on at the moment?
Agitations, restructuring are not new to this country. My return from London as a qualified lawyer coincided with the first coup. And prior to that, we were at Igbosere on Lagos Island attending the Law School and I remember some of those who were involved in the coup were very close to me. The likes of Jide Alo, a civil servant and diplomat in Accra, Ghana, used to visit me and we would talk about what was going on in other parts of the world. When the coup took place in 1966, I was in Delta, practicing law and after the counter-coup a conference was constituted through elections. The delegates were elected from the Ward and I won and was a member of that Constituent Assembly in Benin.
What did we discuss? There were four papers: One was in white which says do you want the Unitary form of government. Another one in yellow asks whether we want a confederation. The third paper in blue says do we want a Federation while the last paper asks whether we want a breakup of the country. That was 50 years ago. We argued and sat down in Benin City to debate the future of Nigeria. The late Anthony Enahoro, who was one of the youngest parliamentarians then, had just been released from prison and he became our leader.
The conference at the national level was conveyed to debate these papers. We had three delegates from mid-west in the person of Ehahoro, Chief Onyia, who represented the Igbo speaking side. We went to Lagos to debate the proposed four papers mentioned earlier. The tendency, particularly the West and even the North, was that the country should break. But our team led by Enahoro (though I was one of the advisers) said we wanted one Nigeria that we should remain together. Let us have a federal system of government. Colonel Ejoor was the Military Governor of Mid-Western state.
After the death of Adekunle Fajuyi, the late Major General Adeyinka Adebayo became the governor of Western Region. Ojukwu was first the governor of Eastern Region before the war broke out. What was the war about? It was an agitation for the Biafran Republic. As said earlier, the agitation going on is not new. After the invasion of Biafra led by Ojukwu into the Mid-west, one Okwonkwo was later appointed as Military administrator by Ojukwu and the Mid-west was renamed the Republic of Benin. We all knew the massacres that happened in those days.
My take is that people should learn a lesson, because we have gone through this before and so many people died. And the clamour for restructuring going on, I think people are misunderstanding what is called ‘restructure’ because there has always been restructuring in this country. Even the military carried out restructuring: creation of more states is a restructuring, creating more local govearnments is a restructuring, adopting one type of government is a restructuring. What people are saying today is that Nigeria is a federation.
After the Richard Constitution in 1946, Nigerians kicked against it. Then Macpherson came in 1950, where decision was taken to adopt a Federal system of government considering the fact that Nigeria was made up of three regions: The West, East and Northern Regions. In 1960, we had independence, which had all these constitutions. What we are saying now is that let us go back to the 1960/63 constitutions, which stated the devolution of power and physical federalism. If in the past, western Nigeria was selling cocoa at high price and was able to introduce free primary education, able to establish the first television in Africa, built roads, Cocoa House, industrial estates in Ikeja and Apapa, Liberty Stadium, University of Ife.
In the Northern Region, Ahmadu Bello was able to do the same thing in the North. Azikwe was able to do a little with building of University of Nigeria, Nsukka. It was only University of Ibadan and University of Lagos that were established by the federal government. The lesson is that, that era of self-governance at each region put all the three regions on their toes to be the best, and two, that each region should develop at its own pace. That is why Western Nigeria got self-governance in 1959.
The point is that there should be (fiscal) federalism, that is, half of what you produce in your area should be used to develop your area; 20 per cent should go to the federal government and the remaining should be divided among the three. Again, in 1963, there was Republican Constitution and it didn’t change. And the Mid-west was created. I remember the West refused to share the assets and liabilities on the ground that they (Mid-west) did not contribute to the economy of the old Western Region. I was the Commissioner of Finance at that time. Today, Oodua Group of Company is one of the largest in the country and is being enjoyed by the six Yoruba-speaking states.
You mentioned that going back to the 1963 constitution is the only solution to the current agitations. But some Nigerians have argued that the country is indivisible. Again, experience has also shown this is an illusion because injustice has caused countries and unions to be dissolved. Don’t you think the unity of Nigeria is being taken for granted?
Yes, it is being taken for granted. Before, we used to say that the unity of this country is not negotiable. I can’t stay in a country, where I am a second class citizen. You can imagine a situation where every position exclusive of the areas that produce the resources of this country is being occupied by some people. This cannot work. We must sit down and dialogue. This agitation didn’t start now. It has been on since Jonathan was there, when Obasanjo was there. We wanted a National Conference.
Alao Aka Bashorun of blessed memory and others were agitating for Sovereign National Conference (SNC). It is when you have SNC that the decision is final like they had in the Republic of Benin, when they took a decision and the president had to leave office. But that has been the fear of various governments though. We agreed that we should have a National Conference, which we had in 2005 under the administration of Obasanjo. And because he Obasanjo wanted a third term and was not achieved, he threw away the reports and recommendations.
In 2014, Jonathan set up another National Conference, where 492 Nigerians of various ethnic groups converged on Abuja. We arrived at 600 recommendations and resolutions. Some of them to be included in the constitution while others were to be implemented such as having two accountant-Generals: One for the federation and the second for the federal government. There are so many things to be done but Buhari’s administration has aggravated the situation whereby all appointments are from one area.
For instance, NNPC with its headquarters in Abuja has nothing to do in Abuja here. That NNPC should have been in places like Port Harcourt, Warri or so because it deals with oil exploration and industry. Today, NNPC has a board of nine directors as members in which six members of the nine came from the North and only one from the Niger Delta. If there had been a groundnut oil board and you appoint five members from the south, you know what will happen. We have to sit down and talk about where to go from here.
What is your assessment of President Buhari’s approach to the Niger Delta agitations?
Well, we have no problem with that now, because when they started in 2015, I think the immediate reactions they had was that we were being misrepresented. We were former president Jonathan’s people and that certain steps should be taken. You know our boys were being arrested, account of Tompolo was frozen, our boys were removed from office, they are being probed, soldiers were taken to our place, because there was so much vandalism of pipelines and they thought they could solve it with military. The place was occupied by the soldiers.
There was a time I was coming back from Warri and saw the present Chief of Army Staff, who came to greet me. I asked what was happening and was told that the Chief of Army Staff came to Sapele to launch Operation Crocodile Smile, which means the soldiers will go to the rivers, the Creeks and all that. They did it but the production of oil was going down. They couldn’t reach the boys until I went in and called a meeting of our people that ‘enough is enough’ that we all belong to Nigeria and shouldn’t have the impression that because Jonathan is no longer the president of Nigeria everything should collapse.
After the meeting, we formed the Pan Niger Delta Forum and met for the first time in Warri last year August 2016. There were so many clubs but we managed to collapse everybody into one body. On November 1, 2016, I led a delegation of about a hundred to Aso Rock to meet the president, where we presented 16-Point Programme for dialogue. We have been waiting for that when the Vice-President decided to visit the Niger Delta. The boys have agreed to stop bombing and vandalising the pipelines. The government has now realised that military intervention will not solve the problem but dialogue. What we are saying now is that dialogue should take place as soon as possible.
With the dialogue on the way, does it mean you don’t foresee a return to the pre-amnesty armed agitation and restiveness in the Niger Delta?
Mind you, we have not discussed. And that is why I am calling on the federal government for dialogue on the 16-point programmes. Once they have agreed to open the Maritime University, we will have 15-Point programmes left to be addressed. The acting Vice-President made a statement that all companies should move their headquarters to the Niger Delta. If that is done we will discuss the remaining 14.
The Senate in May passed the first leg of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill. Are you worried that the issues in the oil producing communities of the Niger Delta that necessitated the petroleum industry bill in the first place might have been defeated or even complicated? What does this imply for the Niger Delta?
It is chaotic. It spells dangerous situation. We would not accept it. The bill passed recently by the Senate only provides, who should occupy certain positions and so on. They have renamed that one they said would impact the other. I am happy that the House of Representatives has disagreed with the Senate. Number two, this bill has been in that house for over 10 years and they have not been passing it, playing with the host communities. The bill said 10 per cent equity should go to the host communities so that they will know that their resources belong to them.
With that, the restiveness will go down because they cannot destroy what belongs to them. But some people in Abuja here believe we are there for them to exploit. We say no that the host communities must be considered and that is what Senate is running away from. And that is why they picked one and renamed it the governing or governance. This is unacceptable to us. We are not going to accept it and we have issued a statement to that effect that they should revisit it.
What do you reckon can be done to return Nigeria to the path of greatness?
In my own view, it is very simple: sincerity, equality and honesty of purpose. People should consider Nigeria first by being patriotic before their religion, ethnicity, and self. It is because we have all the powers in this world vested in the federal government that we have corruption today. There wouldn’t have been corruption if there is not too much money at the centre. That is why the country must dissolve power to the states. A situation whereby the local governments become the affairs of the federal government, which is not in the constitution, is unfair.
Bayelsa produces 30 per cent of the oil in Nigeria and have only eight local governments while Kano State has 44 local governments. When you come to the center to share the resources among over 700 local governments, you can imagine what comes to Balyesa State. We have been asking that the 13 per cent derivation should be increased. We have held several conferences and in the last conference, 18 per cent was approved. Today, nothing has been done to that effect. For us to belong to the same country that we will be proud of, we must love one another and be patriotic.
At 90, what are your reflections about Nigeria?
I’m not really happy. We are pretending that all is well while we are actually muddling up things, marching on without a purpose. I have regrets because the country I knew between the 50s and mid-60s was better than what we have today. All the physical developments you see in the three regions were product of yesteryears, because each looked after itself (though we are Nigerians living together but operating different constitutions and ideologies.)
Today, you have Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB, which cannot be relied upon. Education standard is going down. People talk about agriculture; that, I can’t see. As far as I am concerned, we have to restructure this country so that more power can go to the states. More money should be given to the states. Once they have more money, health, education and agriculture will go back to the states just like the days of old and Nigeria will be better for it.