• Says he nominated Jonathan as Yar’Adua’s running mate
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
He is a man with a plethora of prefixes to his name. Former senator,
former federal commissioner, former Midwestern Commissioner, former
headmaster among others, but consistent social and political
commentator, Chief Edwin Clark, in this interview gives his role in
the remaking of Nigeria, his role in the process among other issues.
The National Conference has come and gone. Many say it was five months
of robust discussion. Would you say that the conference was a panacea
to Nigeria’s major problems?
I think before we talk about that, the first thing we should go about
is to congratulate Mr. President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for
taking the bold step in convoking that conference which many Heads of
State in the past reluctantly refused to convoke for one reason or the
other. There were those who were asking for sovereign national
There were others who were asking for national conference. Remember
people like Gani Fawehinmi, even Tinubu: these were people who were
talking about national conference and for a very long time, nobody
cared about it. But when we formed the Southern Nigeria Peoples
Assembly, we went to Mr. President, appealed to him on several
occasions, argued with him. He had his own case.
And he said, yes, there are problems in Nigeria that cannot be solved
by amendments to the constitution alone and finally he agreed to
convoke a national conference. He did not just only announce it, he
set up a committee under Senator Femi Okurounmu who used to shout in
the Senate as if that was the only purpose for which he was elected
into the Senate. So, the committee went round the country, saw the
modalities and everything and how it should be organised.
Then, the doubting Thomases thought it was a very wrong time and that
Mr. President wanted to get some benefits from it. All sorts of things
were said. Those of them who could not do it now regarded it as a bad
But there were people who were ready at all times to see whether they
can scuttle the conference because they never wanted it. There are
people who believe that the status quo in this country should remain.
The nation should not move forward as long as it benefits them against
millions of Nigerians who are suffering and deprived.
For example, the Nigeria that was amalgamated for one hundred years by
Lord Lugard had come to an end. Nigerians have been craving for a new
place, a forum where they could all meet to debate and discuss the
basis for our living together for the next 100 years. So, what the
President did was very, very appropriate and timely at the time.
I think at the end of it, we passed about 600 resolutions and
decisions which were very, very relevant to developing a new country
and I remember one of my colleagues, Professor Jibril Aminu, one of
the most intelligent persons in this country came and sat by me and
said that we should take a photograph. We took the photograph and at
the end, he said a new Nigeria has been born. And I emphasized the
same that you are right; a new Nigeria has been born. Why? Because we
touched every aspect of living in Nigeria. What aspect did we not
You said that the Nigerian Lord Lugard amalgamation in 1914 has come
to an end. What do you mean by that?
In 1914, Lord Lugard signed an agreement which amalgamated Southern
and Northern Nigeria together. I didn’t say it ended as such but at
the end of 100 years, there was a need to renew it because when it was
made, nobody was consulted. So, it was appropriate that we have lived
together for 100 years and therefore there was need to renew our
living together for another 100 years.
Now, do you think that the resolutions reached and taken at the
conference have brought peace between the north and the south?
I think so. One of the problems we had first was that most of the
northerners never wanted the conference. They believe in the status
quo. Even when they came in, they wanted to scuttle it. So, we
disagreed first of all whether decisions were to be taken by 75% or by
These went on for over ten days. People thought that the conference
was going to end abruptly which made Lamido of Adamawa to say that if
this country breaks up, some of us have no place to go to, but they
will go to Adamawa State in the Cameroons. That’s what he said. He
again said that those of you who are close to Mr. President have come
here to oppose Mr. President’s decision; that his decision is to go on
We said no. Mr. President is a liberal man. He has set up a body. How
we arrive at our decisions is no business of his. So, we knew that
some of us were being attacked indirectly by him. But could you
believe that at the end of the conference, we embraced ourselves and
we said no more going to Cameroon and we took photographs together.
That shows the level of understanding. But unfortunately, some of the
most educated northerners, like the Yadudus were ready to scuttle the
conference at all cost for reasons best known to them to the extent
that some of us had to “attack” him personally; that he was not the
only professor around. So, even towards the end of the conference,
some of them were still ready to scuttle the conference.
But I believe having spent about 5 months together; we all have
realized that the conference was a useful one. With my interviews with
a lot of them both men and women from the north, I think we have
gained from the conference and the decisions of the conference will go
a long way to improve the lots of everybody in Nigeria.
How did you take the unanimous decision of the National Executive
Committee, NEC, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to endorse
President Jonathan as the sole candidate for the next presidential
Oh! Fantastic. In fact, you must have seen our congratulatory message,
message of thanks to members of BoT, members of the National Working
Committee, NWC, members of NEC, the Governors Forum for thinking it
wise enough that a sitting president should be allowed to contest
again undisturbed which is the practice in America and all over the
world. We did it with Shagari. It is not a novelty. In 1979, Shagari
contested. In 1983, there were many men of timber and caliber from all
over the country but nobody contested it with him. So, I think this is
the right step. So, I congratulate the members of the various organs
of the party.
You were recently quoted as saying that you made Dr. Jonathan Vice
President in 2007. But one wonders if that is true given counter
claims in some other quarters.
Well, I am not very happy going back into all these types of history
but for record purposes and those who have to read history again, it
may be necessary to say something about it. It will be recalled that
on November 4, 2004, the leaders of South-South went to Calabar for a
declaration that South-South should produce the next president in
2007. Most of the governors today attended the meeting and we came out
and called it Calabar Declaration. So, those who were interested we
called them to participate.
It will be recalled that Dr. Peter Odili, governor of Rivers State,
Arc. Victor Attah, governor of Akwa Ibom state, Dr. Donald Duke,
governor of Cross Rivers state, then we had Admiral Akigbe, now late,
and others who were very superior people said they were contesting.
So, it was not a matter of fancy but a matter of fact that our people
wanted to be president of Nigeria. Later, Dr. Saraki wrote me a letter
that he too had an organization known as Northern Union.
They too wanted a northerner to contest and we met for the first time
in Warri at Wellington Hotel. His members and our members met. We told
him that we wanted presidency. He said he wanted it also. We later
held series of meetings in Kaduna, Abuja and other places to decide
that. We hadn’t come to a conclusion when Obasanjo decided to impose
Umaru Yar’Adua as the candidate. Then, Odili had to withdraw. We
didn’t know that Nuhu Ribadu, the then EFCC chairman was specifically
asked by Obasanjo to probe Odili. He submitted an interim report which
said that Odili embezzled N100b of Rivers State money.
Nobody has proved that anyway. But this was between Obasanjo and
Ribadu. Then Attah had his own problem with Mr. President and Donald
Duke also had his problem through his wife. So, he used it to
blackmail them and the three of them withdrew. But late Admiral Akigbe
refused to withdraw. Let me say this, when people talk about zoning,
it upsets me. That’s why I have decided to tell you the story.
There was no time at that time the northerners talked about zoning. In
fact, they deceived us. Odili went on, spent money and time. Alhaji
Shehu Shagari and many others bought his views. After a meeting in
Uromi, we sent Ambassador Lawrence Ekpegbu and his team to the
Northeast. They were received by the Shehu of Borno and so forth.
There was no time the northerners said there was zoning and that,
therefore it was their turn. No.
And it was now through the zoning that Obasanjo brought in Yar’Adua.
He had his own reasons. One of the reasons was that he was a prudent
fellow. He had N6bn in his purse. Another one was that he was a very
intelligent fellow. He was a lecturer and was very humble. Those were
the reasons he gave and we bought into it. Then, along the line, it
was stated that Odili should be running mate to Yar’Adua.
This was agreed upon but we later learnt that some elements in PDP, I
can name some of them; el-Rufai, Ribadu and many others met and
changed the acceptance speech of Yar’Adua without his knowledge,
without Odili knowing. In the acceptance speech, it had been written
that Sir, Peter Odili will be my running mate. But they changed it to
“I will name my running mate after I have consulted with the elders of
the party.” So, the two men went to the podium and when Yar’Adua read
his speech, there was nothing like Odili. Odili was very upset. So,
they came out.
In the morning on Sunday, I was watching the television. I saw what
happened. By 10 O’clock, I had some visitors including Mr. Ayokobe
Whisky who is now Dr. Ayokobe Whisky. He used to be Commissioner for
Housing in Bayelsa State.
They were with me in the room with one other person, I can’t remember.
Then I had an emissary from the Sultan of Sokoto. They were introduced
to me, that they came from Yar’Adua, the Governor of Katsina. And the
emissary gave me a piece of paper which had about 20 names listed on
it including Ibori, Donald Duke and others, saying I should pick a
good running mate for him from the list. I looked through the list,
there was nobody I thought there could work with Yar’Adua. I said
well, let me suggest somebody who would do the job, who had the
qualities which Obasanjo told me about Yar’Adua. And I said that
Jonathan was a lecturer also.
He had Ph.D, academician, humble, transparent and loyal. I said both
of them should be able to work together. So, I wrote Jonathan’s name
on the list and they left. Then I didn’t know whether Jonathan would
accept. One of them suggested that we call him and I said phone him.
Within 20 minutes, Jonathan arrived at my Transcorp Hilton suite and I
told him. He was reluctant. He said he doesn’t want to. He said I want
to be the governor of Bayelsa State in the next four years.
I do not want to be deputy to anybody. Then I said that the people of
South-South went to Calabar at a certain time and said they wanted a
president and if we have not got that presidency because of what has
been imposed on us, let us have an elected Vice President. He kept
quiet for sometime and then said, well, if that’s your choice, so be
it but I am not in favour of it. I said it is our choice. He left.
Later the name was announced.
And I know very well that Jonathan at that time was a child loved by a
father, that is Obasanjo. Jonathan had received a chieftaincy title
from Owu, Obasanjo’s home town and Jonathan had taken over from
Alamaesigha. So, Jonathan was a pet son of Obasanjo and I knew that if
I recommend him, Obasanjo will not disagree. So, Obasanjo as the
president of Nigeria must have contributed a long way to making
Jonathan running mate to Yar’Adua. In fact, he told me a story when I
led some south southerners to his house in Aso Rock that same evening
to thank him for taking Jonathan.
He said that was a good choice, that when he sent for Jonathan, he was
not ready for it. Then he told him, that I will give you one of the
hats you people gave me when I visited Yeneagoa and they all laughed
because they had to take photograph together. That shows the role
played by Obasanjo in making Jonathan Vice President. Clark could
recommend but Obasanjo can reject. But in this particular case we
agreed and so that’s how it happened. So, when people talk about what
happened here and there, I laugh. Jonathan was not ambitious. He never
wanted to be vice to Umaru Yar’Adua.
Many people posit that Jonathan’s presidency has further divided the
country. Do you share this view?
Those people with that view are living in a different world. They are
not Nigerians. The people who have that view, they are not only
mischievous and wicked, but they are living in a different world. How
can anybody say that Jonathan’s presidency has divided the country the
more? It has rather united this country. We have just discussed.
Jonathan was able to assemble 492 Nigerians from different persuasions
for five months to debate and discuss the way forward in Nigeria.
And at the end of it all, we succeeded. We have also submitted the
report to him waiting for him to take action and I also saw that he
has set up a panel to look through the report before appointing a body
for the implementation. So, it is not true that Jonathan has come to
divide Nigeria rather Jonathan’s presidency has united this country by
everybody coming together to discuss problems facing Nigeria and he
has been able to pilot it through.
So, I do not know why people are talking about division. If there was
going to be any division, it would have come through the National
Conference. Even the National Conference at a certain time, people
thought it would break but it never broke. We remained till the end
and we all agreed that we have succeeded. In my speech I said we came
and we have conquered. And not only that, we had a good dinner
together a night before the final day. So, it is not true that
Jonathan has divided the country.
Most people like you think that the endorsement of Mr. President is an
automatic victory. Now, should he contest in 2015 and fail, what will
Nothing will happen. Nothing will happen. I have said so several
times. Jonathan is like any other Nigerian politician who wants to
contest election or who is contesting election. When you contest
election, two results will come up. You either succeed or you fail.
Jonathan will not be different.
If he fails, he will pack his things and go home. We will not cause
trouble as some people did in 2011 when they caused riot and so on.
Jonathan will go home without making any problem. Don’t mind what some
people may say, O! There will be trouble.
There is not going to be any trouble. Jonathan’s election will be like
any other person’s election. Those who failed in 2011 are still in
this country even though they caused riot. Ribadu contested as a
presidential candidate, but he has gone to PDP today. He has been
hobnobbing with Mr. President. So, I do not think that the president
will take it as something of life and death.
He has said that no one should die for him. And in his time as
president, his party has lost a number of elections. His party lost in
Ondo State, lost in Edo, Osun and Anambra. He was the first to
congratulate them. Why would it be that if he fails, he would kill
himself or cause trouble in the country? No way. Whoever wins,
Jonathan will congratulate him and go back home.
But most people see you as a tribal chauvinist?
They are very stupid. They don’t know what they are talking about. I
can never be a tribal chauvinist. I am a Nigerian. I am a senior
citizen of this country. A statesman in this country. Everybody
belongs to a tribe. If by some of my actions of defending Jonathan, I
have done so, it is because I thought he is being oppressed by some
people. I defended Yar’Adua when the same Obasanjo was breezing on his
He complained to me and I went to the press, bought pages and fought
Obasanjo; that he should remain in his Ota Farm. When Atiku took him
to court up to the Supreme Court, I wrote a lengthy letter to Atiku
telling him not to worry Yar’Adua; that if it were possible for the
dead to come back to life, his brother Shehu would be very unhappy
that Atiku whom he brought up is now the one harassing his younger
I reminded Atiku in that letter of his relationship with the Yar’Adua
family. That was why he went to Katsina to visit their mother.
Otherwise, he wouldn’t have gone. So, he should not worry the man. And
Yar’Adua replied me because I copied him and I still have the reply
Yar’Adua sent to me till today. So, I am not doing it because Jonathan
is an Ijaw man. I will do it for any other president. Jonathan is my
president. I voted for him like any other president, so I have a
stake. Many people would not like to talk. I will talk.