Unquotable Robert Clarke: Unhelpful Hysteria

Issa Aremu: “We support the call of Professor Wole Soyinka to seek external assistance ASAP to prevent Nigeria from getting on a “one chance” transport on the road to Somalia.”


“When men are ruled by fear, they strive to prevent the very changes that will abate it” -Alan Paton, South African writer

“When fear comes in the door, logic goes out the window” –

Chief Robert Clarke is a respected Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). Last Sunday he unsettled many of his compatriots inclusive of yours comradely. He curiously and magisterially declared (hold your breath for the slander!) that “Nigeria may not survive the next six months”.

While lamenting the spate of insecurity in Nigeria on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics, the senior lawyer in loud sound and fury, declared that, “Many things are happening and I swear by my father’s grave, if care is not taken Nigeria will collapse in six months time.”

It is strange that an octogenarian would ever swear for an apocalypse rather than pray for peace. It is even a scandal that an elder would swear with a late father resting in perfect peace in the grave. Who then would guide “our youths the truth to know” (national anthem) when our leaders are as misguided and xenophobic?

The late Fela Anikulapo Kuti in his grave would have exclaimed “Just like that”! It’s really a “wonder” “Wonderfulment” as Fela put it in his “Just like that” album. It’s simply unfathomable that a Senior Advocate of Federal Republic of Nigeria would verbally assault a Republic, (without which he and other current fashionable nation- building skeptics would not have been known).

Paradoxically by his own reminiscence, Chief Clarke once disclosed that he “ was… privileged to be a classmate to the late Fela Ransome-Kuti, later known as Fela Anikulapo Kuti; his brother, the late Beko Ransome-Kuti”. As a fan of the Kuti brothers, particularly Fela and Beko, I bear witness that never in their moments of documented frustrations, did they whimsically give up on Nigeria to the point of wishing and swearing for the collapse of a country of 200 million Africans.

On the contrary, up to his death, the legendary Fela inspired hope for a strong united Nigeria, Africa peaceful and inclusive world. Fela bemoaned with his legendary saxophone the perennial crisis of governance since independence manifesting in serial revelations of “Authority Stealing”, police and military brutality and shortages of water, light and food. But never betrayed faith in a united indivisible, just and fair Nigeria and greater Africa. At times like this, certainly late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (another SAN like Chief Clarke) just like late Fela Anikulapo Kuti would not have declared a distasteful post dated “collapse” of Nigeria. Fela was not so honored like Chief Clarke who “took the Silk” in the past 15 years, after almost 50 years in rewarding legal practices in Nigeria which on his own account nurtured him from orphanage to a remarkable and enviable position of statesmanship in his own deserved rights. But he was a standing patriot to the end. The consolation is that there are once positive quotable quotes of Chief Robert Clarke beyond last Sunday hysterical outburst.

The worthy life and times of Chief Clarke on his own account belie the doomsday hysteria that Nigeria would collapse. Indeed, his profile underscores the fact that Nigeria has come of age, survived two world wars, lowered the British Union Jack flag in 1960 survived unfortunate three years civil war with its human devastation, survived prolonged military dictatorship and so far is deepening democratic process in the last two decades with all the challenges of insecurity.

Of dual British father and “Hausa/Fulani” (in his own words) mother, Chief Clarke was born on July 11, 1938, “later fostered ..to a Yoruba family”, (in his own words!) attended the best of public primary and secondary schools, graduate schools with scholarships at home and abroad. He was once the lawyer to the late President Shehu Shagari!.

At 80, Chief Clarke should be attributed with motivational words for his children and grandchildren in a prosperous, peaceful Africa. Not unhelpful fear and tele-phobia about a doom. As we have seen with the consequences of the collapse of former USSR and Libya, collapse of states is better imagined than being experienced. The recent fashionable but unhelpful verbal and physical attacks on Nigeria point to the degeneration of the Nigeria elite in addressing the crisis of nation- building. Certainly it’s time Nigerian elite organize their thoughts about Nigeria and stopped openly agonising of dubious value.

There must be a collective realisation that we are dealing with legacy problems of underdevelopment, mass poverty and inequality which in turn fuel current youth unemployment and violence of varying dimensions. Yes the current challenges might be “overwhelming” but the solutions are not in anger and addictive baseless fears.

I agree with Desmond Mpilo Tutu, the South African Anglican cleric and theologian, that “Resentment and anger are bad for your blood pressure and your digestion”. Lest we forget the “bitter heart devours its owner”. There is a Yoruba received wisdom that we should not “..run the world hastly; Let us not grasp at the rope of wealth impatiently; what should be treated with mature judgement, let us not treat in a fit of temper.”

To allude to a collapse of ones country is a slander: we dare not repeat such slander; Compatriots should not even hear it; for it is the result of unhelpful “hot temper”. Happily, “a stone thrown in anger never kills a bird! I agree with Jackie Mason, the American Author/Comedian who rightly observed that in the final analysis all “Predictions are preposterous”! Indeed most negative predictions about Nigeria, with the benefits of hindsights are at best absurd and ridiculous, and at worse, foolish and laughable. False predictions about Nigeria include that of the German author, Karl Maier, ‘a native of Louisville, Kentucky’ who according to his 2000 book ‘lives in London’ (not Lagos!). In his provocative controversial notorious title; ‘This House Has Fallen’, Karl Maier concluded long before year 2000 that Nigeria would collapse as a nation state!

In late 1990s, it will be recalled that Nigeria was in the crisis of transition from military dictatorship to democracy with coups and counter-coup plots, serial deaths of political notables such as General Shehu Yar Adua, Chief Moshood Abiola and General Sani Abacha. The subsequent “sharia” crisis of 2001, 2002, and the serial bloodletting across some major cities of the North increased the noise level of Maier’s predictions. Thank God and resilience of Nigerians, this house called Nigeria has NOT fallen contrary to the doomsday scenario of Karl Maier.

Another celebrated false hysteria about Nigeria came from a former American Ambassador to Nigeria (2004 -2007), Professor John Campbell. In a hysterical preview of his book entitled; ‘Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink’, he had claimed that “The 2011 elections in Nigeria, scheduled for January 22, pose a threat to the stability of the United States’ most important partner in West Africa.”

Of course in 2005, we recall a so-called CIA Report according to which Nigeria would be a failed state in 2015. It is again to the eternal resilience of Nigeria and Nigerians that Nigeria weathered the political storms of 2011 and indeed the most challenging of all 2015! The challenge today is that of democratic consolidation, war against banditry and criminality which is only possible with national consensus and solidarity. Notwithstanding the current challenges, Nigeria has shown that like most nation-states, the challenges of development are always there. The issue is the capacity to overcome them. Things may occasionally fall apart, but with determination, things can fall in place.

Time to Raise The White Flag

Our country is crippled. Our compatriots are being slaughtered like chickens all over the country. Insecurity has become the most interrogated phenomenon of our time and the result is clear for all to see.

Food inflation is way over 20% and the people are starving because terrorists and bandits have made a visit to the farm grave risk to their lives. Meanwhile, tariffs and taxes are going up and incomes are collapsing even as inflation is rising and unemployment soars into record territory.

Funding budgets have become a nightmare. Given crude oil price decline and the mismanagement of petrol pricing, refining, importation and distribution, the states are being threatened that FAAC Account meetings to share revenue may be put on hold.

The lack of imagination in public finance management which keeps out monetisation of assets and external sector stimulation of the circular flows of income in Nigeria, further worsens the budget crisis. The stress and tension on the streets are so palpable you could slice the air with a blunt knife.

A real emergency, whether declared or not, exists. It can be felt in refusal of many to travel even short distances and in the daily shedding of innocent blood across the country.

Change is imperative with an urgency of yesterday, far more hurriedly than an urgency of now.

It seems the Robert Kaplan prediction of a coming anarchy has come. The time for bravado is over.

We should raise the white flag of surrender, not to the forces of evil that threaten our way of life but to humble pie. We must tell the world that we need help.

We must shout from the rooftops to the world that they need to come to our aid now or risk the cost of coming late as they did in Rwanda and lose more lives trying to flush out the undesirable in the interest of human solidarity in this our interconnected world, belatedly as was the case in Iraq.

We support the call of Professor Wole Soyinka to seek external assistance ASAP to prevent Nigeria from getting on a “one chance” transport on the road to Somalia.

Beyond pleading for help we have some home truths to admit to ourselves and some serious conversations to engage with on a way forward. Have we reached the point where the legislature can turn to the idea of a Doctrne of necessity to create new leaders and refocus the agenda of the country. Yes we have. Perhaps we should invoke that doctrine of necessity to introduce a government of National Unity.

They say we cannot afford a civil war but Nigeria is at war already. A government of National unity, just like General Yakubu Gowon put together in 1967, in the wake of the last civil war, will provide a war chest of wisdom that can lead us to a new Nigeria.

People in public life have been seen as largely driven by self-love and the pursuit of gain without pain. Most of the things we should have done or failed to do that have got us to where we are, derive from corruption, nepotism, and disregard for merit and accountability. We must confront them all now. Consequence must not be ignored.

Now the results have come in, collapse stirs us in the face.

The Commissioner for Security Matters in Kaduna State, Samuel Akuwan, provides some of the evidence of how current conditions check off most boxes on the failed states index. Providing data on the current conditions in the state, he said 323 people had been killed and 949 kidnapped in three months. Few of the many civil wars in the country throw up such statistics of death. But it gets worse.

Three years earlier, the then Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shetima, had revealed that Boko Haram killed more than 100,000 people and displaced more two million.

It is pertinent to note that the IMF has indicated that Nigeria rank160 out of 166 on the 2030 MDGs and that we need to be growing GDP at 14% per annum when we are afraid of another recession, which is quarter on quarter negative growth.

These are all grave enough conditions for extraordinary measures to halt our rush towards state failure.

As if the foregoing are not enough the people on the street feel despair and investors are unwilling to commit until they have a sense of a halt in the drift and the setting of a new course

Can we commit to changing the conduct that brought us to this sorry pass? Can the crisis of values that has brought collapse to our door steps be reversed?

With our reality as a true existential threat we must move from emotional rationalisations of our past behaviour to recognising that we have created our troubles.

Talk may not be cheap as often suggested but now is a time for ACTION. None can afford to look on like bystanders.

We call on thought leaders across the land, traditional leaders, religious icons, elders of the nation in groups of past leaders to rise in one accord to demand change right now.

First published in ThisDay newspapers