* He cannot hold Delta to ransom – Prof. Ijomah
*Alleges Ijaw leader caused the demise of SSPA
*’He cannot take all the credit for Jonathan’s election’
You don’t need anybody to tell you that Professor B.I.C. Ijomah is a man of letters. On Tuesday, May 10 when Sunday Vanguard kept a date with him at his Agidigbo Avenue residence at Asaba, the capital of Delta State, the evidence was palpable. The renowned sociologist, who turns 75 in November, had lined up in the four corners of his expansive study mountain of books, ranging from sociology to history, politics and religion. Spotting a white upon white indigenous attire with a patch of grey hair on his head, the retired professor of Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, who is neck-deep in the politics of Delta State, was a delight to chat with. He spoke on the Northern agenda to perpetuate the region in power and the recent killings in the North; the vision of the defunct South-South Peoples Conference, SSOPEC, which metamorphosed into the South-South Peoples Assembly; how he met the late head of state, General Sani Abacha, to obtain permission for its inaugural meeting; how he, former Senate President, Dr. Joseph Wayas, and a former minister invited former federal commissioner for information, the late Dappa Biriye and Chief Edwin Clark to lead the group, and the latter allegedly hijacked the group; the battle against Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan by Clark and his group of Delta elders and why he dumped the group, amongst others. Excerpts:
By EMMA AMAIZE, Regional Editor, South-South
In 2005, you delivered a lecture at a conference of the South-South Peoples Assembly, SSPA, in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State on how the South-South could capture the presidency that had eluded it for many years. You revealed some of the strategies, one of which is that it must be on the platform of the leading party and kept others under wraps, and, six years later, the dream has become a reality through a national election as you canvassed. How do you feel about this today?
Well, first, we have to thank God that we are alive to witness it. The original intention was to perpetuate rulership in the North. The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo tried to stop it, he was cut short.
The late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe could not make it because they were using the conventional system of North for North, East for East, West for West and bringing them together became difficult, became suspicious that in 1953 when Awolowo was negotiating with Ahmadu Bello, he was also negotiating with Azikiwe. You see, the military coups were actually a strategy of perpetuating rulership in the North through military regimes because there was no way a southerner would have taken over the military.
It was General Alli who put me in a committee in the government of the late military head of state, General Sani Abacha, I think it was the Constitutional Conference Commission. People said Abacha was trying to transmute into a civilian president. I don’t share that view, whatever Abacha did, he was ennobled by the politicians.
In fact, Gemade who was the chairman of CNC, was the first to declare that Abacha was their presidential flag-bearer. Then, the five parties, which Abacha registered, systematically adopted Abacha as a presidential candidate. Then, who will talk when the guns were pointed at everybody, which was when Abacha started nursing, he might have had the intention but he never nursed it until the politicians encouraged him. I was a member of the Transition Implementation Committee, TIC, and I observed that even ethnic nationalities were not able to meet because everybody was afraid of Abacha’s chief security officer, Mustapha. So, one day, I went to Abacha and I asked him: ‘Why is it that people are afraid of you?’ He said, ‘professor, am I a tyrant? Am I wicked?,
I said, ‘I don’t know but people are afraid of you and that is why they are not holding meetings’. I told him that people should meet to discuss their problems and he asked me, ‘do you want to meet?’ I said my people wanted to meet. I am just giving you the origin of the South-South group you were talking about. He called his aide-de-camp, Jubril, and asked him to give me a letter permitting us to meet and I said no, that is not what I wanted. I told him what I wanted was a letter to the military administrators to facilitate the meeting of South-South Peoples Conference, SSOPEC, not South-South Peoples Assembly yet. He wrote and we held our inaugural meeting at Port-Harcourt. Myself, Joseph Wayas and Okoi- Obule, he was the minister of communications in the second republic. We met in my house at Apo village and, on my computer, we drafted the letters.
Dappa Biriye, Clark as SSOPEC leaders
And a question came, who should head it? Nobody agreed to head SSOPEC. Ogbemudia and other Edo people were not keen. I looked at it, I was working in the TIC, so I couldn’t be very effective. We then agreed to make Dappa Biriye the chairman and E.K. Clark, deputy chairman. Then, our people criticized it: why did I make two Ijaws chairman and deputy chairman? I said they were ready to serve; you were not ready to serve. That was how two Ijaws became chairman and deputy chairman. E.K. Clark was not there when we formed it, Dappa Biriye was not there. We were only three, I, Dr. Wayas and Okoi-Obule.
Then, we moved from Port-Harcourt, we went to the six states of the region. I joined them in public activity when they came to Asaba. Then, our committee, (TIC) had been dissolved. I also moved with them to Calabar. It was in Calabar that former minister of culture and tourism, Alabo Graham Douglas, declared his intention to run for presidency and I stood up and stopped him. I told him this was not a body for seeking offices, we wanted to get our people together, that was the first goal. Before you can talk of presidency, you must get yourselves organized.
Dokpesi, SSOPEC and SSPA
The chairman of Africa Independent Television, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, in fairness to him, masterminded South-South Assembly, not South-South Peoples Assembly and then, we tried to unite it with SSOPEC. That is why we now got South-South Peoples Assembly, SSPA, and when we were having the first outing in Yenagoa, that was when I was invited to give the lecture that you talked about on the “Imperatives of a South-South Presidency”. It was very highly received. All the then South-South governors, Peter Odili, James Ibori, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, were present and I told them that they should start thinking of a movement that could produce a candidate that the parties will back because the northerners will not back you except you were supported by a formidable body.
Northerners had thought the presidency was their birthright. But, after that meeting, I think Odili came out, but, before he came out, we set up a presidential search committee to identify a South-South person who could be president. Ambassador Matthew Mbu was appointed the chairman and I was a member/secretary. We invited people who were interested to send in their curriculum vitae.
Many responded. Chief John Odigie-Oyegun responded, Admiral Mike Akhigbe responded, so also Odili, Obong Victor Attah, Chief Ralph Uwechue and we screened them. Odili came first, I think Attah came second, Ralph Uwechue came third. However, as soon as Odili came out, E.K. Clark started attacking him. I don’t want to impute tribal motive but he started attacking Odili. Talking about Odili, he almost made it but for Obasanjo and we came back to square one.
Clark’s row with Dokpesi
First, he started by attacking Dokpesi, saying, ‘when we come here, you put us in a hotel, who is paying?’ Dokpesi said he was the one paying. He said ‘what is your interest?’ Dokpesi said, ‘we are trying to unite South-South, I don’t have to have personal interest to be able to spend my money’. That was the first friction we had.
The second friction was that E.K Clark resented Justice Adolphus Karibi-Whyte being chairman of the Elders’ Council. These internal conflicts continued to derail us. And I remember writing to all the governors, including the present president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, when he was acting governor of Bayelsa State, telling them not to disqualify themselves because God could use anybody to answer our prayers.
Dokpesi’s anger with Jonathan
When Jonathan became president, we decided to bring back the SSPA knowing that it is a platform we must use to seek and galvanize support for him. The presidency, from what I found out later, was interested in the resuscitation and one former SSS Director from Ubulu-Uku in Delta State came to me that the Presidency wanted us to put back the SSPA structure. But, before then, I had written to Dokpesi that the SSPA must not be allowed to die. So, we called a meeting in his house. At the meeting, it was not what I expected that I saw. Dokpesi started criticizing Jonathan, that Jonathan approved payment of some money to him before he went to South-Africa and when he came back, he withdrew the approval. I asked why he should withdraw it.
I investigated and saw that there was a reason for the president’s action. At that meeting, we were all gunning to support Jonathan but Dokpesi said no, he would not support Jonathan, which was the last attempt to bring the SSPA together. The next day, Dokpesi declared for former President Ibrahim Babangida and I wrote him, asking him how he would reconcile his support for Babangida with his pre-eminent position in the South-South movement. I think we published it in the Vanguard. I, Karibi-Whyte, Dr. Matthew Mbu, the former secretary of SSPA, Dr. Kalada Dick Iruenabere and Mrs. Monica Akiri, we found it difficult to understand his position.
How Clark aborted SSPA meeting in Uyo
Then, we made another attempt to revive the SSPA. I called a meeting in Benin City. Then, we held a meeting with some people from the Presidency and then we decided to hold a meeting at Uyo. The Presidency was behind it and had already arranged with the governor of Akwa-Ibom State to host us. I merely called E.K Clark as an act of respect that we were meeting at Uyo and he flared up, asking me why we should do that without clearing with him.
Immediately, he called the Akwa-Ibom governor that he was trying to destroy what we were building and the governor became afraid. The people from the Presidency who came were so angry; so he now decided to call a meeting at Uyo himself and people were begging me to attend. I said I will not go. I didn’t go. We were all supporting Jonathan but one man should not carry it on his head that without him, Jonathan would not have made it. I saw this thing coming under Abacha that if we continued the way we were going, we would never have the muscle to flex.
God prepared Jonathan for presidency
Jonathan has emerged. Thank God. I have told them, if you look at Jonathan’s antecedent, he is somebody prepared by God for a responsibility and I will not stand to challenge him.
Where is White Paper on NDTC report?
He has emerged. We had the technical committee on Niger-Delta. We worked for one month, we were meeting and Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, was meeting in Kaduna on Niger-Delta. What is their (ACF) business on Niger-Delta? We submitted our report, they submitted their own. Our report has not seen the light of the day; we have written to Jonathan several times, bring a White Paper on Niger-Delta Technical Committee report. That report is gathering dust now for over two years. And this was a report on which 43 or more south-southerners worked for one month under very stringent conditions, we were almost made to fold up the meeting. We were in Nicon Noga Hotel but if you drank water there, you paid. It was bad, we were eating only one meal, they give you N10,000 for food, we would eat the first meal together in the afternoon, which cost us N5,500 out of the N10,000 given us for food, then you have only N4,500 left to eat breakfast and dinner.
You are given one bottle of water free, you drank more than one, you paid and you are not allowed to bring water from outside. At a point in the meeting, I stood up and said, ‘gentlemen, even if they don’t feed us, we would finish this report because we are all involved’. That was the first time you set up a committee on Niger-Delta with only Niger-Delta indigenes. We told them the whole truth in the report and nobody is listening to that. Well, the country is in Jonathan’s hands. If he wants to rule the country well, it is okay, the vision of 2005, in fact , the vision of 1998, because SSOPEC was formed in February 1998, so we had a vision of where we were going, and we managed to transform situations until Odili was presented. I followed him to campaign round the country, and he would have made it but God gives power and Jonathan has made it. I hope this is not the end of the battle because from what Buhari has demonstrated, northerners want to take back power but I have a different strategy .
So, how potent is the SSPA now as a regional platform?
It does not exist anymore.
So, what really led to the demise of the SSPA?
It is personality struggle. E.K. Clark will not accommodate anybody leading him. That is what I saw.
Coming back to Delta State, you did say, probably out of anger, before the January 6 re-run and April 26 governorship poll, that since some elders did not want to agree on the support for Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, everybody should go back and deliver his choice gubernatorial candidate. The breeze has now blown, would you say the anus of the fowl has been opened or have you been proved right?
Well, I read E.K. Clark’s interview with your paper, Sunday Vanguard. I did not see anything damaging there. He is still regurgitating the old story. Eh, he never supported Uduaghan in 2007 and did not support him in the primaries. But the primaries have come and gone, we protested to Abuja, I was the spokesman, not E.K. Clark; I was the one speaking before Obasanjo. Obasanjo asked questions, which we could not answer.
(Interjection) You mean a group of Delta elders?
Yes, E.K. Clark and I led the group to Obasanjo twice. I will be 75 in November; I am not a small boy. They had compiled allegations against Uduaghan, I never knew Uduaghan until I came to Asaba. I was wondering and asked on my own, are you sure he did this and the person who compiled it is a top government official now. When we got to Obasanjo, he asked E.K Clark how come they knew about the things that were in the petition against Uduaghan and he did not know as president of the country. E.K. Clark himself didn’t know.
We said, ‘okay, we would come back’ and we did go back. When we went back, I asked the top government official, ‘these things you wrote, we need evidence’. He said, ‘I am coming, I will give you evidence’. I did not see him again until July, last year. When he surfaced with another chain of allegations against Uduaghan, I stood up there and lambasted him in E.K. Clark’s house. E.K. Clark is a wonderful man. He is passionate; when he supports you, he doesn’t wink. But he has many of those who go to him who failed elections.
They did not go to him because they want to go and drink tea, they were driven there because they couldn’t win primaries in their local government areas and senatorial districts, so he appeared to be a focal point of those who lost out in their areas. He talked in the interview about one General Onyekweli (rtd) being the chairman of his faction. Onyekweli and I are from Aboh. Can he (Onyekweli) win 10 votes in Aboh, which is his hometown? This last election, did he come home at all? You see, these people don’t go home; they want to be Abuja politicians, that period is over; PDP is based on grassroots politics. During the re-run, I relocated from Asaba to Aboh.
I stayed with my people, and I told them what to do. Ogboru won Ukwuani and Ndokwa-West local government areas and they said they must take Ndokwa -East. I said I am still alive, I am not dead. When I am there and is still acceptable to my people, you cannot take Ndokwa- East. Even Olisa Imegwu, the former speaker, who left PDP and joined DPP, lost in Aboh.
I am talking about the challenge and counter-challenge by the elders before the governorship poll.
E.K. Clark said his group is the strongest in Delta State but I know every member of his group, we have been meeting together there. Former speaker, Hon. Young Igbrude, who used to be with him, is no longer there. Onyekweli is in Lagos. Eboma is in Agbor. In a free and fair election, these people cannot win their areas unless they want to carry box. I love E.K Clark; he is a bold leader, he doesn’t care, he would tell you to your face. That is my character also, but I will not because of somebody who had lost an election say what I think is wrong. I lost election, the world did not come to an end, they rigged me out in the primary in 1999, I am still a member of PDP.
It is obvious that elders of Delta have not been able to patch up their political differences. There was a move to mend fences, last year, what is the situation of things?
Yes, that is true in a sense. In July, last year or two years ago, I contacted some elders of Delta State, the deputy premier of the defunct Midwest Region, Chief James Otobo, former commissioner and Ijaw leader, Chief P. Biakpara, ex-minister of information and Urhobo leader, Prof Sam Oyovbaire, General Obada (rtd), about six to seven of us, we discussed with the governor and I said we should bridge the gap, let us unite the Delta elders, you need them behind you, he (Uduaghan) agreed. I led the delegation to Abuja to meet with E.K. Clark in his house and I told him that we wanted to meet him first as a person to discuss the strategy, but, by the time we got there, he had called all his people. The sitting room was full, so I took him to an outside room, ‘we came to speak to you as a leader and I did not mean that it would be a place for argument, what are those people doing there?’ He said well, they are his followers, that if we reached agreement with him, they would think he was compromised. I said okay, no problem, I could talk to them. So I went and I started talking, telling them the need for reconciliation, the need for unity.
Those flocking around Clark are disenchanted
When I finished talking, the first question Chief Patrick Bolokor asked me was whether I was talking for Ibori or whether I was talking for Uduaghan? And I said he should be the last person to ask me this question. ‘What is the quarrel between you and Ibori? You were the chairman of his campaign organization. I worked under you, we marketed Ibori for his second coming. I have not quarreled with him, you should not ask such question. If there is a problem between you and Ibori, that is a different thing’.
A former commissioner in the state, Dr. Richard Tosanwumi, I suppose, asked the next question along the same line, all angry. When you have a collection of angry persons, who have lost relevance, it is difficult to use them to bridge the gap. We know the history of those in his group, some of them fall for Chief Clark to get one appointment or the other from Jonathan. What were they before?
Nwaoboshi, Dr. Okowa and Mrs. Alli
Even the chairman of the PDP in the state, Chief Peter Nwaoboshi, that he was trying to criticize, was his “boy”. Under normal circumstances, Uduaghan would not have supported the emergence of Nwaoboshi , he came as a way of compromise. Uduaghan believed that with Nwaoboshi there, wife of the former national chairman of PDP, Mrs. Marian Alli, who was sponsoring Nwaoboshi, all of us could work together, it did not work. You saw what happened when Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa was campaigning for the primaries; Nwaoboshi said the primaries were illegal because Mrs. Alli didn’t win and E.K. Clark quoted it.
You don’t personalize a bureaucracy, power comes from the top, and compliance comes from the bottom. Mrs. Alli is a nice woman, I have nothing against her but she doesn’t come home to mix with the people and so, she is not a fit and proper material to be a senator because she will not know our problems. Okowa is groomed from the grassroots, from local government to the state as commissioner for agriculture, commissioner for health, commissioner for water resources and secretary to the state government and, of course, the next port of call is something higher than SSG. So, he has prepared himself.
We’ll move again to unite elders
The truth, however, is that we have to unite, the elders have to unite. I am waiting for Uduaghan to be sworn-in, we will start again to re-organize the elders and we will be able to support the structure on the ground. We should be able to support the governor who has been re-elected by Deltans.
You talked about calling a meeting to unite Delta elders after Uduaghan’s swearing-in, do you think this will be feasible with Clark?
Well, we tried it before; it didn’t work because there were still many aggrieved persons. However, in this election, they came together, they lost again and, in my opinion, there must be a way of deciding something.
You mentioned that there were so many aggrieved persons in Clark’s group and these are the people that don’t want him to pipe down. He himself has said that his followers must be carried along in any settlement and gave it as one of the terms for settling with Uduaghan. What is your take on this?
Well, I don’t know what is in Uduaghan’s mind but if settlement is extracting by duress, it is not respectable. Take Onyekweli, who he said was his chairman, Onyekweli has long left him. Mrs. Esther Uduehi was with him, she is no longer with him. I was with him, I have left him. Chief Godwin Obielum was with him, he has left him, I can go on and on mentioning people who have left. So, a handful that is left cannot hold Delta to ransom, Well, they hold their meeting in his parlour, which shows you the size. The former speaker, Igbrude had left him, he has come back to Uduaghan. Who are actually the people that are left with him? I want to know.
Somebody insinuated sometime that Chief Otobo is back with him?
Otobo? Impossible. They are like water and oil. When we went to Abuja to meet with Clark, Chief Otobo refused to go to E.K. Clark’s house, he stayed in the hotel, he said he could not go to E.K. Clark’s house.
Are you saying that Delta elders led by Clark are holding the state to ransom?
They are only making noise in Abuja. They came home to campaign in the last elections. E.K. Clark says he is still in PDP and is struggling for the soul of PDP; then what he should do is to contest under PDP; if you win, fine, but in the last elections, somebody told him he was supporting Great Ogboru of DPP. That is decidedly an anti-party activity and if the party is well structured, it should discipline such person.