7th February, 2014
He is a man who can’t slow down. At 86, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark’s typical day is still as crammed like they have always been. Or more. Whether in Lagos, Warri, or Abuja, there is a steady flood of people eager to seek his advice or intervention. His closeness to President Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw like Clark, marks him out as a very short route to the President. Clark never hides the fact that the President regards him as his father. When this magazine met him for an interview on 22 January, his Abuja home had the appearance of a pilgrimage site, with guests solemnly waiting to be ushered into his presence. The date was made busier for Clark as it was the day South-south community leaders, chiefs and elders in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, converged on his house to appoint him their grand patron. So, every other thing, including this interview, had to wait for about two hours for the event to end. Then, it was time to speak. As it is always the case when he is offered such opportunity nowadays, Clark did not hold back on what is undeniably the most pressing agenda of most South-south leaders: Getting President Jonathan re-elected in 2015. Never one to hold back, Clark simply shot from the lips. His targets? Olusegun Obasanjo, Tam David-West and other critics of President Jonathan. Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark speaks to AYORINDE OLUOKUN and NNAMDI FELIX. Photos: FEMI IPAYE
You turned 86 last year and you have been in politics for over five decades. What would you say is the difference between the way politics is played now and when you were active in partisan politics?
I celebrated my 86th birthday last year. One is old now and one is no longer playing partisan politics. But let me say this: I was a member of Zikist Vanguard in the United Kingdom as far back as 1962. I remember at that time, the politics of Nigeria was not based on ethnicity or religion as such.
In 1959, when I was an electoral officer, I went to Atagbene in the Western Ijaw area to conduct the House of Assembly election. The candidates for the election were of the NCNC and the Action Group. When I got there, there was one ballot box for NCNC and one for AG. The people didn’t know who their candidates were, but they knew a bit of ideology. I decided to explain to them who their candidates were. I told them that Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was the national leader of NCNC and a cock was the symbol of the party whereas Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the leader of the Action Group with a palm tree as the symbol of the party. About 29 of them voted. The morning after the voting, one of the leaders of the community came and told me he wanted to change his vote, but I said no and he left. Before he left, he told me that he made a mistake because he voted for a man that brought bad primary schools to the area in the name of free education.
So, you could see elements of ideology. It was not because this man was a Yorubaman or the other man was an Igboman. As far back as 1959, the ordinary village man knew about ideology. But today, what do we have? We have legislators who are so money-minded, corrupt, very religious and tribalistic.
You can see what is going on today in the House of Representatives. The mere fact that some governors moved from one party to the other is not enough for members of the House to move if it is an independent house. It shows clearly that these members were just following the governors blindly.
They never had proper elections. Some of them went to the House in the name of their governors. Their movement showed that they were not elected but hand-picked by these governors. Politicians today go to elections without manifestos and politics has become an issue of ‘what do I get’ not ‘how do I serve’. It is a shame that some members of the House do not know why they are there and are sheepishly following their governors. Corruption, ethnicity and religion have become political issues. Members now see the House as a place of employment, not service. Nigerian legislators are among the highest paid people in the world, yet, laws to better the lot of their people and develop their states do not feature on their agenda.
In the Second Republic, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo invited you to join the Unity Party of Nigeria, but you refused, saying you could not be in the same party with the late Alfred Rewane. Why?
Rewane, as the closest associate of Awo, was playing politics of ethnicity and we refused to join him. For him, it was a matter of ethnicity and not ideology. That was why we refused to join UPN.
You also had a long career in the civil service as a teacher, community development officer, a commissioner and a minister. Can you compare the public service then to what we have today?
The civil service at that time had rules and regulations guiding the civil servants. No one goes outside the regulations and rules. But today, corruption reigns supreme in the service. Funds for payment of pension to civil servants are routinely stolen.
Imagine civil servants stealing the funds for the payment of pension to their retired colleagues? Civil servants now look for money through all means, though their jobs are secure. Looting of the treasury is now the order of the day, while politicians now influence promotions, transfers and placement of civil servants. Civil servants of today cannot be compared to those of the previous era.
In our time, ministers retired money given them for travels. That is giving the account of what you spent the money for. Then, they would not even give you the money. The officer who travelled with you controlled your expenditure, but you’d account for it when you come back. When I left the service in 1975, our permanent secretary wrote to me that when I was in the service, I had so and so allowance and directed me to account for it. I had to call for my papers and I accounted for it. Today, the politicians overrule the civil servants. In our time, the rules were followed. If you asked a civil servant to do anything and he refused, he’d put it in writing. But today, a minister or a commissioner will take one million naira as travel advance to Lagos and he is not accountable to anybody. That is what is happening today.
The civil servant sees the commissioner or minister being corrupt, having five or 10 companies to which contracts are awarded, and wants the same. He doesn’t want to be left behind. So, he throws overboard the rules of the civil service. The civil service of today cannot be compared with that of the previous era.
There was a time you owned many cinemas across the country. They were taken from you by the Murtala/Obasanjo administration. What really happened?
Good. My parents had a company. My father was an educated man, while my mother was a businesswoman. There was a time the federal government came out with the Indigenisation Decree, which placed cinema in a category of businesses that only Nigerians could own. It was because of that decree that the cinema owners, who were foreigners, sold them as one unit to a company owned by my parents. All that I did was to serve as a guarantor because they took a loan from UBA . That was all. But they wanted to punish me because they knew how much support I gave to Gowon. Gowon said it the other day at the launch of my foundation. He said I was punished because I was loyal to him. Seven soldiers were posted to my house at 23 Temple Road, Ikoyi, immediately after the coup and I could not get any of my properties. But other ministers never had soldiers posted to their place.
The allegation was that the cinemas were acquired through corrupt means.
All that happened was that the Obasanjo regime just wanted to punish me because of my loyalty and dedication to my duty. That was what happened. But we went to court and Justice Jinadu of Lagos High Court decided the case in my favour. It is not only cinemas that were taken from me. They created the impression that the cinemas were bought at different intervals. But the cinemas were bought by one company. We did not go about buying cinemas from one place to another. Martex Brothers Cinema Limited had been in Nigeria since the 50s and they were caught by the law and they advertised. Various companies in Nigeria applied to buy. We were not the only company. Our company got a loan from UBA, a loan of about N1 million at that time, and the records are there. So, it is not a question of me being found corrupt.
For instance, they seized my property, a four-storey building in Warri. I took a loan from NAL Merchant Bank as a commissioner, not as a minister, to build it. I was a minister at the federal level only for three months. I couldn’t have acquired the property during such a short period. The loan used for the purchase of that property had records. I employed the services of a boy, who lived with me and who became a civil engineer, to supervise the construction of the building. But because of that, they seized the four-storey building. What they could have done was to assess the amount of money that the young man could have expended. But they seized a whole house that I built with a loan simply because somebody helped me.
But were the assets returned to you?
They were returned to me. When General Babangida came to power, he set up another committee that looked into it. Chief Olu Falae was the Secretary to the Federal Government. Bola Ajibola was the Attorney-General. He later handed over to Clement Akpamgbo. It was then that all the properties were handed back to me by Decree 92. I was not familiar with Ibrahim Babangida, but all the properties were returned to me after 15 years. We are still in court over some of them.
Did they sell some of them?
Some of them were sold. That is the position. It was the injustice and the cruelty done to me.
Was it because you were not in support of the coup that removed Gowon from office?
Not only that I was not in support, I said so in the letter I wrote to General Obasanjo. I was against what they were doing. And let me say this: on the eve of this overthrow of our government, I was going to London as Commissioner for Information. Murtala Muhammed was also going to London as Commissioner for Communications. At the airport, I met with Murtala Muhammed. He said Gowon was corrupt. I said Gowon was not corrupt and we went into an argument. I said: ‘You are a colonel and you have a Jaguar in London. Just now as we are about to travel to London, you asked MKO Abiola to give your mother money. Are you a shareholder of ITT? Your wife had a child and during the dedication, you invited Chief Ebenezer Obey to play and you slaughtered two cows. The late Shehu Yar’Adua was the MC.’ He asked how I knew all of this. I said I was there. Later, we travelled to London and then, they planned the coup and the coup took place while he was still there and I know all the things that happened. The senior military officers were all there. Then, they had to fly him on a KLM plane from Amsterdam to Kano. Obasanjo said Murtala was too disobedient. Obasanjo was always with Gowon at the time Tafawa Balewa Square was being built.
But I learnt that Obasanjo was at the airport to receive General Muhammed. Thereafter, two of them formed the government. So, when I wanted to go back to London after I had returned, I was called from the airport that I should not be allowed to go. I said I was not a soldier; I am a lawyer by profession. But they disallowed me from going. I went to Dodan Barracks and met Obasanjo as the Chief of General Staff and said I learnt that he was at the airport in Kano to receive Murtala Muhammed, his military opponent. I said he betrayed Gowon by that action. He said he went to play golf or one of these games. He then asked one Admiral Oduwaiye to give me the paper to go back to London. That was what happened.
All my properties were returned to me. The court declared that they were wrongly seized because the properties were properly acquired. At that time, the press wrote a lot of things. But I was vindicated and I had to borrow money to pay the loan taken from the bank. Chief Rotimi Williams came to my aid; I did not pay him one kobo. He prosecuted all the cases on my behalf and GOK Ajayi was the lawyer on the other side. I was a minister for three months. I was in government in Benin for about nine years. There was a probe of everybody and I was not found guilty. If for nine years I was not found guilty, is it within the three months I was with the federal government that they’d find me guilty? That is my case.
Recently we interviewed Professor Tam David-West, who alleged that you are not a full-blooded Ijaw. Can you clear the air on the issue?
I am a true-born Ijaw. I have never claimed any other tribe. But let me say this: It was Professor Tam David-West who told you in an interview that I was a patch-patch Ijaw man. I don’t know what is wrong with him. He was either senile or something was wrong with him. I was never the Secretary of Urhobo Progressive Union in London. I founded Ijaw Students’ Union in London. Chief Broderick Bozimo, former Minister of Police Affairs; and the late Oki were members of Ijaw Students Union. But I am a Nigerian. My mother was Urhobo, my father’s mother was Urhobo and my father was Isoko. My father was also Itsekiri. I have all the blood of this area flowing in my veins, all the Niger Delta.
Where I do not belong to, I have children there. Today, I am the leader of the Ijaw and the father of the Ijaw. I represented Ijaw in the Senate, as commissioner, and the Ijaw gave me a chieftaincy title. I take care of Ijaw affairs.
But some people felt that your interest is only in the Ijaw and that you don’t care what happens to other ethnic groups in the Niger Delta.
That’s not true. As an education officer and even as a community development officer, the whole of Delta State was under my supervision. I started from Ogwashi-Ukwu, in the Ibo-speaking area; the Urhobo, the Ijaw and Itsekiri. One of the first grammar schools I built as commissioner for education was at Koko. I built so many schools in Isoko, Urhobo, Ijaw and the Igbo-speaking areas. I gave scholarship to everybody. But I belonged to a place. My Ijawness is not to be misunderstood by anybody.
You are also involved in the fight against corruption. But some people have pointed out that while you defended former governor Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa State, you were on the case of former governor Ibori, an Urhobo…
That is not true. I did not defend the former governor of Bayelsa State. If a man is corrupt, I condemn him. I was in London when I got a telephone call that Alamieyeseigha was arrested by the police. What first came to my mind was the immunity that our governors enjoy. I was on my way to the airport to fly back to Nigeria, but at the airport, I got a telephone call from the Nigerian Ambassador to France that Alamieyeseigha was arrested. It was strange to me. So, I cancelled my flight to look for him. I stayed in London for seven days. Thereafter, I discovered that Obasanjo was particularly against him. He sent a lawyer to London to prosecute Alamieyeseigha in a case in which Nigeria was not a party to. The lawyer was there to give evidence. We later discovered that he made it possible for the British to arrest him. When Alamieyeseigha escaped from Britain, I did not support him. I know the role I played between him and Jonathan who was his deputy. But when he was being impeached illegally and for a governor of a state to be handcuffed and flown in an helicopter, I felt it was unjust.
Let me tell you a story that will surprise you. I led a 21-man Ijaw delegation to Obasanjo to allow Alamieyeseigha, who had gone for an operation in Germany, to be treated. Obasanjo said he would not see us. But he was ready to see me and Jonathan, who was the deputy governor and one Mrs. Charity. When he saw us, what did he say? I told him this man was sick. But he told me that Alamieyeseigha merely went to Germany to do cosmetic operation, tummy tuck. He said he should remain in prison because tummy tuck doesn’t kill. I said I saw the tummy and it was very bad. He said it doesn’t kill. A few months later, it was the same tummy tuck that killed his wife in Spain. You see how God moves in mysterious ways? .
Why did you describe Obasanjo as a troublemaker in your letter to him?
He is a troublemaker. He is a confusionist. He is an oppressor. He is a pretender. The most corrupt person in Nigeria today is Obasanjo, yet he parades himself across the country as the cleanest person. He said Jonathan cannot eradicate corruption. How can Jonathan eradicate corruption when Jonathan respects him as a father? He (Jonathan) should start with Obasanjo. His inability to start with Obasanjo is what is increasing the cases of corruption in Nigeria. If anybody had used Obasanjo as an example, people will be afraid. Let me say this to you: Obasanjo has never been fond of Jonathan. He chose Jonathan because he wanted to punish Alamieyeseigha. He wanted to use Jonathan. But Jonathan refused to be used. You compared Ibori to Alamieyeseigha? I would say I am also an Urhobo man.
Ibori was a very corrupt government official. For instance, Ibori bought 18 million Oceanic Bank shares for Delta State. Ibori wanted to buy Wilbross, an oil services company owned by the Americans. He had to use the 18 million shares as a security to obtain N40 billion loan from Intercontinental Bank. When the bank wanted the loan to be serviced, Ibori directed his officials, the two finance commissioners – David Edvbie, who became the Principal Private Secretary to Yar’Adua, and the other person – to sell five million shares of Delta State government. It was when we discovered it that we said enough was enough. Out of the 170 charges against him, this was not one of them. The second one was when Ibori bought shares for Delta State government from Econet and made Chief Gamaliel Onosode the chairman of the company as well as putting a branch of Econet in his village, Oghara. Later, he decided to sell the shares, which were owned by Delta State. He sold them for $27 million. He spent the money without giving any kobo to Delta State government. The three wise men he was using to launder money were later arrested in London, charged to court and I think were jailed. These two charges were never part of the 170 charges. I don’t condone corruption. That’s why I am in the forefront of fighting corruption and I do not discriminate against anybody. Ibori pleaded guilty to the charges. Is it me who went to London to say: ‘Ibori, you are guilty?’ But Ibori today is a free man. He is ruling from his prison. When Ibori celebrated his birthday last year, I looked at Vanguard. He got more congratulatory messages than Tony Anenih. Can you imagine that? The messages were sent by the Delta State people. We are in trouble in this country. Corruption has to be eradicated in this country otherwise, we cannot move forward.
Do you think the Federal Government under Jonathan is doing enough to fight corruption?
It is doing well by taking so many people to court. Jonathan has shown courage by taking Bamanga Tukur son’s to court. Ahmadu Ali’s son has been taken to court. So have Lamido’s children. That’s why Lamido is fighting him. But they should put in more effort. They should fund EFCC more properly and let EFCC do its job. How do you describe a situation in which a former governor facing corruption charges is currently a senator? That is the problem. Have you ever seen where a man will have perpetual injunction against the government? That no one should arrest him? That no one should prosecute him? And for two or three years now, the man is moving free. Corruption is the bane of the society.
Some Nigerians believe that the President has not done enough for him to seek a second term…
Those people are foolish people; they don’t understand anything. Are they the Nigerians who will vote for him? If a President in office is not doing well and he is seeking a second term, it is not his party men who will decide that. The people at the grassroots will decide whether this President has not done anything for them. That’s number one. Number two, some people who believe they have a right to rule everybody in this country said Jonathan should not go for a second term. I was listening to the argument of one Professor Awwalu Yadudu, who calls himself an international lawyer. He said when Yar’Adua was elected in 2007, he was elected with Jonathan and that was one election. In 2011, there was the second election. But this man, who is teaching university students, could not understand that Al Gore (former US Vice-President) sought election twice with Bill Clinton and when Bill Clinton left, the Democrats allowed him to contest on his own.
He talked about oath taking. Oath taking in the law is not in isolation. Section 137 says you must contest election twice before you are disqualified from contesting presidential election again. Shagari did it in 1979, in 1983 he did it.
There were men of timbre and calibre, who were more qualified than Shagari. But they did not contest. They kept quiet and allowed Shagari to do it. Obasanjo had it twice: 1999 and 2003.
What about the single term agreement the President allegedly signed with some Northern Governors before the 2011 elections?
I have written a letter to my good friend arguing over whether he entered into agreement with Mr. President. Even if he entered into an agreement with Mr. President, did he perform his own side of the agreement? I am talking about Babangida Aliyu, Governor of Niger State. In every agreement, there are always two sides. In 2011, after the so-called agreement had been reached, only 14 people from Niger State voted for Jonathan at the PDP presidential primaries. The rest voted for Atiku, who had the majority of votes from that state. In the election proper, only about 350,000 voted for Jonathan whereas about 700,000 people voted for Buhari. That alone showed clearly that there was conspiracy somewhere to kick out Jonathan. But God did not support them. Now, that man is now turning around to say there was an agreement. There was never an agreement. Even if there was an agreement, the agreement was illegal from the beginning because no agreement, verbal or written, can override the constitution, which is the supreme document of this country. So, there is no agreement and Mr. President himself has gone to say “bring it out”, but they have refused to do so.
Do you also share the opinion of some Ijaw like Dokubo-Asari that Nigeria will break if the President is not allowed to have a second term?
Who does not know Dokubo-Asari? He has been with Obasanjo for a long time. It was the same Obasanjo who brought him and Ateke Tom out when there was problem in Rivers. He was in prison for a long time under Obasanjo. He has been abusing Obasanjo from the beginning. He also abused Jonathan recently, to the delight and applause of Jonathan’s opponents. He said Jonathan cannot rule this country; that he was incompetent. At that time, they didn’t see him as an Ijaw man. But when he saw people like Adamu Ciroma and Buhari, who said Nigeria will be another Somalia, and Lawal Kaita, a former governor of Kaduna State, who said there would be no Nigeria if Jonathan contests, Dokubo-Asari merely replied them. That was why I wrote an open letter to the House of Representatives. It is the Northerners, a few of them like Dr. Junaid Mohammed, who are making this noise. Junaid was a member of the House of Representatives during the Second Republic. And when he was kicked out of his seat, he ran to Port Harcourt and got an appointment with OMPADEC (Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission). We accepted him. But today, he does not believe that Jonathan matters. What I am saying is that Nigeria will not break if Jonathan is not re-elected. Jonathan said nobody should die for him because of election. He believes in one man, one vote; one woman, one vote; one youth, one vote. Nobody should die for him because of election. If in 2015, Jonathan contests election, Nigerians will vote for him because he is performing.
Do you think he will win?
Nigerians will vote for him because he is performing. I don’t have to be negative. But if he loses, he will go to his house like any other person. Nobody should think that Nigeria will break because of one individual. Nigeria will never break.
Some Nigerians are observing that while under President Jonathan some Ijaw people are making so much money, especially in Abuja, the lot of the common Ijaw man has not seen much improvement…
What is their business? Is it every Yorubaman that is making money? I am asking you that. There are over 15 universities in Ogun State. How many universities are in Ekiti? We cannot all be equal. Some areas will be developed, some individuals will be developed. It is not a case of comparing one Ijaw man with another Ijaw man. And as the leader of the Ijaw people, I am not in position to answer that question.
But would you say the Jonathan presidency has improved the lot of the common Ijaw man?
I won’t answer that question. I won’t answer it.
Do you think the implementation of the Presidential Amnesty Programme has improved of the lot of Niger Deltans?
The Presidential Amnesty Programme is critical. The second phase of it is the infrastructural development of the area, which has not been touched. Those boys who were in the creeks, who were educated–some of them hold first and second degrees–were fighting for their areas. With the amnesty, they dropped their guns and have gone to study. But the second part is, when these boys come back, what will they see? Have their areas been improved? That is the second part of it. But whether there is improvement physically or otherwise, the mere fact that Jonathan has become the President and the Commander-in-Chief shows clearly that anybody–from a minority or majority group– can become the President of Nigeria if he is competent and qualified. It is no longer the preserve of the majority ethnic groups.
Do you think the emergence of All Progressives Congress, APC, will be a threat to PDP’s dominance?
Why? Where are they? Is it CPC, ACN or is it ANPP? The three of them can never work together. They are already divided. I heard there are already two APCs in Sokoto State, two in Kwara, two in Adamawa and two APC in Kano. But if you are talking of those who moved to APC, they are making a mistake. INEC has decided that there is no crisis in PDP. That was why I appealed to them the other day to retrace their steps. You saw what happened in the House the other day. Let the Speaker give good leadership. If 37 members lost their seats, it will cause a lot of problems in the House. That is my position.
Why is it difficult for you and other Niger Delta leaders and elders to reconcile President Jonathan and Governor Amaechi?
I don’t want to answer that question.
–Culled from TheNEWS magazine