Robert Clarke is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria who is very outspoken and vast in knowledge about happenings in the country. The octogenarian in this interview said that tribe, ethnicity and religion are the dominant factors in Nigeria’s politics.
He also spoke about the recent presidential election and way forward. Excerpts:
What is your take on the Presidential election in which President Buhari was declared the winner?
Well, prior to the holding of the election because of the hype and campaign gimmicks many people believed that Atiku was going to win the elections. But this is an idea being carried by many of the younger people who had never had the privilege of passing through Nigerian elections. For those of us who have known the patterns of elections in Nigeria, one thing was quite clear, ethnicity and religion still play a dominant part in the lives of Nigerians in the way and manner they vote. No matter what a political leader does, no matter how much money he steals, if he is from a particular ethnic group, they will never criticize him openly. They may see it as a bad thing that he has done, but they will continue to vote for him. Therefore, it is quite easy to predict what an election outcome will be in Nigeria. First, where you have two of the three dominant tribes in Nigeria: Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, where you have two of those three aligning together, they can never lose elections in Nigeria. In 1999, the Yoruba never represented Obasanjo, they never voted for Obasanjo, but because the Hausa and the Igbo supported him, he won the election. In 2004, Obasanjo in his second term also won the election because the Igbo and the Hausa were behind him. In 2015, my advice was sought by a top Nigerian, if you are going to rate his nearness to governance, he was about number 10. He asked, who do I think would win the election? I told him that Jonathan would fail. I told him this theory of when two out of the three tribes vote together, I said, now that the North and the Yoruba are in one party, they would win. I said, the Igbo will continue to lose election in Nigeria if they are not the dominant partner in any coalition. I told him, from what I know in Nigeria and from what I see in Nigeria. It will be very hard for the Igbo and the Yoruba to be in one coalition. So, Buhari and Atiku contest was even made simpler. There was no intrusion of the presidency by any other ethnic group outside the North. The presidential candidates were both northerners. If Atiku had won in the North, plus the Igbo and South-south votes, he would have been president. But, from history that I know, since Buhari has been contesting and this is the fourth time, no candidate has ever beaten Buhari in the North. When Buhari and Obasanjo contested in 2007, he defeated Obasanjo in the North by plurality of votes. When he and Yar’Adua contested in the North, he defeated Yar’Adua by plurality of votes. When he and Jonathan contested for the first time of Jonathan, he beat Jonathan by plurality of votes and when he now contested now, he still beat Atiku by plurality of votes. So, he is what is called the silver bullet. Whichever party Buhari belongs, he will always win in the North. Many of you don’t know that the northerners take Buhari like a demi-god. I tell people that they don’t know the politics of the North. When you look at all his four elections in the North, he has maintained a constant level of number of votes in 2019, 2015, 2007, 2004. He has consistently maintained 11million, 10 million, 12 million votes from the North. If people tell you that they rigged the votes in 2019 in the North, I asked them, what about 2004, what about 2007 and what about and 2015? There has been consistency in Buhari votes in the North. Look at the South. The only area I was surprised was in Ondo State and Oyo State, where PDP won. PDP won all the Igbo votes. If Buhari had won any Igbo state, I would have said the election was rigged. But look at APC, they lost two states. Did PDP rig those two? No, that was how the election went. Look at Kwara. Kwara politics has always been dominated by one family. Now, the people themselves said they are tired and they reflected it in all their votes. The man who is involved has seen it in the writing on the wall, he’s not contesting it. He has accepted the results and I thank him for that and for that, history will record him properly. As far as I’m concerned, the votes in Nigeria in 2019 reflects the pattern of voting since 1999. If anybody wants to prove me wrong let him show me facts and figures.
We had soldiers all over the places during the presidential election, is this suppose to be so?
When people say this statement you are making now, I laugh. Have you seen elections in India? The greatest democracy in the world? Do you know that every election in India, over 100 people are killed because of election? In the third world, every election is characterized by mayhem. Nigeria is not different. What has happened during this last election is not different from what has been happening before. I will even say election is better in Nigeria now from what it was because of the advent of card readers. I have been a lawyer to politicians for over 40 years. Ballot box snatching, writing results in the houses of politicians has always been the main thing. They call some wet rigging, they call some dry rigging. It got reduced when the issue of the new IT connections came up. Do you know that these last America elections there were petitions? Even in America, these last national elections to the senate and the congress, there were riggings there. So, it’s not unusual to find a third world country like Nigeria doing the same. We just have to pray and make sure in the future we get rid of these things.
Atiku has gone to court, claiming irregularities in the election, what is your take on that?
One of the greatest bad thing that social media has created – let me show you a funny one – recently, the media showed Obasanjo in the social media running at the airport, thereby creating an impression that Obasanjo is running after Buhari’s election. Social media can create anything. When you follow social media, you will go wrong. The electoral law is so clear. Malpractices will occur, every law must know such things would happen, but what the law says is that, if you feel that an election has not been conducted, the word used in the law is substantially in compliance. It does not say everything must be in compliance, it says substantial compliance. So, if you have 700 polling booths and in three polling booths you have malpractices, the law recognizes that such will happen. So, if you go to court to challenge an election results, you must not only show that the election was marred with irregularities, you must also show that those irregularities are so substantial that they have affected the results. When you take a constituency for a presidential candidate, which is Nigeria as a whole, these instances you are talking about when you count them, all those things you saw about under-aged pictures are not more than in three or four states and you have 36 states in Nigeria. The law says if such things happen, they will be identified, when you identify, then you will subtract them from the votes cast. If they substantially affect the majority of votes, then they redo it. That is why the election tribunal is there.
Then what advice do you have for Atiku in this election?
Not only to Atiku. But to great politicians like him, who are both in APC and PDP to step aside. They have been the problem in this country. Rigging of elections has consistently been done by them. My advice to Atiku’s clique, Buhari’s clique, Tinubu’s clique and all those top politicians is to step aside for younger generation to come in because if they continue to permeate the political scene, they are going to create a situation where the young ones under them now will follow up what they are doing. My advice to all of them is, let them retire from active politics. Let them change the constitution of this country so that no individual governor will be stealing money under the guise of security votes; also, no parliamentarian. Speakers will be chopping money under the disguise of allowances. Nigeria will be free for the younger ones to start a new life for Nigeria. So, I advice that they should kick themselves out. If the young politicians of today are not removed from the top, the ones who have been entrenched in election rigging, there will be problem in future. The problem about Nigeria is that we don’t learn about elections. When the ‘Oyinbos’ are leaving us in the 60s they taught the northerners what they call bureaucracy as the fountain of power.
When the colonialists are going, the Saduana said I don’t want self-government when they wanted to start regional government because the southerners are too far ahead of us. They complained they have no doctors, no lawyers etc; the ‘Oyibo’ sat Saduana down. “Forget about that, call your children at the end of their leaving school to go to immigration; police, and army, by the time the children from the South are going to England to read medicine, law, and your boys are already holding power of the bureaucracy. They are already in government’. The northerners understand politics more than the southerners. They are more politically conscious in the North more than the southerners. If we are not careful, the northerners will continue to hold the whole political sphere. I’m sorry to say, until tribal sentiments are re-oriented in Nigeria, Ao le ba Igbo se po o… (No Yoruba man will follow an Igbo man) that means the Igbo man can only align with the North. And it’s only when they align with the North that they gain something. Go and check Nigerian history. The only time the South-south and Southeast (Jonathan) had opportunity to rule Nigeria was because he aligned with the North. The only time Obasanjo could be a president by election was only when he aligned with the North, the Yoruba never wanted him and Obasanjo could never have won by the Yoruba votes. So, when two tribes of the three tribes in Nigeria come together, they will win election. That should be your guideline.