By Ochereome Nnanna
IN August 2000, Prof Jibril Aminu celebrated his 60th birthday. In appreciation of his contributions to their community, the authorities of Eti Osa Local Government Area named a street after him close to his Parkview Estate twin mansion, and yours sincerely was an invited guest.
In his acceptance speech, Prof Aminu said since the Biblical age limit for man was 70, “my 60th birthday means that I have now obtained my boarding pass and will sit at the departure lounge until my flight is called”. Over the weekend Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, at 87 deployed a similar allegory saying he was now at the departure lounge waiting for the call for his flight to eternity, and he would go “with joy and peace”.
Chief Clark has been blest with longevity. At 87, not only is he more active than many people decades his junior, he is still intellectually sound and alert. He is still very articulate. The Ijaw chief is easily the oldest person at the ongoing National Conference.
EK is obviously still very active in other MANLY ways as evident in his recent marriage to a matured woman more than 30 years his junior. His memory is still very nimble. I can only think of one other person of his age bracket, Chief Mbazulike Amechi, who has the clarity of mind and rhetoric to rival EK. It is really a special blessing for which he should be grateful to our Maker.
The normal trajectory of life is for human beings to begin a downward trending physically, intellectually and mentally as from the age of 36, the period when the sap of youth begins to dry up. EK is a man who has grown bigger and stronger with age. He has been a Federal Commissioner (Minister) for Information, Senator of the Federal Republic and owner of a chain of cinemas between the 1970s and 1980s; a path that Mr Ben Bruce, Chairman of Silverbird Television, is now treading on a digital template. He appeared to have retired from active public limelight until the Warri wars erupted as from 1996 between the Ijaw and the Itsekiri. It was this communal conflict that Clark used as a platform to re-launch himself to the public eye. Though he was already years into his seventies, Clark, a domineering character and master of propaganda, modelled himself strictly as the leader of an Ijaw nation angling to position itself as the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria; the heart and soul of the newly-created South-South zone.
It coincided with a volatile stage in the agitation of the Southern Minorities of the Niger Delta for the control of their oil and gas resources and ultimately the politics and development of their home zone. Ferment had gathered around the zone, with proliferation of arms ensuing from the Warri wars, the arming of cult groups and youth rednecks by the new political class which, as from 1998 fought to dominate the politics of their states and the zone at large. It was from there that the Niger Delta militants started targeting the oil and gas infrastructure and personnel in that area. The Ijaws formed the major part of this effort. Clark went into the forefront and became the father figure to all the militant and political groups, giving them verbal covering fire as the struggle experienced its ups and downs.
Clark, indeed, is a tribal titan. At a summit organised by the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC and some of its international partners in Port Harcourt in December 2001, he made it known that he is an Ijaw leader, simpliciter. “I am not a nationalist,” he declared, “I am an Ijaw man; an Ijaw leader”. Here is one man who never pretends. When then Vice President Dr Goodluck Jonathan’s father died in 2008, Clark was the man who gave a vote of thanks to the guests that came from all over the country to Otuoke, during which he declared the militancy against the Nigerian state “over”. Earlier, it was Clark who sabotaged the South-South People’s Assembly, SSPA, with the late Dr Matthew Mbu as Chairman and Dr Raymond Dokpesi as Secretary. SSPA had gone into alliance with the South East to work towards the presidential ambition of Dr Peter Odili in 2006/2007.
But Clark discredited Odili, saying he was an “Igbo man”, adding that the South-South was asking for the presidency and not for an “Igbo man” to take the turn of the Southern Minorities through the back door. Clark is an expert in manipulating the pull-him-down (PHD) syndrome to upstage his political enemies. So far, it has worked for him, except in the singular instance where he failed to stop Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, an ethnic Itsekiri, from getting elected and re-elected as Governor of Delta State. He was able to get President Olusegun Obasanjo to stop Odili and give the Vice Presidency to his tribesman, Goodluck Jonathan. He employed the same tactics to stop Dokpesi from being appointed Chief of Staff to President Jonathan only recently. He and Mujahid Asari Dokubo, have wrestled with Arewa regional Rottweiler, the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, fire for fire
Clark is at the Conference as the leader of the South-South caucus, but his extreme pandering to Ijaw interests is chiefly responsible for the Ijaw occupying majority of the slots that should have been shared among groups in the South-South under the Jonathan presidency. Clark believes that the Ijaw, being the “majority” group in the South-South, have the birthright to take the lion’s share just as Igbo, Hausa/Fulani and Yorubas had called the shots in the defunct regions. The question arises: If Clark condemned the Majorities only to behave worse than them when his group assumed dominance, what was the justice in his agitations against the Big Three?
I wish Chief Clark longer life and good health. But I hope that future Ijaw leaders will correct his shortcomings by their readiness to share the pains and joys of the Niger Delta together, rather than become the new overbearing overlord of fellow Minority groups.