Clark’s cross

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EDWIN CLARK is many things to many people. To some, he is a quarrelsome old man, cantankerous, bombastic, a bigot and an ethnic irredentist. He is short-fused, a wily fox, abusive and quick to go to press whether or not his pronunciation is right or wrong.

They may be correct. To others he is an elderly statesman, a senator of the Federal Republic, a leader of his people. He was a former commissioner in the Midwest, later becoming the Federal Commissioner for Information under Yakubu Gowon. He had his property seized during Murtala’s inquisition, a position reversed by Babangida.

This school of thought is also correct. Clark comes from a privileged background with a father who saw the importance of education at a time when your position in society was determined by the number of wives you had and the size of your farm. One brother, John Pepper, is the famous poet and emeritus professor of the University of Ibadan; another, Akporode was Nigeria’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations; and Henry Udumebraye Clark was a General in the Army who established the elite corps of paratroopers; Peter recently disengaged from the Army, a General himself and Grade One as his name suggests is a cerebral wizard any day.

Between these two extreme views lies a wide vacuum of the personality of Edwin Clark, discoverable only by those quite close to him. This middle ground is the sum total of his personality. It is also his cross, which he must bear.  Edwin Clark, or simply EK, reminds me of a portion of a story I gleaned from Professor Stephen Hawking’s book, The Grand Design.

Hawking himself is another remarkable man. He held the chair of the Lucasian professor of Mathematics at Cambridge for 30 years- a position once occupied by Isaac Newton, father of gravity, despite suffering  an incurable motor neuron disease, an ailment that crippled him.

In the book, Hawking tells of a time in Viking mythology when the earth was flat and two wolves, Skoll and Hati, were always after the sun and moon. And whenever the wolves clutched any of the celestial bodies, there would be an eclipse of the sun or the moon. Then the people would rise as one and make a cacophony, banging and clanging on every available drum and plate.

Hawking observed that after a time, the people would have realised that the sun and moon recovered from the grip of their nemesis whether they made noise or not. And they would also have realised that these eclipses occurred with a repeated regularity. What the people missed at that time was the image the earth cast on the moon during an eclipse. It was always spherical; a clue that earth was indeed a sphere and was not flat.

This is what people miss in Edwin Clark today. It is the cross he carries for the entire long suffering minorities of the South of Nigeria, a people impoverished through the discovery of oil in their terrain and its attendant litany of woes.

The minorities of Southern Nigeria today can never again have their pre-oil era environment. A remediation would take 30 years in a global economy that seeks a bypass of the cheap energy from oil. The reversal of the environmental degradation would also take tonnes of money from the Nigerian purse, a treasury empty at most times, no thanks to official profligacy and bare-faced daylight robbery and pillage of resources, theft of the commonwealth and misappropriation of the heirloom.

Many years ago, in Calabar, Clark and his army threw down the gauntlet: it is the Presidency of the country at the next count or we all die! Succour came the way of the minorities when Dr Goodluck Jonathan came on board as a Vice President and Clark settled for second best, a position accepted by the people in order for peace to reign. As things turned out Jonathan became President and all hell broke loose.

Reparations to the people of the Niger Delta were started by his predecessor and were expected to be completed by a son of the soil. Suddenly, and from nowhere, the dread of Boko Haram emerged, becoming the most important single factor distracting the simple gentle son of the canoe carver from Otuoke from carrying out his duties. From a religious commune, the Boko Haram has taken on a larger than life image, wantonly destroying and killing, unchallenged by the people.

From Abuja to Kano, Biu to Maiduguri, Damaturu to Bauchi, Boko Haram would not let peace reign. I watched Azazi make his famous speech in Asaba wherein he declared that the politics of the Peoples Democratic Party that decides the eligibility of presidential candidature based on geographical origin was the single cause of this sectarian insurgency.

Azazi was removed from office for this assertion. He later died in a Navy chopper crash while returning from Oronto’s father’s funeral with Yakowa, Kaduna’s governor.

The North and the Americans together with their allies would also not agree with Azazi’s assertion, preferring to lay the blame at the doorsteps of the perceived long years of marginalisation of the Northerners with an attendant large army of unemployed, illiterate and poor youths and have pitched their tent with a perceived redeemer despite the fact that the North has long held on to power at the centre. Day after day, the sect strikes friend and foe alike, tethering to a religious ideology and in spite of the presence of huge military formations battling them, and all avenues of reaching a deal and placating them has failed.

In Clark’s South, hope has vanished and long gone. The people yearned for roads, railways, motorways, bridges, employment like the rest of Nigeria.

They sought regular power supply, security, food and shelter. The only arterial road in the region linking the two oil points remains largely uncompleted and abandoned. The youth have resorted to kidnappings to make ends meet, a result of the underdevelopment that has become the lot of the region. Even the President’s cousin was kidnapped by unknown gunmen.

Clark was once revered as the arrowhead in the fight against corruption. His silence at the brazen plunder of scarce resources is louder than the clapping of thunder.

A lady bought two cars for nearly a billion in a society where universities were closed for five months for lack of teaching material; a probe into the fuel subsidy scam remains an illusion till this day; pension funds were looted by their keepers; bankers left with depositors monies; the stock exchange became a casino with its regulator a regular gambler; the minister coordinating the economy regales us with statistical data that must include the decimal point and percentage everyday without commensurate achievements on ground; the National Assembly takes a quarter of our earnings.

The list is unending with each new day bringing another tale. To cap it all, there is the $20 billion heist! Where is Clark? There was a time Clark was the leader in the fight against injustice. He was silent in the Salami saga; he watched Suntai’s deputy shove him aside; Mustapha visited him after his prison spell and questionable release that is still sub judice; ministers with questionable loyalty were shown the way out of government unceremoniously; fraudsters and politicians and men of questionable integrity surround him; he saw Sanusi go!

These sum up the totality of Clark’s cross. A cross he must bear until equity and justice come to both North and South; a cross he must shoulder until probity and accountability in public office become the norm and default option.

He must bridge the division in the body polity. He is a father of all and the Almighty has granted him a long life and wisdom. He must not take sides.

He must approbate and reprobate in a fatherly fashion, beating with one hand and tending with the other. He must not divide the children, playing one against the other and provide an avenue for those directly associated with him and his ideals to propagate and canvass his ideology and bring forth positive change.

There will be no peace without justice. The upcoming national conference should provide Clark with the platform to articulate the importance of a united and strong nation where nepotism and ethnic and religious bigotry have no place. where probity and accountability should be the watchword.

After all said and done, whether President Jonathan seeks a further term in office or not and indeed whether he accomplishes that or not, Nigeria must remain one strong united nation  and Clark will be on the right side of history. But whichever side of the divide you are on, Clark remains a focal point.

EK is an interesting man! Herein lies Clark’s cross, a cross that will determine his place in history. And Nigeria will rise again.

MICHAEL OBERABO a medical practitioner, wrote from Warri, Delta State.

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