I never thought I would ever find myself holding brief for the elder statesman from the South/South. I am talking of the brilliant and loquacious attorney Edwin Kiagbodo Clark whose bloodline is traced to two important tribes in the South/South Geo political zone of Nigeria. One of his parents is Urhobo and the other is Ijaw and he uses both sides very effectively as needed.
Edwin Clark belongs to the most powerful ethnic minority in Nigeria that Obafemi Awolowp correctly predicted long ago would be the first ethnic minority to ever have the chance to dislodge the powerful Hausa/ Fulani, the Yorubas and the Igbos, who are the three dominant tribes in Nigeria, with sufficient gravitas and the population to forever dominate Nigerian power configuration. Left to the Hausa/Fulani bloc who called themselves the “born to rule”, it was never their plan to relinquish power but they were forced by circumstances beyond their control to concede power to a Southerner when Murtala Mohammed was assassinated by a fellow Northerner, Colonel Dimka from the minority Middle Belt area.
It became clear to the Northerners at that point, they could no longer bypass Murtala’s number two man Olusegun Obasanjo to settle for another junior Northerner as they did when they picked Yakubu Gowon to succeed Aguiyi Ironsi because they believed that the South would not tolerate another Muslim from the North, given the bitterness and resentment which followed the assassination of Aguiyi Ironsi and Adekunle Fajuyi at Agodi GRA in Ibadan in July 1966.
The South grudgingly accepted Yakubu Gowon as head of State as a compromise choice. So when another coup led by Dimka took out Murtala Mohammed, the Northern powerbrokers had to allow his number two man Mr. Obasanjo to replace Mr. Murtala based on a quid pro quo agreement that elevated Mr. Shehu Musa Yar Adua as the number 2 man to Mr. Obasanjo even though he was a junior officer to Mr. Obasanjo at that point.
Mr. Obasanjo appeared to be the least intimidating of the Southern officers available for the job and the most reluctant to seriously rock the boat for the Northerners. Mr. Obasanjo wisely delivered on his promise to the North when he resolutely paved the way for Shehu Shagari to return back to power by quickly proclaiming Mr. Shagari as winner of the highly compromised 1979 election even before the Appeal Court had a chance to return a verdict on the Awolowo petition.
All I am saying is that politics in Nigeria has always been about opportunism, ethnic balancing, and bread and butter as individuals position themselves in the only political party they think is most likely to win when the chips are down. Conviction politicians have therefore become a very rare species in Nigeria if you know what I mean. They are endangered species in a country where politics has become the most lucrative occupation minus the Church and the Entertainment industry, if you are paying attention as much as I do.
The Action Group under Obafemi Awolowo used to boast of more of such conviction politicians before Mr. Buhari and his cohorts came on board. Mr. Awolowo and Mr. Buhari ran and lost the presidency three times. Buhari won the fourth time only because Nigeria was brought down to her knees by the limitless corruption of the Jonathan Administration and the resolute approach of an Attahiru Jega who for once decided to conduct the fairest and the most free election in Nigeria despite deliberate intimidation from the President who appointed him. Mr. Jonathan had thought he could buy the election by throwing money around like a drunken sailor.
Buhari won because he developed a winning strategy by developing strong ties to the Southwest Zone, which stood by him through thick and thin. Consequently, the Southwest Zone became the swing vote or his last hope for victory in that election. The development nonetheless show-cased Nigerians as opportunistic politicians who would do anything to remain in power as many People’s Democratic Party (PDP) prominent politicians like Saraki jumped ship when it became clear to them the PDP was bound to lose.
They took their old habits to the All Peoples Congress (APC) and the stalemate we have all witnessed under Buhari and the intransigence of Saraki in securing the Senate President position for himself and the Deputy Senate President for Ekweremadu of the PDP stemmed from this morbid craze for power at all cost.
The roll call for conviction politicians in Nigeria took a hit following the death of Obafemi Awolowo in 1987. His followers and so-called Awoists like Deputy Governor Omoboriowo in Ondo State in 1983 was the first to bail out to join the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) when he lost the primary for Governor of Ondo State to Pa Adekunle Ajasin who had wanted a second term. Mr. Omoboriowo was soon followed by prominent Action Group politicians in Ondo State like Honorable Olaiya Fagbamigbe and Honorable Agunbiade who all decamped to the powerful NPN to give themselves an inroad to a position at the Federal level.
The mayhem that followed the Omoboriowo rigging of the Governorship election in Ondo State had led to the death of Mr. Olaiya Fagbamigbe and Mr. Agunbiade and many other local champions of the NPN in Ondo State. There were many in the Action Group who were already suffering from the Awolowo fatigue but could not bolt away while the great leader was still alive. After the man’s death, the NPN saw an opening to lure such politicians out of the Action Group into the NPN.
When the Shagari-led NPN was dethroned in 1985 by Mr. Buhari and Mr.Tunde Idiagbon and many Action Group leaders were put into detention on trumped-up charges by the new regime, many Afenifere loyalists began to have second thought on whether or not their conviction politics had been worth the sacrifice or the effort. What followed was a major realignment of forces in Nigeria which saw the PDP becoming an octopus and the biggest party in Africa which boasted at one point it was going to rule Nigeria for 100 years without a break.
So when Mr. Obasanjo was released from prison in 1999 to lead the reconstituted NPN now renamed PDP, many of such politicians in the old Action Group or the Afenifere group decamped into the PDP in 2003 after Obasanjo’s PDP rolled over the whole of the Southwest with the exception of Lagos. The old Afenifere broke into 2 factions with a faction led by Mr. Bola Tinubu and Mr. Bisi Akande and the other faction led by Chief Fasoranti after the death of Pa Abraham Adesanya.
The Fasorasnti faction did not like the Tinubu faction at all. In their desperation and hatred of Tinubu, and not because of any ideological persuasion or conviction, they decided to side with Olusegun Mimiko of the Labor Party which governed Ondo State. Mr. Mimiko who had his eyes on replacing Tinubu and becoming the possible successor to Obafemi Awolowo made overtures to the old Afenifere led by Mr. Fashoranti, and individuals like Mr. Ayo Adebanjo and Senator Okurounmu and Chief Oluyemi Falae. By getting their tacit support, Mimiko made that development a bargaining chip to convince the Jonathan-led PDP he could deliver the Southwest states to the PDP in the 2015 elections. He formally declared for the PDP with the Afenifere group in total agreement. Jonathan sealed the deal when he visited the Afenifere Chieftain in Akure with bags of money and plenty of it.
The visit led to a formal endorsement of the PDP and President Jonathan by the crux of the Yorubas on the lame excuse they were endorsing Jonathan because he had promised to hold the national conference to restructure Nigeria. It was a promise Mr. Jonathan had not meant to keep as he kept the report of the conference in the cooler on the assurance he would come around to it after 2015. It was just a ruse to win the election and the Afenifere group fell for it because money had changed hands.
I go into this entire background story to show that Nigerian Politics has always been about opportunism and bread and butter. So Mr. Ayo Adebanjo and Mr. Ebenezer Babatope condemning Mr. Clark for speaking the truth on Mr. Jonathan is hypocrisy of the worst order. Mr. Clark has not done anything that Mr. Adebanjo and Mr. Babatope have not done before in their jostling for a position at the Federal level. My point is that they all do it. Their condemnation of Mr. Clark is like the kettle calling the pot black. It is that simple.
That said, I submit that the Ijaws have become the most cohesive ethnic minority in the South because they can be found both in the former Eastern region and also in the defunct Western region of Nigeria as I am going to show with the remaining segments of this article.
The Ijaws of Nigeria are scattered around the coastal belt of Nigeria. Their domain extends up to the coastal belt of Ondo State up to the area now called Ijebu Water Side. Many Ijaws like Mr. Clark, based on which part of the South they actually live in, can actually run for political office in states likes Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Cross River, Delta and Ondo State because of their Ijaw identity.
You can call the Ijaws the most diversified ethnic minorities in the South and that is why they often refer to themselves as “Ijaw Nation”. They have become a force to reckon with in Nigerian politics. Mr. Obafemi Awolowo predicted that much in his “Path to Nigerian Freedom” and his “Strategy and Tactics of the Third Republic” Mr. Obasanjo was aware of that when he chose to pick Mr. Jonathan as the running mate to the terminally-ill Mr. Umaru Yar Adua. Mr. Jonathan went on to be confirmed as President after Mr. Yar Adua died in office, as stipulated by the Nigerian Constitution.
Individuals like Mr. Clark were the first beneficiaries of the Ijaw power base in Nigeria and he in particular used his Ijaw identity to push the Ijaw agenda in Nigeria and to get himself a position at the Federal level. Mr. Awolowo and the Action Group initiated an alliance with the Calabar Ogoja Rivers axis otherwise called “COR” way back in the 1950s and early 60s before the first coup on January 15, 1966.
The Calabar Ogoja and Rivers Alliance Party was led by individuals like Mr. Wenike Briggs while the Middle Belt party was led by late Mr. J. S. Tarka and Mr. Dokotri former political associates of Mr. Awolowo.
The zones now called the South/South and the Middle Belt were first brought into the political limelight and funded by Mr. Awolowo’s Action Group which should have been their natural allies in Nigeria.
But once Yakubu Gowon created the 12 state structure to frustrate the Biafran insurgency, Gowon did so along the lines initially proposed by Obafemi Awolowo. It was a great move that made Biafra lose the loyalty and the co-operation of the Niger Delta states which were known to be rich in oil and liquefied gas. Cross River and Rivers States and Benue Plateau instead of going with the Action Group, went instead with the then NPN because they knew the Action Group could not win and they were tired of remaining in the opposition forever.
That was how individuals like Mr. Clark gained nation-wide recognition as a leader in the Ijaw Nation representing the South/South Geo political zone of Nigeria at a time when Mr. Jonathan, the shoeless canoe boy in the creeks of Bayelsa had not found his “political mojo” like they say in America.
Mr. Clark was in fact tapped as Federal Commissioner for information by the Yakubu Gowon Regime. He represented the defunct Midwest which was later called Bendel State before Edo and Delta states were carved out into separate states.
Before joining politics, Mr. Clark, was a very successful lawyer. He became a very effective Information Commissioner. I came to know him very well when I served as Secretary to the National Council of Education and later on as Secretary Staff Development/Manpower Department in the Federal Ministry of Establishments. I had to collaborate with the Ministry of Information at both Federal and State level because they cover our meetings that were held in rotation from one state to another.
The Edwin Clark who I know is not a Nigerian to be pushed around at all. He was a firebrand in those days. He went on to become a staunch defender of the Ijaw national agenda in Nigeria and one of their star performers and leaders without any doubt. He was already a force to reckon with in Ijaw affairs long before Mr. Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan was tapped as Deputy Governor to Alimiyeseigha of Bayelsa and long before he was nominated as running mate to Umaru Yar Adua.
When former President Yar Adua died and some Northern powerful brokers wanted to shove Mr.Jonathan aside, Mr. Clark joined with the other power brokers in the South to successfully resist the move. He quite often described himself as Mr. Jonathan’s father and Mr. Jonathan looked up to him as a father for all of his time in power. Mr. Clark openly disagreed with the Mr. Jonathan when he needed to, and I am sure he must have offered him behind closed doors some advice they both have kept private.
Former President Jonathan had no other choice than to curry Mr. Clark’s favor as a leader and a prominent politician of the South/South region and a very brilliant and courageous lawyer who became a spokesman for both the former President’s and the Ijaw’s interest in a way that Mr. Jonathan could not do as President. Like I said earlier, Mr. Clark was a leading politician in the South/South before Mr.Jonathan was brought into the limelight of Nigerian politics by Mr. Obasanjo.
Mr. Jonathan needed a prominent Ijaw leader to lean on and he found a very competent and dependable one in Mr. Clark who was not intimidated at all by what Mr. Jonathan became in Nigerian politics. He had the eloquence and the courage to say things that Mr. Jonathan did not have the courage or the political sagacity or wisdom to put in words despite his Ph.D.
I strongly believe that Mr. Clark spoke the truth about former President Jonathan. He did not go about it as a mark of betrayal as portrayed by Mr, Ayo Adebanjo of the Afenifere group and Mr. Ebenezer Babatope one of the first Afenifere loyalists of the Afenifere to jump ship when he was offered a cabinet position by Mr. Sani Abacha. I am also aware that a spokesman of the Niger Delta Liberation Force, Captain Mark Anthony has also agreed with Mr. Adebanjo and Mr. Babatope by describing the Edwin Clark’s statement on Jonathan as a betrayal. I would rather side with the coordinator of the Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG) Comrade Joseph Evah who rose in defense of Mr. Clark.
I disagree with the criticism of Mr. Clark by Mr. Adebanjo and Mr. Babatope. They described Mr. Clark as trying to position himself for some favor from President Buhari and the APC. They insinuated that Mr. Clark was just about ready to desert the PDP and former President Jonathan for greener pastures in the APC.
I know Mr. Clark well enough to want to come to his defense on that statement. If you believe Mr. Adebanjo and Mr. Babatope you will believe anything. Mr. Babatope has lost all credibility the day he decamped to the PDP despite his closeness to the Awolowo and the ideological stand of the Action Group. He did it for the same reason he is now accusing Mr. Clark.
Mr. Clark had made it abundantly clear he was quitting partisan politics to assume his role as an elder statesman from the South/South. Those who said he made that statement just to protect his wealth probably did not know that the man had been a very wealthy and self-made lawyer ever before going into politics.
I know the rich and the affluent the world over are like Oliver Twist. They are always asking for more but I can vouch for Mr. Clark that he already made enough money from his lucrative law practice and from his activities as a king maker in the South/South for a long time. At over 80, Mr. Clark is long past his prime. It was time for him to retire from partisan politics and the statement he made about former PresidentJonathan was consistent with that decision in my judgment. He clearly spoke the truth about Mr. Jonathan.
The man should be more concerned about his legacy today than all of the suggestions Mr. Ayo Adebanjo, Mr. Babatope and Captain Mark Anthony are making. I view his latest statement on Mr. Jonathan in that context and I respect him for having the courage of his conviction to make the statement. He is not saying anything new because that is something that Mr. Jonathan seems to have acknowledged himself when he confessed he was not aware of all the malfeasance and corruption going on in his own Government. He once described himself as being put in a cage by the forces surrounding him.
Mr. Clark has not said anything that Mr. Jonathan has not said about himself. He admitted that much when he told Nigerians that “stealing” was not “corruption” He once admitted in an interview that he was aware that Boko Haram has infiltrated his government but he definitely lacked the will power or the capacity to fish them out and to prosecute them to the full extent of the law. The tail was wagging the dog in his government. It was as if Mr.Jonathan was really a novice in government and his choice of words and verbiage were so limited that he could not help himself.
He did not appear to be able to tell the difference between the words “compromise” and “chicken-out” or the word “freedom fighter” and “terrorist”. The way those words are used in politics was beyond Mr. Jonathan’s understanding. The two words actually mean the same thing in politics. The word “compromise” is used in a positive sense while the word “chicken-out” is often used as a pejorative term.
Same thing with the word “freedom fighter” and “terrorist” America and her allies in the West for a long time described Nelson Mandela as “a terrorist” before they changed course to start calling him “a freedom fighter” Mr. Jonathan probably meant well for Nigeria but he sure lacked the capacity to fight corruption in Nigeria as acknowledged by Mr. Clark who stopped short of describing Jonathan as part and parcel of the corruption in Nigeria.
Former President Jonathan could not tell the difference between right and wrong in Nigeria. He foolishly claimed that stealing was not corruption thereby giving all his ministers like Allison Madueke and the former Aviation Minister, a free hand to do what they liked with government funds place in their charge. Rather than calling the bluff of his Oil Minister, he was more than happy to elevate her to President of OPEC where she could go do a greater damage to the reputation of Nigeria. Nigerians ought to hold Mr. Jonathan accountable for all of the iniquities of his ministers and corrupt officials. Mr. Clark has done that with his statement on Jonathan and he was dead right to do that in his new role as elder statesman. I totally agree with him.