In an interview with Vanguard, the Kiagbodo, Delta born elder statesman, E.K. Clark who turned 89 recently, goes memory lane, tracing the history of Nigeria and how the country has fared. He identifies the kind of leader Nigeria needs at this period and what the present administration must do to transform the society,
Nigeria is 56 today. Looking back at where we are coming from, what is your assessment of how the country has fared? First and foremost let’s congratulate ourselves for celebrating the 56th year of Nigeria’s independence. We have every reason to celebrate. Nigeria remains one indivisible country. Nigeria is united despite the fact that we fought a civil war. Nigeria remains one and the question of whether we are where we should have been is a matter of different interpretation. Members of the Movement for the Survival of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) during their rally to mark the 17th anniversary of the movement, yesterday, in Awka, Anambra State. There is no doubt that even three persons at the age of 56 would have developed in different ways. Similarly those countries that got independence the same year with have developed in different ways. You can’t measure our success in the same way.
There are countries that have broken into two. India got its independence in 1948 but split into two with the emergence of Pakistan as Pakistan later split into two. This could be said of other countries that have split into two or three countries, but the fact that we remain united is a plus. It is true that corruption has done a great havoc to Ngeria. But for corruption, we would have progressed far more than what we are now. Educationally, Nigeria started with one university, the University College of London in Ibadan, but today we have so many universities. Today we have over a hundred universities including private universities. And most of these universities have teaching hospitals which means there is an improvement in the educational system in this country. How many airports did we have? We had very few airports in Nigeria, but today almost every state has an airport either developed by the federal or state government. In the field of communication, almost everybody in this country, whether literate or illiterate own a mobile phone unlike before and that is a plus. E. K. Clark However, in the area of agriculture; we have done very badly.
We used to feed ourselves, but today we can hardly feed ourselves because we have cheap oil money which was available to everybody whether you worked for it or not. So that is what made every Nigerian to be lazy, having money without working for it, but now it is telling on us, there is a recession, the oil money is going. Today, many Nigerians regard oil money as a curse so people are now talking about agriculture, solid mineral and so forth. But the earlier these things are developed, the better it would be for Nigeria so that the pressure on certain areas in this country would be minimized because in the past only Niger Delta produced oil and everybody was grateful. I remember in 1956 when oil was discovered, the Prime Minister congratulated the Premier of Eastern Nigeria for joining the club economically. This is because at that time there was true federalism in the country.
Today we have 36 states built from nowhere. In the constitution of Nigeria the creation of new states depended on a number of criteria but each administration that assumed office in Nigeria believed that was an opportunity to create states for their own people so they created all sorts of states that are not viable with many local governments. For instance Lagos state is supposed to have the largest population in Nigeria and it has only 18 or 20 local government councils whereas Kano and Jigawa put together have almost 50 local government councils. Everybody depends upon the oil resources in the country. The constitution provides that for a state to exist, you must have a number of local government councils. But Bayelsa state was created with only 8 local government councils whereas Bayelsa state, I believe should have had 15 or 20 local government councils to qualify as a state.
When you have a powerful ruler, you have more local government councils, then you have more states created in your area. But as I said earlier on, in the first republic there were three regions; Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was in charge of Eastern Nigeria, Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the Western Nigeria and Ahmadu Bello for Northern Nigeria. They created this federation and they said everyone must be equal. No citizen of one region was superior to the other. I believe each region should be developed at its own pace. The development of one region shouldn’t prevent the other one from going ahead. So you can see why Western Nigeria was self governing earlier before the other regions. Awolowo was able to develop the Western Nigeria; in 1958 the first primary school in Nigeria was free in the Western Nigeria but both Eastern and Northern Nigeria couldn’t do it. The tallest building in Nigeria which is the Cocoa house was built in Ibadan.
There was Ikeja industrial estate, Apapa industrial estate, there was Lagos, there was Ibadan stadium there were good roads. And could you imagine that even though Midwest region was created later which was part of Western Nigeria, the television which was brought in 1958 or 1959 wasn’t extended to the Midwest region simply because they said it didn’t contribute to the economy of Western Nigeria in the sharing of the assets. When Midwest was created even up till the time I was commissioner for finance, the Western Nigeria refused to share the assets and liabilities as provided in the constitution. Today the assets and liabilities of the whole Western region were shared amongst the six Yoruba states of Western Nigeria. The Odua Investment Company is the largest state owned company in Nigeria today. Ahmadu Bello developed the Kaduna capital territory, the Ahmadu Bello stadium, Kano industrial centre, and Ahmadu Bello University. But what did the Eastern region do? They had no money.
There was no money coming from the palm oil so they were not able to do many of these things, but they developed peacefully and lived happily together. There was the physical federalism aspect that whatever you produce in your area, you must enjoy part of it and this is what people in the Niger Delta are asking for today; don’t take everything from us. The resources from the oil company should be shared. We have a situation whereby we have a hundred people having oil blocks and none of them come from the Niger Delta. We also have a situation where we have nine directors on the board of the NNPC with six of them from the north and not a single person from the oil producing area of the Niger Delta except Thomas John from cross River. So that is the situation you have today. Generally speaking, one would say you have a situation whereby states are now borrowing money, they are now being bailed out, they can’t pay salaries but this isn’t noticed in the government houses. There is no evidence that we are in a recession in government houses. The same convoys are moving around, the lifestyle in the state government houses and in the Presidency. At the National Assembly, you dare not mention them because nobody knows how much they earn. So these are the problems facing the country otherwise we should be grateful to God that we have peace in this country which is more important than any other thing. All we need is to have a new leadership. A leadership that is focused and determined to correct the ills of the society, a leader who doesn
’t practice ethnicity, who doesn’t practice religion, who believes in Nigeria, that is what we need in this country. A leader who has the political will to carry out some reforms in the country and then face corruption which must be seen to be universal and applies to everybody. On Restructuring Restructuring is not a new issue, it has been around for a long time even at the Conference in Britain in the 50s. What is structuring? We are asking for fiscal federalism, where a region takes 50 percent of what it produces while the remaining 50 percent will be shared with the federal. This was what happened with the cocoa money that came to Obafemi Awolowo in abundance as he took half of it, same with the money from the groundnut pyramid which came to Ahmadu Bello, who took half of it. We can’t have a country where there is so much discrimination, so much imbalance, so much irregularity. What we are saying is that let’s have a federation like the American system. America has 50 states today, we have 36, and all states may not be equal like we have in Nigeria. We made series of recommendations at the Constitutional Conference and those recommendations are based on a restructured Nigeria.
There is also the issue of state security. The governor of a state is regarded as the chief security officer of that state but is he in control of security? When the federal government wants to use the police, does the governor know? So we are looking for a situation whereby there would be state police working side by side with the federal police. Everybody knows their limits. Again, when you have a state that is not developing its own resources but is waiting to go to Abuja at the end of the month to collect money which it uses for its affairs, this is part of the restructuring we are talking about. We are saying that the restructuring will make the unity of Nigeria stronger, but there are people who believe that the restructuring is anti North, the restructuring is anti west and so on. I was surprised the other day when I heard from my friend Alhaji Tanko Yakassai that those who are talking about restructuring are anti north. How can I be anti north?
What did we say that makes it anti north? All we are saying is that everyone should be self independent; everyone should look within economically because time will come when the federal government may not be able to take care of the states and the states would then be forced to look inward. So I want to reassure my friends and colleagues in the north that we are not working against any region. We have sat for three or four months in Abuja looking at the constitution and other documents and we made 600 recommendations that would make it possible for everyone to live in peace in this country and where justice prevails. So, reconstruction doesn’t mean the breakup of Nigeria, reconstruction doesn’t mean that the oil which is now found in the Niger Delta should now be restricted to only the Niger Deltans; no! Leave for us what is due for us under the constitution and share the rest amongst the states in the country. We are looking for a structure which will make it impossible for people to steal our money at random, for people to hide under ethnicity to steal our money, or hide under religion to steal our money.
I think when everybody is satisfied, everybody would be happy. Today in my state, the Igbo speaking have got the opportunity to produce a governor and today they have got a governor, that is the spirit of belonging. On 2014 Confab report When you are talking about restructuring, if Mr. President who is our president, who is our leader today, would sit down and look at the report, that is the restructuring we are looking for in Nigeria. The restructuring doesn’t go beyond what is contained in that report. If you realize the type of delegates at that conference, we were 492 delegates comprising people of 90 years old, 80 years old, professionals, retired police men, retired soldiers, retired civil servants, the handicap, the blind, they were all there. You had youths; the youngest amongst them at that time was from Adamawa or Borno. Then you have the teachers, the women, the market women leadership, and the traditional rulers. The northerners came to that conference with a feeling that there was a conspiracy amongst the southerners. I remember Lamido of Adamawa stood up at the conference and said those who claimed they loved the president were actually anti president. He said some of them who were northerners at the conference have their own kinsmen in Cameroon and if anything happened, they would reunite with their kinsmen and many others would have no place to go to. He made that statement and openly accused some of us, but the meeting went on and the 50 man committee was set up to work out the procedure so that we keep to an understanding, that a decision has to be taken one way or the other. One day, there was a document being circulated around that some delegates from Niger Delta were not interested in the unity of this country. When this was drawn to my attention, I took the document, went to the
Assembly and I said ‘this document in my hand doesn’t belong to the Niger Delta people. Today we have the president of this country from our own region, what else do we want? Every issue affecting the destiny of this country would be discussed here”. So we disowned the document. Ibrahim Mantu then came to me and said ‘you disarmed everybody’. He said people were ready to walk out of the conference and at the end of the day Dr. Haliru Bello who was acting National Chairman of PDP came to where I was seated with a traditional ruler who said ”I am the Lamido of Adamawa, you saved this country with that your statement”. So, if Mr. President takes time, he is a good man, he is a steady man, a man with focus, if he sits down to look at that report, there is no other form of restructure any Nigerian needs now than that one and I am happy that the House of Representatives had listed it out as one of the documents they would consider and the Senate has also mentioned it. So I am appealing to Mr. President that if he adopts even half of this report Nigeria would be a changed place. The restructure that Nigerians are asking for would have been achieved.
We are not asking for the moon. We are not asking for any kind of restructuring that is unworkable, we have all met to consider this. We should therefore mind our language when we talk because this country belongs to all of us and no one has the right to behave as if he is superior to another. We are all equal in this country. Today is your day, tomorrow would be another man’s day. On Niger Delta Avengers, Boko Haram, IPOB Boko Haram wasn’t anybody’s making. It started in 2002 from Bauchi before they moved to Borno state. It stated when the governor of that state at that time had his own group called ECOMOG. ECOMOG and Boko Haram met and worked together and that was how the governor won his second term in office. But thereafter they disagreed and Boko Haram started fighting with the government. Alhaji Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram didn’t die as a result of the fighting, he was captured and later died mysteriously in detention and if the government had attended to it at that time, we would not have got Boko Haram now the way it is. We didn’t threat them properly. Politics played out, some leaders believed that Boko Haram had come to make Nigeria ungovernable and the government didn’t listen to advice and didn’t treat the organisation with firm hands. So many things went wrong, he trusted people who didn’t trust him, who were working against him and that was how Boko Haram spread. It is not true that we didn’t make any progress. Even before the election and after the election, he was able to exercise his position and Boko Haram were driven out of Nigeria before the present administration and the present administration put its foot down and has done very well.
Talking about Biafra; I can assure you that most of these boys and girls who are agitating today weren’t born in 1967 when the civil war took place. They weren’t born in 1966 when the first coup took place because it was the first coup that led to the civil war in 1967. I think today, there is no more history being taught in our schools. It is what you tell your son, your daughter that they believe. So these boys are fighting against the belief that they have been maltreated, their parents have been maltreated. I think we don’t need a civil war, when you want to break away from this country, it would be difficult for you because we are interwoven. When you come to Rivers state, Akwa Ibom, Delta, it is difficult for you to differentiate one area from the other. There is no place where a second civil war has been fought. The Americans have fought their civil war and they are together today. The product of that civil war is that a black man is now the president of the United State of America and I also believe one day, it will be the turn of an Igbo man to be the president and Commander in Chief of Nigeria. Therefore you can’t separate by force, call a town hall meeting, call the Igbo leaders, call Nigerians, let us sit down and educate these boys and girls. Let them have opportunity to ask questions and let them have opportunity to listen to answers and you find out where our parents have been wrong and where they have been right way.
For instance in 1966 during the coup, only leaders from certain areas were killed whereas leaders from certain areas were spared, so by the time you give them answers they would be satisfied. So I believe there is need for a dialogue. The agitation won’t end if you just dismiss them without letting them know why things happened. So it is what we have told them that they would tell their children. Finally, you talked about the Niger Delta where I come from. It was very wrong for Abdullahi to compare Boko Haram with Niger Delta Avengers. The Niger Delta Avengers within themselves have counted a number of atrocities that have been perpetrated against them and there is need to dialogue with them. I also want to tell them that we don’t need war, there is need for us to dialogue. My brother was president of this country for five and a half years and what did he do for you? How much of this problem did he solve during his time? If the president had said ”I have just come in, give me some time to solve some of your problems”, we would understand. I don’t think anybody sent them that is why the president knows and his government knows very well that some of us are still alive today who brought peace to this country between 2005 and 2009 when the amnesty was granted. I have written a book, a big book containing my speeches.
Some of the speeches I made at that time are there, the roles some of us played, how I sent people; former military leaders to the creeks to negotiate with the boys. Let us sit down and look into the problems; what are they? For instance you ask the question why is it that no Niger Delta person has oil block, or lifting oil, or has federal contracts. If they complain there are no roads, no bridges, the president can answer them and tell them the ones he can do for them and appeal to them to wait for some time. What Jonathan didn’t do in five and a half years you don’t expect Buhari to do them in less than two years. So these are issues that should be discussed by dialogue and not by intimidating them. When in 2008 and 2009 the government thought they would solve the problem through intimidation, through force, the fight didn’t last for a long time, but the oil production fell from 2 million to seven hundred thousand barrels a day. This was what led to the granting of amnesty after discussions. Today when the Niger Delta Avengers started, the production dropped again to about 1 million; later it went up to about 1.3 million.
Since we intervened that we would negotiate on their behalf and they have agreed on ceasefire, the oil production has increased to 1.7 million and if the federal government seizes this opportunity of dialogue with the people, before the end of the year, we would come to about 2 million barrels a day. There has always been JTF operations in the Niger Delta where there are soldiers including Navy, Airforce, police, SSS operating in the area in all the states, you don’t need crocodile smile; you don’t need that, it is very provocative. You don’t need the people to negotiate in their country under duress. I have just condemned the blasting of certain oil pipelines in Bonny, we are negotiating and they are listening to us. War will do nobody any good, we all belong to this country. You can’t destroy what belongs to you. There is nobody in Nigeria who owns the pipelines or the oil stations more than us, we all own them together. You can’t destroy your own property. There must be something wrong, so let’s discuss it.