He is a man with a plethora of prefixes to his name. Former senator, former federal commissioner, former Midwestern Commissioner, former headmaster among others, but consistent social and political commentator, Chief Edwin Clark, in this gives his role in the remaking of Nigeria, his role in the process among other issues.
The National Conference has come and gone. Many say it was five months of robust discussion. Would you say that the conference was a panacea to Nigeria’s major problems?
I think before we talk about that, the first thing we should go about is to congratulate Mr. President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for taking the bold step in convoking that conference which many Heads of State in the past reluctantly refused to convoke for one reason or the other. There were those who were asking for sovereign national conference.
There were others who were asking for national conference. Remember people like Gani Fawehinmi, even Tinubu: these were people who were talking about national conference and for a very long time, nobody cared about it. But when we formed the Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly, we went to Mr. President, appealed to him on several occasions, argued with him. He had his own case.
And he said, yes, there are problems in Nigeria that cannot be solved by amendments to the constitution alone and finally he agreed to convoke a national conference. He did not just only announce it, he set up a committee under Senator Femi Okurounmu who used to shout in the Senate as if that was the only purpose for which he was elected into the Senate. So, the committee went round the country, saw the modalities and everything and how it should be organised.
Then, the doubting Thomases thought it was a very wrong time and that Mr. President wanted to get some benefits from it. All sorts of things were said. Those of them who could not do it now regarded it as a bad thing.
But there were people who were ready at all times to see whether they can scuttle the conference because they never wanted it. There are people who believe that the status quo in this country should remain. The nation should not move forward as long as it benefits them against millions of Nigerians who are suffering and deprived.
For example, the Nigeria that was amalgamated for one hundred years by Lord Lugard had come to an end. Nigerians have been craving for a new place, a forum where they could all meet to debate and discuss the basis for our living together for the next 100 years. So, what the President did was very, very appropriate and timely at the time.
I think at the end of it, we passed about 600 resolutions and decisions which were very, very relevant to developing a new country and I remember one of my colleagues, Professor Jibril Aminu, one of the most intelligent persons in this country came and sat by me and said that we should take a photograph. We took the photograph and at the end, he said a new Nigeria has been born. And I emphasized the same that you are right; a new Nigeria has been born. Why? Because we touched every aspect of living in Nigeria. What aspect did we not touch?
You said that the Nigeria, Lord Lugard amalgamated in 1914 has come to an end. What do you mean by that?
In 1914, Lord Lugard signed an agreement which amalgamated Southern and Northern Nigeria together. I didn’t say it ended as such but at the end of 100 years, there was a need to renew it because when it was made, nobody was consulted. So, it was appropriate that we have lived together for 100 years and therefore there was need to renew our living together for another 100 years.
Now, do you think that the resolutions reached and taken at the conference have brought peace between the north and the south?
I think so. One of the problems we had first was that most of the northerners never wanted the conference. They believe in the status quo. Even when they came in, they wanted to scuttle it. So, we disagreed first of all whether decisions were to be taken by 75% or by two-third majority.
These went on for over ten days. People thought that the conference was going to end abruptly which made Lamido of Adamawa to say that if this country breaks up, some of us have no place to go to, but they will go to Adamawa State in the Cameroons. That’s what he said. He again said that those of you who are close to Mr. President have come here to oppose Mr. President’s decision; that his decision is to go on 75 percent.
We said no. Mr. President is a liberal man. He has set up a body. How we arrive at our decisions is no business of his. So, we knew that some of us were being attacked indirectly by him. But could you believe that at the end of the conference, we embraced ourselves and we said no more going to Cameroon and we took photographs together.
That shows the level of understanding. But unfortunately, some of the most educated northerners, like the Yadudus were ready to scuttle the conference at all cost for reasons best known to them to the extent that some of us had to “attack” him personally; that he was not only the professor around. So, even towards the end of the conference, some of them were still ready to scuttle the conference.
But I believe having spent about 5 months together, we all have realized that the conference was a useful one. With my interviews with a lot of them both men and women from the north, I think we have gained from the conference and the decisions of the conference will go a long way to improve the lots of everybody in Nigeria.
How did you take the unanimous decision of the National Executive Committee, NEC of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP to endorse President Jonathan as the sole candidate for the next presidential election?
Oh! Fantastic. In fact, you must have seen our congratulatory message, message of thanks to members of BoT, members of the National Working Committee, NWC, members of NEC, the Governors Forum for thinking it wise enough that a sitting president should be allowed to contest again undisturbed which is the practice in America and all over the world. We did it with Shagari. It is not a novelty. In 1979, Shagari contested. In 1983, there were many men of timber and caliber from all over the country but nobody contested it with him. So, I think this is the right step. So, I congratulate the members of the various organs of the party.
You were recently quoted as saying that you made Dr. Jonathan Vice President in 2007. But one wonders if that is true given counter claims in some other quarters.
Well, I am not very happy going back into all these types of history but for record purposes and those who have to read history again, it may be necessary to say something about it. It will be recalled that on November 4, 2004, the leaders of South-South went to Calabar for a declaration that South-South should produce the next president in 2007. Most of the governors today attended the meeting and we came out and called it Calabar Declaration. So, those who were interested we called them to participate.
It will be recalled that Dr. Peter Odili, governor or Rivers state, Arc. Victor Attah, governor of Akwa Ibom state, Dr. Donald Duke, governor of Cross Rivers state, then we had Admiral Akigbe, now late, and others who were very superior people said they were contesting. So, it was not a matter of fancy but a matter of fact that our people wanted to be president of Nigeria. Later, Dr. Saraki wrote me a letter that he too had an organization known as Northern Union.
They too wanted a northerner to contest and we met for the first time in Warri at Wellington Hotel. His members and our members met. We told him that we wanted presidency. He said he wanted it also. We later held series of meetings in Kaduna, Abuja and other places to decide that. We hadn’t come to a conclusion when Obasanjo decided to impose Umaru Yar’Adua as the candidate. Then, Odili had to withdraw. We didn’t know that Nuhu Ribadu, the then EFCC chairman was specifically asked by Obasanjo to probe Odili. He submitted an interim report which said that Odili embezzled N100b of Rivers State money.
Nobody has proved that anyway. But this was between Obasanjo and Ribadu. Then Attah had his own problem with Mr. President and Donald Duke also had his problem through his wife. So, he used it to blackmail them and the three of them withdrew. But late Admiral Akigbe refused to withdraw. Let me say this, when people talk about zoning, it upsets me. That’s why I have decided to tell you the story.
There was no time at that time the northerners talked about zoning. In fact, they deceived us. Odili went on, spent money and time. Alhaji Shehu Shagari and many others bought his views. After a meeting in Uromi, we sent Ambassador Lawrence Ekpegbu and his team to the Northeast. They were received by the Shehu of Borno and so forth. There was no time the northerners said there was zoning and that, therefore it was their turn. No.
And it was now through the zoning that Obasanjo brought in Yar’Adua. He had his own reasons. One of the reasons was that he was a prudent fellow. He had N6bn in his purse. Another one was that he was a very intelligent fellow. He was a lecturer and was very humble. Those were the reasons he gave and we bought into it. Then, along the line, it was stated that Odili should be running mate to Yar’Adua.
This was agreed upon but we later learnt that some elements in PDP, I can name some of them; el-Rufai, Ribadu and many others met and changed the acceptance speech of Yar’Adua without his knowledge, without Odili knowing. In the acceptance speech, it had been written that Sir, Peter Odili will be my running mate. But they changed it to “I will name my running mate after I have consulted with the elders of the party.” So, the two men went to the podium and when Yar’Adua read his speech, there was nothing like Odili. Odili was very upset. So, they came out.
In the morning on Sunday, I was watching the television. I saw what happened. By 10 O’clock, I had some visitors including Mr. Ayokobe Whisky who is now Dr. Ayokobe Whisky. He used to be Commissioner for Housing in Bayelsa State.
They were with me in the room with one other person, I can’t remember. Then I had an emissary from the Sultan of Sokoto. They were introduced to me, that they came from Yar’Adua, the Governor of Katsina. And the emissary gave me a piece of paper which had about 20 names listed on it including Ibori, Donald Duke and others, saying I should pick a good running mate for him from the list. I looked through the list, there was nobody I thought there could work with Yar’Adua. I said well, let me suggest somebody who would do the job, who had the qualities which Obasanjo told me about Yar’Adua. And I said that Jonathan was a lecturer also.
He had Ph.D, academician, humble, transparent and loyal. I said both of them should be able to work together. So, I wrote Jonathan’s name on the list and they left. Then I didn’t know whether Jonathan would accept. One of them suggested that we call him and I said phone him. Within 20 minutes, Jonathan arrived at my Transcorp Hilton suite and I told him. He was reluctant. He said he doesn’t want to. He said I want to be the governor of Bayelsa State in the next four years.
I do not want to be deputy to anybody. Then I said that the people of South-South went to Calabar at a certain time and said they wanted a president and if we have not got that presidency because of what has been imposed on us, let us have an elected Vice President. He kept quiet for sometime and then said, well, if that’s your choice, so be it but I am not in favour of it. I said it is our choice. He left. Later the name was announced.
And I know very well that Jonathan at that time was a child loved by a father, that is Obasanjo. Jonathan had received a chieftaincy title from Owu, Obasanjo’s home town and Jonathan had taken over from Alamaesigha. So, Jonathan was a pet son of Obasanjo and I knew that if I recommend him, Obasanjo will not disagree. So, Obasanjo as the president of Nigeria must have contributed a long way to making Jonathan running mate to Yar’Adua. In fact, he told me a story when I led some south southerners to his house in Aso Rock that same evening to thank him for taking Jonathan.
He said that was a good choice, that when he sent for Jonathan, he was not ready for it. Then he told him, that I will give you one of the hats you people gave me when I visited Yeneagoa and they all laughed because they had to take photograph together. That shows the role played by Obasanjo in making Jonathan Vice President. Clark could recommend but Obasanjo can reject. But in this particular case we agreed and so that’s how it happened. So, when people talk about what happened here and there, I laugh. Jonathan was not ambitious. He never wanted to be vice to Umaru Yar’Adua.
Many people posit that Jonathan’s presidency has further divided the country. Do you share this view?
Those people with that view are living in a different world. They are not Nigerians. The people who have that view, they are not only mischievous and wicked, but they are living in a different world. How can anybody say that Jonathan’s presidency has divided the country the more? It has rather united this country. We have just discussed. Jonathan was able to assemble 492 Nigerians from different persuasions for five months to debate and discuss the way forward in Nigeria.
And at the end of it all, we succeeded. We have also submitted the report to him waiting for him to take action and I also saw that he has set up a panel to look through the report before appointing a body for the implementation. So, it is not true that Jonathan has come to divide Nigeria rather Jonathan’s presidency has united this country by everybody coming together to discuss problems facing Nigeria and he has been able to pilot it through.
So, I do not know why people are talking about division. If there was going to be any division, it would have come through the National Conference. Even the National Conference at a certain time, people thought it would break but it never broke. We remained till the end and we all agreed that we have succeeded. In my speech I said we came and we have conquered. And not only that, we had a good dinner together a night before the final day. So, it is not true that Jonathan has divided the country.
Most people like you think that the endorsement of Mr. President is an automatic victory. Now, should he contest in 2015 and fail, what will happen?
Nothing will happen. Nothing will happen. I have said so several times. Jonathan is like any other Nigerian politician who wants to contest election or who is contesting election. When you contest election, two results will come up. You either succeed or you fail. Jonathan will not be different.
If he fails, he will pack his things and go home. We will not cause trouble as some people did in 2011 when they caused riot and so on. Jonathan will go home without making any problem. Don’t mind what some people may say, O! There will be trouble.
There is not going to be any trouble. Jonathan’s election will be like any other person’s election. Those who failed in 2011 are still in this country even though they caused riot. Ribadu contested as a presidential candidate, but he has gone to PDP today. He has been hobnobbing with Mr. President. So, I do not think that the president will take it as something of life and death.
He has said that no one should die for him. And in his time as president, his party has lost a number of elections. His party lost in Ondo State, lost in Edo, Osun and Anambra. He was the first to congratulate them. Why would it be that if he fails, he would kill himself or cause trouble in the country? No way. Whoever wins, Jonathan will congratulate him and go back home.
But most people see you as a tribal chauvinist?
They are very stupid. They don’t know what they are talking about. I can never be a tribal chauvinist. I am a Nigerian. I am a senior citizen of this country. A statesman in this country. Everybody belongs to a tribe. If by some of my actions of defending Jonathan, I have done so, it is because I thought he is being oppressed by some people. I defended Yar’Adua when the same Obasanjo was breezing on his neck.
He complained to me and I went to the press, bought pages and fought Obasanjo; that he should remain in his Ota Farm. When Atiku took him to court up to the Supreme Court, I wrote a lengthy letter to Atiku telling him not to worry Yar’Adua; that if it were possible for the dead to come back to life, his brother Shehu would be very unhappy that Atiku whom he brought up is now the one harassing his younger brother.
I reminded Atiku in that letter of his relationship with the Yar’Adua family. That was why he went to Katsina to visit their mother. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have gone. So, he should not worry the man. And Yar’Adua replied me because I copied him and I still have the reply Yar’Adua sent to me till today. So, I am not doing it because Jonathan is an Ijaw man. I will do it for any other president. Jonathan is my president. I voted for him like any other president, so I have a stake. Many people would not like to talk. I will talk.