Elder statesman and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Robert Clarke has said that the South West region is already well positioned to produce President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor in 2023. In this interview with CHRISTY ANYANWU, the legal luminary spoke on a wide range of issues.
What should be Buhari’s priority as he goes into second term in office?
Well, the priority in Nigeria for any politician or statesman is the question of the security of the state. Nigeria has never seen it so bad, that three quarters of virtually all the 36 states in Nigeria today are under siege of either kidnappers, or the so-called bandits, or Boko Haram dissidents. We have never had it so bad. So, the first priority for Buhari today is to ensure that security wise, Nigeria takes a tough decision to be enable to face the other problems that Nigeria has. Security is his first problem. He has to ensure that security wise, Nigeria is safe. Without security and Nigeria being safe, you cannot do any other thing.
What is your take on the proposed 30,000 minimum wage?
The question of pay or no pay of minimum wage is a Nigerian subject and not a federal subject. Of course, how many workers does the Federal Government have? It’s not up to one tenth of all the workers from other states in Nigeria. So, the question of pay of minimum wage is much of the states’ matter than the Federal Government. But it has been decreed by law, he has given an assent to it and therefore, when an implementation date is announced, each state will have to ensure that they pay the minimum wage and I don’t see any reason why any state cannot pay. I don’t see any reason. The amount of money involved is not much. It’s not up to the amount of money being spent by the governor’s office and the House of assembly. When you look at how much budget is given to those two arms of government, it’s not up to the budget we are talking about. I don’t see any reason why any state government cannot pay. But circumstances may arise, where other states may say they cannot pay but they have to show you and I why they cannot pay. If a governor takes security votes and even operating votes, the House of assembly members take operating votes and even asking for allowances to go to England for medicals for any of their members, why can’t they pay? I see no reason. They are not generating funds internally which they should do because they depend on government grants, so if they are caught in a situation where they think …let them generate funds, many of them have avenues to generate funds.
Spate of killings in the country, is it to sabotage Buhari’s second term in office?
I don’t want to drag in politics to the security problems of Nigeria today. I don’t want to be seen to be aligning with any group or groups saying that. But one thing is clear to me from experiences in life, most of the security problems in Nigeria today are created by the politicians, in the sense that in the quest for positions during election time, these politicians surround themselves with young boys who are thugs. They maintain them, give them money, give them arms and when election matters are concluded and nobody is asking you for votes or nothing, they ask you to go away and these boys can no longer go back to their village because before every morning they opened their hands, they were being given N10,000, N50,000 and now, nobody is giving them. So, they go back to do what they think can bring back money and that’s why you find that kidnapping, banditry, and every other vices are on the upsurge. It is these young boys. The question is, what do you do to it? Do you accept the reality that these bandits are all over Nigeria now. It’s not one state alone. These kidnappers are all over Nigeria, not one state alone. You cannot just say the North, it’s all over. Out of the 36 states in Nigeria, virtually 30 states are affected by the kidnapping menace and kidnapping occurs because these young boys who the politicians have been using and they are no more using, need to survive. So, the alternative is just to kidnap, go into the bush and look for ransom. That is the situation. So, nobody is creating a situation for Buhari to fail. It is the reality of the totality of what the politicians have done to this country and the only way is for any government to clamp down on them vigorously but it doesn’t solve the problem. Find work for them, it may not be possible. When you address the issue, everybody sits down and we don’t kid ourselves, we don’t say it’s a Northern problem or it’s a South East problem or a Lagos problem; we look at it from the nationalist aspect.
Is there hope for the country?
Well, there is always hope for any country. It depends on the attitude of those who are governing today. You see, Nigeria is so seriously divided as of today. Especially during the last elections, we have discovered that Nigeria is so divided to the extent that you don’t want to buy Nigeria for a kobo. But that does not mean that hope is lost in Nigeria. But the problem in Nigeria is because of politics, because of ethnicity, we no longer want to criticize our own blood when we find things are not going on well. Everything in Nigeria today is against Buhari. Buhari has done this, Buhari has done that, but how much of a totality of a Nigerian is Buhari affecting. Buhari is the president of Nigeria and he’s only in Abuja. The governors are all around, they are the people affecting the lives of you and I. Ambode is affecting the lives of Lagosians, Wike is affecting the lives of Rivers. These are the people who should show the light and they are not showing the light. The governors are the thrust of the problems we have in Nigeria. During the election time, they know how they are keeping their thugs, they know how they are arming them with guns, and after the elections, they no longer give them money because they no longer need them. Then what do you do with them? You have used them, you have told them to go away and you think they will just go away, they will fire back. And that is what they are doing.
Some prominent Northerners still believe political power should remain in the North even after Buhari’s second term, what’s your take on that?
The problem in Nigeria is that the politician has created for themselves a situation where if two of them gather against the third one, they will want political power to be rotating among themselves. Unfortunately for the Igbo, they have never had a partnership with either the Hausa or the Yoruba in any election. But they have found themselves in the situation because in Nigeria, there are three major tribes. The Igbo, Yoruba and the Hausa. Where two of these major tribes gang up, that is where the power is going. In 1999, when the constitution came in, Obasanjo wasn’t sponsored by the Yoruba, even though he was a Yoruba man; the Yoruba rejected him, and sponsored Falae. But the Northerners and the Igbo voted for him; the Yoruba never voted for him and he still won because the Northern Hausa and the Eastern Igbo decided to support him. In 2003, Obasanjo came for the second term; again, he was not sponsored by the Yoruba; the Yoruba put up another candidate but still he won. In 2007, Yar’Adua was not supported by the Yoruba but the Igbo supported the Northerners and he won. In 2011, Jonathan came in, he’s not a Northerner but he was supported by the North and the Igbo, and he won. Having realised that power is between two of these sects, the Yoruba and the Hausa merged in 2015 and they produced Buhari. In 2023, if the Igbo don’t find themselves holding onto the Yoruba as a friend or the Hausa as a friend and allow the Hausa and the Yoruba to hold themselves together as in 2015, then that ticket will produce the president. That means the Yoruba will produce the president, the Northerners will produce the vice president because that is the reality of the number. Politics is in number. Then in 2028, the Yoruba again will say let us support the North. Since the demise of Zik, the Igbo had never had a leader and that is the fault of the Igbo race today. If tomorrow, the Igbo bring out a young vibrant Igbo leader who can now find his way either to go with the Northern Hausa and form alliance or the Yoruba and form alliance, then the hope of an Igbo president in Nigeria will come up.
But I as Robert Clarke seeing the terrain of politics in Nigerians do not see any hope for an Igbo presidency except they change their attitude in aligning themselves with one of the two tribes. I’m looking at Nigeria consisting of three ethnic groups; between two of these three groups, there the power lies. So, if the Igbo can fix themselves in any of the two alliances, then there’s hope for them.
Are you saying there’s no hope for Igbo presidency?
That is what I’m telling you because you have not produced a leader. Who is the leader the Igbo have today? Is it Okorocha, is it Ngige, tell me who? You had better tell them to start looking for a young, vibrant leader who can accommodate the Igbo along with the Yoruba to form the government. The Yoruba have agreed to go with Buhari and you can see the result; they are doing well. And they are going to go more because without Tinubu, the North can’t produce a president after Buhari. Tinubu would now say, Northerners have had it for eight years, let the Yoruba have it next. That is just what is going to happen and the Igbo will just shout and shout but they don’t have the number.
As a Lagosian, what is your advice to the incoming governor of Lagos State, Sanwoolu.
Let me be honest, I’m not expecting anything spectacular or extraordinary from any politician in Lagos coming to take over government. Lagos as a mega city, we are all happy it is developing at a rate we all admire. We have to give kudos to Tinubu. Whatever you think of him, he started a blaze in Lagos when he became governor. He opened up roads in Ikoyi and today we know Ikoyi from afar off. Fashola came in and did a lot – Ilasamaja, all these areas, Alimosho and so on. Last week, I was driving to Badagry; I opened my mouth because Fashola did a lot of work there. Go to Surulere, Ogunlana drive, Bode Thomas, Fashola did a lot. So, Lagos is being opened. Ambode too has done a lot , he’s doing a lot to open up, even though those of us who are living in Ajah area, we have our doubts about Ambode. What we thought he would complete from the Ajah bridge, nothing has happened and they are collecting toll gates every day, we don’t see the result. So, if Sanwoolu renters now, he’s going to follow what Tinubu, Fashola, and Ambode have done. The only problem I have is that when Ambode took over, most of the projects Fashola had started that we thought were good projects, were abandoned by him -the Osborne extension, is abandoned for four years, and many other jobs, like the light rail, which we thought would have been finished by 2019. So, if Sanwolu comes in, and take over as governor, I don’t see him doing anything different from what Tinubu, Fashola, Ambode had been doing. But what I would advise him is not to have the idea of abandoning projects that had been started by his predecessors. I will look forward for a continuation from Sanwoolu. But he should please not abandon your predecessors’ projects. For instance, Ambode is doing a fine work to the airport, and he’s doing some fine works in Alimosho, Agege area too; let Sanwolu continue and complete them. That is my own view.