Chief Edwin Clark is the leader of the Ijaw Nation and a First Republic Minister of Information. He speaks with Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA, on his issues with former President Olusegun Obasanjo and why he attacked Obasanjo over the comments credited to him in the recently released book by Segun Adeniyi, Against the Run of Play. Excerpts:
YOU issued a statement condemning the views of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the book by Segun Adeniyi. We were told you were abroad. Why were you quick to respond?
I was in England for my medical checkup. Then I received calls from Nigeria. They said one Segun Adeniyi had published a book and that Obasanjo said that one of the reasons why he refused to support former President Jonathan in the 2015 elections was because he surrounded himself with the Ijaw triumvirate or something like that and he condemned me, that Jonathan did not call me to order. He condemned Asari Dokubo; he condemned Alamieyeseigha, former governor and just abused Ijaw people.
So, I thought I should reply him. I bought his book— My Watch — and he insulted me in that book, using the same language he used in Adeniyi’s own and that Jonathan did not stop me.
Who is Obasanjo to say that Jonathan did not stop me? I’ve been talking to you about Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Where was Obasanjo at that time? He was either a colonel or a Major in the army. Jonathan must have been in primary or secondary school. Are they the people to tell me when to speak about Nigeria or not? So, I felt so insulted that if a northerner says something against my people, have I no right to reply? I’m not like him who plays pranks, who doesn’t know where he comes from. I was never brought up by my mother. I was brought up by my parents. I come from a noble family. I was a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, not nominated. I was an elected senator representing Warri at the Senate. I was a minister with Obasanjo in the same cabinet. While he was Minister of Works, I was Minister of Information. He took over from Femi Okunnu; I took over from [Anthony] Enahoro, who was a greater politician. I was more popular in that government than him [Obasanjo]. Because he became Head of State by accident or mysteriously, so I should not talk in Nigeria because Jonathan was around? Why should he behave like that? He hates Ijaw people, but his wife, Stella Obasanjo, stayed with Timi Alaibe in Timi Alaibe’s village for three nights with his team when Timi Alaibe’s mother died. What am I trying to prove? You cannot hate Ijaw people and at the same time be fraternising with them because of money. Timi Alaibe was the Managing Director of NDDC at the time. What other relationship do they have that the president’s wife would have to go and spend three nights in the village of the man?
But you worked with Obasanjo in the same cabinet. Is it that you had personal disagreements with him?
I know the problem Obasanjo has with me. When we were in General Yakubu Gowon’s government, as Commissioner for Works, he was responsible for the building of Tafawa Balewa Square. He was very close to Gowon, who was interested in seeing that the place was built and he was not close to General Murtala Mohammed, who was Minister of Communications, who felt that Gowon was wasting so much time with Obasanjo discussing projects. So, I asked Obasanjo a question in his office when the coup took place: that I learnt you were in Kano to receive General Murtala Mohammed after the coup; so you were pretending. I thought you were very close to General Gowon. That was the beginning of our problem.
Were you still in government at that time?
No, I had left government. They had overthrown us. I went to the office to meet him to allow me to travel. When I got to the airport, they said I couldn’t travel. So, I came back to the office and he said I could travel. So, he asked Admiral Oduwaye to issue me a pass, then I travelled. I think he’s a very small-minded fellow. He felt that he made Jonathan, therefore, nobody should be close to Jonathan. So, he felt that by my being close to Jonathan, I was receiving everything. What did I get from Jonathan? Nothing. Jonathan should tell Nigerians what I benefited from him. I believe a minority man had become president and I have duty to support him. We can’t have only the majority people being presidents in this country. So, Obasanjo is jealous; he is envious of me.
None of my children went to Aso Rock. They don’t even know Aso Rock. But his children were always staying there. I can name some of them.
Again, why he hated Jonathan whom I was defending was that he deliberately brought Yar’Adua, knowing full well that Yar’Adua could not perform because of his ill health, so that he would be controlling Yar’Adua from Ota farm. But, unfortunately, Yar’Adua remained and did not listen to him. So, when Yar’Adua died, he thought Jonathan would listen to him. Jonathan too refused to listen to him and I heard people say that he felt it was because of my presence that Jonathan was ignoring him. That’s all. I have nothing to do with petty-minded people. If you are a good man, you will be a good man, whether you are a president or not a president. So, a petty man will always be a petty man. That is the quarrel I have with Obasanjo.
When Shagari was president of Nigeria, the Hausa language was the lingua franca in the government house. When Obasanjo was the president of Nigeria, the Yoruba language was the lingua franca. When Jonathan was president of Nigeria, the Ijaw language could not become the lingua franca, because there were no Ijaw people there to speak the language. During Obasanjo’s time in the villa, Obasanjo started in 1999 with a Yoruba Inspector-General of Police in the person of Musiliu Smith, from 1999 to 2002. Then Tafa Balogun took over from 2002 to 2005; he’s Yoruba. Then (Sunday) Ehindero took over from 2005 to 2007. Then his Chief of Staff was Mohammed Abdullahi. The Director-General SSS was Col Kayode Are. His best friend, Christopher Kolade was the Nigeria’s High Commissioner in London, whereas another Yoruba man, Professor Adefuye was the Ambassador to the United States of America. Mrs. [Remi] Oyo was his spokesman. But during Jonathan’s era, it was Reuben Abati and Doyin Okupe. So, what are you talking about that Ijaw people are surrounding so and so?
At his age, I also went further to say here is a man at the age of 80, who has been president of this country for eight years, [who has issues with his son] and did not show any remorse. Is that a man who should be parading himself all over Nigeria as a saint? In Transcorp Hilton, he owned shares there. When they told him, he said he must get shares there. Nasir el-Rufai and the others said they won’t have shares and that’s the man talking about corruption of other people? He said the other day that Abiola was not the Messiah that Nigerians were looking for. Is he the Messiah that Nigerians are looking for?
But you said you didn’t have any personal disagreement with him…
Another area of Obasanjo’s dislike and hatred for me is that when I wrote an open letter to him in 2007, when he was trying to interfere with Yar’Adua’s government, which was published in the Vanguard that he should leave Yar’Adua alone, I told him that Tony Blair had just left office; he had left Gordon Brown to take over. The French president had just left office; he had left the man to take over. Why are you parading yourself around? The man had not appointed ministers; leave him alone. You went and seized the chairmanship of the Board of Trustees from Tony Anenih; that was the beginning of my trouble with Obasanjo.
When he wrote a letter to Jonathan, as he now said in Segun Adeniyi’s book that because of the abuse of the Ijaws and so on that that was why he wrote that letter, I replied that letter and I told him everything I knew about him in that letter, including first when we were in government. How he acquired government land near Tincan Island where he built an Estate through a front- the man had just died – and later, the man refused to give him the estate and they were in court. Are you not aware of this? I stated this in my personal letter to him. These are some of the things that he felt I did, for which he must fight me and I will fight him back.