•Says INEC must be in charge of security to guarantee free and fair elections
Elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark is famous for speaking truth to power. Highly respected for his views on national issues, the former federal Commissioner for Information in this interview with a select band of journalists bares his mind on critical national issues including the now suspended Ruga, the forthcoming governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states as well as the yet-to-be-transmitted ministers’ designate list to the Senate for screening and confirmation. It’s vintage Clark
By Dirisu Yakubu
Thoughts on Ruga
Let me say this. One cannot just be criticizing every action of government because one is not part of it or because you are not a member of that particular party or you are not a politician. Nigeria belongs to all of us. It is true that this country has been depending on one resource alone, which is oil and gas. And so, one appreciates the effort of the federal government to diversify to agriculture that the country was known for in the past. Agriculture covers every aspect whether animal husbandry or crop farming.
But the recent introduction of Ruga is an abomination to the entire people of Nigeria. It is obnoxious and unacceptable. We cannot remain in a country where various and different groups of people live to make up what we call Nigeria since 1914 and today, you are introducing some sorts of settlements for a particular group of this country in every part of the 36 states simply because you feel that you are solving the problems between the herdsmen and farmers.
Ranching, if you want to maintain cattle rearing or anything like that is the way to go. That is what operates everywhere in the world, even in some less civilized, developed countries of Africa. Go to Brazil, East Africa, ranching is it! Even our founding fathers in the First Republic established ranches everywhere. There is one at Obudu, there is one in Ondo State. There is one in the North. Nobody kicked against it. But for you to introduce settlements as a means of resolving conflicts between herdsmen and farmers is unthinkable. Let’s go back.
We have been living with Fulani and their herds for a very long time. When I was even very young, they lived with us. When they were bringing their cows, they had only sticks. They waved the stick and everybody gives way but today, what have we seen? We now see herdsmen armed with AK47 all over the country moving around killing people, maiming people, raping women, killing children and so forth. They destroy farms and today, no single one has been arrested, no single one has been caught. And that is the country we belong to.
It seems that armed herdsmen that came from the Niger Republic, Libya and other places as government said, are the ones to be settled in our midst, not the Fulani with cows going around every time. Those are not the ones they want to settle. I disagree with that project. And I was very happy that the Vice President for the first time disagreed with the Presidency. And everybody is now coming out to say that they were not party to the decision.
They should not only suspend it, they should withdraw it completely. Whether they suspend it for the next 10 years, when it comes back, Nigeria will not accept it as a country. It is good that they suspended it but if they are bringing it back, no Nigerian will agree to it. And that may be the beginning of the disintegration of this country. God forbid!
On the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) recently signed by President Muhammadu Buhari
I agree with him. A committee that was set up recommended this, I commend him. I congratulate him. We are the largest country in Africa and I hope we will benefit from the agreement more than any other country. So, I congratulate him for doing that.
On delay in transmitting ministers’ designate list to the Senate by President Muhammadu Buhari
This is an issue I don’t normally agree with people on; counting days and months. The President should be given an opportunity to submit his list. The President in those days, you find that every party will like to nominate candidates and they disagree from one region to the other. It takes some time. I do not think it is too late to appoint ministers. After all, the National Assembly has just resumed. Let Mr. President take some time to appoint some people, expert, technocrats, who will serve this country creditably, not looking inward alone. That is my concern, not the time factor.
On Atiku’s Presidential election petition
This is not the first Presidential case in this country. Many have happened and even the President went through many tribunals. Let’s give the judiciary time to do their job, and justice should be seen to be done.
Growing tension in Kogi and Bayelsa states over coming governorship elections
Before the last general elections, the media houses didn’t take good articles when people write them. I wrote an article that security during election must be with the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. INEC must control security and that is what is being done in India and some other places. And I also remember that there was an argument between the former Inspector General of Police and the INEC chairman as to who should control the security. INEC chairman said they should control security, and the Police head said no, that the police will control it which is very unfair. It is not good enough; it is irregular.
A man is going to conduct election for the whole country. INEC is an independent body. What do they do in India? The police head and all security men will sit with the chairman of the electoral body to decide how many police men are needed. How are they going to be posted? They would make those numbers of policemen available to the electoral commission, who will now train them to make them do the job they want them to do. Then they will be responsible for posting them to various wards or polling units. But to say that INEC will conduct elections, the police, army and so on will have much money paid to them, nobody accounts for it. Then they bring the policemen and soldiers at the time they like. Sometimes, the INEC people will be ready at the booths; policemen are not there and vice versa because they are not under one control. So, what happened in Rivers and Bayelsa states during the last elections was disgraceful.
A situation where you have the army going to collect ballot boxes from polling stations, killing people is unacceptable. A lecturer who was doing his job was shot dead in Ogoni. If you are going to conduct election effectively in Bayelsa and Kogi states, the electoral body should take charge of the security men. If they want soldiers, they should arrange with the Chief of Army Staff on the number of soldiers needed. If they want policemen, the same thing should happen. Their allowances will be paid by INEC. They have to work and obey one authority, which is INEC. Unless this is done, we will continue to have trouble.
Violence doesn’t just come alone. If a soldiers fires, people will react. If a policeman fires, people will react. So, the crisis in Rivers and Bayelsa states were not caused by the people alone. They were caused by security forces that have different interests. That was what happened! My advice to INEC chairman and his body is that if they are going to conduct free and fair election in Bayelsa and Kogi states, they should allow the security people to be under their control. Whatever amount to be paid to them should be paid by INEC and the police and security men will know that they are under the control of INEC.
What do you make of the number of political parties in the country?
We are in a democracy, so anybody can form a political party. This happened in every part of the world. The problem I have is that in other places, some of these political parties are regional, some belong to the states. They contest elections at the local level at the House of Assembly. The All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, was formed during the late Chukwuemeka Ojukwu’s time because the South-East people felt they were being short-changed. As far as I am concerned, APGA is a South-East party.
If you have 100 parties, as in America; there is no problem. But if every political party wants to produce the President of Nigeria that is where chaos comes in. Otherwise, you can’t stop people from having political parties, but at the same time, INEC can come up with some conditions, like in the past, you must have offices in some number of states. INEC should be able to go round to see their facilities. Once that is done, it is okay.