By Prince Akpo Abugo
IT was a gathering at a news-stand, with members united by their frustrations at the economic stagnation and injustice that the Nigerian state has meted out to the Niger Delta the despite human and economic contributions it has made since 1956 when oil was discovered in the area. Crude oil is the mainstay of the nation’s unity and identity; without it there would be no Nigeria. In order to sustain its rapacious greed and extravagance, the Nigerian state has, through brutal military occupation and civilian conquest, kept oil and gas-rich Niger Delta in perpetual subjugation. This has been going on for years as government continues in its seeming quest to milk the area dry of its rich oil and gas reserves. This insensitivity is unexplainable even as cries of marginalisation persist. This is where Chief Edwin Clark became the main issue in his quest for a redress.
As members of this impromptu gathering began to read through pages of newspapers on display at the stand, they could not help but see and rail against the evident deceit being perpetrated against a region that produces the nation’s wealth, and responsible for 95 per cent of its annual budget. They spoke out against how greed for crude oil sustained military coups, corruption and individual extravagance; how oil patrimony was shared in oil blocs to the thieving ruling class and their cronies, the opportunities lost in developing the nation, environmental degradation, pollution with effects on agriculture, ponds, streams and rivers, destruction of fishing and aquatic lifestyle, air pollution and gas flares that have reduced life span through respiratory and skin diseases, apart from acidic rains which continue to endanger life and properties. If crude oil is a Nigerian state resource why leave only Niger Deltans to suffer the life-threatening consequences oil exploration while others enjoy only the benefits? This is the logic behind resource control to ameliorate the effects of oil exploration.
How do we address the arrogance of oil beneficiaries, the feudal lord’s imposition of unitary system in form of a federal system, killing hopes and aspirations, blocking fertilisation of ideas, economic liberalisation and political reforms; creating high rate of unemployment, politics in NNPC and other oil companies controlled by a section of the country, political marginalisation of the Niger Delta in creation of states, local governments and wards, et cetera. Clark’s prophesy that a time is coming when “the elders will lose control of the region because their voices are no longer heard and the youths will occupy the driver’s seat” is here. Successive governments over the years paid deaf ears to Clark’s crusade. And the unfortunate effect: militancy, oil bunkering and other forms of criminality. Consequently, oil companies relocated their headquarters to Lagos, outside Niger Delta where they pay taxes. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s promise of reversing this has become cheap talk, and the search for justice has become an illusory chase that smacks of political mockery and deceit.
The frustrations were palpable as the gathering began to debate the Vice President’s last tour of the Niger Delta, his promises of modular refineries, issuing executive orders to oil companies to relocate their headquarters back to their Niger Delta operational base. Past and present frustrations led Clark to form the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, in order to bring all ethnic nationalities in the region together considering the multi-ethnic diversity of the Niger Delta. It was an act in unity of purpose, but the Muhammadu Buhari regime has shown that there is no difference between the past and present.
Clark’s consistency against injustice and his exemplary leadership, crusade for fiscal federalism as agreed by Nigeria’s founding fathers and how the feudal ruling class truncated promises of a better Nigeria. Indeed, Clark’s crusade for good leadership in Niger Delta states and Nigeria in general, despite the antics of moles, cannot be reversed, as he once said: “We cannot cry against marginalisation at the federal level when at home we encourage corruption and unfair deals to the poorest of the poor in our midst”.
The discussants agreed Clark is irreplaceable, adding that it was difficult to have another who is loved, accepted, with strong grip on the region as a symbol of unity and identity. Another quipped thus: “Pa Clark will be 92 on May 24, what do we offer him?” There was silence, then a voice! “We can never reward him for his patriotism and leadership, his love for the common man. One of Clark’s main virtues is that he accommodates all without let or hindrance”. Then another added: “There is more we can offer apart adoration. Clark needs our prayers, well wishes and, more importantly, commitment to imbibe his lifestyle and philosophy for good governance and zero tolerance to corruption, in transforming ourselves and society that is constantly raped economically and politically”.
They agreed to imbibe Clark’s ideals that has made him a national colossus, to embrace education so as to equip themselves intellectually and erase ignorance, be courageous, law abiding and use education as tool for liberating the mind and body. For them, that is how to justify Clark’s numerous scholarships and struggles.
Clark’s wealth is not in properties but in development of people, especially the youths and the poor, the vulnerable and the unjustly treated. This to him is the best way to create a new Nigeria that will supplant leadership of bigotry, ethnicism and nepotism. Clark is a lawyer but more famous as an educationist.
Clark has survived conspiracies, trials and plots because of his transparency for egalitarian society where all pursue their aspirations under the law. To him, education is knowledge and character goes with discipline. Clark was a commissioner for education, finance, first chairman of council and first Pro-chancellor, University of Benin. He was Federal Minister of Information and his contributions to peace and integration during and after the civil war are erasable.
He was also a senator in the Second Republic, leader South-South delegation to the National Political Reform Conference. Clark is timeless, priceless and irrepressible; his greatness lies in integrity, courage and ability to transform lives. Happy Birthday Daddy!