Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, a former Minister of Information, was 86 years old yesterday having been born May 25, 1932. He is a trained lawyer, politician, and elder statesman. The Ijaw National Leader, who spoke with selected Journalists in his Asokoro Residence, Abuja observed that the Nigerian president is too powerful, and we should combine both presidential and parliamentary system of governance. IORAKPEN ISHU-JOSEF was there for LEADERSHIP.
Nigeria's Past Leaders
Nigeria's previous leaders were dedicated in serving Nigeria. Even though there was corruption, it was minimal. There was nothing wrong anyone working for government and you get a favour out of that job. It was difficult to see one person amass wealth the way we have today. Today, people are thinking of themselves more that the country. When you think of yourself first, to take public money, it is bad. You take 80% and give people 20%? That is why there is no development. I think the difference between leaders of those days and today, we were thinking of Nigeria before ourselves.
Politics and Nationalism
At that time, nobody was thinking about where you come from. There was no tribalism like now. In our little ward, in Warri, the urban district council was for everybody. The Igbos were elected chairmen. An Uroboman was a chairman of in my place for 8 years. So that ethnicity was not there. Come to reginal level, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was more popular in the west than the east and he won election in Yorubaland but today they will say go to your state. Even your wife cannot contest election is her husband's place. That is pertinence in politics. There was no bitterness in politics.
There was no money in politics but today politics is business. Politics in Nigeria is now a profession. Legislators are found guilty of bribe and are being tried and they are not ashamed. The nationality feeling was very strong in those days.
Presidential And Parliamentary Systems Of Government
Any of these systems can succeed but because the fault is our not the system. If we practice presidential system as it is practiced in America there is nothing wrong with it. If we practice parliamentary as it is done in Britain or Canada, there is not wrong with it. But when you deliberately combine the two to suit your own purpose, to take what is good for you and leave what is not good for you.
The only difference is that parliamentary system is less costly. It is not as expensive as the presidential system. But the same election you would conduct in parliamentary is the same you will do in presidential. In some countries where they combine the two, the prime minister is the man who runs the day to day activities of the government.
You will find that the president becomes too powerful in Nigeria and anybody who wants to sue his power to the fullness, with the type of constitution we have in Nigeria, will be a dictator and we have seen that in the past. From the civilian governments we had in the past, some of them were more dictatorial than others. So I believe if we have a constitution, which is a bit of parliamentary and presidential we can do better.
Anybody who wants to be appointed a minister must go through elections. That is what they do in Britain and some other countries. It is not the choice of the prime minister or the president. You must be accountable to the people. You are appointed a minister, we do not know where you are coming from, how elections were held or conducted, you did not participate, in the name of he is a technocrat you are appointed as minister or your governor nominated recommends you, you are not the best in your community.
Or the party leader recommends you, perhaps you were his personal assistant, he now wants you to come and rule Nigeria. Some presidents brought their commissioners to come and be ministers in Nigeria. If somebody participated in an election and wins and you appoint him a minister, he is not only responsible to the president or his government but also to his own people.
He must be visiting home otherwise; you will lose the seat the following election. I think that is one thing I will recommend. In my years I have seen it work. In 1960 if you are going to be a minister, you must be elected as a member of the parliament first. Then if you are appointed a minister, you resign. The PM was in position to fire anybody.
The constitution provide for firing. You do not have to go back to the House because you have resigned and that shows a lot of discipline. You will not be able to steal people's money as they steal today. Today, within two or three years ministers build houses everywhere, have companies of their own, award contracts to them, while the ordinary people are crying and complaining. So if a minister has some sort of checks and balancing because he has gone through elections before he becomes a minister, he should be fired.
If I were to go back to 40 years old, I would still advocate equality among Nigerians. I was a practicing lawyer at 40 and I was also a politician. The military was not dictatorial as it became later. I would have influenced the government of the time but while I was in government, I did not think of myself then. I used to defend people free of charge. I hated injustice.
You cannot compare the judiciary of the 1st republic and even judiciary during military era with what is happening now. Judiciary then was strict, incorruptible and dignified. The lawyers were also dignified not like today where a lawyer is holding a brief for both sides. Today those who became SAN no longer look like SAN again. They do not consider the welfare of young lawyers again. They pay them small money and go about buying private jets. Today, you become a SAN if you know people but before you work for it.
Today judges are being accused of corruption. Look at the judge who was posted to Asaba to try Ibori on 170 charges, he could not find him guilty of one count and he freed Ibori. Is Ibori not serving jail term in England now? He admitted guilt in England but here he was freed and that same judge is still on the bench.
Constitution of Nigerian does not provide for a perpetual injunction against a man who is being investigated for criminal offences. So anybody can prevent the police. You cannot arrest, prosecute, and try him. What type of society is this? People steal and obtain perpetual injunctions to prevent police arrest. And a judge who gave that injunction is still parading himself around. He is still a judge today.
For five years, over 15 governors standing trials some of them are now senators of the federal republic of Nigeria nobody talks. The3 president cannot eradicate corruption in the society. When a case goes to the court, nobody should interfere until the judgment is given and you have to appeal. So we have problems in the judiciary today. Not only that some of them are not qualified to be there, they become corrupt.
Look at what happened between the President of the court of appeal, justice Salami and former CJN, Justice Katsina-alu, people turned it into politics but it was scandalous and disgraceful. So I wrote to the past CJN in a letter of about 20 pages and in his reply he told me that some lawyers were part of the problem.
You go to court to prosecute a matter and there is no relationship between count 1 and 70. I have seeing a situation where five SANs will go to court to prosecute a case. You cannot compel the judiciary of the 1st republic or during the military with judiciary today.
Judiciary today needs to be looked into seriously so that the bad eggs should be removed so that cases could be tried with confidence. I have called for special court for corrupt cases and the former CJN agreed with me that all corruption cases should be tried with 6-12 months. If the man is free, discharge him and if he is guilty, sentence him. For a case to remain in court for five years untried and the man is moving freely enjoying his wealth is very bad.
For over five years some ex-governors standing trial nothing is happening. Some are senators now. So we have problems in the judiciary today.
Those who are enjoying obsolete laws wrote them and they are not ready to change them. We cannot progress with corruption in our society because it has swallowed everybody. Let the laws be reviewed.
Secret Of Long Life
I have lived long because I live my life from day to day. I do not envy anybody. I speak the truth and when I go to sleep I relax because I do not hurt people, and if I offend you I will apologise to you another day.