Chief Olabode George is a former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview, he speaks on the report of the #EndSARS panel in Lagos State, his purported rift with a former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the state of affairs of the PDP, among other issues. WALE ELEGBEDE reports
There have been reactions over the report of the judicial panel set up by the Lagos State government on the #EndSARS protest. What is your take on the issue?
First of all, let me congratulate those who were members of that panel. What the report has done to me personally is that it has changed my mindset about our country. Over 200 million people, we still have people, who have the fear of God in them.
It was not just one person but a public panel and their names will remain golden that they told the truth and it is only the truth that can save and keep us alive. I want to congratulate them that they put their pen to paper and wrote the report the way they saw it.
They listened for months and then they came to that conclusion; kudos to them. It is not seriously an indictment on the government; of course, they will take their own but the fact that they set them up. They handpicked them but they came there because of the future, the younger generation will read the report and say ‘how courageous.’
So, I really want to congratulate them. Secondly, when you pass through the Lekki Tollgate now, you could see that they are doing some wiring and testing. I want to advise Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu because this happened during his watch, I was a governor I think I left in 1990 and I have been in and out of Ondo State. You know that time it was Ondo and Ekiti states if I have misbehaved, would I have the gut to go back there.
So, I want to advise the governor; Sanwo-Olu is a big name and his mother comes from Lagos, the Cole family, a very big family and a Godly family, you can’t put and cover such for a long time. The recommendations that they have made, first of all, even if they are pushing him to reopen the tollgate, the truth have come out now. From January next year, political activities would start, governance is over because by December we will start having all the elections.
So, I don’t know because there are too many rumours flying over that Bola Tinubu now want his son to come and contest for the governorship of Lagos. So, they’ve turned it to a family affair but let him think that he has a family name behind him both from his mother’s side and his father’s side.
The truth has been told, of course, people will talk but my own contribution is let him study that document and be straight with himself and his God and take appropriate action.
To err is human but to forgive is divine. It is not a repetition, it happened lives, were lost. So, he should read that document cover to cover and make amends and apologize to the people of this state. You know Lagos is a mini Nigeria. There is no tribe that exists in this country that you will not find in Lagos. So, if Lagos sneezes, Nigeria catches cold.
So, let him look at it from that and take a look and in-depth analysis and correct the ills. If there is a need to apologize to the people, of course, he has to apologize. Let him be bold enough as a child of God and say he is sorry for all the stories that came out and do something for those who lost their lives.
Of course, I believe the military itself because I was in the service, you don’t take orders from any governor or anybody. The only fellow that gives you order is the commander-in-chief and when he gives his orders, it is straight to the minister of Defence and from the minister of Defence to the Chief of Defence Staff.
That is our chain of command; no civilian will just call the military out to come and do something. So, people want to know how the military get involved. If it was a mistake, it should never happen again.
Number two, if some people are pushing him to reopen the Lekki Tollgate, he should go back and have a rethink. Like I said, from January 2022, politics will be on the rise.
Some people, who reacted to the report, said it is actually the President who should apologize to Nigerians and also ensure that military and the police personnel that are culpable should be brought to justice because his ministers lied to Nigerians that there were no killings. What is your take on that?
Let me say this and I’m not trying to cover my professional colleagues because what happened is also a lesson for the military. Although as a governor, the security outfit in every state, you have the Navy, Air Force and you invite them as members of the security committee for the government, it is normal. But if the mistake was made which is what this has shown that it is only the commander-in-chief who can deploy military personnel. I was shocked that day when the Vila said they didn’t know how the military got to the tollgate. Who is the commander?
That is the first lesson you learn. Once you come as a civilian and remove your civilian background, they will reshape you so that you know that orders are orders. But who gave that order? How didn’t come to be? The Vila said it doesn’t know but I’m asking:
How did they land there? I don’t know but now that the report is out, whoever made the mistake, depending on the hierarchy of the command, it is an issue that can lead to court-martial.
Fortunately, the Minister of Defence himself, we were there together, if he calls for court marital and finds out that they were out without an adequate pass from the appropriate quarters, it is an offence. don’t know about the police, but the military, if the governor calls you, for what and what business do you have with the governor?
There is a chain of command and that is what you listen to. That is why you see that all our other ranks do not pay tax. Only officers pay tax. All those people from private to warrant officers shouldn’t pay tax because they are like government issues (GI).
Their uniforms and their daily needs must be provided for because when there is a need to deploy them, the order comes even if you are sleeping with your wife, they will wake you up and say we are moving and you must move.
So, how did that order come, from whom to where and it shouldn’t be swept under the carpet because it should be a misunderstanding for the constitutional duties.
The high command I’m sure would investigate this report because I remember the brigadier who was in charge of some unit was saying he himself was shocked that he saw his officers and asked them what are you doing here. If you remember and did you hear anything again about that issue.
So, it is so important because the first thing you learn when they deploy you to anywhere or they transfer you to any unit is the standard operating procedure and you learn it by heart. I left the military a number of years ago but I’m sure the military has not gone backwards.
In fact, the quality of education is now high because you can’t be an officer unless you are a university graduate. If you go through the other ranks to become an officer, there is a limit to how you would grow. And there are limits to the levels of appointment they can give you.
If you go to our academy today, you will find brilliant people, well-schooled, well-groomed and well-educated, but the whole concept of this idea should be pumped into them.
You called for a public inquiry into the Ikoyi building collapse. …
On the Ikoyi tragedy, I sighted a letter from the structural engineers when they opted out. The engineer said they cannot guarantee the safety of the other two structures and only four floors of the collapsed building and that they regret that since the builder is not allowing them to operate, they are pulling out and their name should be removed from the signpost.
With such a letter, should the building have been allowed to even go beyond those four floors? It is not only here you find this kind of thing. Let’s do it the way civilized people do them.
When I heard the information that they are going to sit in camera, I said why. It is a public building and everybody saw what happened. What about those labourers; I was told that some Togolese and Beninois came there to work.
That is why the structure engineer must not be called to come and testify in camera. We are demanding this because this government supposedly was elected by the people, so the people have the right to say what they want to hear. I’m advising the governor that this must also be a judicial set-up because it will prevent others from even attempting to make the same mistake.
That is the essence of public service because if we don’t learn from history, we become sands to the dustbin. So, let us know the true story of the letter because I also saw the letter. All those people can be professionally dealt with if they fail. You don’t want to go and hire somebody whose qualification is questionable. What are the experiences of the structural engineer?
There are still many people who are architects that have not passed apart from their university degree, you needed to pass council and professional exams. So many have not passed and they are still practicing.
So, I agree with you, take it to the open and if he doesn’t do it, it will be a political discussion. I’m talking to him now as his egbon, and I’m challenging you guys to go round Ikoyi, you will see all those high rising buildings, they are empty. Why?
Why are they empty?
I’m not a developer. I just go round and see them but your guess is as good as mine. Why would you invest so much money, raise the building and abandon it? One of my friends came here one time and said this pilot you can raise it and I said for what. How many children do I have and how many rooms can I sleep in one night. I said I’m satisfied.
You know across me here, Heritage something, within six months, I was the managing director resident of Nigeria Port Authority (NPA), so when they moved the whole of NPA to Abuja, of course, they had to move so they rented the place to the American Embassy.
They were packing their cars and essentials there, all of a sudden in six months the place was demolished and of course, it was affecting my office but who is building this thing?
I pray that it is solid because if I were the governor, I would grab the people in that department and revisit all those existing buildings. Bring out all their documents because you can still do soil tests. What kind of foundation did you have? I will revisit all of them in the future.
Now, you will see the Bar Beach too; what is it? Where are the social amenities that will meet the needs of those who go to live in those places?
Do you really think that there will be answers to these questions; for instance you said that the land housing that particular building was that of old NITEL?
I said these are my personal views and from personal views, they become public views. We demand to know who owns the building because when you start to know all those details, then you will be able to answer some other questions.
The Lagos State taskforce or whatever they call it went there, locked up the place and I saw them holding this gentleman in his trousers at the back pulling him along and then they carried one boy like a rat. That was what got my attention and I said what is going on in that place.
Then, not more than two days after they released them and they went back to the site. So, those are issues and lessons would be learnt on both sides because you will say why am I going to cut corners if something happens, I may be in jail for the rest of my life.
There are stories making the round that Lagos PDP has been ejected from its Lagos secretariat over the nonpayment of rent…
It is true. We were in some corner of Ikeja and it wasn’t in an appropriate place to gather politicians and crowd. I think people in the area decided so and then the landlord drove us away from there.
The first political office for PDP was donated by Chief Salvador because he was the man who brought the PDP flag to Lagos. So, he donated his office in Akilo near Guinness.
That was where we started and after that, of course, he said ‘look you people should pack your bag and baggage since we haven’t been able to get an allocated land to build our own structure.’ So, we got that place I paid for it and kept paying for it and I think that was why the party thought it is a free lunch.
I stopped paying and I told them that there was a reason why I stopped paying because of all the funds that you people collect, the first thing you should set aside are the overheads and that was when some of them decided that it was time to be paying salary to themselves apart from those who are non-elected personnel.
In fact, there was a time we almost bought that property but the children of the owner were divided especially when they heard that we were going to pay.
They were even about going to court. I would blame the Uche Secondus administration for the way he interfered in the management of Lagos PDP. I blame him for everything because he refused to follow the constitution of our party. They mismanaged everything in the party.
A call was recently made to you by a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos, Mr. Joe Igbokwe, to call a truce with Tinubu, and work with him for the development of the state and the South-West. Are you thinking of doing that?
I was brought up to stand by the truth. If we say the truth, we will die; if we don’t say the truth, we will likewise die. I have no personal issue with Bola Tinubu, it is nothing personal. I feel sorry for the younger generation of my state, Lagos. I read the piece by Mr. Igbokwe and I laughed.
If it is to reconcile, the day Bola Tinubu or the Lagos State government scraps the Alpha Beta Company and return all the monies that is in their account to the state, I will be the first to go to Bola’s house. It is an issue that bothers me. It has never happened before, from Brigadier Johnson, Baba Jakande, Otedola and to other military governments. And it doesn’t happen in any part of the country.
Alpha Beta collects all the revenue of Lagos State every 30 days; they take out their 15 per cent and remit the rest to our treasury. So, they have become our Lagos Internal Revenue Service (LIRS). Where is it done anywhere in the world?
I thank Mr. Igbokwe for his suggestion but it is not me; he should talk to Bola Tinubu to remove his knees from our neck because it is choking the state. What is being collected as percentage can set up and encourage those artisans and petty businesses across the state. If Igbokwe that I know is from Anambra State has that kind of man running Anambra like it is done in Lagos, how would he feel?
Lagos is a trading pot and we don’t chase anyone; that is the culture of Lagos. I am saying it to Bola Tinubu that the day he scraps Alpha Beta from Lagos revenue, I will be the first to visit him, dine and wine with him.
Lagos PDP congress was stopped midway in October over fear of violence. How soon will the congress hold in Lagos?
We wanted it stopped because they had created so much tension. Whichever way it would have gone on that Saturday, if we hadn’t postponed the congress, people would have killed themselves for no reason. Now, we have witnessed the carnival-like atmosphere at the recent national convention. That is what I’ve known to be our convention, a peaceful gathering.
The party leaders said they wanted to come penultimate Saturday to hold the congress in Lagos State. I asked what the urgency was for. We decided to have it postponed, so that we could have a long time to calm our nerves.
Whatever they came up with would have been okay. Let the Lagos PDP state congress be a litmus test for the new managers of the party. Let the outgoing managers go, we don’t even want to see their tail lights anymore.
The new ones should come and conduct the congress. As you know, the new broom sweeps cleaner. I am not talking of the APC broom, not that kind of broom. We are in touch with the leader of the party now in the South-West, Governor Seyi Makinde, so let us do it properly. I want to say this now: We have a big problem in Yorubaland.
See what happened in the North; immediately they said the party had zoned the chairmanship to the North, it took only five days for them to bring one person.
The person has even said that if the next president comes from the North, he is ready to resign. That is deep rooted politics. Can it happen here, where one person wants to be everything?
You once said that you would quit leadership role in politics after the 2023 general election. What led to the decision?
I was discussing it with my first child and while we were talking, he said, ‘look daddy, we need you more now.’ You know I just had a surgery. Maybe, after the surgery he is beginning to think differently. He said ‘daddy you spent 25 years in the Navy. By 2023, you would have spent 25 years in politics. That is 50 years of your life in service to this country.’
He said he thinks that is enough and that they need me more now. When I looked at it, what he said made a lot of sense to me. I am even 76 now. If I have put such a number of years into the service of the nation, I think that is okay. I will remove myself from partisan politics.
So, I will not be for party ‘A’ or ‘B’ and I will be father to all. If there is anything that is not going right, we will proffer solutions and discuss. By 2023, I will be 78 years old.
Well, Generals don’t retire, we only fade away. But my body system is sending me an alarm. I was a state governor when I was 42. Now I am 76 years old. So, from 2023, I won’t be participating in partisan politics and you know another person will emerge