He was the chief of chiefs. He was the father of the president, the maritime titan. Many called him leader. His mouth was fiery, his clothes colourful, his frown sometimes an earthquake, his presence imperial. He preened in his octogenarian noon.
Legend had it that if Edwin Kiagbodo Clark could not open an access for you to former President Goodluck Jonathan, then good luck to you. The Ijaw adored him. Among Southsouth politicians, he was not just first among equals, he personified the roost. He almost rose to the deck of deity among his adorers. Once I wrote an unflattering column on him and condemned those who called him elder. A prominent Nigerian called to caution me for insulting their elder. I replied that E.K. Clark was not my elder. That ended the conversation.
I wonder what kind of elder they would call him today. He came out in true colours barely a week ago. He came down on Jonathan. He said he was too weak, could not fight corruption, and his menial staff had waxed rich. They now live in mansions.
Haba Papa! It means he had been lying to Nigerians. He had been a man without a sense of consistency. An elder of pirouettes, a volte-face father. He spoke without shame. He was a parody of an elder. He is a perfect example of how not to be an elder.
We have known elders in history. They tend to carry themselves as moral exemplars. Nelson Mandela grew to become an elder. He died in a flush of awe. Nyerere was another. He has soared into myth today among Tanzanians. We had Awo here in Nigeria. He patented the genius of governance. He has many sons without blood ties. Recently Gamaliel Onosode died. He was called Mr. Integrity for his moral grandeur. We have some elders around. One of them is Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Commonwealth boss. Clark cannot drink from the same moral cup as these men.
When Goodluck Jonathan’s name was advanced by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, haba Papa! Clark was front and centre with his voice of dissent. Ango Abdullahi referred to it in an advertorial. He wondered why Jonathan rallied behind the Otuoke mouse. Was he not the person who roared that Jonathan could not make the first 11 of the Niger Delta? And he was right then. Why did Haba Papa! Clark not stick to his convictions then? Maybe he was not convinced, and that accounted for cocking his gun in defence of the man he once spat out like an uncooked yam in the village.
He found his latent Ijaw and Niger Delta voice once the late President Yar’adua fell into the shadow of death. He became a tribal warrior and defender of the minority rights. Suddenly Haba Papa! followed his spouse to the labour room and, voila, a child was born. Or shall I say, a son was given. He became a new father; not just that. He became the father of the king. “My son,” he bellowed with gusto in reference to the new president. Phony as it sounded, all Jonathan votaries did not raise any sense of objection.
The rise of Jonathan was a phony moment of our history. Many were dazed into following him. They knew little about him. They loved him when he conned all with his supine look. He beguiled Christians with meekness and entrapped ethnic warlords with his appeal to his place of birth and nurture.
Haba Papa! Clark saw his role. He grabbed it like vice. Jonathan embraced him. He displaced the Owu chief. Jonathan the snake knew the man did not love him. But politics is not about love. He needed him. They needed each other like pigs in a sty. Henry David Thoreau, the American essayist, once wrote that he was not a joiner. “Joiners are like pigs who come together in a sty in order to feel warm,” he said. So Jonathan and Haba Papa! Clark were not birds of a feather, but they came from the same tree.
“My son” became “my lie.” But before the lie, he festooned himself in public. He was the leader of the Southern minority politicians because of Jonathan. Many Southsouth and Southeast leaders grovelled before him because of Jonathan. He became a baiter of the North because of Jonathan. He became a major force beyond Delta State politics because of Jonathan.
He appeared on television at that time more than any time in his ‘illustrious’ life during Jonathan’s era. Liars called him statesman.
Now Jonathan has receded into yesterday’s man, he no longer calls him son. German man of letters Friedrich von Schiller once wrote: “It is not flesh and blood, but the heart that makes us father and son.” It was not heart but politics that made Jonathan the son of Haba Papa! Clark.
He knew he was weak, why did he not say so then? In his recent statement, he did not even say that he advised him. He is now wise after the fact, or after defeat. He knew many people filled their nests with ill-gotten wealth, what did he tell Jonathan then? After glowing in the man’s sunshine, he now stands tiptoe at dusk over his ruins. This is nothing but harlotry. It is no model of leadership or example of fatherhood.
Fathers pass blessings to their sons in old age, or curse. We know the story of Jacob and Esau. Clark is turning Jonathan into his Esau after eating his meal. The meal here refers to the privilege as an insider in his government, his trust. We can’t compare him with the story of Elijah and the 42 children who laughed at an elder man with bald head. Jonathan did not curse Clark. He respected the old man, so why has he unleashed the bears at the Otuoke son?
They had good times once. Jonathan gave a lot to him in respect and privilege. He gave back then by supporting him as a father would. “When a father gives to his son, both laugh,” wrote Shakespeare. “When a son gives to his father, both cry.” Both cry because the father is gaining from his sweat. It is a cry of joy. I am sure today’s is a cry of regret from Jonathan. Haba Papa Clark used him and left him for the dogs.
It is a lesson in politics. You cannot trust the young or the old. Politics is about betrayal. Not even the hoary can be saints. He has disavowed PDP. He knows no one will give any influence in APC, so he says he has retired. If Buhari were young like Jonathan, he would call him his son again. A father with fertility for sons. Maybe very soon, he will call him my younger brother up North. But he won’t. The joke will be on him.