At 92, vocal Ijaw leader and respected elder statesman, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, has seen it all. The former Federal Commissioner for Information and National Leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) in this encounter with Sunday Sun gave a damning verdict on Nigeria’s condition, warning that unless something positive and urgent is done the keg of accumulated gunpowder will explode. Excerpt:
Let’s know your reflections on the security situation in Nigeria today?
My position has always been very constant, that we have taken a very dangerous and unprecedented security path in the country. For instance, the president came from the Sallah festival from Daura and the very day he left, the following day; about 18 people were killed in Katsina State, so you can imagine what is happening in other people’s homes and states. If Mr President’s home which should be very well fortified and people are still killing people, slaughtering fellow human beings, kidnapping people, etc; despite the president’s order that they should be wiped out, but the thing is still going on there, then you can imagine the magnitude of the danger we have lurking. There is fear everywhere and no country can survive the way we are going. Imagine that the medical director of the Ambrose Ali University in Ekpoma was carried away and two policemen were killed, so the situation is getting worse every day. You saw what happened recently in Sokoto, were a member of the House of Assembly was kidnapped and people killed, so no one should play politics with the security of this country. Let all of us speak the truth; we should come together and sincerely fight this insecurity. The army cannot do it alone, the police cannot do it alone and we don’t want to be fed with a situation, which is not the correct one. We cannot fight this insecurity with propaganda. Look at what is going on today, the people of Borno sent a petition to Mr President complaining about the security in the area that the army is not doing what they should do, that the military has not saved the situation, that even though they are there they are not still safe. We should believe them. Borno State governor complained, their former governor complained, although sometimes he contradicts himself by playing politics when he said the other day that Borno State was safer than Abuja, Port Harcourt, Lagos, etc, then after he ate his words by saying that security was terribly bad. We have heard the complaint from the army that they are not properly equipped, that they are not properly taken care off, so either Mr President change his the tactics, the army should change the tactics, everybody should be involved, what is going on today, we should not treat it with kid glove. We are being fed every day with security reports as if things are getting better, but the situation is getting worse. It is time and I repeat, it is time for the president to convene a meeting of all stakeholders, former President, Olusegun Obasanjo did that some years ago when he was in office and I was one of those who attended, various sectors of the country were summoned to that meeting with all security sections involved, governors involved. You can imagine a situation when you call a governor, the chief security officer of the state yet he has nothing to fight with them. Look at what happened in Nassarawa State recently where the deputy governor’s convoy was attacked by unknown gunmen and some policemen killed. So, what are we waiting for? Are we waiting for us to be overrun before we know that insecurity has taken over everywhere?
The meeting that you are suggesting, will it be a security meeting or a sort of a national conference?
It won’t be a national conference. As I said insecurity in this country particularly in the Northeast and Northwest is affecting every one of us, it’s not sectional insecurity, so what are we saying about it? What are we waiting for? The various ethnic groups, leaders, security heads should meet. Former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar tried to do something two or three weeks ago by inviting socio-cultural organizations like Afenifere, PANDEF, Ohanaeze, ACF, Northern Elders Forum, etc; but we couldn’t attend because he invited Miyetti Allah and one unknown Fulani organization and we said we were not going to attend because these people are the ones encouraging the Fulani herdsmen that are killing people everywhere and we said we won’t speak with them. So, Abdusalami tried to invite people, but the president should invite leaders of the various ethnic nationalities or socio-cultural organizations, invite the military, police, traditional rulers, governors, the youth, the women, etc, it’s not going to be a conference as such, but if you want to call it security conference it’s okay, if you want to call it security summit…it’s okay, but we must come together to speak about the insecurity in this country, how do we move forward? What is the way forward?
Do you think that the issue of the structure should also be discussed as some people have said that without restructuring no genuine progress can be made?
We have been talking about the restructuring of this country, they know that Nigeria cannot survive years to come without the restructuring of this country because there is no country were you have masters and servants, every citizen must be equal, but today we are not all equal, there is so much injustice because the constitution is one-sided, drawn up by military men who were in power, so the constitution is not federal, it’s the military constitution, cloth-with federalism, we want true federalism, that meeting will not be about restructuring the country, we will discuss security matters alone. The 2014 national conference has discussed the issues of whether we want true federalism, whether we want the military and so on, all that we need to do to as regards restructuring and the type of system we need for genuine development has been well discussed in the 2014 confab. This has been discussed by 492 men and women of various classes, attended also by people who are physically challenged, the blind, deaf, various organizations, etc, they all attended that conference and we discussed extensively on all critical issues and submitted 600 recommendations, if one part of those recommendations are implemented this insecurity will vanish. People are dissatisfied, people are hungry, people are suffering, that is why there is killing, that is why they are raping, that is why they are kidnapping people for money. I am 92, I can’t lie, I must speak the truth, we are not safe in this country, I repeat, we are not safe in Nigeria, all is not well. A situation that not a single Fulani herdsman has been arrested, has been disarmed or prosecuted is worrisome. We are pretending, but we are dangerously sitting on a keg of gun powder the way we are running Nigeria today. I hear the Inspector General of Police, the Federal Government saying that everybody surrenders their arm, yet they cannot disarm the Fulani herdsmen, what type of country is that? What type of country do we belong to? We are not talking politics, the government should listen to public opinion, the president should listen to the opinion of elders, he should listen to the opinion of the youth.
What is your position on the suspended RUGA project of this government?
No sane government will implement RUGA and this was properly explained by the governor of Kano State, that RUGA is not meant for every part of Nigeria, we are saying that in the South, we do not want Fulani herdsmen; they have been with us for years. What we are against is that the Fulani herdsmen with AK47 who have come into our country from Mali, Niger Republic, Sudan, Libya, Mauritania, etc; must be resisted, how do you allow them to go and settle in other Nigerian communities after destroying, killing, maiming those people living there, the original owners of the land? It is not acceptable; it means we have no country. In the interest of the unity of this country, RUGA should be killed forever.
Some people think that rotational presidency will stabilize Nigeria. Do you share in such a view?
We have just finished one election, but if we are talking about rotation it has been there. One of the reasons given against President Jonathan in the past was that he did not obey the rotation order of the presidency. Now after it has been zoned to the North, after eight years it will come to the South and I am surprised at those who are now talking nonsense, people wanting to become president of Nigeria from certain southern area when the whole of the East, which is a very vital part of this country, no matter whatever anybody says, the Southeast is a very important part of this country before and after independence, you cannot push them aside. You just cannot. They must be considered in any rotational matter about the presidency for 2023. It is funny somebody just coming out, saying that rotation is abolished, that it does not exist because one competent or intelligent fellow is needed. Are you telling me that the six zones in Nigeria that there is no zone that cannot produce competent, transparent, intelligent people to run the affairs of this country? Competent leaders abound everywhere among the different zones in Nigeria, so nobody should underrate any area of this country. The moment you are treating a certain area of this country as inferior people, as second class people, as people who are not equal to the others then there is no peace, there is no country. The amalgamation of Nigeria, South and Northern Nigeria, when it was made, it was not made that one group of people either the North or the South should be superior to the other. It was an amalgamation of people of equal citizens of their country. People existed before Lord Lugard came, there was the Southern Nigeria Protectorate, there was the Northern Nigeria Protectorate, so no one should deceive anybody that what is going on now in this country is true federalism, no. Today the president is talking about re-allocation of revenue, he has no power to do that, it is the job of Nigerians either at a conference and it must be passed through the National Assembly and the Houses of Assembly because it will affect the constitution. The present government is talking about granting autonomy to local governments, dissolving the join fund between the state and local government; these are matters of the constitution and only through the restructuring of the country that this can happen. I have also heard people like the governor of Sokoto State talking a few days ago about the office of the Attorney General.
That the office of the Attorney General should be separated from or different from that of the Minister of Justice. The constitution provides that an Attorney General should be independent, which is the Attorney General for everybody; the Minister of Justice can be a politician. We have also heard that the position of the Accountant-General of the Federation be split into two: one for the country and one for the Federal Government. These are all part of the restructuring that we are talking about.
What is your take on the alarm raised by the former President Olusegun Obasanjo that there is Islamization agenda plot?
(Cuts in) What other evidence do you require? The RUGA system whereby there will be Fulani herdsmen located or settled in all parts of Nigeria with schools everything provided, what do you think is happening? Are you not seeing what is happening in Southern Kaduna? Another point is that they have provided a radio service for them where they will be speaking in Fulfulde or Hausa language, today there are many of them (Fulani) in the South when they are arrested nobody prosecutes them, so where are we heading to? Is there any other definition for Islamism? So, Nigerians should be serious with ourselves, some of us are on our way out, but while we are still alive we will continue to speak out the truth and what should be done if we want this country to be united, peaceful, strong and great. We need a restructuring like yesterday. Look, as we are today, there is no one Nigeria, there is so much injustice projected into the system and we cannot continue to live like this. It is unacceptable.
So, what exactly is your worst fear today?
I fear that we are moving towards anarchy if nothing is done and this fear has been expressed by many people, by other well-meaning Nigerians. Let us not pretend, we must do the restructuring of this country. Some people are saying that they don’t understand what restructuring means, those people are just being vicious, they know what restructuring means, but are pretending, playing the ostrich. We have been restructuring Nigeria before and after independence, we have not stopped restructuring, when you restructure everybody will become equal, nobody will go to Abuja to collect money, the states will be independent, there will be the state police. Now, the Federal Government is talking about state police, community police, etc, you can’t get all this unless there is restructuring, the Federal Government cannot do it alone, that is the position.