Ebikeme is the second son of prominent Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark. He talks about his father’s life and career with OVIE OKPARE
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
I am a scientist by training and current Chairman of Burutu Local Government Council of Delta State.
How would you describe your father’s personality at home?
We that are his biological children cannot claim him as our father alone because he is a father figure to Nigerians and to the Ijaw people. He has a good heart, he is kind and understanding. One thing I appreciate about him is his habit of gratitude. If he asks you to do a task and you do it well, he would say ‘thank you’ to encourage you. He is somebody everyone wishes to have as a father. I am happy to have him as my father.
He bears same name with a renowned English engineer, Edwin Clark. Did he tell you how he came about his name?
I know he got the name from my great grandparents’ friends — white men who they had done business with. The white men came to the village to visit my grandfather who was sick. They believed if his name was changed, he would get better. That was how his name was changed to Clark. I don’t know how my father came about the name, Edwin. But he was named by my grandfather. My family worked closely with the whites in those days. He had the first ship in our area. English names were very common in our family because of the closeness to the white people.
How does he relax?
He is very busy but he finds time to relax because if you do not relax the body, you will breakdown. He relaxes most times by watching TV, listening to news and reading newspapers. He will ask us to read the newspapers to him. He likes to be with people and enjoys giving speeches.
What is his current relationship with ex-president Goodluck Jonathan?
The relationship between Jonathan and my father is like that of a father and son. They have no problem and they will continue to have good relationship. We are happy to have had an Ijaw man as the president of Nigeria. My father stood beside him, because he wanted him to succeed.
How many children does he have?
We were 13 but we lost two of my sisters. I am the second son.
What are some of the fond memories you remember while growing up?
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My father was very strict. We didn’t have silver spoon treatment. He made sure we worked hard in school. As children, we thought we ought to have got more, but today we appreciate that. I am who I am today because of how I was brought up. I got the basic foundation from my grandfather, who was stricter than my father. I was privileged to live with him for seven years. Today, I attribute my position and perspectives about life to my father. My father did not encourage laxity, laziness or truancy.
How much time did he give to his children?
He gave enough time as he could. You know he was once a commissioner and minister. Being a commissioner during civil war, you can imagine what he went through. He created time out of his busy schedules for us. You do not expect a man that has achieved so much in that regard to have all the time but the little time we spent with him was worthwhile. He took time to visit my brothers in London and to ensure our needs were met.
Why did he shield his children from the public?
My father is not the normal politician who likes projecting his family members. From my observation over the years, he is not a selfish person. If he was, we know where we would be by now.
It is not that he does not want us to be successful. He rather promotes the Ekiti man or the man from Jigawa or Okrika than promote his children. It took us time to understand that. But today, we are proud of him because his goodwill is everywhere. We benefit from his goodwill everywhere we go in Nigeria.
It is not that he deliberately shielded us from the public. It is his style not to be selfish, not to consider himself first, before another person. That was why it took us some time to understand his concept of serving humanity. If we go to some places, people go out of their way to help us. That is more than any other thing. We appreciate his style and most of us are imbibing that.
He once said he sold his choice houses to fund the Edwin Clark University. How comfortable was this decision to the family?
At 80, my father decided to build a university. I was one of those who keyed into his vision. We already know that he is a man of the people. When it came to his turn to give to the society, being an educationist, we supported his decision. We realised it was not out of place if he decides to sell his properties to fund a university that would benefit many Nigerians. I took active part in the project. Today, the university is a source of pride to us.
In those days, he used to ask us, ‘What can I do for you more than send you in school? He would say, “I have given you education and with it, you build your own life.” We appreciate the history of inheritance in this country. Many cannot even manage their inheritance well. We keyed into it and we got involved in the dream of building a university. He is happy because it is the legacy he wants to leave behind.
How did he discipline his children when they misbehaved?
His style is not different from that of his father; my grandfather. He has zero tolerance for misbehaviour. As I said, that is why we are up and doing. We may not be moneybags but we have deep training to survive in any environment. You cannot hear that any of my father’s children is involved in one crime or the other. We cannot be involved in vices or in things that will bring disgrace or disrepute to the family. If you are close to my father, you will know he is a disciplined man. We are all product of that upbringing.
How has his name opened doors for you?
When we introduce ourselves, people identify with us. I particularly want to say his goodwill made me the position of a local government chairman. My leaders all unanimously agreed and came to my father that they wanted to support his son as chairman of the council. My father was not interested initially but later agreed when he saw the way the people overwhelmingly supported his son to become chairman. That is the product of goodwill that I personally have experienced for being his child. My siblings have benefitted in one way or the other from his name.
Are you under any pressure to surpass his feats in the Niger Delta, Ijaw and Urhobo communities?
I want to say that every person in this world is unique and everyone has his or her destiny to fulfill. There is no way my siblings and I would be under any pressure to surpass our father’s achievements. He has lived his life. God has given him good age. He will be 90 this year. He wants the spirit of justice and equity to inform the decisions of his children. He has always canvassed for the greatness of this country and fought the cause of minority communities.
What ideals have you learnt from him?
He has taught us to be upright, straightforward and truthful. He asked us not to be selfish, fend for ourselves and to be good people.
You once contested a seat in the House of Representatives, did your father influence your decision to be chairman?
I wanted to be a lawmaker. The leaders of my local government area visited my father to say they believe in his product. They said they would support me if I decided to contest. My father didn’t impose me on them. They just felt like appreciating my father. If my father had stood behind us selfishly like other leaders did, maybe I would not have thought of being a local government chairman. But again, I have no regrets.
How do you feel now that he is no more active in politics?
Even though he is not in active politics, he is still very relevant. People from other parties go to him for advice. He has only left the stage for the younger ones to play their roles. I have witnessed several occasions when people from different parties come to him for advice. I think he has done very well and has retired gracefully from active politics.
Did he influence your foray into politics?
Yes, he did. I never thought of being a politician. I went abroad, came back and wanted to return there. He advised me to stay back and get to know the people.
I listened to him. I saw that he was always holding meetings, so I attended most of the meetings. I saw how he dedicated his time, money and resources to the people. I went to him of my own volition that I wanted to contest a seat in the House of Representatives. No other person has influenced me politically than my father.
What can you recall as the most important advice he gave you about life?
I cannot point to a particular advice. I learnt all the good attributes I imbibe by watching him. We learnt from him practically. He never really sat down with us to say, “Don’t steal, and don’t do this or that.” We emulated him. When we look at his brothers, Prof. John Pepper Clark and Uncle B. A. Clark, we have no choice than to emulate them.
What advice did he give you concerning marriage?
Marriage is an institution that everyone should go into. He supports my marital life. Today, I’m blessed with a wife and children.
What are his saddest moments that you can recall?
His saddest moments were when his parents and two daughters died. Also, he was also sad when the government was overthrown in 1983 by President Muhammadu Buhari including when former President Goodluck Jonathan lost the 2015 election.
What does he want to be remembered for?
He wants to be remembered for his struggle and the enforcement of the right of his people. If there is anything he is known for, it is his fight for justice and equity to prevail, no matter the part of the country a person is from. He wants to be remembered for fighting for the interest of the people.
What sports does he like?
He likes football. He is a fan of Manchester United. He likes other local sports.
What is his favourite food?
My father eats almost anything, but most times, I see him eating starch and banga soup.
What is his favourite drink?
He likes champagne and red wine.
What are his likes and dislikes?
He dislikes injustice, oppression, people taking advantage of him and people proving they are superior. He likes uprightness, sincerity and good character.
What are his views about the current administration?
I know he supports the fight against corruption. He believes too that the fight should be total, not selective or targeted at members of a particular political party. It is not enough to probe Jonathan’s administration. The probe should go beyond that, as far as Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s era, at least. Those are the things I know he believes should be done even though he believes that the government of the day is doing its best. He believes that the anti-corruption war should not be sectionalised but all inclusive because the records are there. He also believes that there should be no sacred cows.
The Muhammadu Buhari administration has been able to secure the release of some Chibok girls abducted by Boko Haram during Jonathan’s era. What is his thought on this?
I do not really know his thoughts on the release of some Chibok girls. The government should secure the release of the remaining Chibok girls, as well as other ones whose names are not known. There are other ones, both women and children, abducted after Jonathan’s era and people are kidnapped for ransom daily, either in the war-torn North-East or other parts of Nigeria. The level of insecurity is still high.
Why did he support Jonathan for second term?
My father knew that Jonathan was entitled to another tenure. Unfortunately, he lost the election. Now, we have another president in power and he supports him. He is a nationalist to the core. If the Yoruba man can do two terms, someone from our region should do the same.