At 94, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark OFR, CON, a Lawyer by training, remains sharp, witty, and fearless, with undying patriotism for Nigeria. One cannot encounter this elder statesman, former Information Minister and Leader of the Ijaw nation, without being inspired and enlightened about Nigeria and its myriad of complexities. Onikepo Braithwaite and Jude Igbanoi spent quality time with Chief Clark at his Abuja residence, and left in awe at his sagacity, clear recall of events, dates, names and places. He went down memory lane and reminisced on his glowing career as a Lawyer, Activist and Nationalist. He also discussed several issues, including the grievances of the Nigeria-Delta people, underdevelopment and pollution of the region, restructuring of Nigeria and the 2023 elections
You are a Lawyer by training Sir. Did you ever practice as one or you went straight into politics after you finished your studies and returned to Nigeria? Tell us about the highlights in your life/career
I am a qualified Lawyer from the Honourable Society of Inner Temple, London. I graduated from Holbon College, London. One of my classmates was Justice Akintan, formerly of the Supreme Court. Also, Justice Jinadu of the Lagos State High Court, Justice Kaltugo and so many of them.
In 1965 I returned to Nigeria as a Lawyer, as a member of the English Bar and I attended the three months course at the Nigerian Law School, then at Igbosere Road, Lagos. Then we were qualified as legal practitioners, and I went practice in Warri.
First I practiced under Dr Mudiaga Odje, SAN and also under Hon. Justice Rufus Ogbobine. My Chambers at No. 16 Roberts Road, Warri.
I was the Lawyer of the Ogbijaws of Warri, especially those who had cases with the Itsekiris of Warri. They asked me to do their cases for them. First, the then Governor, Major General Ejoor (Colonel at the time). He set up a Commission of Enquiry in 1966, to look into the affairs of the Town Planning Authority and the Itsekiri Communal Land Trust. I, as a Lawyer prepared to appear for the Ijaws and to give evidence. The Lawyers for the Itsekiris, were led by Godwin Boyo of blessed memory. Since that time, I was recognised as a Lawyer, and I conducted many cases. The first case I did when I returned from England was a murder case, which I also won. It was reported in the law reports of Nigeria. Later I had junior Lawyers working under me, including three who became Judges of the High Court. Stella Agbasa later became President of the Customary Court at Asaba.
I was the first Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association in Warri, as far back as 1966. Members of the NBA back then included the Hon. Justice Ayo Irikefe, who later became the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Justice Ogbobine was the Chairman. Later, Dr Mudiaga Odje SAN took over from him. So, today you go to the office of the NBA Warri Branch – my photograph is there!
In December 1967, I went to a party, and Chief S.O. Esiri who was the Chairman of the District Council called me and said ‘I heard that you are being appointed as a Commissioner in Benin City’. I didn’t believe him. When I got home I got a call, and I heard my name announced on the radio. I became the Commissioner of Education.
How did you then veer into Politics and Activism?
When in the first Republic, there was a party called NCNC, National Party of Nigeria and Cameroun. Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was the leader of that party. There were some youth organisations, the Zikist Movement and Zikist Vanguard; and I was a member of Zikist Vanguard. So, as far back as 1958, I was an activist at that time. When I went to London to study law, I was more of an activist than any other student. I was the Secretary of the Midwest Students Union. I was also the founder and Chairman of the Izon Students, in the United Kingdom. I remember I was the Secretary of the Zikist Vanguard, in London. I remember categorically, when we were to have that election in London, there was one Godwin Okigbo who had just arrived in London. We were to elect officers, and after the Chairman had been elected, they said, Secretary, and someone nominated Okigbo. So, I stood up and said: ‘this man only arrived last month in London. I have been a member of the Zikist Movement here in London! What type of tribalism are you practising? Is the party an Igbo party?!’ So, they apologised and they said I should be; I reluctantly accepted and became the Secretary of the Zikist Movement in London.
Another one was, in 1962 and 1963, President Nkrumah was becoming a dictator in Ghana. He sacked Busia and Gbedemah. I led students to Hyde Park Corner in London. We demanded the resignation of Nkrumah.
So, I have been an activist, even in London. And, I was a member of the Nigerian Students Union.
In 1996, you more or the less became one of the major voices of the Ijaw nation due to an ethnic crisis in Warri. Since then, you have been one of the leaders of the Niger Delta region, an activist against what many see as an injustice against the region that has generated the bulk of Nigeria’s income since the 1970s.
Thank you. First, let me correct you. I did not become leader of our people in 1996. This position I have held even when I was in Government. I told you I was the founder and President of Ijaw Students Union, and Secretary of the Midwest Students Association. Since I came back in 1965, I have been a leader of our people, and that position I have held to date.
When I became Commissioner of Education in 1968, there was only one Grammar School in the whole of Ijaw land, called Brendan College; and there was one Teacher Training College, Senebe. I knew that education solves the problems of backwardness of any society. So, I went to my Governor and said: ‘I will accept being Commissioner of Education in your Government, please, give me a freehand to develop my place before the whole of the Midwest. Before I left in 1971, I established nine secondary schools in Ijaw land, and converted the only Grammar School to Government College, Bomadi. We built dormitories and so on.
I remember when Governor Ogbemudia was to commission the building we had built, he came with the Governor of Lagos State, Col. Mobolaji Johnson. We entered boat to go to Bomadi, and he said he would copy our pattern to build his schools in Lagos.
I saw to it that every girl who gained admission to tertiary institution got automatic scholarship, and I can name many who got it. I also gave scholarship to the boys, and later to the whole of Midwest State.
In 1996, now that you mention it, there was problem of the ownership of Warri and I led my people. I have Itsekiri blood in me, and I hate injustice. I have Urhobo blood in me. I have Isoko blood in me, and I am an Ijaw man! Its only western Igbo I don’t have relationship with, but I have a child over there. So, I knew the whole of Midwest State which later became Bendel State. When the Itsekiris were lording over the Urhobos of Warri, I took the leadership of these people. Warri belongs to the three ethnic groups! In fact I have just completed the book, ‘The Owners of Warri’. It will soon be published, to show how Warri developed. At that time, Itsekiri youth burnt my two houses in Warri! The houses were located at No. 6 Baptist Mission Road, Warri.
They destroyed my law Chambers, which occupied one of the two buildings. They burnt all my law books, my gown and everything. That was the time I stopped practising law, because I had no law books available to me again. They thought I was in my house, but fortunately that evening I got a call from the Military Administrator, John Duru that I should proceed to Asaba. So, five Chiefs of the Ogbijo of Warri followed me. Before we left, a prayer was said. Some people phoned to find out whether I was in town; one Lawyer, Bosseh picked it up, and he told them yes, I was. So, we left for Asaba and we got there by 11pm. I spoke to my family. One of my daughters was celebrating her 16th birthday that day. In the morning, I wanted to speak with them, the call didn’t go through, and we went to the meeting. At the end of the meeting, the Governor stood and said, ‘Chief Clark, your houses were burnt last night.’ I said ‘what about my children?’ the Commissioner of Police stood up and said, ‘they are safe’. He said ‘Do you want to go home?’ I said ‘yes, I must go’. They gave me some Policemen, and we left.
I arrived Warri to see that my houses were burnt. As I was about to enter, I saw Policemen carrying the dead body of my security man, Mr Ndukwe. They carried the body like a roasted ram! That was how the trouble started.
So, its not true that I was supporting any ethnic group. In 1996, the Idoko Commission of Enquiry was appointed, and I played a leading role. I must tell you that, I am still playing that role. I was not a leader of the Ijaw people alone. I became a leader of the of Midwest State and I took part in the creation of Delta State in 1991. When Delta State was created, I was involved in the leadership. After having been Minister of State in the Federal Government, there was nothing else for me to do.
In a few words, can you articulate the major grievances of the Niger Delta people? Government gave the Niger Delta OMPADEC and NDDC with the mandate of developing the region, but, yet the region is not only under-developed, but suffering from serious pollution and despoliation. Why have these bodies failed to make any impact, despite the fact that successive administrations of the Federal Government have made a lot of funds available? Have you ever been a beneficiary of any of the contracts given by any of these bodies?
The grievances of the Niger-Delta People is that the area is underdeveloped, despite the oil we are producing!
I remember Senator Olusola Saraki, he visited the Niger-Delta. He visited Burutu and Ogidigben in Escravos. When he came back he asked me ‘are these people part of Nigeria?’ that was Senator Saraki!
So, we have no water, yet we sit on top of water. The water is polluted by the oil companies, operating in this area. We don’t have electricity! We have nothing! The oil companies have never built any house, in the area. They choose to hire and live on houseboats. When they finish their operation in a particular location they move to another, so that you’ll think that the company has never operated in that place.
But, they have their own settlements in Ogborodo where they live. Chevron has a very good village in Ogidigben with electricity, tarred roads, water, everything. But, their hosts Ogborodo, which is less than one kilometre from them, have no water or any amenities. All these facilities I mentioned, were not extended to them.
And, we are not lifting oil. All the oil blocks were given to Northerners, and people from the Western Region! We have never benefited. 90% of the oil blocks have been allocated to Northerners, and a few people from the West. Apart from Chief Lulu-Briggs who died recently, no other Niger-Delta man has an oil block. I remember Olorogun Michael Ibru, the oil block he had was taken away from him by President Olusegun Obasanjo. None of us from the Niger-Delta lift oil, nor have oil blocks.
Today, 95% of senior appointments at the NNPC are held by Northerners! I have the list. When Buhari appointed members of the NNPC Board of Directors, they were nine. One was given to Niger-Delta, one to South-West, all the remainder went to the North, including the late Abba Kyari. I complained to Mr President that it is pure injustice, and very inequitable. You are oppressing us! You don’t produce oil. Why must you appoint a board of directors, six members from the North that doesn’t produce oil?
Even the South-East, they produce oil in Imo and Abia States. The West produces about 4 to 5% of oil produced in Nigeria, in Ondo State, mostly Ogidigben and the Ijaw areas of Ondo State. Only one member, and I don’t think the person is even from Ondo State.
The GMDs of NNPC for sometime now, have only been Northerners. They change from one to another! Now, there is one Petroleum Development Fund, a subsidiary of NNPC, and its controlled by Northerners. Used by Northerners alone, and they award about 1,000 scholarships every year. They built their headquarters there with billions of Naira, while they don’t produce any oil.
Remember in 1963, the Constitution recommended that 50% of revenue must go to the area or region where the resources come from. That is why at the early stage, the West produced cocoa with which Chief Obafemi Awolowo developed the whole Western Region, with the exception of Midwest. When the Israeli company was working there, they did not come to Midwest. They only concentrated in Yoruba areas. When television came in 1959, Chief Awolowo didn’t extend it to the Midwest! When it came to free primary education, they included us. But, Cocoa House and every other thing that was built, the Ikeja Industrial Estate, the Apapa Industrial Estate, Western House and Odua Investment Company, they excluded us.
When finally Midwest was created, we said let us share assets and liabilities. They said ‘No! You didn’t contribute to the economy of Western Nigeria’. Till today, nothing in the assets of Western Nigeria has been shared. But, today the irony of it, the Niger-Delta now produces 90% the oil. So, this is one thing I want to point out to you. That we are not benefiting at all, from the resources of our land.
See the Ogoni cleanup. A report by the United Nations was produced. The Government, to implement that report, they haven’t done anything, and Ogoni remains as it was. Apart from Ogoni, what is happening there, is happening to the rest of the Niger-Delta. Go to Bayelsa State, Delta, Rivers, Edo Ondo, Akwa Ibom; the pollution is everywhere and people are suffering.
You saw recently the soot or you may have experienced it. The entire Niger-Delta is covered in black soot! Nobody cares!
Today Kano State has 44 local government councils. But, Bayelsa has only eight local government councils! Why were these States created? Just to make money! Today, the 44 local government councils in Kano receive money directly from the Federation Account. So, at the end of it what the local governments receive and what their government receive, is more than most of our own.
The development that is going on in Nigeria today, particularly by this President Buhari’s Government. He has done nothing in the South-South, and in the Niger-Delta. The only road we have, the East-West Road, hasn’t been completed in 10 years. Whereas they are building roads everywhere! Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Kano-Maiduguri Expressway! Recently, they awarded N70 billion for the construction of roads in Kano. Where does the money come from? Then you have NNPC serving only one part of the country, whereas the headquarters of this NNPC could have been located in the Niger-Delta, like Port Harcourt. What is happening? You have what is called Equalisation Fund Act by the Federal Government, which makes the price of oil the same level in every part of the country. You can’t buy fuel for N30 where it comes from, and buy it for the same price in Kano. So, they brought the equalisation of funds, that you must buy fuel for the same price in any part of the country, wasting our money.
Recently the PIB has been passed into law. What has happened? We kicked against it. We wanted 10% which the Government proposed, but the National Assembly in collaboration with the Executive, reduced it to 3% for the host communities. Whereas, they provided 30% for oil exploration in the North.
They have been exploring for oil in the North for many years, with our oil money. Its not political. Its not by force! If God has not provided oil in your area, He’ll give you another thing. Why must you spend money looking for oil in every place?! The recent one is that, areas that have no oil, will become host communities. Like Sokoto, Bauchi and some places.
Will they also be getting the 3% for host communities?
Yes! Let me tell you, they said host communities will be impacted areas. Like, where you have pipelines passing through. They will be treated as host communities, all the way to the North! We are still waiting.
The President didn’t waste any time, in signing the PIB. They didn’t even read it to him. At the end, they resubmitted it to him for amendment.
When the Electoral Bill went to Mr President, he was looking at it for 30 days and refused to sign it for petty reasons.
What about NDDC?
When Obasanjo took office in 1999 as President, I came to see him in Abuja. He had just been sworn in, but he had not appointed Ministers. I knew him very well. We were both members of the cabinet of General Yakubu Gowon, in 1975. I was the Minister of Information, and Obasanjo was the Minister of Works and Housing. Murtala Mohammed was Minister of Communications, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was Minister of Finance. Three of them later became Heads of State. Murtala, Obasanjo and Shagari. The mere fact that I have not been President, does not mean I should not speak my mind on issues. I am not the leader of the Ijaws alone. I am a leader in Nigeria. In the South-South, I am their leader.
So, when Obasanjo visited the South-South, after my visit to him Abuja, he later visited Warri and later went to Port Harcourt. He sent me plane to take me to Port Harcourt from Warri, to join the meeting. It was then he produced a Draft Bill for the creation of NDDC. Harold Dappa-Biriye was our leader of the South-South Peoples Conference, which later became South-South Peoples Assembly. We were there, and he later invited us to Abuja. We sat down with him at dinner, including Senator Brume of blessed memory. We redrafted the Bill. Then he called us again and said he wanted Ondo, Abia and Imo to be included, because they also produce oil. But. I said ‘they are not part of the Niger-Delta!’ I said if you find oil in Sokoto, will Sokoto become part of the Niger-Delta?
So, we came to Abuja to meet the National Assembly members of the South-West and South-East. We had meetings. But, at the end, he refused to sign Bill. The National Assembly went back, and ensured the Bill was passed after 30 days.
NDDC has been like that. It provided for Directors form the oil producing areas. It also provided for three Directors from the non-oil producing areas; the three Northern zones, North-East, North-West and North-Central. The people nominated from the North, outclassed our own people! Former Ministers, former Senators and so on. So, our people were feeling inferior to them. Most of the contracts, went to people who are not Niger-Deltans.
What has happened! Every member of the National Assembly who was a member of the Committee on Niger-Delta which we now call NDDC, were exploiting the NDDC. They change the budget, include their own projects. This is what has been happening. Let me give you an example. There one member of the National Assembly, from Ondo State. He is not Ilaje, he is not from Ijaw area. He is from somewhere in the North of Ondo! They don’t produce oil. Within a short time, he awarded N10 billion contracts, to the area he comes from. The records are there! Then you have one Member from my place, Bomadi who has been in the National Assembly for 20 years! He has never moved a motion. He has never submitted a Bill. Today, imagine what damage that man has done. He is now facing charges of corruption, by the EFCC. This is how they take the money. The contracts are awarded, they tip the Directors of NDDC, and you don’t know how those contracts are executed.
Then one Managing Director from Akwa Ibom was appointed as MD of NDDC; because he wanted to be Governor, all he did was to syphon the money of NDDC under the guise of emergency contracts. Billions of Naira!
The Presidency can’t be excluded from this. They send contractors, and these people who are holding positions at the mercy of the Presidency, and some of these contracts will not be carried out.
So, I am not surprised that over 2,000 contracts awarded have not been executed. You submitted a forensic audit report, and for over two months now nothing has been heard about it. No white paper has been produced, and that is the problem we have been facing.
You asked whether I have benefited from the contracts, No! Recently, I saw in the papers that they awarded contracts in Ogborumabri, Bayelsa State in billions of Naira. I asked my Lawyer, Dr Kayode Ajulo to write to them about it, and he did. I was in London. He sent me another publication about this thing. Luckily Ajulo and Dotun Sowemimo, they searched for it and wrote to them again. After that, the man who got the contract owned up that he owned the contract. The documents are there!
How have the IOCs been able to get away with not cleaning up the Niger Delta environment that has become contaminated by their oil exploration activities? Is it that the Government/FEPA isn’t holding them accountable, or what really is the problem?
Thank you very much! The IOCs, Shell, Chevron and others, the Federal Government own 60% of the shareholding, while the oil companies have 40%. But, when they want to do something for the host communities, like building houses, Federal Government will say no. That it will reduce their profits. Chevron for instance can’t award any project for the building of houses in the Niger-Delta above N20 million, and it has to be split into two, N10 million each.
So, NNPC controls the operations of the oil companies. The oil companies now hide under the cloak of NNPC, and they are very proud. We have met them several times. They believe that the Federal Government, is behind them. Our people have gone to court and have won their cases. The money they won, has never been paid to them. The Federal Government is behind these oil companies, and they don’t care!
So, there is no plan for cleanup?
That is why I told you about Ogoni. The Ministry of Environment has a department, IFEP, and they are not doing anything. The pollution in Ogoni is not worse than the pollution in other parts of Niger-Delta. The oil companies sign MOUs with the host communities; they don’t even comply with it.
In 1964, there was a crisis at the airport in Warri, two Ijaws had been killed while fighting. I was sent for. They said they were militants. The oil company officials were employing divers and seamen from other parts of the country, to go and do the jobs in the Niger-Delta where they know we have traditional swimmers and traditional divers! So, the boys said ‘No! You deprive us of every other thing. But, this is an area where we specialise in naturally, and you don’t employ us’. That was what caused the fight. Big trouble, and I had to intervene – as far back as 1964. So, the people are aggrieved.
Look at what happened in Bayelsa State recently, in Basambiri and Gbolumabri in Nembe area. One oil company sold their company to this Nigerian company, Aiteo that has no technical knowledge nor technology. So, when the oil spillage happened, they couldn’t control it for over three weeks! The oil was flowing out, polluting the entire place. Today, if you go to Rivers, Bayelsa or Delta, you have fishes floating on top of the rivers. You cant eat them. The Ijaw man never ate iced fish before. Its because of this oil exploration, no more fishes in the area. Niger-Delta people now eat iced fish. When I was a school boy, in the Ijaw area, we go school and come back. After eating we take out pots to the river to wash, and fish will come inside the pot. We took the fish home, to cook again. Today, you can’t find the fish anymore. That is our plight now.
So, this is our problem. We are neglected. The President doesn’t listen to us. He said recently and I am going to answer him; that he has been able to still the problem of the North-East and South-South. He did not! We submitted a 16-point agenda to him in 2016. He has not replied. He has not said anything. So, if our boys are kicking, you can’t say you have been able to stop it.
I remember when the Niger-Delta Avengers, the militants came in at the time Buhari came in 2015, he couldn’t stop them. They were destroying pipelines. They were destroying oil platforms. I met the Chief of Army Staff, Buratai for the first time at the airport in Benin. He came to greet me. He introduced himself and said he was just coming from Sapele where he went to commission Operation Crocodile Smile, as if that is the problem of the Niger-Delta. I told him ‘you didn’t have to do that’. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t succeed. But, the damage to the area continued until I decided to convene a meeting of the leaders of the Niger-Delta at Petroleum Training Institute in Warri. That was when we formed the Niger-Delta forum, PANDEF, which appealed to the youths to stop their operations and they did.
As a result of that, I led a one hundred team of traditional rulers and eminent personalities, including former Senators, Ministers and Youths. I led MEND leaders to Aso Rock, and we submitted this document. Till today, nothing has been done. Its only the Vice President ,when the President was sick in London, that visited the area, Okerenkoko. That is when he approved the establishment of the Maritime University in Okerenkoko.
You said again, EPZ, the gas company in Ogidigben, in Escravos River, which was to take off in Jonathan’s time, the foreign companies had come to the area. But, they abandoned it and they are now establishing gas companies in Ajaokuta, Kaduna and Kano and many other places. Where do you treat people like that?
In 2005, Obasanjo set up the Political Reform Conference in Abuja here. I was the leader of the South-South delegation. We pressed for 50% to be introduced, they refused. We said ok. We reduced it to 25%, and the Chairman of the Finance Committee of the Conference was Justice Babalakin who died recently. The Committee said they have approved 18% and we said ‘No, we want 25%’. When the whole assembly refused. We staged a walkout, and that was the collapse of the Confab.
Then the whole thing was manipulated by the Northern delegation. They said they won’t increase the 13%. We came to the 2014 National Conference, the same thing happened. The Northerners said they don’t want an increase. Yet, if my oil belongs to the whole of this country, why does the gold found in Zamfara not belong to the entire country?
I was coming to that question.
So, that is the problem we are facing.
You recently engaged the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo over the ownership of Nigeria’s mineral resources in the Niger-Delta. Many believe that as a Lawyer you know who truly owns Nigeria’s oil, but deliberately chose a contrary position. What really is your position on the issue?
Listen, I had told you earlier that Obasanjo was my colleague in government. He doesn’t believe in any government, that comes into office. He criticised Shagari, he criticised every other government that came after him. He criticised Jonathan. That was our difference.
But, he now helped APC to win the election! We thought he was an APC man, because he submitted some documents to Buhari that this is what he should follow. But, when he discovered that Buhari was not taking his directives, he now went against APC. He has published it. They then came to us, Afenifere, the Middle Belt and Ohaneze. We have what is called Southern and Midwest Leaders Forum, of which I am the Chairman. Ayo Adebanjo is the Chairman representing Afenifere. John Nwodo was the one representing Ohaneze, and now Ambassador Obiozor. Then we have Dr Bitrus Pogu representing the Middle Belt. We had a meeting with him at Yar’Adua Centre. That was why we came together. Last year, he invited us again to a meeting in Transcorp Hilton. He invited former Heads of State, first class traditional rulers, former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Academicians and others. We held a meeting which lasted for nine hours. He said he had the permission of the President to convene the meeting, that the President was aware of what we were doing. Therefore, the communiqué we issued should not be published. Till today, that communiqué has not been published.
Then he invited us again to another meeting on the 14th of January. But, I have been sick. He said he was coming to see me. Meanwhile, on Monday there was another meeting he called Global Peace Foundation. I didn’t want to go. So, we sent representatives. Ambassador Igali, Mark Imakpore who was Director in NTA and the Secretary General of the Ijaw National Congress, an Engineer, Mr Wodu. He attended on my behalf. So, when Wodu was making a presentation about happened in Nembe about this oil spillage and how we have been deprived of our resources, Obasanjo shouted ‘Will you shut up! When did the oil in Nigeria belong to you?! It belongs to the whole of Nigeria’.
But, in the evening he came to visit me at about 6pm and he didn’t mention this. The following day, Ambassador Igali and his people now came to report to me, and brought the video. That is what happened. When I saw it, I said let me write him a letter. We used to exchange letters. I did and he replied. I haven’t sent him another reply, because people have been condemning him, including Cardinal Okogie, Mike Ozekhome, SAN. Everybody has been condemning him, so I decided not to reply him again.
So what is your position on the ownership of the oil in the Niger-Delta?
My position is that, I am a Lawyer, and he quoted all the various laws to me.
If I have a piece of land, and you come to take my land and I say no, and you continue to take that land, using the Land Use Decree which Obasanjo established in 1978. The land belongs to the State Governors, and they are the trustees of that land on behalf of the people who own the land. It’s a part of the Nigerian Constitution, and can’t be repealed by any legislation, except they want to amend the Constitution.
That doesn’t prevent me from saying that this land belongs to me. The resources you acquired belong to me. You are not using the same yardstick for other resources, in other places like Zamfara State. There is gold in Zamfara. There is lead in Nasarawa. Why oil alone? That is my problem.
But, what is the evidence that people have? Because I have been hearing this lately, that the gold in Zamfara belongs only to Zamfara
The Governor of Zamfara, Matawalle, accompanied by the Governor of Central Bank went with gold to see Mr President that this is their gold! They sold gold for N5 billion. The Governor is not denying it. It is now that the Minister of Mines and Power, that is running around the country because of the complaints that people give. You can’t treat people with double standards. If you say the oil belongs to the whole of Nigeria because you have brought some legislation to take my land, what happens in every Federation?
Go to America. Oil found in my area belongs to me. I pay tax to the Federal Government. Go to California, they are very rich in oil. It is just a State. For the State of New York, they have other things, not oil. The American Government has not enacted a law to say that the oil found in America belongs to their Federal Government. Except where they have interest in the offshore oil. Go to other countries, it’s the same thing. But, in Nigeria, its different, because you want to oppress the Niger-Delta people.
1963 Constitution says that 50% of revenue should go to the region where the resources emanate from. 20% to the Federal Government. 30% to to be shared by the Federal Government and the regions again. The question I now ask is, have you changed the 1963 Constitution, and you now say that because you have the 1999 Constitution we have nothing again? That is my problem with Obasanjo.
So what would you say in terms of how it should be? Do you think its should go back to 50%?
No. we are not even demanding 50%. We are not a greedy people. We are part of Nigeria. We said ‘first of all, give us 25%. Thereafter, give us 5% every year until we get to 50% in five years. We are following the 1963 Constitution.
Basically what you are saying that Niger-Delta land and what is in it belongs to Niger-Delta?
Exactly! The land and the resources belong to Niger-Delta. That was the Constitution of this country, in 1963. The Military Government for about 27 years, didn’t observe this until Shagari came into office. Professor Ambrose Alli, the then Governor of Bendel State took the Federal Government to court, and the court gave him judgement that indeed, the land and the oil belong to Niger-Delta people. He was joined by Melford Okilo, the Governor of Rivers State, who was in NPN. They were in different parties, but he joined him and they won. So, 1% was approved. Then to 3%. That was when OMPADEC was established. From there to 13%, at one of the constitutional conferences. President Shehu Yar’Adua contributed a lot. That was how we got 13%. The Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution provides for a minimum of 13%, which can be increased by Parliament when they desire. Since 1999, no increase has been made. We remain at 13% up till today. That is one of our grievances.
So, in a nutshell sir, what you want is an increase of that 13% to 25%?
Yes. And to be graduated to 50% over a period of five years as it happened in 1963.
Are you and your South-South governors, all on the same page?
And you have a good relationship with them?
Lately, there have been a few secessionist movements. Like Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB, and Sunday Igboho. What are your views on this?
We all believe in a united Nigeria. In 1914, Lord Lugard amalgamated the South and North. He didn’t make it in way that one region will dominate the other. We came to that union on equal basis.
But, what has happened? Over the years, deliberate attempts have been made to increase the Northern population over the South. Today, you have more members of the House of Representatives from the North. Its only in the Senate that you have equal members.
Is there equal representation in the Senate?
No, let me come! North West has 7 States. South-South has 6, South East 5. They go to share money and others State would have more money than the South-East. You established universities in all States, whereas South-East has only five federal universities.
So, the people are oppressed. When the civil war was fought, after the war, I accompanied my Governor, Ogbemudia to visit the Head of State, General Gowon at Dodan Barracks in Lagos, to congratulate him. He said ‘No. you don’t have to congratulate me. No victor, no vanquished. It’s a family war. We have come together. You go home and carry out my policy of rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation’ .
The Ibos fought a war, should they continue to be punished and victimised? I said no. These are traces of the cause of what is happening now.
So, this Nnamdi Kanu is not the first to do it. Uwazurike started it. They detained him and so on. So, this boy came, and instead of fighting, started an academic war with the Federal Government. So, they now declared them terrorists. Their claim, I will say it when my autobiography is published.
These young Ibos don’t want to be second-class citizens in their own country. They don’t see their future, in a place where they are being discriminated against. That is why they said ‘if we cannot come back to be equal in Nigeria, let us go back to fight the war that has ended’. But, they don’t believe in violence. Due to the bad governance of the Federal Government, that is why the young man in the West and the young man in the East decided to break away.
This is what they are fighting for. Apartheid in South Africa, Murtala Mohammed fought against it. If everybody is equal in Nigeria, when you qualify for appointment, you get it, because its on merit, nobody will complain. Today, all the Federal appointments are held by Fulanis and Hausas to the exclusion of our people. That is what they are fighting for. They found themselves second-class citizens in their own country, where apartheid is being practised.
So, Federal Government should not declare them terrorists. This is not a matter for the courts.
Asari Dokubo was charged for treasonable felony. I met President Obasanjo and the matter was treated politically, and Asari Dokubo was later released after he had spent one year in prison. I sent a team of Niger-Delta leaders to Abuja, when Alabo Graham-Douglas was Minister of Aviation in Abacha and Obasanjo’s government. He used his house in Abuja here, as surety. That was how Asari Dokubo left prison, and the matter was allowed to die down.
Do you think that they should follow the same route with Nnamdi Kanu?
That is what I am saying. Kanu and Igboho should follow the Asari Dokubo wxample. The same charge given to Asari Dokubo was given to Nnamdi Kanu, but I negotiated with Presient Obasanjo and the matter was treated politically. That is the position.
2023 is round the corner and Nigeria’s nationhood and democracy is being tested. Should the Presidency be zoned to a particular section or ethnic group? If so, which section of the country do you think should produce the next President? Some say it shouldn’t be about zone or ethnicity, but about capacity; that zoning is not provided for in the Constitution; so that, if a candidate emerges from one of the zones that may have had a bite of the Presidency before or had it repeatedly, it should be about such a person’s capabilities and being able to take Nigeria out of the rut it is in, and not whether the South East or North East zones haven’t had a bite before. Kindly, share your views on this.
My views are very simple. Without rotation or zoning there will be no Nigeria, because the present Nigeria we are in, some people are oppressing others because they believe they own Nigeria.
Now, zoning has been in existence conventionally, even before independence. When Tafawa Balewa was Prime Minister of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was Governor General of Nigeria. He is from the East, and there was President of the Senate. I remember when Alhaji Ribadu was Minister of Defence in the first Republic, General Maimalari was the most qualified Officer in the Nigerian Army who should take over from the British. The Northerners said no. That Ribadu was the Minister of Defence and Maimalari cannot be the General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army, that they are from the same North.
That was why it went to Aguyi Ironsi, otherwise Maimalari was more qualified. He went to Sandhurst, Aguyi Ironsi didn’t got to Sandhurst. So, this zoning has been in existence.
During the NPN, Shagari’s Government, in 1982, we went to Kaduna for convention and this matter was argued. That after Shagari the Presidency should go to the South. The late Umaru Diko said, that because the people who overthrew Shagari felt that the Presidency will now leave the North, that was why they staged a coup.
Nobody has refuted it. So, what am I saying? There must be zoning, if you want Nigeria to survive and be a united country.
So, whose turn should it be?
Its must be to the South!
South or South-East?
No! It should not be zoned to South-East now. It should be zoned to the South, and the South will then decide who should have it. We may then give it to the South-East who have not had it before. All I am saying is that, the Presidency must be zoned to the South. Then we’ll now zone it to the South-East, when it comes.
Many have posited that the American styled presidential system of governance which Nigeria presently operates, has failed us. While some advocate a return to the old parliamentary system, others advocate an admixture of both. As an elder statesman who has seen Nigeria through many seasons, what are your views? Why are you insisting that we return to the 1963 Republican Constitution? How do you think Nigeria should be restructured?
Let me say this, the American Constitution is what we copied. But, the powers being exercised by the President of Nigeria today, is more than that of the American President.
Are you saying it is autocratic?
It’s autocratic! It’s dictatorial! A situation where you have about 70 items on the Exclusive List of the Federal Government.
But, that was not the making of this administration
I am not talking about this administration alone. But, the President will abuse the system, believing in the Constitution.
We want a Constitution, whether a Republican Constitution or America, power devolves to the States like the USA. So, we need a reconstruction of the country, whereby power will now go back to the States. The States should operate on their own, and at their own pace. Not where they will carry briefcase to Abuja every month, to carry money from the Federal Government. As a result, the States are not doing anything now on their own.
So, this diversification of our resources is not happening now, because of easy money from the centre.
These Ministers in the Federal Government now, are not accountable to anybody. But, in the 11963 Constitution, you must contest election and be a member of Parliament to become a Minister. If you lost your election, you couldn’t be a Minister. So, you were accountable to your people.
Not like now, where you’ll be in Lagos, and they just nominate you because you are a friend. You must go to your constituency where you are elected. So, whether its Parliamentary or American, the Constitution must go back to its pattern of 1963, where it looked like Parliamentary and Republican. That is what we want. When you restructure this country in accordance with 1963 Constitution, we are safe and dry.
As the Buhari Administration enters its twilight, how would you rate its performance vis-à-vis its three major campaign promises – fighting insurgency and corruption, and revamping Nigeria’s economy?
You can only rate a Government based on its performance. When Buhari came to power in 2015, during the campaigns, there were three cardinal points they mentioned. Eradication of corruption, security and improvement of the economy.
Today, the insecurity in Nigeria, the killings, kidnappings, rape and everything, are worse than at any other time in Nigeria. We are at the height of insecurity in Nigeria. So, the Government has not done anything! They claim that when they came into power, that they were the ones that cleared insurgents from the 14 local government areas in Borno. That is why Lai Mohammed, like Paul Goebbels of Germany, speaking lies at all times, saying we are to be grateful to General Buhari. Because without him, Nigeria would have been taken over by Islam. But, Jonathan in his book, ‘My Transition Hours’, stated he cleared the insurgents from Borno before the elections.
They had to suspend the elections at that time for six weeks. He published his book in 2018. The Government has not refuted this. Jonathan cleared the insurgents just before the elections. That was when they brought in mercenaries from South Africa, to drive away the insurgents. Buhari did not do it.
Today, the Governor of Borno State, Prof Zulum, said that two local governments in Borno State, are now occupied by insurgents. But, you’ll hear the Federal Government saying they have cleared the insurgents from Borno. That is not true. Recently, the Mobile Police College was invaded by insurgents, and they kidnapped some of the instructors. Even though the Federal Government denied it, but they carried away everything. We were even told that they attacked the Army headquarters in one of these places.
They are riding high. Go to Katsina where the President comes from, they have been kidnapping people. They kidnapped and killed a medical doctor in Katsina.
During Buharis’s visit to Daura, several students were kidnapped and taken away! What are the security people doing? While I praise them, they should put in more effort.
Corruption is reigning high in Nigeria today. Go to the Presidency, the Judiciary, and the National Assembly, corruption is there! Go to the private sector, corruption is there. Where is there no corruption? What has President Buhari done? He came and said he was going to fight corruption, but, he hasn’t done anything. So, why do you want me to rate them? Give them what? 10 upon what? Zero point upon what? They have not performed. Simple.