In this interview with JOHN ALECHENU, elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, sheds light on some recent controversies generated by his comments on national issues
Reflect on your time as Minister of Information. How was it?
In our time, we were known as federal commissioners. As a federal commissioner of information, I took over from the late Chief Anthony Enahoro who was commissioner for special duties. He was charged with the responsibility of organising FESTAC ’77, but it was still under my ministry that the memorandum was submitted. During that time, we had very few print media organisations. We had Daily Times and others but they were very few. We didn’t have private television stations. I remember during our time, we created some of these services we have today like the News Agency of Nigeria. It was a military regime but it was very liberal. General Gowon was a very liberal man, very thoughtful, a man who was interested in Nigeria and its unity. At that time, a number of politicians were out to criticise his government; we explained the government side of the issue to the public. Today, what I see, especially with the print media, is that they are so many to the effect that many of them are not effective. The few that are national in outlook are owned by people who have their own ideas, who have their own beliefs. Politicians floated the print media to serve their purposes. You do not expect them to support government. That is what we are seeing; most of the print media in the country are owned by people who are opposed to the Federal Government. Therefore, most of the activities of the Federal Government are being downplayed. It’s only in Nigeria that the press has decided to run down their own country; to say that their own country is a failed country or a country that is failing. That’s not what happens in other parts of the world. The press should think of their own country first because without Nigeria, they will not be here, that’s the difference between the press of today and the press of yesterday. As a young man, I grew up to see the Pilot. It had the motto, ‘show the light and the people will find the way.’
When people thought you were too old to get married, you shocked them by marrying again to a younger woman. How did you manage that?
My wife is not a very young lady. My wife is a medical doctor with about 33 years in practice. She went to Queens College many years ago and proceeded to the University of Ibadan to study medicine. She was a commissioner in Ogun State on two occasions; Commissioner for Health and Commissioner for Commerce at different times. She has practised under the World Health Organisation. Today, she is 57. Is that a young lady? Women do not tell their age but because of this question which some newspapers have published all kinds of things, I have to say it. I am a man with a pedigree; I come from a good family. I am not one of those made by politics. Those who are abusing me are making a mistake. I know what is good and what is bad, or don’t you want me to marry someone who is good?
Do you feel your campaign against former Delta State governor, James Ibori, was successful with what happened to him and what he’s going through?
Ibori’s case is just one case. I am sorry to say that many of the governors have been charged to court and their cases have been in court for over six years unheard; nobody cares about them. I wrote an open letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria at the time and he replied and said yes, I was right and he tried to pinpoint what went wrong. Senior Advocates of Nigeria go to court to adjourn cases; they do all kinds of things to delay trials. Meanwhile, justice is being denied. Some of these governors are now senators in the National Assembly. They behave as if they have not committed any offence. Can you imagine people like Bukola Saraki are now senators? Nobody has asked about what he did to Societe Generale Bank where shareholders and depositors lost their money. He behaves as if nothing has happened. What of the money which he borrowed that has been written off by the suspended governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria? Today, the (suspended) governor of CBN is one of those shouting on top of their voices about corruption. What a disgrace. Some of these people should be charged to court. You had a former President of this country who left prison penniless. Today, he is one of the billionaires in this country. Yet, he is the one who shouts the loudest about other people. These are some of the problems we are facing. Ibori is just one out of many cases. Ibori has not done what others have not done. If he had not gone to Britain, he couldn’t have been jailed; he wouldn’t have admitted that he committed the crime. The charges against him here were 70 and a judge freed him in two hours and that judge has just retired. I am surprised that the judiciary has not dealt with such judges. It is only in this country that you have perpetual injunctions, you cannot be arrested, you cannot be prosecuted. But today, people talk about this government not being able to tackle corruption. I think that Ibori’s case should be a lesson to the judiciary. The bar association should do something about its erring members. It is not enough to say Mr. President is not fighting corruption. The President is an individual; he cannot do it alone. Is he the prosecutor in court? Is he the judge in the court? EFCC and ICPC should do their jobs; they do not need interference from the government.
You and President Goodluck Jonathan are from the South-South. Is that why you support him?
Your assertion is misplaced; your assertion is not objective. It is a negative assertion. This is not correct. I supported (the late President Umaru)Yar’Adua between 2007 and 2010; I supported Yar’Adua throughout. He called me father and I called him my son. And I can show you correspondence between me and him. He normally wrote ‘Your son, Yar’adua’ and I addressed him as my son. He was from Katsina and I am from Delta. He was a Fulani and I am an Ijaw man. When former President Olusegun Obasanjo started to run him down, I was the only person in this country that defended him. I asked Obasanjo to stay at his home in Ota and stop interfering with the government of Yar’Adua. I took full pages in the papers to defend Yar’Adua and I also remember when the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, went to court against Yar’Adua, I wrote an open letter to Atiku Abubakar to forget about the suit because of his relationship with his elder brother, Musa Yar’Adua, coupled with the fact that he visited their mother during his campaign in Katsina. I told him that since he lost, he should take it as a man. I was the only one who wrote a letter to Atiku Abubakar and I sent a copy of that letter to the then President Umaru Yar’Adua and he replied me. I still have a copy of the letter. When he gave an account of his 100 days in office, I was one of those who hailed him. You think because Jonathan is Ijaw and I am an Ijaw man, therefore I am saying things about him; tell me one thing that I have said about him that is not true. Is it the railway that he has resuscitated that is not true? Is it the power that he has privatised that is not true? Is it the fact that he has established 12 universities in Nigeria that is not true? That he has improved agricultural services, is that not true? That fertilizer is now being sold directly to farmers, is this not true? That during his time, free and fair elections are now being held, is that not true? Did you watch the governorship election that took place in Ondo and Edo states? What of the 2011 elections? People said an incumbent President could not hold a free and fair election, are these not true? What have I said about him that is not true?
What of his performance so far, is it satisfactory to you?
As I said earlier, it is very satisfactory. In 2015, Nigerians will vote for him again if he decides to re-contest. What he has achieved cannot be hidden in a bushel. He is performing. He gave the record of his performance at the centenary dinner through his Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy. Last year too, he did it during the Democracy Day celebrations. He has nothing to hide and he has asked his opponents to prove him wrong. Has he started a road that he has not developed? Has he mentioned the Railways that he has not resuscitated? But his opponents have not been able to challenge him about his performance.
But recently, people have criticised you for being tribalistic with the way you defend Jonathan?
I believe I have answered this question. There is nothing tribalistic about what I have said.
Some Nigerians who voted for Jonathan feel excluded, are you not worried?
Everybody in Nigeria cries marginalisation. Even our own people, the Ijaws, the South-South people complain about marginalisation. That is why I listed in my open public letter to the former President the number of offices that went to the South-South. They were very few. I do hope that time will come when we will be able to publish a full list of all the appointments in this country to know who is being marinalized and who is not being marginalised. For instance, today, you find some geo-political zones out of the six holding about ten of the topmost posts in this country but they are still crying.
Some Nigerians were alarmed when you made utterances that implied that there would be no Nigeria without Jonathan?
I did not say so. At no time did I say that without Jonathan, there would be no Nigeria. Jonathan is a Nigerian; he is a citizen of this country. There will be Nigeria without Jonathan; there will be Nigeria at all times. Nigeria does not belong to any individual; Nigeria does not belong to any tribe, no matter how big you are. Nigeria belongs to everybody in this country and Jonathan. No matter what he has done to improve the lot of Nigerians, there will be Nigeria without Jonathan. Jonathan is part of this country and all that I pray for is that he should be allowed to serve this country as provided for in the constitution. That is all I’m saying. I have never said that there will be no Nigeria without Jonathan. I have never said there will be crisis without Jonathan. Jonathan was voted for in 2011 by the people of Nigeria and they expect so much from him and he is doing everything possible. That is why he has not declared (for 2015) and the same Nigerians will vote for him in 2015 if he satisfies them. No individual can stop him; no group of persons can stop him. Nigerians from the 36 states and the FCT are the only people who can stop him either by voting for him or not voting for him. And I am very sure they will vote for him because by the time he declares, he must have done a lot to satisfy Nigerians.
Despite your age, why do you still want to be heard at every opportunity?
People who say such things are narrow minded illiterates who call themselves PhD holders, but they are ill-literates. There are people in the world who are 89, 90 and still ruling their own countries. I am 86 and Nigerians have seen me speaking, I have not lost my senses and I am not holding any position in Nigeria, I have not asked to be made a board member or board chairman or a minister or anything. I know I am old; I am not in a position to hold any office. But, I’m in a position to speak for the betterment of this country and that’s what I do from time to time. I speak the truth when others do not want to speak the truth. I believe- my slogan is when you are 70 and above, you are at the departure lounge waiting for your boarding pass and you have a duty to speak to defend your country at all times. Speak against evil, speak against injustice, speak against oppression, speak against marginalisation; anything that is not good in your country. If you do not, you are already a dead man; you don’t need to go to the departure lounge. Those who make those mistakes are already dead. Some of them are corrupt; some of them are bankrupt; some of them have no character; some of them had nothing to offer this country even in their younger age, they have nothing to offer Nigerians, I do not listen to them. When I speak, I speak my mind, I speak the truth without fear or favour.
Is it not because of this that Raymond Dokpesi said that you have used the time of your children and grand children?
Dokpesi is not relevant. I cannot compare myself with Dokpesi. If I reply Dokpesi, I am lowering my position. I have younger ones who will reply him. Nigerians know who I am. I am a father and a statesman. I have served my country and when I speak, Nigerians listen. Who is Dokpesi to comment on me? Whether I did my time, what has he done? They will reply him; I don’t have to reply him. I have spoken my mind about him and why he should not be appointed as Chief of Staff; that he was not a fit and proper person to be appointed, period. I don’t want to make further comments.
Is it true that you said Dokpesi would be appointed Chief of Staff over your dead body?
I never said so. Who is he that I will say over my dead body for him to be appointed? Not at all.
People expect you to be cautioning someone like Asari Dokubo, but it seems that the two of you are in tandem.
I think Nigerians are being unfair to this man. Asari Dokubo is about 50 years old. Asari Dokubo is no longer a young boy. There was a time when he was the President of the Ijaw Youth Council and you remember how long Asari Dokubo was in prison or detained by a former President of Nigeria. You also realise when Rivers State was burning, Asari Dokubo and Atake Tom were fighting but the governor of the state at the time was behind the scene, using one against the other until the Federal Government invited the two of them to Abuja. Asari Dokubo is not issuing statements just now. He has his own record. Yes, Nigeria will not burn if Jonathan does not contest the elections. Yes, he made statements to the effect that Nigeria will burn if Jonathan is not allowed to contest the elections. But people have failed to realise that Asari Dokubo was not the first to make that statement. There were older persons than Asari Dokubo from a certain part of the country who said there would be no Nigeria if a northerner did not become the president of this country. Someone said that Nigeria would become Somalia if a northerner did not become President of Nigeria. There are others who said there would be bloodshed. So, People should check when these statements were made; was Asari Dokubo’s statement the first? Or the other people who made the statement made them first? Check it out. Asari Dokubo did not wake up overnight to say those things. You will realise that the same Asari Dokubo was abusing Mr. President when he said he was not fit to run this country again to the applause and jubilation of some people, even the elders. Asari Dokubo should not be made a scapegoat. That is why I wrote an open letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives when a member from Kano said that Asari Dokubo and Kingsley Kuku should be investigated for those statements. However, Kingsley Kuku denied ever making such statements thereafter but I wrote a letter to the Speaker of the House and I listed all the people who made such provocative and inflammatory statements. I asked why only Asari Dokubo and Kingsley Kuku should be investigated? I said that in the interest of this country, the totality of all those people who made the provocative and inflammatory statements should be investigated because this country belongs to all of us. Some people have even said that oh, I am the enemy of Mr. President. When they abuse him and nobody says anything, they are happy and when we reply, they say we are the enemies of Mr. President because they don’t want us to reply. But I believe this country belongs to all of us; let us love one another. Jonathan will rule for only four years more. Four years will not break Nigeria, four years will not end Nigeria, I condemn all those who make those provocative and inflammatory statements whether it is Asari Dokubo or others. That is my position. We need one another, we have lived together in this country for 100 years, there was no negotiation. Out of the 53 years since independence, some people ruled for 38 years; others have ruled for 11 years, some have never ruled at all. Some are just ruling, if this country belongs to all of us, we must respect one another. Nobody is superior to the other; we are all equal. The moment one person is superior to the other, then we don’t have a country. Today an Afro-American is ruling the United States of America. Martin Luther King said about 47 years ago that ‘I have a dream.’ Now the dream has come true without firing a shot, without oppression, today a black American is ruling. If his first term was a fluke, he is ruling for a second term. Mandela came and ruled South Africa and everybody, including the white people who ruled for years, listened to him, obeyed him. Today, they are living side by side, why can’t we in Nigeria adopt the system adopted in South Africa and in the United States of America? Nobody is superior to the other; we must have a country where everybody is equal. That is why many of us are asking for a national conference. Let us discuss the basis of our living together.
You described Olusegun Obasanjo as a liar and manipulator, why?
Because, he had no right to write that letter he wrote to Mr. President. Not only that he accused the Ijaw of possessing Jonathan, he accused Ijaw of taking positions and as the leader of the Ijaw people, I had the right to reply him and tell Nigerians who was making those statements and the people he was making that statement about. That’s what I did.
You also accused Obasanjo of begrudging the President because he’s not allowing Obasanjo to dictate to him. How did you know this?
Ah, ahh, it’s an open secret. He tried it with Yar’Adua, that is why I attacked him. He did not succeed. Yar’Adua should have stopped him, unfortunately he died. Now, he wants Jonathan to allow him to rule from Ota farm. But Obasanjo alone did not vote for Jonathan; all Nigerians voted for him and he can only listen to the dictates of Nigerians, not to individuals, not to a person who has ruled before. You also know, one of his former ministers, (Nasir) El-Rufai, said in his book, “Accidental Public Servant,” that when they were leaving office, they had breakfast with Obasanjo on the last day and he told them that they should not go anywhere; that they would soon be relevant to rule; that he would be dictating from Ota farm. And he (El-Rufai) told Obasanjo that he was going out of the country. This is in the public domain; I was not the one who said this. When you asked how I knew, this is one of the ways. I saw the way he (Obasanjo) was intruding into the government of Yar’Adua. He thought that these people were weak rulers and he felt he could control them but unfortunately, they refused. That’s why he is begrudging them.
Why did you say that Yoruba people lack good leadership?
I never said Yoruba lacked good leadership. The Yoruba are the most sophisticated, the most educated people in this country. How can I say the Yoruba have no leader? All that I said was that (Bola) Tinubu cannot be the leader of Yoruba land; the Yoruba know who should be their leader. That’s what I said.