Chief Edwin Clark, Ijaw leader, elder statesman and politician with great interest in education, in this interview, explains why he is working tirelessly to set up a University of Technology in his hometown of Kiagbodo in Delta State, at the age of 86.
Clark, who served as a Commissioner for Education under the Brig. Samuel Ogbemudia administration in the old Bendel State, says he wants to leave the Edwin Clark University of Technology, which modalities for take-off in January 2014 are being worked out with the National Universities Commission, as a parting gift and legacy to humanity. Excerpts: By Soni Daniel
What is the motivation for setting up a university at the age of 86?
I really want to give something back to society knowing that God may call me home any day. When I was 85 last year, it came to my mind that I should do something by way of leaving a legacy behind, such that after it has pleased God to take me home, there would be something for many Nigerians to still use and remember me for. It is better than building estates, which have split many families.
I am even trying to reconcile many families, which have been set apart as a result of the sharing family estates left behind by their parents. Some are in court and there is no end in sight despite interventions by elders. There is a case of a brother and a sister of the same parents, who are already at the Supreme Court over their father’s property.
So, I feel that it is better to learn from those experiences that one should have legacies that their children will be proud of and be of benefit to other Nigerians. So I thought about it and came to the conclusion that leaving a legacy in the education sector would be the best thing for me to do. I also remember that when I was young, I taught as a pupil-teacher; that was in 1947.
I remember that I wanted to go to Government College, Ughelli, like my brothers and when we went before the officials- made up of S. U. Etuk, Mr. Joe Irukwu, who was then the Senior Education Officer for the Delta, and Anthony Enahoro, at the panel for the Government College Warri, they said I was too old to be admitted and I was therefore rejected for my younger brother, Ambassador B. A. Clark, who was Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Prof J.P. Clark.
They went to Government College, Ughelli. So I was told to go to Abraka Government Teachers’ College and, when I got there, they said I was too young to be enrolled. So, I had to go and teach as pupil-teacher in 1949. I later became headmaster of schools. Thereafter, I went to Great Britain to study Law. So, when I returned in 1965, I started practice and was appointed by the then Col. Samuel Ogbemudia in 1968 as the Commissioner for Education.
I was very interested in education and I started working to improve the situation for the interest of our people. At that time, there was only one grammar school and one teacher training college in the whole western Ijaw. My governor was very understanding and, through his effort and mine, we established ten more grammar schools in the area and others in some of the parts that are now in Bayelsa State.
Thereafter, we proposed that girls should be given scholarship right from secondary school to the university level. We did the same for the boys. So, I can tell you that I have been following education from my youth. Unfortunately, we are still disadvantaged educationally and we need to do something to change the sad situation. There have been many private universities going on in the country and none has come to our area apart from the Bayelsa State University.
The Ijaw has no university. That is why the idea of establishing a first class private university of technology in my hometown of Kiagbodo came to my mind. If it pleases God for me to still be alive, I would be happy to see Nigerians from all walks of life coming to study in my hometown and that is my desire to promote national unity and cohesion.
The other side of it is that the University of Benin, which I assisted in founding when I was a commissioner under Ogbemudia, was meant to produce technologists and scientists for the nation. All this shows that I have been thinking of science and technology and I believe that I should set up a university of technology with the help of my associates and friends. I have a foundation known as Chief Edwin Clark Foundation and I am going to be the proprietor of the university. The trustees are men of integrity drawn from all parts of Nigeria. So it is never too late to set up the university and, when I die, others are there to run it for the sake of humanity.
Who is going to provide the funds for the university to make the required impact you have talked about?
Funding can never be a problem for the university, given the fact that it is what has been on the drawing board for some time. I had looked at it before coming to the stage. I have consulted widely and I don’t think that money would be a problem because of the huge goodwill that I have established over the years and the high level of consultation with credible individuals and experts in the field.
People from all over the world will certainly support me. Even if I am gone, the trustees would raise the necessary funding to get the institution running. We are starting with two faculties-Applied and Social Sciences. Some of the buildings are already up. When I said that I wanted to start, some of my boys in the Niger Delta voluntarily sent me materials-truck loads of cement, rods and sand-to get the work started. Some of them even go there to drop materials without my knowledge.
And we are going to launch the fund for the university under the name of the EK Clark Foundation on October 21. I am inviting all men of goodwill, including Mr. President, who is expected to serve as the Special Guest of Honour and my old boss, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, who has agreed to chair the occasion, a renowned personality from the United States of America, the legendary Rev. Jesse Jackson, who is to deliver the keynote address, and some other prominent Nigerians who are my friends and who believe in what I am doing and in one Nigeria. It is not a one-day thing and so money can never be a problem.It will be done little by little
When will the first set of students start classes there?
Immediately we get the go-ahead from the National Universities Commission, we will fling our doors open to the first set of students. We have applied and paid all the prescribed fees and some of the NUC officials have been going to the site to see that we have done. Once the launching has been done and we get the green light, we hope to start in January 2014. I want to see the first set of students and personally welcome them to my village and give them my blessing as a lover and promoter of education in Nigeria.
Do you think that you will have the required human capital to run such a specialised institution given the high level of brain drain to other parts of the world?
First of all, charity, they say, begins at home. I have been making contacts and the people are available for the job. To start with, the University of Benin, which I helped to set up, has agreed to be part of the preparation for my own university. UNIBEN has set up an eight-man committee of professors to liaise with the upcoming university to see what they can do to make the new one a success.
We will depend on them and others to make it work. We have also gone abroad to seek help for the new institution. We have made contacts with the Chicago State University to supply us with some of the technological things we require. We will soon sign a memorandum of understanding with the institution and others around the world for the strengthening of the new university.
What is the name of the university and what target have you set for it?
We have put all the things required by the NUC in place. First, we have met the three mandatory requirements put up by the NUC. One, we have the master plan, we have acquired over 124 hectares of land in my hometown and the buildings are going on, we have provided an academic brief for ten years and the law governing the university. These three documents have already been submitted to the NUC. I personally went there because of my interest and they were surprised to see me with other key officials of the EK Clark Foundation.
They were happy to see us. With regard to the name of the university, the first thing that came to my mind was Niger Delta University but it was rejected by the NUC on the grounds that there was already the Niger Delta University in Wilberforce Island, Bayelsa State. I was advised to choose another name. They even suggested to me that given my numerous contributions to education, the new university could be named after me. I reluctantly accepted that the university be named after me and that is why it is called, named and addressed as Edwin Clark University of Technology, Kiagbodo.
So what targets have you set for the university?
I may not be around in the next ten years but I have a dream that whether I am around or not, the university will make its mark in the world. I am certain that all will be well with it. That is my dream and hope. Nigerians will one day be proud of the setting up of the university and through it remember that there was a man like Chief EK Clark. That is my wish and expectation whether I am alive or not.
What do you make of Mr. President’s plan for a National Dialogue? Do you think it can change anything in Nigeria?
It will certainly change everything in Nigeria. I think that this is the greatest thing Mr. President has done in Nigeria. People had been looking at him as one who does not have the courage to do certain things but, today, he has proved his critics wrong. Many heads of state, including military leaders, did not have the courage to establish a National Conference. Some believed it would take away their powers; others thought it was a challenge to their administrations. During Obasanjo’s regime, a National Conference was called but nothing happened.
So, in the end, the man they thought would not be able to do it has developed the political will and the courage and has done it. That is why some of these people who were calling for the conference are drawing back, saying that he has a hidden agenda. The people of Nigeria are solidly behind President Jonathan and, if there is anything that has soared his rating, it is his announcement of a National Conference. So, we support it.
Let us sit down and discuss the basis of our existence as a country. We believe in one Nigeria but nobody was ever consulted when the amalgamation was done in 1914. So many things have happened and some of the people think that they are superior to others while others feel they are inferior to others in their own country. So let us sit down and talk about revenue allocation and resource control. If I am not around others will bring them up.
A situation where you have disparity in the allocation of local governments areas and disparity in representation in the parliament not based on any known parameter is quite unfair. These are the things we should talk about during the conference and no one should be afraid to discuss. To me, Nigerians should be treated as equal partners. To me, every Nigerian should be seen as equal. This is the greatest thing that has happened to Nigeria.
Where did Nigeria derail as a nation?
I am an optimist and Nigeria has not failed so far. We fought a civil war and we are united today. There is the tendency for people to emphasise the things we are yet to achieve instead of celebrating our success as a united country. To many, Nigeria is a failed country because they are not in government and are not controlling any position. I don’t believe in that. We have done our best, and as far as I know, no African country has done better than Nigeria. People talk about Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. We must have gone wrong somewhere but we have not failed. For instance, if the South-west alone were to be a country on its own, it would have been better than Ghana. We must be allowed to develop at own pace and make progress as a nation. This was the situation in the past when each of the regions was allowed to develop on their own.
The West had more money from cocoa and that was why Awolowo introduced free education when the others could not because they did not have the same amount of money like the West. States should be able to generate their own revenue and spend for the development of their states in a competitive way. If this is done, Nigeria would be a great country. The National Conference will create a better avenue for Nigeria to flourish.