Elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark was recently a guest on Channels Television’s ‘NewsNight’ programme where he spoke on a wide range of national issues like derivation for the Niger Delta states, Ruga settlement project and the 2023 presidency, among others. He made it clear in the live programme that 2023 should be for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction.
Governors of Niger Delta are accused of not judiciously using the 13 per cent derivation they receive from crude oil sales. Why do you think the demand for an increase in the derivation formula is justified?
Without the 13 per cent, the Niger-Delta will not be developed. If you look at the terrain, the money you spend on constructing one-kilometre road in the area will construct 10 to 100 kilometres of road in the North. The governors may not have done enough with the 13 per cent, but it is not an excuse for anybody to neglect the Niger-Delta region. We are part of this country, why should somebody who does not produce the resources of this country enjoy it more than the people who produce the food? We have been colonized. What happened about three years ago in the Niger-Delta is an eye-opener. The oil companies, Shell, Mobil, Chevron started withdrawing from active oil exploration of oil in their stations and were selling these oil companies to the Yoruba, northerners and easterners. I think the first choice of refusal should have been given to the people of the Niger-Delta. The white man, oil companies colonized us, now we are being colonized by Nigerians. It is unacceptable to us. Whoever is heading the Federal Government should take note that we are part of this country and if we are not treated equally like other citizens of this country, then there is no place for us.
The excuse that our governors are not doing well with the derivation is not enough. The 1999 Constitution in Section 167 provides for a minimum of 13 per cent to be paid to the oil producing communities. It said minimum, but for about 20 years now, there has been no increase. I was the leader of the Niger-Delta to the Conference set up by President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005, we said we wanted the 1963 formula, that is 50 percent of our resources and 50 per cent to the Federal Government. The 50 per cent to the Federal Government
will be further divided and the Federal Government will take 20 per cent and the remaining regions will share 30 per cent but they opposed us, particularly the delegates from the North. They offered 18 percent and we said no and insisted on minimum of 25 per cent. When it was rejected, we walked out and that ended that Conference. Then came the 2014 National Conference and the issue of derivation came in again and they again recommended 18 per cent and we said 25 per cent. Even this 18 per cent that was recommended was opposed by the Northerners who had previously recommended it in 2005.
After the Chibok girls were kidnapped, you played some role to secure their release, but internal politics within the Boko Haram sect and elements in the North reportedly frustrated the effort. What happened exactly?
When Boko Haram was at its very peak, Senator Shehu Sani approached me and said he was working on the issue of the girls with former President Olusegun Obasanjo and would like me to work with him. I said I would if we get the permission of Mr. President; there were no conditions attached and no money was given to us. We started meetings and one day he told me that we will meet with leaders of Boko Haram and some other people in Maiduguri. Because I couldn’t move around easily, I called Dr. Cairo Ojougbo to assist me. To cut a long story short, Boko Haram said they would like to release the Chibok girls on the condition that 11 of their leaders in Kuje prison and other places are also released. We reported the matter to Mr. President and he said there was no problem about that. We contacted the Red Cross and started holding meetings with the Boko Haram leaders on the exchange. They gave us a list, Alex Barde, then Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) was involved. The DSS Director-General was involved, the CSO to the President was involved, they went to the prisons where Boko Haram said their leaders were detained and unfortunately, we couldn’t get the 11; we got only four of their leaders.
The Federal Government provided a plane, Doctors, Nurses, Shehu Sani, Cairo Ojougbo, security men all went to Yola. The Red Cross were to go and contact the Boko Haram leaders to bring the girls, but when they got there, there was disagreement between the Kanuri and the Fulani leaders in Boko Haram. The Kanuri group said only one of their leaders was on the list and that three belonged to the Fulani; they said we should go back to look for more of the imprisoned leaders of their group. The negotiations continued but we could not get the other ones. We thought perhaps the remaining seven had been killed. That was why we couldn’t get the girls out. The Boko Haram leaders respected me because of my age and said they will release the girls. They said they were going to release only 30 because we did not bring all their leaders out. Then I asked them to guarantee they will release the remaining girls if we released the four leaders to them; they agreed and that was what happened.
Many people don’t know this…
When this government decided to find a way to release these girls, they used Shehu Sani again with the same man who was meeting with me in Maiduguri who made it possible for this government to get the number of girls they have released now. You are following up what we did. They didn’t just start it. They used Shehu Sani, used the man we were meeting with in Maiduguri, they didn’t employ any other person. So that is the position. Let me say this to those of us who are from the minority area who are not Hausa-Fulani or whatever you may call them; this government is aware of the role I played but, because it is Clark from minority, from Niger-Delta, they did nothing. If somebody of my calibre from the North had done that, they would have gone to consult him.
Going by the gentleman’s agreement, it is the turn of the South to produce the president in 2023 after the North would have had its eight years.
You will be surprised that sometimes Ango Abdullahi’s Northern Elders Forum comes to join us in this house. We always talk about what to do to make Nigeria a better place to live in and how to remove the challenges we are facing now. We have issued several communiqués signed by me and Abdullahi. We have been trying to bring this country together. I was in London when Abdullahi called me that we should meet. We met when I returned. The first meeting was in NICON Luxury hotel in Abuja; the meeting was attended by over 200 northern leaders, including retired Major-Generals, former IGPs, former ministers and so on. We met and it was a very successful meeting. We have had several other meetings. All we were doing was to tell government to see that the right things are done.
You never disagreed with Ango Abdullahi?
The only time we disagreed was when we talked about Fulani herdsmen. Recently, former Head of State, General Abdulsalam Abubakar invited us to a meeting in Minna to discuss the problems of Nigeria. I contacted all our men from the South West, South East, South South and Middle-Belt, we agreed to go and prepared our papers. We were about to leave Abuja for Minna when we received a message telling us those invited included PANDEF, Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Northern Elders Forum, ACF, and Miyetti Allah. Another Fulani organization was also invited. So, we said, no that we can’t meet with Miyetti Allah that has been engineering the killings of people by Fulani herdsmen carrying AK47. General Abdulsalam tried to convince us and we said no because going there will amount to going to meet people who have no regard for Nigerians. In other places, they would have been punished, they have been making statements; they admitted when Benue State was being harassed. We said we won’t go and we did not go.
Why is your group opposed to the Water Resources Bill?
We want the practice of federalism and these issues are not connected with true federalism. These are issues connected with unitary plan of government whereby the government wants to own every land. The Land Use Act which is entrenched in the Constitution says that land in every state is held on trust for the people by the governor. The Federal Government has no land, what they are trying to do now is to take the shores as they did in Osborne case. All they want to do is to take all the shores of every state. You won’t be surprised if the Fulani herdsmen with their AK47 rifle go there to drink water and claim that they are on Federal Government land. So, we are opposed to it, they have no reason for the Bill.
What of the Ruga settlement project?
Garba Shehu announced on television, radio and to the print press that Ruga was going to be established in all the 36 states of Nigeria, including the Federal Capital Territory to accommodate Fulani herdsmen and that schools, Mosques everything will be established for them.
We said no because our borders are porous and because with the ECOWAS convention and other treaties, anybody can come in. Herdsmen from Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger can enter Nigeria, protected by the Federal Government. Tell me, have they arrested any herdsman with AK47 rifle? Have you heard they have tried any? We have been told that anyone of them that comes to Nigeria is a Nigerian now. So, we are not surprised they are talking about registering people. Ruga cannot work, it has been suspended. All we are saying is that in modern world, ranches where you can get everything are established. We had ranches during the First Republic, we had it in Obudu, in the West and in the North.
Today, they are thinking only of their religion and ethnicity. Ruga is incompatible with the unity of Nigeria. We know that a similar thing happened in Southern Kaduna in those days when they occupied some areas and after sometime when their number increased, they wanted an Emirate. The trouble in Southern Kaduna today is caused by this settlement. What is happening in Southern Kaduna is enough for anybody to say no to Ruga in their area.
The agitation for which zone will produce the president in 2023 is on, what do you say about that?
Nigeria belongs to all of us. There is no need to relegate one portion of the country to the background. Nigeria was built on a tripod, the North, East and West. Later in 1953, it became four regions when the Mid-West region was created. When it gets to the turn of the South in 2023, the West should not think about it and South South should not think about it. It is the turn of the Igbo from Eastern region. They have contributed a lot to Nigeria. You cannot think of a Nigerian football team without the Igbo? In one team you have eight Igbo playing and they are part of this country. We should not be unfair to them. The war is over, it ended in 1970. General Yakubu Gowon after the war said no victor, no vanquished. Why should we treat the Igbo as if they do not belong to this country?
You have been in this battle for so long, what had been your driving force…
I am still in it, and I want to tell you that God is keeping me alive. I have always said that when you are 70 years and above you are at the departure lounge waiting for your boarding pass. I am now 92. I have collected my boarding pass but the Lord said, no I am delaying your flight for a purpose. Carry out those things before I take you away. So, I will continue to fight for Nigeria.