Ijaw national leader and First Republic Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark, speaks to FRIDAY OLOKOR about the 2023 general election, demand for South-East presidency and related issues.
You have been in politics for quite a long time. Now, seven years into the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), some Nigerians believe that he has not done well. Do you share the same sentiment?
As far as I am concerned, on the 25th of this month, I will be 95 years old. I will be lying if I have to say something to please anybody. As far as I am concerned, we do not have a functional government; as far as Nigerians are concerned, President Muhammadu Buhari is not functioning; nobody knows of his existence in Nigeria as the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. So, when you asked me how the government is fairing, I said I don’t know. One could forgive him for the period he was not well, when he was on sick leave in Britain and we all sympathised with him, we all prayed for his quick recovery. But since he came back, nothing has happened in this country. For instance, Buhari took over the government militarily; he staged a coup on December 31, 1983 and everybody was happy, but what happened? The whole thing evaporated within one year during the time and (Tunde) Idiagbon was almost a dictator in this country; he was the only one doing everything.
What Buhari was associated with at that time were draconian laws and locking up journalists in prison. Then, the military gave a reason; (Joshua) Dogonyaro and (Sani) Abacha gave reasons that the popularity that brought them to power had vanished and that Nigerians were no longer feeling the impact of their government. Abacha added that for two years, Buhari could not change the economy of Nigeria, which was going down at the time of (Shehu) Shagari and that was why they overthrew him. It is in the book written by Dan Agbese. So, what am I saying? Even as a military man, he did not perform; even as Chairman of the PTF (Petroleum Trust Fund), he did not perform. He used his cousin to run the place. He, first of all, employed the man as a consultant and only later, he handed the administration to the young man.
Chief Tayo Akpata of Benin, my colleague in (Samuel) Ogbemudia’s government, was appointed official secretary of the PTF, but he was not given the power. My own brother, Prof J. P. Clark, was a member of that board. The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, who was later killed, was a member. So, it is not a thing that I didn’t know what was happening. I came to visit my brother once and he introduced me to Buhari and that was the first and the last time I met Buhari.
Are you saying that since then, you have not met Buhari physically?
I have not met Buhari.
Why? Did you make efforts to see him?
Why should I see him? Why should I be the one to look for him? Listen, I have given a lot to this country for 70 years; I have given a lot to this country. For instance, if the intelligence agencies are working in this country, if the security forces are working, Buhari should have known the role I played in trying to bring back the Chibok girls; that alone is enough for him to send for me to say, ‘Old man, what were you people doing?’ Rather, they sent policemen to search my house for two hours. Let me also tell you, at the beginning of his coming to office, for two full years, each year I celebrated my birthday, he never congratulated me until I sent a petition to him. I did not know him as an army officer; I counted about 30 army officers who were senior to him.
It’s 12 years that President Umaru Yar’Adua died and Dr Goodluck Jonathan succeeded him through the doctrine of necessity. Now, there is pressure on Jonathan from some quarters to come out and contest the presidency again. Have you given him your blessing?
You were very close to Jonathan and you were one of those who told him to run in 2015…
Because he was qualified.
Recently, you have been agitating for a southern President, but it appears that politicians from the North are trying to really play a game. Do you see anything strange in that?
Nothing strange in that but no one is going to be a second-class citizen in his own country. Some people believe that they own this country. The country does not belong to the northerners alone; the northerners cannot win any election without the South, nor can the South win any election without the North. So, if we, southerners are united and know our rights that we are all equal citizens in this country since 1914 when Lord Lugard amalgamated this country, then there is no problem. They cannot hold elections without us; we cannot hold elections without them.
These people are just toying with us because of the so-called population they have. But I’m warning them that the Middle Belt, which they used in fighting the civil war in 1967, will no longer be there for them and they will be in the minority. If a man like Major General Jeremiah Useni, who used to be the FCT minister and who used to be one of the senior military officers, can write a letter to me a few months ago complaining about the Fulani invasion of his area by herdsmen and that PANDEF should come to their aid, you can understand. I have a copy of the letter and I held a press conference on it.
If the genocide taking place in Southern Kaduna continues, Boko Haram killing of non-Kanuri in particular, there is more trouble ahead. We have been told that Chibok has been invaded again. I received a delegation of Chibok people last month here in my house. There was a man, who has eight children, five of them were kidnapped by these people; a woman had her 15-year-old daughter kidnapped; she would have been 20 now and nobody reached out to them; the President has not visited Chibok and you are asking me what I think of Buhari’s government. What has he come to do in Ebonyi? Must the governor declare for the APC before he goes there? Are Ebonyi and Imo states the only states in the South-East? Please, some of us are old enough to speak our minds.
Talking about southern presidency, which of the South-South, South-East and South-West zones do you think actually deserves the presidency in 2023?
Nigeria became independent in 1960. In 1957, (Abubakar) Tafawa Balewa became the Prime Minister of Nigeria; we were practising the parliamentary system of government then. The only position held by the Igbo was ceremonial President or ceremonial Governor-General in the person of (the late) Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. In July 1975, a Yoruba man in the person of (Olusegun) Obasanjo took over from (General) Murtala Muhammed, who was killed even though he was very naïve and allowed Shehu Musa Yar’ Adua, who was promoted to Brigadier or Major General at that time as the Chief of General Staff, to become the de facto Head of State of this country. So, when Obasanjo handed over (power) to Shehu Shagari, he had done tree years. Then, another Yoruba man (the late Ernest) Shonekan came in for only two months, and then Obasanjo was elected President in 1999 and held the position for eight years. The Inspector-General of Police, Musiliu Smith, was a Yoruba. When he retired, Tafa Balogun took over and when Balogun left, Sunday Ehindero took over. At that time, Colonel Are was the Director-General of the DSS. Abdulrahman Ahmed was the Chief of Staff from Kwara. So, eight plus three, is that not 11 years? So, he (Obasanjo) handed over to Yar’Adua, a northerner in accordance with the agreement on rotation. Unfortunately, he (Yar’Adua) died.
And that is the reason why the northerners are saying that they couldn’t complete their term…
Are we God? The man (Yar’Adua) died and somebody (Jonathan) was in office. Will the man in office resign for a northerner to take over? Have you ever heard of that anywhere in the world, asking an incumbent President to resign for a northerner, who wants to complete the tenure of Yar’Adua?
That is the point they are still hammering on now. Is that a valid point?
Now, if they are hammering on it, at the time of the 2015 presidential election, the law was very clear that for an incumbent to leave office, he must have completed two terms – two elections and not swearing in, not taking oath, as my friend Yakubu was saying. We debunked all that. Well, if there was an amendment to the constitution, which says if you finish the term of a previous government and you can only contest once, then that is a different thing.
Now, some northerners are wooing southerners for the 2023 presidential race. For instance, they told the Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Godwin Emefiele, to come out and run. They tell people from the South, such as Goodluck Jonathan, to come out and run. Do you think they are really sincere?
They are not sincere because all they want is to divide the South, to use southerners to divide the South. That is all what they are doing. More southerners are falling into the trap. I understand, for instance, that Adams Oshiomhole was supporting Bola Ahmed Tinubu. But I was surprised to see him declaring for presidency and more of them are declaring.
Why do you think that in the ruling All Progressives Congress there are so many people declaring for the presidential race?
Their (northerners’) intent is to use them (southerners) to divide the South. When this argument of the South, you will be surprised that the aspirants will divide themselves; they have their own candidate among them and will say that if you don’t want to contest, we will contest and they will use the army to terrorise people.
You have raised fears that if power is not given to the South-East, for instance, there are going to be problems. What gives you that impression?
In 2014, apart from Rochas Okorocha, who is always a participant in any presidential election, northerners contested in the newly formed APC, which brought Buhari to power. Buhari was number one. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, former governor of Kano State, came second; Atiku Abubakar came third, then (the late) Sam Ndah Isaiah of Leadership Newspapers came fourth, and Tinubu was to be the Vice-President of Buhari until he said, ‘No, we don’t want two Muslims to contest together’.
Then in 2019, 12 northerners contested the presidential primary in the PDP; they were all screened in my house. Atiku was the first to be screened, followed by Bukola Saraki, and so on. Now, a man like Atiku is now 75 years old; to say in a dishonest way with his people, including Ango Abdullahi, that rotation is dead and buried. Jonathan was gone, the PDP now reversed rotation. What has come to Nigeria now that has made them change their minds and say they want competence? Are there more competent people in the North than in the South?
In the 2014 national conference, you were one of those who canvassed devolution of powers and restructuring. Have you dropped the agitation?
In 2005, Obasanjo set up what he called the National Political Reform Conference; I was the leader of the South-South as I was in 2014, and we took a position that the constitution should be liberalised; that there should be devolution of powers; that there should be fiscal restructuring or fiscal federalism. So, I didn’t start in 2014 when Jonathan was not in power. I remembered at that time, President Obasanjo sent a constitution to the conference, but the mode of the conference could not give the courage to the people he sponsored to introduce the matter; that was why the issue of a third term for Obasanjo was not discussed. Otherwise, we discussed devolution of powers and the turning of Nigeria into true federalism.
Let me ask you, when in 2018, Buhari’s government set up a committee under (Mallam Nasir) el-Rufai, a competent and intelligent man, who is the governor of Kaduna State, with some other governors and past governors and other party leaders, about 19 of them, they produced a paper on restructuring; the report is almost 90 per cent of what is contained in the 2014 confab report. I have looked at the two and I have written an open letter to Mr President since he doesn’t want to see some of us: That please, if the 2014 national conference report is unacceptable to you, we, Nigerians, have agreed to accept el-Rufai and the APC’s report, which, according to Chief John Odigie-Oyegun and el-Rufai himself, has been accepted by the APC.
Why do you think Buhari’s regime has not done anything about restructuring and devolution of powers? What do you think are his fears?
He doesn’t want it.
He wants to rule this country on his own or some people are behind him, advising him not to.
Do they think that will break Nigeria?
If they break it, we are waiting; some of us are already waiting to go to prison.
With what is going on, do you foresee another civil war because of the crises everywhere, especially in the South-East?
There is already a near civil war situation in the country. What happened in 1967 during the civil war? What is going on today is more than that. The Nigerian military forces were able to confront successfully the Eastern Nigeria Armed Forces, but today the same Nigerian Army, which we used to be very proud of, cannot bring an end to insurgency, banditry and kidnapping in the North-West, North Central, Boko Haram in the North-East and what is going on now in the South-East. And you want to hold elections, want to impose candidates on others and you think the people will say yes. No, they will not.
Do you believe that the release of the detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, through a political solution or any other means may calm the tension in the South-East?
Kanu’s case is subjudice, so one cannot comment on it because he has been freed of some of the charges. Out of 15 charges, eight of them are gone, it is remaining one. The remaining one, Kanu has now appealed to the Court of Appeal, so it is not proper for one to sit down and talk about Kanu. More so, if you release Kanu and you don’t zone the Presidency to the South-East, the situation has not changed, because as I asked General Yakubu Gowon, ‘You said there was no victor, no vanquished, but if that is the case, why are they (Igbo) still being regarded as a vanquished and conquered people? You should have allowed them to go if these people were to remain as second-class citizens in their own country after the civil war’. There is nowhere in Africa today where some people are second-class citizens.
Do you think Igbo presidency can be realised in 2023?
Why not! They have competent people.
Then, where did Nigeria get it wrong as a country with all the problems?
We got it wrong with bad leadership; we haven’t got a leader. Competence and incompetence do not arise in Buhari’s government; we haven’t got a leader in the country.
The APC government, even after many years in power, still blames the PDP and says Jonathan was incompetent. Do you have anything to say about that?
Every part of this country has competent people. Competence is not something given to one group of people and for any northerner to claim that they are more competent than southerners, then you can imagine what one will say to that.
What is your view on consensus, zoning, direct and indirect primaries? Which do you believe will strengthen Nigeria’s democracy?
You see, once there is no level-playing field, once the government is not responsible for the delegates, once some people can manipulate, there will be no free and fair elections in this country. So, consensus or no consensus, the law is very clear now. If you want to contest, all those who bought tickets, they are the ones to contest, they must give approval in writing for consensus to work and not by one President sitting in his house and manipulating and saying that this is my candidate – no way! That is not democracy.
Just as some people argue that zoning of political positions is not democratic…
What is democratic? Let me ask you a question: Are you coming to Nigeria whereby unless there is a candidate from the North, because of the population they said they have, no southerner will contest election? Is that what we are moving into? So, unless the APC produces a presidential candidate from the North, with their population, the PDP also wants to bring a candidate from the North believing that they have the population? What kind of country do we then have? A country where population is the competence? It won’t work.
In the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu wants to be President, while Vice-President Yemi Osibanjo and others also want to. Will you advise them to step down for a southern candidate?
Let them zone it to the South; once it is zoned to the South, we will put our house in order.