Chief Edwin Clark, a nationalist who served under former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, as Federal Commissioner for Information, in this interview, speaks on the need for true federalism and why zoning of the nation’s presidency is paramount among other issues. Excerpts:
Let us talk about the state of the nation
Things are very bad but we thank God that we are surviving and we remain united. The challenges are however many. Today, the country seems to be divided religiously and ethnically despite the fact that we all talk about unity. Security challenge is growing. The situation has not been effectively controlled. About four years ago, we were talking about Boko Haram in the North-East, and we felt that, with the promise made by the ruling party for ‘change’ and having the country being headed by a former military Head of State, Boko Haram would be a thing of the past. But, today, Boko Haram is still a problem. And apart from Boko Haram, we can see what is going on in the North-West, especially in Sokoto and Katsina. People are being killed, maimed and kidnapped. In Taraba, Plateau and Benue states, the situation is not different. We have, today, in the South, herdsmen ransacking everywhere, harassing maiming, kidnapping and raping women. Things are not normal.
Is this the Nigeria our heroes past foresaw when they fought for independence?
I will say no because in the First Republic, even though we had some problems, the unity of Nigeria was very much guaranteed. During the pre-independence era, we were working together until 1953 when Tony Enahoro moved the motion for the independence of Nigeria and the Northern Region walked out of parliament. The British government invited Nigerian leaders to London for the 1954 and 1957 conferences and so on which led us to independence in 1960. During the period, there was peace and each of the regions was developing at its own pace while revenue allocation was based on what you produced in your area. You keep 50 percent of the allocation while the remaining 50 percent goes to the Federal Government. And of the 50 percent that goes to the Federal Government, 20 percent is kept by the Federal Government while the remaining 30 percent is shared among other regions. Until 1963 when the Mid-West Region was created, each of the regions had its own Constitution and Agent General in London. Today, you find that one of the houses acquired by the Western Nigerian government in those days is part of the Nigeria High Commission in London. Then, there was neither envy nor hatred. Both Muslims and Christians were living in peace and harmony. But when the Army struck, problem started. Then General Gowon came into power in 1966 and there was problem. The killing of prominent Nigerian politicians resulted into the counter-coup of July 1966, leading to the Aburi Accord in 1967 which did not materialise. General Gowon created 12 states after the civil war. So, today, we have 36 states including the Federal Capital. Perhaps, those who fought for independence in 1960 when we got it never envisaged that, 59 years after, Nigeria will still be so much divided and there would be many challenges. Now there is hunger; unemployment has risen to 23 percent; Fulani herdsmen carry AK 47 around and we were told they are from Libya, Burkina Faso and Mali among others and these people have been allowed to come into Nigeria untouched. The next thing we heard was that they wanted RUGA in the 36 states of the federation, meaning that these Fulani herdsmen would now be settled in the 36 states. Nigerians kicked against it, and it was suspended; but we hope it would be suspended forever because it could divide this country
What then are the chances of the South-West in 2023?
They should stop thinking of becoming the President of Nigeria. What does Tinubu have to offer that the people of the South-East cannot offer? What is the justification for them to become the President of Nigeria? Is it because they belong to the APC? They should not be thinking of how to divide Nigeria. We must all unite and have respect for ourselves. The South-West should allow other people to have a taste of power. There is no way the South-West would be better than the South-East on the 2023 presidency.
What is the way forward?
Let us practice true federalism in this country. Let every Nigerian have a sense of belonging. Without restructuring, the future is bleak. You remember the other day Mr. President said ‘if we do not kill corruption, corruption will kill us’. I also believe that if we do not restructure this country, non-restructuring of Nigeria will kill Nigeria. In a situation where some people feel they are superior to others, we don’t have a country. Nobody wants to be a slave to another person. Let the elders of the country meet from time to time to discuss the challenges of Nigeria. Like former President Olusegun Obasanjo, I have advocated that all stakeholders, including youths and women, have a roundtable to discuss the security of this country. What is happening in the North-East and North-West should not be regarded as a northern affair but a Nigerian affair because, sooner or later, it will happen to all of us.