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Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark
Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, is unhappy with Northerners who are asking President Goodluck Jonathan to wait till 2015. As Clark went on to demolish the postulations of northern elders, he sounded angry. 'Is it not true that the trouble between Obasanjo and Atiku started when Atiku wanted to take over from him in 2003 using governors like Ibori who believed that his disagreement with Obasanjo started as a result of Atiku wanting them to support him in 2003?

'Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha had his problem with Obasanjo too. He (Alamieyeseigha) wanted to be the running mate of Atiku Abubakar. They all supported him, including Chief Igbinedion and Obasanjo and his wife almost went down on bended knees to appeal to Atiku. So, if there was zoning, which took eight years, why would Atiku emerge from the same government wanting to overthrow Obasanjo?' he rationalized.

As the South South leader expressed disappointment at people like Atiku and former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), chronicling the roles they played between 2003 and 2007, his anger became more pronounced. But one of the characteristics of Chief Edwin Clark during this exclusive interview was his knack for details.

'The zoning was not meant that one particular section would continue to dominate people. The North has been ruling this country from 1958 or 1957 for 35 years and eight months, both military and civilians. The West has ruled this country for 12 years and the East ruled for only six months when Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi was Head of State.

'But the South South people, the minorities of the south have never produced a president of this country. Therefore, if by God's wish, He decided that these people who produce the wealth of this country have not been fairly treated, I will give them President, who are those people to challenge the will of God,' he said. Excerpts…

From what you have said in the course of our discussion before this interview, the impression I have is that you don't believe in zoning of elective offices. Would that be right?

I don't know what you mean by zoning of offices. Every action taken has its own merits and demerits. When you talk about zoning, it means there is injustice; there is bias; there is discrimination being done to a group of people and if you want these injustice and abnormities to be corrected, you now introduce what you call zoning so that everybody will enjoy it. That is the essence of zoning.

In 1979, President Olusegun Obasanjo handed over power to civilians headed by Alhaji Shehu Shagari. We the minorities of the South and of the North believed at that time that we are the only NPN (National Party of Nigeria) people. Whereas in the West, Chief Obafemi Awolowo dominated the politics under UPN (Unity Party of Nigeria), in the East, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe dominated the politics under NPP (Nigerian Peoples Party). In the North, Alhaji Aminu Kano dominated Kano under PRP (Peoples Redemption Party), while Alhaji Waziri (Ibrahim) dominated the politics of the North East under GNPP (Great Nigeria Peoples Party). We the minorities from the North and of the South were the only people who actually voted for the NPN. But when offices were distributed, the majority ethnic groups took them.

So in 1982-83, we thought that the abnormalities would be corrected. This was how offices were zoned to areas so that they can have the feeling of belonging. That was the reason it was stated that after President Shagari, the presidency could move to the West or to the East. Offices were to depend upon performance. I remember the former NPN chairman, Chief Adisa Akinloye, worked so hard to install Dr Omololu Oluloyo as the governor of Oyo and Chief Bola Ige, the incumbent, was defeated. Similarly, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, who was the Vice President, also wanted to become president. So what did he do? He also worked so hard to install Chief C.C Onoh as the governor of Anambra State to replace the incumbent governor, Chief Jim Nwobodo. These were the issues at that time. The zoning was not meant that one particular section would continue to dominate people.

The North has been ruling this country from 1958 or 1957 for 38 years and eight months; both military and civilians. The South West has ruled this country for 12 years and the South East ruled for only six months when Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi was Head of State. But the South South people, the minorities of the South, have never produced a president of this country. Therefore if by God's wish, He decided that these people who produce the wealth of this country have not been fairly treated I will give them President, who are those people to challenge the will of God? So zoning is meant to correct injustice like I said, that is, marginalization, discrimination. So people who have not been getting that position, God is saying it is now your turn to be there.

Let me correct one thing here and that is majority of the Northerners do not believe in these few people who are very ambitious that they want to retain power. If you belong to one country, everybody in that country must be on equal basis and capable of ruling the country otherwise we will have a country of first class and second-class citizens.

Now let's talk about the so-called zoning in PDP (Peoples Democratic Party).

The argument has been said that former President Obasanjo represented the South and ruled for eight years. Chief MKO Abiola (of blessed memory) won an election, which nobody else has won in a similar fashion in this country. But the same people sabotaged him; removed him and at the end, the man died. So when we were now looking back, we said can we now pacify these people by giving them the presidency? So Obasanjo came in under PDP. Under the same arrangement, Chief Olu Falae came under the All Peoples Party (now All Nigeria Peoples Party) with Alhaji (Umaru) Shinkafi as his running mate.

So at that time, could it be said that it was zoning between the west and other parts of the country? It was not a proper arrangement, but it was something done to pacify a people that were wronged, who are part of this country and were wrongly treated. Zoning was introduced to correct the injustice.

So Obasanjo contested the election in 1999 with Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as his running mate. Is it not true that the trouble between Obasanjo and Atiku started when Atiku wanted to take over from him in 2003, using governors like James Ibori, who believed that his disagreement with Obasanjo started as a result of Atiku wanting them to support him in 2003. Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha had his own problem with Obasanjo too. He (Alamieyeseigha) was to be the running mate of Atiku Abubakar. They all supported him, including Govenor (Lucky) Igbinedion, and Obasanjo and his wife almost went on bended knees to appeal to Atiku.

So if there was zoning that took eight years, why would Atiku emerge from the same government wanting to overthrow Obasanjo? I think you see the fallacy of the argument. So who are these people? A man like Atiku should be ashamed of himself for doing what he is doing in destabilizing this country. Atiku is not the only person in this country. When he could not succeed, did he not go to form his own party, the Action Congress in order to contest against Obasanjo?

What he could not do under PDP. Obasanjo fought back because the Constitution allows him to contest for a second term. Atiku has no moral courage to do what he is doing today. I have a lot to talk about him when the time comes. We had four meetings together and he knows what he told me and I know what I told him. He is not the only material for presidency in Nigeria. Why should he abandon his party under which he contested in 2007 to join PDP because he wants to be president of Nigeria alone?

But Atiku is not alone in this struggle?
I'm coming; I am talking about PDP. So after Atiku; in fact, Obasanjo's late wife, who is my sister, Stella, phoned me to appeal to me to talk with (South South) governors to withdraw from Atiku. May her soul rest in perfect peace! So, who are these people talking about eight years and zoning? Even then former governor of Kano State, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, said he must contest and the same PDP gave him form and he contested. The former PDP national chairman, Chief Barnabas Gemade, who was removed and replaced by Chief Audu Ogbeh, who is now talking about zoning, also paid and the PDP allowed him to contest. So if they had won at that time, would Obasanjo become the President of Nigeria the second time? So people must face reality.

In 2007, what happened? We went to Calabar on October 5, 2007 for a meeting of the South South people under the banner of South South Peoples Assembly (SSPA). There was a Calabar declaration that the South South people must produce the president. I was the leader and we went round the country. The former governor of Rivers State, Dr Peter Odili, was in the forefront.

He went round the whole country and he was received. Former governor of Akwa Ibom, Architect Obong Attah, did the same thing and went round the whole country. Donald Duke, former governor of Cross River State, did the same thing. Then we encouraged Admiral (Mike) Akhigbe, who was number two man to General Abdulsalami Abubakar, and Chief AK Horsfall, who was former Director General of SSS, to contest. We sent delegation under the SSPA to go round the whole of the North. We have records; we have videotapes. Nobody from the North at that time challenged these people that they were not qualified to become president; that the position has been zoned to the North. None of them did.

So Yar'Adua becoming president was not because the position was zoned to the North. Obasanjo wanted someone who would stop Atiku and he knows that the junior to Shehu Yar'Adua who was the mentor of Atiku could do that. He decided to bring him to contest the election. I challenge any Northerner who supported Yar'Adua becoming president of Nigeria on the platform of rotation. None of them did. So a day to the time, Obasanjo in his usual character forced Odili, Attah and Duke to withdraw. They were in constant communication with me on that eve of Friday and Saturday.

So what happened at that time, I challenge any politician from the North who is saying made Yar'Adua to emerge as Nigeria's president. The only body under Senator Olusola Saraki, called the Northern Union (NU), was negotiating with us that they (North) wanted to produce the next president. We said no it is the turn of the South South. It was Obasanjo who overruled everybody. So no Northerner at anytime had that feeling, whether he was a soldier or civilian. Chief Odili was riding high before Obasanjo brought in Yar'Adua. So Obasanjo imposed Yar'Adua on Nigerians. It is either Odili or any other person from the South South that would have been president. I challenge anybody to counter this position.

So why are we having the hullabaloo about zoning if that was the case?

That is why I told you that when people are ambitious, greedy and corrupt, they look for tribe and all what not. Let me also say this. All those who are now agitating that this is the time of the North, are they all PDP members? There are over 51 parties in this country with membership spread across the North. Why is it that all Northerners are now singing rotation of the presidency? Are they all in PDP?

But people are saying that for the sake of national interest, Yar'Adua's vice should take over that tenure and run it to the end. Their thinking is that if he were alive, he would have run for second term. So why don't you allow the North to have its turn?

Which turn? This is a natural phenomenon. God has taken a decision. If two people are in a plane flying a distance of 80 kilometers and in the process one of them, by God's doing, dies, the co-pilot takes over. Have you ever heard that the co-pilot comes down for another pilot to fly the plane? All we are saying is that there is a president in this country, unless that president does not want to contest. The same PDP should be mindful, should be decent and honest enough to say that after your period, nobody is asking Jonathan to contest for eight years. It is a four-year business. When it finishes, you go. That is the time both of them could have ruled.

In effect, you are saying it is the turn of the South South or…

(Cuts in) I'm not depending on whether south or north. All I'm saying is that there were two people elected at the same time under the same ticket for four years and another term. In the process, one of them died. The Constitution says the man who was the vice president becomes the president of the country.

But this tenure is just for four years. Why would Jonathan not complete it and go so that another northerner can do the second term?

It is the same PDP that was saying that there was no vacancy in Aso Rock; that Yar'Adua was going to run for eight years before the man died. So all we are saying is that the period Yar'Adua would have stayed should be completed by the vice, who has now become the president. That's God's will and nobody should kick against it.

Are you saying Jonathan can go after four years?
Yes, he can go. So as I said, Chief Vincent Ogbulafor made that statement when the nation was at the verge of disintegration as a result of the constitutional crisis because the people who wanted to become president used him to make that statement. And he knows, he is regretting today.

Are sure he is regretting?
Ask him. If he says he is not regretting then I have evidence to show that he is regretting. He allowed himself to be used.

So specifically, you want Jonathan to contest?
That is not the issue. That is beside the issue. Jonathan has not told anybody he wants to contest or doesn't want to contest. The issue of Jonathan does not arise. I'm talking about what has been happening in this country. I'm talking about conventions. There are leaders. There are followers and those things will always change. In other words, if you are a leader today, tomorrow you will be a follower; if you are a follower today, tomorrow you'll be a leader. That is Nigeria.

But some Northerners are threatening a break up of the country if we have a southern president?

Those who are saying that are in the minority. Majority of the northerners don't listen to them. Majority of Northerners who are Nigerians do not believe in these few people.

In a free and fair election, do you think Jonathan can match a northern candidate?

This is not the issue of Jonathan. In any free and fair election, whomever the people decide to vote for takes over.

Did you ever imagine that Abiola was going to win election or defeat Alhaji Bashir Tofa in Kano State?

I'm looking at the groundswell of public opinion from the North.

Well, what is public opinion? The public opinion from the north is that those who are agitating for this rotation are aware of the statement made by the former governor of Kaduna when he said that those who are talking about rotation in the North are in the minority and they are doing it in their own interest. All of them are saying majority of northerners believe that every Nigerian can contest on merit.

Another thing I want to add to this zoning. In 2007, PDP also allowed Rochas Okorocha to contest. What I am saying? Okorocha even came second. He defeated General Aliyu Gusau. He defeated Admiral Akhigbe. He defeated AK Horsfall. That is Okorocha from the South East. Nobody stopped him. Even Obasanjo could not stop him. I think you follow the argument.

So all the arguments about rotation, zoning being propelled by some of these northerners is bunkum. I have told you that Atiku is a selfish man. Atiku believes that he must be president of Nigeria at all costs. That was the reason for his disagreement with Obasanjo. And now he has come back to PDP. I asked him, why did you abandon the party in which you contested election? All he said was that they have no outward look; that his coming to PDP was not to contest presidency. Now even those who followed him have disagreed with him. His own people who campaigned for him before have deserted him. He cannot win election in Adamawa State today.

I have very high regard for General IBB, and therefore I do not want to make any comment about him. I think as time goes on, we will all resolve these issues.

But can you look IBB in the face and tell him to stay off the contest in 2011?

No, not yet. Not yet.
You don't want to talk about IBB?
I don't want to…
He is also part of this campaign
No, no, no. I am dealing with them one by one. Publish this one and come again. I will deal with IBB. I will deal with the other man, Tanko Yakassai. I have not dealt with him. I will deal with him. He wants to divide Nigeria; I will deal with him.

(Laughs). Let's go to the issue of Ibori, because it is still part of politics…

No, no, no. I say go and publish this one.
Recently he said his problem is political, that it has nothing to do with corruption.

Ibori said it?
Yes. Because some people…
(Cuts in) Let us talk about that later. I will give you a full page about Ibori.

I'm wondering what document you have against him…
Listen, you don't understand me. I have told you, we have done a lot of job about zoning, go and publish everything I have said about zoning. Let Nigerians read my own version of zoning. When you finish, come back for my personal, if you want politics…

You won't talk about the militants…?
I won't talk about any other thing now.
Just this one?
Just this one. This one takes about two pages. I have said so much. Are you afraid to publish?

No. you are a busy man. You may not have the…
I will. If you want to come tomorrow after you publish this, I will do it. I am not going away between now and next tomorrow…

(Laughs). Okay let's talk about the election. What do we expect in 2011?

I said go and do this. I am not talking about issues or individuals now.