By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger Delta
LOVE or hate the Ijaw-born former Federal Commissioner for Information and Leader/Coordinator of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, aka Gogoro (OFR, CON), one thing you cannot take away from him is his audacity and patriotism, especially in matters that affect the Niger Delta.
When other leaders were afraid to pick the cudgel, he dared and provided strong-willed leadership that has continued to shape the fortune of the region. His sustained relevance in mobilizing forces to advance the cause of the Niger Delta in recent times, even in his words: “I am at the Departure Lounge, waiting for my Boarding Pass,” is matchless, incalculable and heartwarming.
But, for his fearless voice and headship, the region, perhaps, would have had more serious crisis by now with federal forces. It was his resilience and subtlety with other leaders that made President Muhammadu Buhari to have a rethink on the military plan to overrun the Niger Delta under the guise of hunting for militants.
On November 1, 2016, he, against all odds, led a delegation of royal fathers and leaders from the coastal states of the Niger Delta, under the auspices of PANDEF, to meet with Buhari in Abuja to make the point that the people do not deserve such treatment. Mr. President digested the fact that they are, indeed, leaders from the region, and that meeting, no matter what critics say, removed the sail from the stealthy agenda to overawe the region.
Indisputably, Clark is also misconstrued by not a few persons in the region, which he has practically given his all. Some see him as an Ijaw ethnic nationality leader and address him as Ijaw leader because of his love for Ijaw nation, which he cannot rebuff.
If he wore such garment in the past, assuming but not conceding, Clark, from close observations in the past few months, has utterly metamorphosed. In the present day, he cannot be cocooned as an Ijaw leader; he is not just one of the South-South leaders, but the leader of the South-South geopolitical zone by popular acclamation. In fact, other persons in charge of the region, including royal fathers, defer to him.
A down-to-earth leader, he knows the reservations about him and took time to address them at a meeting of PANDEF, held in December, last year (2016) at Asaba, Delta State.
To those who accused him and other South-South leaders of underplaying restructuring when they met Buhari, November 1, he said: “Just as Mr. President said that we must kill corruption or corruption will kill the country, and I agree with him, so also we must restructure Nigeria or else, non-restructuring will kill Nigeria. In other words, non-restructuring is inimical to the growth and development of the country.”
On the allegations that PANDEF is made up of corrupt politicians and is an attempt by the Ijaw ethnic nationality to railroad other ethnic groups in the region, he said: “I want to use this medium to educate people, who are making mischievous statements that PANDEF is a group that belongs to one ethnic group in the region, or made up of corrupt politicians, who are also instigators of the crisis that the allegations are untrue, unpatriotic and vicious.
“It is one of the tactics of people, who want to create division in the region. I plead with all to put hands together to save our region, which is highly endangered. We may have our differences at home, but national issues affecting our destiny must, naturally, too, bring us together.
“I am going to 90 years old and I do not think it will be fair for anyone to accuse me of instigating or sponsoring pipeline vandalisation or militancy. On militancy, he said: I did no such thing as a young man, and I will not do it now that I am in the Departure Lounge, waiting for my Boarding Pass.”
It is his wish that the Federal Government should dialogue and be at peace with the Niger Delta before he joins his ancestors. He had severally urged Buhari to appoint a Federal Government Negotiation Team to commence talks with Niger Delta, particularly as the militant groups, including the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND, had given PANDEF the imprimatur to discuss on their behalf.
From the cradle of Eriawvarien community in the present-day Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State, where he was sired May 25, 1932, by the late Chief Bekederemo Clark of Kiagbodo, Burutu Local Government Area of the state, nobody really comprehended the fire packed in the bones of the educationist, lawyer, politician, activist and elder statesman until situations in life sparked them.
Clark started his working career as a teacher and later headmaster of schools at Ofonu and Bomadi areas of Delta State and later became a Director at Bendel Textile Mill, Asaba and Bendel Brewery, Benin City, Edo State. He was also Commissioners for Finance and Education in the defunct Midwest Region and, during the General Yakubu Gowon administration, he was Federal Commissioner for Information.
During the Second Republic, he was elected a senator on the platform of National Party of Nigeria, NPN.. He berthed at the National Republican Convention, NRC, during the truncated Third Republic.
Before he retired from active politics, Clark was a strong member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP.
A senior colleague at the bar and alumnus of the Hobson College of Law, he was called to the Bar in England, as a member of the Honorable Society of the Inner Temple and is also a solicitor and advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
At 89, approaching 90 hotly, Clark, a nationalist to the core and strong believer in one Nigeria, has devoted his life to the service of the people of Niger Delta.
At the moment, he is more concerned about how the South-South region can remain united, knowing that without unity, the zone will fall. This has been his gospel lately.
Parting gift to kinsmen
Knowing that the quickest way to transform his community is by establishing a university in the countryside enclave, the elder statesman, who is very much concerned about how posterity will judge him, established the Edwin Clark University of Technology in Kiagbodo. The university, approved by the National University Commission, NUC, had since taken off.
Father of many children like Abraham, Clark is married to Dr. (Mrs.) Bisola Clark.
The fact that he is a role model to many qualifies him to be conferred with Vanguard’s Lifetime Achievement Award.