Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has said that the most befitting honour that the country can give Edwin Clark, a former federal commissioner for information, is to morph Nigeria into a thriving democratic state, with truly federating units where the rule of law and separation of power are upheld.
Mr. Abubakar, who was speaking at an event to celebrate the 90th birthday of Mr. Clark at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Abuja, on Thursday, said the nonagenarian is a patriot who fought for Nigerian independence and played an important role in shaping the prosperous First Republic.
Mr. Abubakar said despite Mr. Clark’s best efforts at forging a thriving country he has yet to see “a truly great Nigeria, a Nigeria that lives up to its full potential as an economic powerhouse, a thoroughly thriving democracy with robust separation of powers among the three arms of government”.
He said the best gift the country could give Mr. Clark in his life time was a return to the political structure before the intervention of the military in politics in 1966, in which “the federating units had control over their resources and agreed to surrender some powers to the centre on matters which are better handled by the centre”.
He said in the years after the country’s independence in 1960, only matters such as “defence, foreign policy, immigration, national currency, and setting and maintaining standards” were left to the government at the centre to handle.
He said the country had a “federal system that encouraged healthy rivalry among the federating units”.
“The military took over and over time all that changed. Progressively the federal system was eroded; power got concentrated in the centre and more resources got shifted to the centre. And the federating units got splintered into more and increasingly unviable entities that are dependent on the centre,” he said.
“Currently the federating units lack control over their resources and the capacity to develop at their own paces. Thus there is little healthy competition among them as they try to provide for their populations, populations that are largely detached form the primary source of government revenues. It is no wonder, therefore, that our country finds it really difficult to make appreciable progress in the key indices of development, and accountability.”
He, however, said that all hope is not lost.
“We know we can right the ship of state. We can, as adults, re-examine our ways, our practices, and the structure of our federation in order to find ways to fix its features which impede the development of this country and its constituent units, including the improvement of the welfare of our peoples.
“Our challenge is to work fast and let this needed reversal occur while Chief E. K. Clark is still physically strong and mentally alert so his voice will be part of the conversation. As a patriot he would not wish for less.
“So my friends, let’s do it because Chief Clark will continue to demand it from all of us. You all know he is not afraid to speak his mind about the things he feels strongly about. I have even, on occasion, been the target of his sometimes acerbic tongue,” he said.