18 Feb 2018

Obasanjo's Coalition Will Fail But Buhari Should Forget 2019 - Edwin Clark

A frontline Ijaw leader and the convener of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, Chief Edwin Clark, in this interview with THEOPHILUS ONOJEGHEN, speaks on former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s coalition, cattle colonies and other national issues
What do you make of a statement by former President Olusegun Obasanjo on the state of the nation?

As far as I am concerned, majority of the issues raised in Obasanjo’s statement are things that Nigerians are worrying about, but the messenger is not the right person who should deliver the message because he (Obasanjo) has no moral justification to deliver it. In the first instance, he introduced corruption to the National Assembly. He not only initiated corruption among the lawmakers, he legalised it. He is not qualified to deliver this kind of message. For instance, he bought many shares in Transcorp Hilton, and Governor Nasir el-Rufai in his book said he and Ribadu advised Obasanjo not to buy the shares but that he refused and became a major shareholder there. Why did he sell the legislative quarters in Apo, Abuja to the lawmakers when he knew that another set will replace them?  Now, federal legislators are renting houses.  A Presidential Library is a project that should be executed through the goodwill of the President. He should not have forced people to donate money to build a Presidential Library as he did. So, Nigerians are very wise now. When he issued that statement, many people thanked him for his courage because we knew he would still fall out with Buhari. We knew that his support for Buhari was temporary. He (Obasanjo) understands the problem of Nigeria but he never identified himself with the solutions to the problems. So, as far as I am concernd, his idea of a group (of political men and women) coming together as a third force, is nothing but nonsensical.

He assembled people like former Governor (Olagunsoye) Oyinlola of Osun State, who does not have an outstanding record within the PDP.  He became the secretary of PDP and later went away. What good record does he have? Ahmadu Ali’s wife has gone to the APC. Ahmadu Ali and Obasanjo were responsible for the destruction of the PDP when they started to deregister people especially when you don’t agree with them. They forced people out of the PDP. These are the people who destroyed the PDP. What type of group do they want to form? Ahmadu Ali was the campaign manager of former President Goodluck Jonathan, but did he campaign anywhere? He did not.  Since Donald Duke left office as governor of Cross River State, what position has he occupied? What has he been doing? He has been jumping from one party to another. What are they trying to achieve? These are disgruntled elements from the PDP. Their (coalition) group is dead on arrival. It will fail.

Do you think that President Buhari, with his performance so far, deserves a second term?

I said earlier that most of the things Obasanjo said in his statement are the same things Nigerians have been expressing serious concerns about. I was shocked when I heard that some people are asking (Buhari) him to contest again. This is somebody who left Nigeria for many months to receive treatment in Britain. I was shocked that the man had barely arrived in Nigeria when those promoting him decided to launch his second-term campaign.  Nigerians don’t even know if Buhari is completely healthy for the great task of governance yet. We don’t even know his ailment. I think that it is too early in the day for anybody to think of President Buhari being returned for a second term. I think he (Buhari) has to take care of his health first. Nigerians are also talking about his age whether 74 or 75. If he is 75, it means that by 2019 he would be 76 or 77. The man at the moment does not look healthy. He’s a fine man but I do not think that at the age of 80 or 77 he is still strong enough to become the President of Nigeria. Those of them who are saying they want Buhari are not sincere with him. We are not talking of being competent or not. I have always supported his anti-corruption crusade, his sincerity and honesty of propose. But these are not enough to rule a big country like Nigeria. Nigeria requires a mobile president – a president who can be moving from place to place. For the period he (Buhari) was away, Niger Delta was boiling, but the then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo was able to go to the area to meet with the people of the region including the various leaderships and youths. If President Buhari were a younger person or somebody who is very healthy, he would have visited Benue State over the killings by herdsmen to have an on-the-spot-assessment. In this case, you can’t blame or fault him because you don’t know the state of his health. There are a lot of things that Obasanjo mentioned in his special statement. I will advise that President Buhari should not listen to those people clamouring for a second term for him. He should examine his state of health and his ability to do the work. These are things he has to consider. Nigeria first before him. I know he has the interest of Nigeria at heart but he must be capable of doing it physically and psychologically and mentally.

Obasanjo also talked about the appointment of security chiefs by President Buhari. Everybody believes that what he (Buhari) did was wrong. Nigeria is one entity. It is true that the appointment of security chiefs of this country is leaning towards the North. Buhari is not the first person that would do that. (Former President Shehu) Shagari did it also.

There is a need for a change. If you look at the security architecture of the last (Jonathan) government, the service chiefs were not from the South alone but now, almost everybody is from the North. What Nigerians are worried about is that Buhari shouldn’t have followed suit. A situation where you have a meeting of national security council, and only people from one side of the country are in attendance as members, is very dangerous because people from other regions are not there to contribute. How do we guarantee the security of every Nigerian when people from one side of the country are in the highest security council of the country?  I believe that like the last one (referring to NIA DG) he should have looked for another Yoruba man or an Igbo man to be appointed. If there are no capable persons, the federal government should have given it to the South-South. It shouldn’t have come from the North unless he was next in line. In this case, the man had even retired as an assistant director.  Mr. President should sit down, think, revisit and readjust the appointments.

Is it right for the FG to set up a committee to negotiate with killer herdsmen?

Everybody in this country condemned what the Federal Government is doing to these killer herdsmen. I grow up as a young man playing with herdsmen. They only walked with sticks in those days with which they used to control their cows. We enjoyed them. But today, when they carried dangerous weapons like AK47, one begins to wonder how young herdsmen had to be armed. The argument that some of them come from other countries is the greatest falsehood on the part of government. While the borders are very wide, the FG should be able to protect it and prevent those who will cause problem in Nigeria from coming in. The argument that the herdsmen come from various places is not a good excuse. I believe that apart from having ranches, the FG should ask security officers to disarm the herdsmen. Any herdsman found with AK47 should be arrested. I am surprised that up till now, no herdsman has been arrested and charged to court. Do they attack and immediately flee back to their countries? The idea of setting up committee to negotiate with them is not the answer. Government should face this crisis squarely because the herdsmen are doing their private business. I however agree that government should provide conducive atmosphere for them; that’s the duty of government. If government wants to give aid to them as farmers to erect their ranches, they should give to them. You do not have to spread them all over the country.

A lot of Nigerians have demanded the designation of herdsmen as terrorists. Do you agree with them?

The government knows what to do. If the government says the cattle in Sokoto should remain in Sokoto, and those in Kaduna should remain in Kaduna, nothing will happen but to pretend that nothing is happening is the height of insult. I’m not just one of those who are condemning the government just for the fun of it – at least some of us have been involved in the government of this country for over 50 years. I serve this country as a commissioner, minister and I also serve this country as a senator. It is not good enough to condemn other peoples’ governments. Buck-passing is one of the issues raised by Obasanjo. The APC condemned the 2014 National Conference Report, but compare it to the APC report, there’s hardly anything that is not in the 2014 report. The Ijaw have set up a committee under the leadership of Professor Fubra of Rivers State with Ambassador Ngali as secretary, to examine the APC report and compare it to the 2014 report. It is only one area the APC report exceeded the 2014 report. What the 2014 National Conference could not take a decision, the APC committee did.

What is that?

That’s resource control, derivation and fiscal federalism. The northerners have always kicked against resource control. In 2005 during the Political Reforms Conference, set up by former President Obasanjo, I was the leader of the South-South and we walked out because we were not satisfied with the role played by northerners who believed that the status quo should remain. They (northerners) did not believe that there should be an increase in the 13 per cent derivation which is the minimum as contained in the 1999 constitution. Not one single penny has been added. When we were at the National Conference in 2014, this issue came up again and we felt that the northerners have had a rethink particularly when they realised how our environment is being polluted, the ecosystem and our economy being destroyed. Surprisingly, we found again that the oil being produced in the Niger Delta region is being controlled by the northerners both in the appointment of officers, and the senior management staff. The price of fuel is higher in Yenagoa than in Sokoto.


Because of the Equalisation Fund Act. So, we are not in the oil business and we don’t lift oil. We are not marketers and we don’t manage marginal oil fields and we don’t equally hold any position in the oil industry. Yet, the government of Buhari considered it necessary, when there was recession, to spend the little money we had to search for oil in Lake Chad. Is it that we belonged to a different country that oil must be found at all cost in the North? Yet, the one we have you are the one controlling it. And when our youths speak, you (FG) call them militants and all sorts of funny names. The government wants to kill them with Operation Crocodile Smile. The amount of money spent on the military in the Niger Delta is enough to develop the region every year. I am challenging the Federal Government to name any mega project or infrastructural development given to the people of the Niger Delta and yet, we hear of N20 billion for water resources in other part of the country. Look at the East-West road, they cannot complete it. And yet, the oil being produced is got from the people living along the East-West Road but nobody wants to talk. From Obiama to Kiayama, the road is bad. From Obiama to Port Harcourt, the road is yet to be completed; and yet somebody will come to say we have spent N300 billion on the road. How much does the Federal Government spend on roads in other parts of the country?

Are the leaders of the Niger Delta okay with the APC report? If yes, will you seek immediate implementation of that report?

You were here the other day when the Ijaw leaders met under the leadership of the governor of Bayelsa State. The deputy governor of Delta State and Ijaw leaders drawn from the various states in the Niger Delta were in attendance. We appreciate the U-turn made by the APC. El-Rufai never wanted restructuring and he described those who were asking for restructuring as opportunists; and we criticised him at that time. We considered his statement as very insulting. That former presidents like IBB, General Gowon; (former Vice-President) Atiku (Abubakar) and others have all spoken in favour of the restructuring of this country. I thought when El-Rufai was appointed to lead the APC committee, he would not accept it. That’s why some of us say let’s congratulate them for having a change of mind. The question is: are they sincere and honest? If they are, let the Federal Government set up a committee to look into the immediate implementation of the recommendations because there is hardly any difference between the APC recommendations and the 2014 National Conference. The idea that the 2014 report was elitist, when delegates were selected from all over the country, is wrong. The 2014 report has come to save Nigeria. It was wrong of anybody to say Jonathan just picked his friends. I was listening to Prof G. G. Darah when he said all the professional bodies, market women, civil rights organisations and others all elected representatives to the conference. We had the physically challenged people – the blinds, the deaf, the lames – were all there at that 2014 conference. The youths were also there at that conference. So, for anybody to say that the delegates were selected by Jonathan is most dishonest.  It is a big lie. The only place Jonathan must have tempered with is the selection of the elders.

Now that the APC has made a U-turn, let President Buhari take immediate action to marry the two reports and send it to the National Assembly. Those areas that can be executed administratively, let him implement them so that before the 2019 elections, let’s have a change in this country. Let’s have a constitution whereby devolution of power will be enshrined and all Nigerians would be seen as being equal. A situation whereby the North-West has seven states and South-East has only five is not good enough. It automatically puts the Igbo in a difficult situation in terms of ministerial appointments. While the North-West will produce seven, the Igbo ethnic nationality will produce five. These are things that must be corrected. A situation whereby the Federal Government retains 52 per cent of the nation’s revenue is unfair. We have already set up a committee to look into the issue of this dichotomy between the offshore and onshore. We’ll get there. All we are now praising them for is that they have now accepted resource control principle.

Many Nigerians have also expressed worry that the U-turn made by the APC is another political gimmick to arm-twist Nigerians now that 2019 is approaching. Do you share in these fears?

The main fact is that the APC recommendation was made by those who were opposed to restructuring. For them to change overnight amazes all of us but we want the Federal Government, headed by President Buhari, also to say we now accept the restructuring of the country. Let him set up a committee that will assist him to put the two reports together and submit them to the National Assembly for legislation. If they do this, the reasons for these fears would not arise. I am also calling on the PDP to come out with a report that will be easier to marry. They (PDP) should know that the 2014 report is not a PDP report; it is a Nigerian report.

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