By Christy Anyanwu
Robert Clarke (SAN) is a legal luminary of over 45 years at the bar. He has been counsel to several Heads of State and top politicians in the country right from his early days as a lawyer. The octogenarian, who takes delight in talking about the state of the nation and politics in general in his chambers in Moloney, Lagos State, recently spoke with Sunday Sun about President Muhammadu Buhari’s rumoured re-election bid and other political issues ahead the 2019 general elections.
What do you foresee in 2019?
Robert Clarke is not a seer. I don’t have divine powers and I don’t want to have divine powers because I’m a human being. But looking at my own crystal balls, I doubt that the 2019 election can hold in this country under these circumstances that we are going, except the political parties sit down together and restructure this country. Going into election in 2019 under the 1999 Constitution portends danger to democracy. We have all said it, and it is still going to play, that our system of choosing candidates within the political party is the most corrupt system in the whole world, where a candidate that tries to vie for the position of a governor has to spend well over N5 billion just to get the nomination of his party. We shouldn’t allow such. So, we have to restructure and restructuring is to jettison the 1999 Constitution; it creates problem that bother on corruption and leads to people who want to get into governance to steal money to recoup what they spent while contesting.
Do you think there is viable opposition to the All Progressives Congress (APC) with what is going on now?
There is no stable political party in Nigeria. In the colonial era, there was the Action Group (AG), the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and the NCNC. As soon as the military incursion came, at every occasion the military wanted to hand over to civilian governance, new political parties emerged; political parties that were not the creation of ideologies but individuals within their ethnic surrounding. In 1979, after the first military incursion, the three political parties that came out were based on tribal lines, Awolowo – UPN; Zik – NPP; Shagari – NPN. In 1999, when another military system was being jettisoned, the old three parties were no longer in existence; new ones were formed. PDP and AD all are tribal based. Come 2015, an amalgamation of ethnic groups formed the APC. In 2019, if there’s a chekism within the APC and it degenerates into roforofo fight, the Igbos may join with the North and jettison the Yorubas and form another party. So, political parties in Nigeria don’t have any seriousness of ideology; circumstances arising at the material time dictate political parties that exist.
Why has it been so sir?
As I said, Nigeria has two main problems — tribalism and ethnicity. The combination of these two elements gives rise to corruption. Without these two, corruption would have been a manageable thing in Nigeria. But because of ethnicity, if a man steals money, which area he comes from dictates whether he should be exposed or not. So, if they are going to form a political party not based on ideology but on individuals, who are masters in their regions or states, these two elements will still rear their heads. So, I’m afraid that in 2019, even if APC and the Peoples Democratic Party (APC) are destroyed and new political parties come up, we are not going to see anything different from what we have been seeing.
Should Buhari be re-elected in 2019?
You see, politics is not my cup of tea. I have been a lawyer to politicians for almost 45 years. At a relatively young age in practice, I was counsel to Shagari and I counseled him well and I have counseled other Heads of State. So, politicians are special breeds of people. The way they reason, the way they react to certain issues is peculiar to them. Therefore, if Buhari is well enough and he is the silver bullet of the North; and you know what I mean by silver bullet… On his own about 10 years ago, he was able to secure 10 million votes from the North alone. You see what I mean for you to get somebody in politics you can call a silver bullet; no other person in Nigeria’s has it. Let me be frank, the Igbos have no leader at the moment that they can point to who can create that silver bullet; they don’t have it. The Yorubas don’t have that person to create that silver bullet. If you pick one Yoruba leader from Ijebu area, the Egbas will not accept him; if you pick one Yoruba leader from Lagos, the others will not accept him. So, the Yorubas are not united and they don’t have a leadership since Awolowo’s demise. So, if Buhari is healthy and he still holds that silver bullet of the North, any combination of the North with either the West or the East will win an election.
You see, Nigeria stands on a tripod system of governance. Any two of the major political parties, if they gang up together, they will form a government of the federation. Why APC is in power today is that the Yorubas and the Hausas ganged up. Tomorrow, it may be the turn of the Igbos and the northerners to gang up and push the Yorubas away from government. But the reality is that the equation of this tripod must include the North. If the Yorubas and the Igbos gang up, they can never unite. Look, I’m 80 years old; I have been in this country. You can’t get unity between the Yorubas and the Igbos; they have never had it. The best opportunity they could have had it was in 1959 when Awolowo offered Zik the leadership, the premiership of Nigeria but Zik refused because he wanted to keep one Nigeria. He preferred to serve as a junior to Tafawa Balewa rather than be a senior to Awolowo. You need to know the history of this country.
So, Buhari is a silver bullet; you can’t remove that fact. He’s like a god in the North and we don’t have any leader within other tribes. Who in Igbo land today is the leader of the Igbos? None. Who in the West today is the leader? Is it the Lagos man? Half of the Yorubas will not accept him.
Who is the Lagos man?
Why won’t the Yoruba’s accept him?
That is the reality of politics in Nigeria. Until we change the system of governance where a candidate for an election does not need to spend money all over Nigeria to get elected but is restricted to his local government… if you win in your local government like what they do in South Africa, all of you will come to the parliament and they will elect you as president. That will enthrone sanity. Then money will no longer be the first thing for any politician to run after.
What is the future of this country under Buhari. Things are getting harder and there are more crazy people on the road these days?
It will be most unfair to say that what is happening in Nigeria today, socially, economically is because of Buhari. That will be an unkindest statement to attribute. Buhari, if he had met the oil price at $140 per barrel, you won’t be talking like that today because of his antecedents. Let us be honest; if not for the 10 years development plan of the Balewa government and Okotie Eboh, which Gowon took over and we had this oil money in 1972 to build all these infrastructure, Aladja cement etc., no government in Nigeria outside Gowon had done anything. Look at the second Niger Bridge. Obasanjo promised the Igbos and laid the foundation; Jonathan promised the Ibos and laid the foundation. Yet it was not built. There’s no solid development in Nigeria; all what you have in Nigeria today working were laid by the military because they had the money to spend. When Nigeria had the money to spend, nothing was done. So, don’t blame Buhari for anything. No leader in Nigeria has done anything for Nigeria; tell me one leader. Obasanjo was there for eight years, Yar’Adua was there for four years, Jonathan was there for six years, Buhari is just laying another foundation for the second Niger Bridge. It’s not Buhari’s fault at all. He’s trying; certain infrastructures are now coming in. The Chinese has a saying that you must destroy before you can build.
For how long sir? I see the common man on the street crying for food, shelter, etc…
It’s not only in Nigeria. Have you gone to other West African countries? Have you gone to Ivory Coast? Didn’t you listen to what the president of Ivory Coast said in Nigeria recently, that when Nigeria was losing oil price from $140 to $40 per barrel, their own cocoa price also fell by almost 60 per cent. It’s a worldwide phenomenon. So, don’t let us restrict it to an individual or to the country. We are trying but let us look back; our system is the worst enemy we have. Our system of governance is our worst enemy. It allows ethnic considerations in appointments. Buhari sacks the head of a government agency and appoints another, the next day somebody says, ‘ooh, he’s the cousin of the one that was removed.’ This is the problem in Nigeria. Nobody is looking at the man, his antecedents but ethnicity first.
But truly we see that most appointments are made from the North?
There’s no one North. Is there one South? There are 19 states in the North. The Hausa Fulani only has nine. So, what are you people saying? The Middle Belt, if they gang up together against the Hausa Fulani in the North and just join South South alone, they will win Nigeria in politics. But they are not ready to come together. The new Secretary to the Government of the Federation is from Adamawa State; he is not from Katsina State. It’s just like saying you are appointing a Yoruba man when you are removing an Igbo man. They are southerners; but are they the same? They are not the same. We just believe that the North is one, but the North is not one. In Borno State alone, there are 32 different languages; in Plateau State, there are about 42 different languages. But the lingua franca is Hausa language and that is one of the greatest things the late Sarduana did to create what we now call one North.
The Sarduana ensured that every school in the Northern region, every primary school, Hausa language was taught. So, when an Igbira man sits in a room, a Benue man sits in a room, an Hausa man sits in a room, a Fulani man sits in a room, they have one common language. For southerners, if we don’t speak Pidgin English, we have no lingua franca in the South. There is no common language in the South. That’s one of the greatest things the Sarduana did for the North. And he didn’t care; once you speak Hausa language, he didn’t want to know where you came from. That’s why you and I think there is one North; it’s a myth. All that has gone away over 40 years ago. Even among the Hausas and the Fulanis there is still chekism. A typical Hausa man is annoyed when the Fulani man starts speaking his Fufude. When they are speaking in Hausa language, the Fulani man and his brothers will start speaking in their native Fufude and the Hausas will be annoyed.
Politically, you said the Igbos can’t make it in an election. Why do you think so and what is the way forward?
It’s because they don’t have a leader. I have many friends among the Igbos. I admire them; they are the greatest Nigerians who can make wealth and who can do something for the progress of this country. But their problem is their background. Even when Zik was regarded as the leader of the Igbos, some Igbos called him Hausa man from Zungeru or a Yoruba man. In fact, Zik spoke Yoruba fluently more than the Igbo language; he spoke the Hausa language more than the Igbo language. Since Zik died, no Igbo man has come out as leader of Igbos. Ekwueme, who would have been more respected, was not allowed to show his skills. Tell me one Igbo leader today. Zik was born in Zungeru but he grew up in Lagos. Okorocha was born in the North. He’s a fantastic man; he has built so many secondary schools in Plateau and Kano states, given so many scholarships and yet the Igbos will say he’s not an Igbo man.
Do the Yorubas have a leader today? Tinubu will say he’s the leader but people like Adebanjo will shout him down if he says that. That is our problem and it is the system of governance that creates gods among ethnic groups. We need a system that will allow independent candidates to contest elections in the local councils; people respect them there. They don’t need to enter into a political system that is corrupt. Nigeria will be great; there is no doubt about that. This present government is laying the foundation. We don’t have democracy in Nigeria. Don’t let anybody tell you lie. We have a civilian form of government, which is not democracy. We have always had military and civilian governments; we have never had democracy in Nigeria. Democracy is the strengthening of the institution of governance. Until you start to strengthen the institution of governance you will never have democracy. Elections are just to elect civilians; they are not democratic.
What’s your take on the alleged corruption in APC-led government?
Let me be frank with you, every political party in Nigeria is corrupt. So, don’t ascribe it to anybody. Do you know that the greatest corruption is within the civil service not even the politicians? The corruption within the politicians is so small compared to the corruption within the civil service. So, I don’t want to talk about it. Change the system and you will see that corruption will run away. The two things that spurred corruption are ethnicity and religion.
I was reading recently where the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) was alleging that Buhari wants to Islamise Nigeria. Is that our problem? What has religion got to do with our progress? This is the same CAN that was collecting billions from the past government. Religion is morality; it all depends on whose divide you are. The difference is only in the culture that is pushing the religion. Islam is being pushed by the Arabs who have a different culture; Christianity is being pushed by the Western countries who have a different culture. But it’s the same one God. Politicians are using religion and ethnicity to bamboozle us.
So, what is the way forward?
Change the system of governance. Restructure Nigeria in a way where the amount of money we spend on maintaining governance is reduced. Today, 80 per cent of what we get go into sustaining our governance. Paying our legislators, paying civil servants, no capital projects, why should we continue that? The Yorubas say odo gbodo ru, (meaning zero x zero is zero). We cannot afford 36 states that came from the craziness of Abacha. He did it for his own self-ego. Many of the 36 states can’t pay workers’ salaries. So, why are they surviving? A man who cannot feed this family, who cannot pay his children’s school fees, is he a man? You are a governor of a state; you can’t pay salaries of your workers but you have 17-20 special assistants that you are paying every month. Does that make sense? These are the things that we have to change. Forget whether it’s Buhari or Oshodi contesting.