By Duno Kogbara
LAST week, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo (“EK”) Clark, the famous Niger Deltan activist and patriarch, celebrated his 93rd year on this earth.
A documentary honouring him was aired on the main TV channels; and a dazzling array of distinguished household names – including Chief’s illustrious siblings, Professor JP Clark and Ambassador BA Clark – seized the opportunity presented by this multimedia platform to congratulate Chief Clark and reflect on his character and legacy.
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the Waziri Adamawa and Peoples Democratic Party’s 2019 presidential candidate, described Clark as an “outspoken, radical, unique” nationalist who “speaks truth to power” and combines passionate defences of his ethnic group and region with a strong, detribalised belief in the One Nigeria ideal.
Chief Olu Falae, the former Secretary to the Federal Government and Yoruba politician, said that he regarded Clark as a kindred spirit because he and Clark were both unapologetic about pursuing the interests of their kinsmen on the one hand…while simultaneously pursuing the interests of Nigeria as a whole on the other hand.
Godwin Obaseki, the Governor of Edo State, talked about Clark’s integrity and forthrightness. Clark’s own Governor – Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State – said that though he did not always agree with the senior statesman, he admired his love for his people and the nation.
Clark served as ex-President Gowon’s Minister of Information; and the letter Gowon wrote him when he turned 90 was quoted and highlighted Clark’s effervescence, loyalty, principles, fearless honesty and deep commitment to good governance and his job.
General Dr. Yakubu Gowon stressed that Clark is not a bigoted “ethnic jingoist” and said that even if one does not always share his views about one issue or the other, “he always means well.”
Other documentary participants included former Presidents Ibrahim Babangida and Abulsalam Abubakar, Ohanaeze Nd’igbo boss Chief John Nnia Nwodo, Senator Victor Ndoma Egba ex-chair of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Board and Mrs. Bucknor Akerele, a pioneering female ex-Deputy Governor of Lagos State.
Abdulsalam Abubakar said that Clark was a “true Nigerian who accepts everyone from anywhere as a brother or sister.”
Nwodo nostalgically recalled first encountering Clark when he was a student leader. He told the documentary audience that he fell in love with Clark because Clark boosted his self-confidence by praising him, inspired him by pointing out that “youths are a tabula rasa or clean slate” who can achieve so much if they work hard and provided practical support to beleaguered Igbo students after the civil war.
OK, so that’s what Clark’s fellow VIPs think of him. Now I want to tell Vanguard readers what I think of Clark – whom I have taken to humorously but lovingly/respectfully addressing as “Uncle Chief”.
I met Uncle Chief many moons ago through Dotun Sowemimo, a smart young lawyer and friend who, like me, was then based in Abuja. Dotun, as his name suggests, is not a Niger Deltan. But he had become one of Clark’s most ardent followers because he was utterly enthralled by Clark’s intellect and charismatic personality.
Dotun was not unusual. Enemies who want to minimize Clark’s relevance are always trying to portray him as a minor Ijaw agitator, Clark is a larger-than-life sage and mover and shaker who has, throughout his life, been a magnet who attracts many non-Ijaws.
OK, so Dotun introduced me to Clark; and he and I immediately bonded; and I was warmly welcomed into his home thereafter.
I was permitted to see him in his upstairs bedroom whenever he couldn’t be bothered to hold court in his downstairs lounge and invited to be part of most of the gatherings he frequently hosted.
I was there when lively debates about the future of our neglected oil-producing region were taking place. I was there when Niger Deltan militant leaders met in Clark’s house both before and after they signed the historic Amnesty deal with President Yar’Adua.
I was there when Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the then Vice-President to Yar’Adua, visited Clark. I was there when Clark worried, like an anxious father, about those who were undermining Jonathan. Clark, meanwhile, was always there for me. If I was upset about a professional or personal setback, I could confide in him over a brandy or two and a nice meal.
When I decided to resign from a Presidential Oil/Gas Sector Reforms Implementation Committee that was headed by the then Minister of Petroleum Dr. Rilwanu Lukman – because Niger Deltan interests were not being sufficiently acknowledged – Clark publicly stood by me while Niger Deltan governors remained cravenly silent.
Clark even arranged for me to be officially commended by elders from our zone. And I will never forget the fact that he made me feel as if I was not alone and as if my sacrifice had not been in vain.
One of the things that impresses me about Clark is his super-sharp brain that has not been dimmed by the cruel dementia that viciously attacks the mental and emotional capacities of so many pensioners, including my mother (who started to deteriorate aged 80).
I remember once telling Clark on a Thursday that I was off to Port Harcourt; and when he asked me when I would return to Abuja, I told him “next Tuesday”.
“What flight?” he asked.
“It leaves Port at 9am and will arrive here at 10am,” I said.
Can you believe that at 10.15 the following Tuesday – five days later – my phone rang shortly after the plane landed; and it was Uncle Chief.
“So you’re back!” he said; and I was totally gobsmacked and chuffed that he had remembered my travel plans with such crystal clarity.
Another of Chief Clark’s proteges is Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, the medical doctor who is currently Executive Director Projects of NDDC.
Clark has always made it clear to those of us who look up to him that he will not make fraudulent, feeble excuses for us if we misbehave.
And he has just released an uncompromising statement that seeks answers from National Assembly opponents of Dr. Cairo, his Minister Godswill Akpabio and his Interim Management Committee colleagues.
I regard Clark’s faith in Dr Cairo as significant.