Chief Edwin Clark, a nationalist who served under former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, as Federal Commissioner for Information, in this interview, speaks on the need for true federalism and why zoning of the nation’s presidency is paramount among other issues. Excerpts:
Let us talk about the state of the nation…
Things are very bad but we thank God that we are surviving and we remain united. The challenges are however many. Today, the country seems to be divided religiously and ethnically despite the fact that we all talk about unity. Security challenge is growing. The situation has not been effectively controlled. About four years ago, we were talking about Boko Haram in the North-East, and we felt that, with the promise made by the ruling party for ‘change’ and having the country being headed by a former military Head of State, Boko Haram would be a thing of the past. But, today, Boko Haram is still a problem. And apart from Boko Haram, we can see what is going on in the North-West, especially in Sokoto and Katsina. People are being killed, maimed and kidnapped. In Taraba, Plateau and Benue states, the situation is not different. We have, today, in the South, herdsmen ransacking everywhere, harassing maiming, kidnapping and raping women. Things are not normal.
Is this the Nigeria our heroes past foresaw when they fought for independence?
I will say no because in the First Republic, even though we had some problems, the unity of Nigeria was very much guaranteed. During the pre-independence era, we were working together until 1953 when Tony Enahoro moved the motion for the independence of Nigeria and the Northern Region walked out of parliament. The British government invited Nigerian leaders to London for the 1954 and 1957 conferences and so on which led us to independence in 1960. During the period, there was peace and each of the regions was developing at its own pace while revenue allocation was based on what you produced in your area. You keep 50 percent of the allocation while the remaining 50 percent goes to the Federal Government. And of the 50 percent that goes to the Federal Government, 20 percent is kept by the Federal Government while the remaining 30 percent is shared among other regions. Until 1963 when the Mid-West Region was created, each of the regions had its own Constitution and Agent General in London. Today, you find that one of the houses acquired by the Western Nigerian government in those days is part of the Nigeria High Commission in London. Then, there was neither envy nor hatred. Both Muslims and Christians were living in peace and harmony. But when the Army struck, problem started. Then General Gowon came into power in 1966 and there was problem. The killing of prominent Nigerian politicians resulted into the counter-coup of July 1966, leading to the Aburi Accord in 1967 which did not materialise. General Gowon created 12 states after the civil war. So, today, we have 36 states including the Federal Capital. Perhaps, those who fought for independence in 1960 when we got it never envisaged that, 59 years after, Nigeria will still be so much divided and there would be many challenges. Now there is hunger; unemployment has risen to 23 percent; Fulani herdsmen carry AK 47 around and we were told they are from Libya, Burkina Faso and Mali among others and these people have been allowed to come into Nigeria untouched. The next thing we heard was that they wanted RUGA in the 36 states of the federation, meaning that these Fulani herdsmen would now be settled in the 36 states. Nigerians kicked against it, and it was suspended; but we hope it would be suspended forever because it could divide this country.
From what you have enumerated, does it not justify the standpoint of some people that Nigeria, in the first instance, is a mistake?
No! Nigeria is not a mistake. I agree that there were two protectorates in Nigeria; the Northern and the Southern. It was Lord Lugard that brought us together in 1914, believing that Nigeria would be a united country for us to live in, in peace. There is no harm in having a united country but it appears that when Lugard amalgamated us, some people thought they would be superior while others would be inferior. I think that this thinking is the root of our problems today. But I do not think that the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorates was a mistake. If we put true federalism into practice today, Nigeria will be well. Everybody would be looking after his resources and contributing what he has to the centre. Restructuring of the country is paramount. Without restructuring, we will be back to square one. Very many states cannot pay salaries and they are even bankrupt. You see them come to Abuja for allocation. The situation is very ridiculous and very unprogressive. We are still running a unitary system of government which the military introduced. Even the Constitution we are using was put together by the military. So the Constitution does not serve our interest.
Is true federalism far-fetched?
True federalism is not far-fetched. We believe Nigeria would go into more crises without true federalism. You remember that, in 2014, we had the National Conference which had about 492 delegates drawn from across the country. We sat for four months and produced 600 recommendations. If implemented, we will not be facing what we are facing today. So we are calling on the President to implement as many of the recommendations as possible. Even the ruling APC set up a committee headed by the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, and they came up with recommendations just like the one the 2014 Confab produced. So, it is not a question of true federalism being far-fetched. That is why our organisation, the Southern and Middle-belt Leaders Forum, is pressurising government to look in this direction. We believe true federalism should be adopted. Even the President said it at a time in the past. It would be in his interest and he would leave a good legacy behind if he approves it.
What is your view about the Waterways Bill reintroduced by the Federal Government at the National Assembly?
The introduction of the Waterway Bill is anti true federalism. It won’t work. It is against the unity of this country. The last decree of 1978 which is entrenched in the 1999 Constitution as amended made it very clear in Section 1 and Section 25 that the lands in the various states are held by the governor in trust for the people. Remember it happened during the military regime of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida when the Federal Government had problems with Lagos State on Osborne land in Ikoyi. We don’t want such thing. We want the lands in every state to be owned by the people in that state. It is unacceptable to us.
What is your take on the jostle for the 2023 presidency and some northern elements campaigning against zoning apparently in the quest to retain power after President Buhari would have finished his two terms?
Like I said earlier, when Lord Lugard amalgamated us, he did not say northerners are superior to southerners. They had the presidency several times throughout the military era. Today, another northerner is running for eight years. The South-West have had their turn and the South-South had their turn through President Jonathan. It is only the South-East that has not had it. It is the turn of the Igbo to have it. Where in Nigeria don’t you have competent people? Where in Nigeria don’t you have intelligent people? Every region in Nigeria has qualified people to run government and be President of Nigeria. That is why people like Alhaji Balarabe Musa and Senator Shehu Sani are talking of giving peace a chance. Let zoning between the South and the North continue. That is the only honest thing to do in this country.
But some argued that the Igbo have not played politics well to deserve it?
How do they want them to play it? Have they not been participating in all the elections? Do they not have governors elected in the East? Do they not have National Assembly members elected in the East? Is it because they refused to vote for a particular party? What are they talking about? How does that affect them? During the 2019 campaign, we heard Mr Babatunde Fashola (Minister) and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo saying that if the South-West voted for Buhari en-masse, the presidency would come to them in 2023. The Secretary to the Federal Government went to the South-East to say the same thing. Labour Minister Chris Ngige also said same thing to south-easterners. These were mere campaign gimmicks. Let us face the reality; most of them who are talking about it were not born when Nigeria got independence and they didn’t know how Nigeria developed. I am now 92. I saw Nigeria in the First Republic and the role the Igbo played. There is no politician better than the Igbo politician. The Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of the Northern Nigeria, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, played politics together with his Igbo counterparts. The Mbadiwes and Aja Nwanchukus were easterners who played leading roles in the development of this country. What of Nnamdi Azikiwe? Nigeria has qualified people from every region, every state. To say they have not played politics well is unacceptable. Is it because they fought the civil war they believed in?
What then are the chances of the South-West in 2023?
They should stop thinking of becoming the President of Nigeria. What does Tinubu have to offer that the people of the South-East cannot offer? What is the justification for them to become the President of Nigeria? Is it because they belong to the APC? They should not be thinking of how to divide Nigeria. We must all unite and have respect for ourselves. The South-West should allow other people to have a taste of power. There is no way the South-West would be better than the South-East on the 2023 presidency.
What is the way forward?
Let us practice true federalism in this country. Let every Nigerian have a sense of belonging. Without restructuring, the future is bleak. You remember the other day Mr. President said ‘if we do not kill corruption, corruption will kill us’. I also believe that if we do not restructure this country, non-restructuring of Nigeria will kill Nigeria. In a situation where some people feel they are superior to others, we don’t have a country. Nobody wants to be a slave to another person. Let the elders of the country meet from time to time to discuss the challenges of Nigeria. Like former President Olusegun Obasanjo, I have advocated that all stakeholders, including youths and women, have a roundtable to discuss the security of this country. What is happening in the North-East and North-West should not be regarded as a northern affair but a Nigerian affair because, sooner or later, it will happen to all of us.
What is your view about the N5.5 billion the 9th Assembly budget for cars?
I painted the picture earlier. Our economy is going down; even though we have come out of recession, we are not out of it completely. An average Nigerian receives N18, 000 a month and you say you cannot pay them. Some states owe 12 months of salaries and gratuities are not paid to retirees. The National Assembly is tired of this country and they have a problem of thinking that they are different from ordinary Nigerians. Governors say they cannot pay N30, 000 minimum wage while each senator is receiving N14million a month! Also, what happened to the cars bought by the 8th Assembly? Why would they budget over N5 billion? Like we recommended in the 2014 National Conference, parliamentarians at the National Assembly should be on part-time and not full-time job. What do they do! Sometimes you find that half of the chambers are empty. This is very unfair of the 9th Assembly to other Nigerians. As far as I am concerned, this is not the time to spend over N5 billion on cars. I think they should have a rethink as most of the N9 trillion budget of Nigeria would come from borrowing and they are the ones responsible for the approval of budget. We are indeed not in good times. As we celebrate this independence anniversary, every Nigerian should think of Nigeria first and not of themselves. If there is no Nigeria, there will be no National Assembly.Source: