Like a man that saw tomorrow, few days before his Abuja residence was raided by armed policemen searching for arms and ammunition, elder statesman and leader of the South-South region, Chief Edwin Clark warned in an exclusive interview with Saturday Sun that Nigeria’s democracy is being put in danger by security agents working in tandem with politicians to truncate the nation’s civil rule. The 92 years old nonagenarian and erstwhile Information Minister also drew the ears of the political class to learn lessons from acts that led the country into the first military coup. He spoke to GODWIN TSA in Abuja.
The lingering frosty relationship between the National Assembly and the Executive arm of government took a dangerous dimension recently with the siege at the National Assembly. As an elder statesman, how can things be sorted out between the two arms of government in the nation’s interest?
What happened the other day at the National Assembly was a dangerous attempt to truncate our democracy, but for the immediate intervention of the Acting President, something worst could have happened, people would have died in trying to fight for their rights. So, we should be very very careful. Where are we going to in this country? Other people have held these positions before. I have been a Senator and a Federal Minister in this country, so what are people looking for?
I am appealing to Mr. President, Muhammadu Buhari, to as a father of the nation, to call both sides together and settle this problem because there is nothing that can’t be settled. This type of thing happened in the first Republic, leading to a coup, when there were problems in the Western House of Assembly. We must learn our lessons. For a period of time, the military has been ruling this country.
A situation where people make hate speeches, they don’t care whether Nigeria exists. My advice is that they should put Nigeria first before politics, because personal interest will not help Nigeria. If there is no Nigeria, there will be no politicians. Party leaders in particular should restrain from making inflammable statement and not threatening the unity of the country by raising unnecessary tension.
All these politicians moving from one party to another are the one causing problems. So, one is wondering, what are we looking for and where are we going? Nigeria belongs to all of us. Who is a first class citizen in this country? And who is a second class citizen? Who is more superior to the other?
Let us have a country where everyone is equal, where we have respect for one another, where everyone of us believe in Nigeria first. This politics of ethnicity and religion will not help us. People make provocative statements without thinking about the unity of this country.
I advise the President of the Senate and his members to put Nigeria first so that the budget for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will be considered and approved. Similarly, let me advice strongly, the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, not to make provocative statements. He should not threaten anybody.
The Nigerian constitution is there and the rules of procedure governing the National Assembly are very clear. Let us all come together and if there are differences, there should be a way of resolving them. What is happening today is unimaginable. It is one party fighting itself. It doesn’t matter whether some people have left APC and moved to PDP, they are the same people.
The separation of powers between the three arms of government should be obeyed. The judiciary should be allowed to perform its duties without any interference from anybody. The Legislature should be allowed to function independently, similarly, the Executive should be allowed to do its job.
I also want to use this occasion to advise the police and law enforcement agencies not to be too overzealous.
Sir, why did you say defecting politicians are the ones causing crisis in the polity?
Yes and that is because of greed and desperation for power. We pretend that we are practising a federal system of government, whereas, we are practising a unitary system of government where one man is the only person that has all the powers in the country. That is why people are fighting to be in that position. If the powers of Mr. President are reduced through restructuring, there is proper devolution of power, people will not fight to become President at all times.
For instance, see what is going on in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); over 20 Presidential aspirants have appeared. We have about 12 of them from the North-West, two from North-East and about six from North-Central. So the PDP has a problem of selecting who will be it’s Presidential candidate. And if they are going to have primary, those primaries must be free and fair, no imposition of candidates.
We are saying let’s have peace and have respect for one another. No one should intimidate another, we are all Nigerians and should not do things that will make people to feel that we don’t have a country. I am appealing to politicians to take things easy and have the fear of God or Allah in whatever they do.
I think the problem in this country is that politicians are underestimating the intelligence of Nigerians. This is one of the major problems in the country. They believe that once you are a politician, you have the right to do whatever you want in the country. The rights of Nigerians are being trampled upon. I am over 91 years now and I have been in politics for over 60 years. So, I don’t like the way people are intimidating others, shouting at one another.
What is your assessment of the security situation in the country?
The insecurity in the country is alarming. However, the issue of security is for everybody and it is not the duty of the President or government alone. Everybody should cooperate with government and security agencies. Let every Nigerian put head together. The killings in this country are getting too much. You don’t expect the president alone to solve these problems. A situation where everyday people are killed is not proper. The number of people that have been killed in Nigeria on daily basis, is more than the number of people who died during the civil war that lasted for three years. This to me, should be the concern of the legislature, the executive and party leaders who make provocative statements.
What is your position on the fight against corruption. Some say it is selective, do you agree?
Once again, I am appealing to some of the overzealous security men not to heat up the polity of this country. Nigeria belongs to all of us, irrespective of what party you belong to.
What is happening in Benue State has not happened in this country before. A situation whereby, a federal agency, like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), going to probe a state government account is unwarranted. These agencies can only probe individuals of State, functionaries of the state government, parastatals of the state and not the state government. The State is independent of the federal government. It has its own organisation like the state House of Assembly, the Judiciary and the state Executive, these are the organs that should be involved in probing State accounts. We know there is corruption in the country, but corruption should be approached universally, not because I belong to A, B, C, then I should be probed, no! If it is universal, people will see it.
I appeal to the judiciary because the delay in hearing of cases is the cause of our problem. If judgments are given expeditiously, some of these political problems will not arise.
Finally, let me say this, we have a problem in this country and we must put our heads together because no one person has a solution to them. We have to see that all the various parts of the country are equal. In the 2014 National Conference, we recommended that the South-East should have six states like other regions. Today, they are short-changed, they have only five ministers.