Sunday Magazine

Obi’s defection from PDP shocked me, says Bode George

Chief Olabode George, an elder statesman, is a former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview with WALE ELEGBEDE, he speaks on the state of the nation, the need to scrutinize the personality and antecedents of 2023 presidential candidates, how to reinvent the wheel of the Nigerian state, the chances of the PDP in the general election, among others

 

What are your thoughts on the state of the nation?

I’ve lived long enough in Nigeria to have seen vagaries of behaviorlack of cohesion, tribally, culturally and in interaction as people of this country. I know that the 1914 amalgamation, the British united us for the purpose of economic interest of that country. But having existed for over 100 years, I believe we should be at par with the so-called developed countries.

The democratic development is not a 100 metre dash race, it’s a continuum. But I have waited because I come from the family of Papa Herbert Macaulay, the first Nigerian politician to establish the first democratic party in this country in 1922.

With that as my background and my venturing into the military, I have never seen this country at bad as what we are witnessing today. The first responsibility of any government at any level is security of lives and properties. Who is safe now in Nigeria, irrespective of your status?

The total number of police we have is inadequate to meet the security challenges of this country. We need community and state policing. As developed as America is, they are not crazy; they have local government police, state police and FBI.

This is not the time for those who are concerned about our nation to be quiet; I don’t want to talk as a politician, but as a Nigeria. I got a bit disturbed when I saw in some parties the kind of candidates that emerged, it gives me a heavy heart, is that the best this nation can produce? We are heading back into another serious election, the youth must not sit back now, they must get involved because that is the only opportunity they have to make impact in their future.

Who do they want to lead them? All these people parading themselves as presidential candidate must tell us their agenda for this country. I listed out areas of major concerns to every committed Nigerian, religious intolerance, insecurity and tribal intolerance. The system of governance, that leads to the need for restructuring. The unemployment of the youths must be addressed.

The current constitution is fake. It is good for a military organisation, not a civilian setup or democracy. It is too centralised, power-centred, and not working for God’s sake and we are not going to re-invent any wheel.

 

So, how do we reinvent the wheel and bring Nigeria to the path of progress?

 

The Constitutional Conference of 2014 should be revisited and reviewed to address the current issues we have. Nothing is working in Nigeria, we have tried it since 1999; where are we? Everybody is running to Abuja, all resources go to Abuja after which it is redistributed based on certain criteria. Why can’t every state be allowed to work for  its own development? There is no part of this nation that God hasn’t endowed with one major resource or the other.

Let’s start with those resources, because if you want to survive, you will look for an avenue for money in your state and you will be held fully responsible if you mismanage those funds. It won’t be that your family members are the ones controlling the state and you appropriate everything to yourself. The people will challenge you.

The Federal Government will still be there, a certain percentage will be set aside to maintain the centre. Let’s bring governance closer to our people so they can have the impact necessary to lift the standard of living. It will become a competition and there will be regional cooperation too It appears Nigerians have given up on the present administration and they are counting days to its exit.

The primaries of the two major parties have produced Atiku Abubakar for PDP and Bola Tinubu for the APC. You are from Lagos where Tinubu comes from and was a former governor, what are your thoughts about his personality and leadership style in Lagos, and do you think he can take the big decisions as President of Nigeria, if he wins?

The salient issue is whoever wants to be the head of this nation is asking Nigerians to trust him and I have said in my discussion that it is not a matter of a third party answering questions for him, because they are not the ones that will rule, it is Tinubu that will rule. The probing question is, who is this man?

We must x-ray him, all the names he has called himself, we deserve to know as a matter of legitimate right, the schools he has been to, he told us at a time that he was at Government College, Ibadan, he also said he has CPA which is the equivalent of ACCA in British system, at other time, he said he is an economic guru. What is his age?

He has a daughter whose age is higher, and he says he is 70? What is his health file like? Can he stand all by himself because we all saw it when he was being given the flag on  the day of primary, even President Buhari was helping him to hold the flag. What is his strength and health?

This is not about being abusive, we need a healthy man, an honest character who has proven himself, who tells us this is who I am and that is what he genuinely is. What name was he born with? And if he changed his name to Tinubu, why did he change it to that? Anybody who is coming to be the head of this nation must be x-rayed; we must put the person on a pedestal and disclose everything in his closet because you are asking us to trust you and we want to trust you.

We will want to know every nook and cranny of your developmental pages in life. The most interesting one which has impacted very badly on me and some Lagosians is the question of who owns the Alpha Beta Company. I have never heard it anywhere in the world where a department called the Internal Revenue Service would have a consulting company collecting the revenue on behalf of the government and taking a percentage of that. Can you tell me why that is not criminal, a consulting firm collecting 15 per cent of the revenue of Lagos State?

How come there were two bullion vans to your private house on an election day? Does that not mean that we should be expecting about 100 bullion vans in his house when he becomes the president? So, we need explanations and answers to all these questions. If he wants to be president, we have legitimate right to ask you questions directly, and we will need direct answers from him.

The game he is playing in Lagos is local, we are going now to the national table, he must be questioned and we will ask questions. If we don’t do this to all of our contestants, then we are not serious and I must say that the younger generations are watching.

Nigeria owes about N40 trillion, and the next to Federal Government in terms of debt portfolio is the Lagos State government. Who is going to pay those debts, these are legitimate questions, nobody should tell us to sweep anything under the carpet, and we must be satisfied with whoever that wants to be president, that when he gets there we will be able to trust him.

 

Former Governor Peter Obi visited you while consulting to become the candidate of PDP. But he left the party for another party. Don’t you think this would have a negative impact on the chances of your party in 2023?

 

When I heard this story that he had left the party I was shocked. He is a man I have so much respect and regard for in terms of his quality as a human spirit. And I tried to call him on the phone but I couldn’t reach him. But I have read through some of his comments about why he left.

 

You know politics is an experience unless you are in it genuinely and honestly, people would annoy you, people will insult you but your inner strength, the God you serve will be with you if you trust Him. I have had my own low times in this play called politics. I was sent to prison for doing absolutely nothing.

Those who are the conspirators, I call them convoluted conspirators, they would have thought they could containerize me and they will shot me up forever not knowing that I come from a family that my grandpa was in and out of prison under the British government. So, when my mum was told that this was the reason she told him to fire on. What I’m I looking for in your bag?

So, no matter what and God didn’t tell you that the highway of life will always be straight. Sometimes you go into the dark worlds of tribulations and if you still believe and trust in your God, you will pop out at the other end of the journey of triumph. I’m really very disappointed that he left and I was told that some people annoyed him but the important thing is to focus on where you are going.

God didn’t tell you that you would achieve it by easy means. I was very disappointed because a lonely stone gathers not a mouse. Obi started with PDP, he said somebody angered him and he left for the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Some people angered him in Anambra and he now left to join Labour Party.

With my experience, stay there and fight it out because that is what you call a man with guts, not those who run away from jokers. If I had thought about that I wouldn’t even be here. I would be so ashamed of myself and would be hiding my head. I said I wanted to be chairman, some people convoluted conspiracy but it didn’t bother me because whatsoever God has destined me to be, I will be.

And whatsoever He says I will not be, it will not happen. Just go on because you cannot build here, stop there, go another way build there and stop again. As a man, you face it because all those jokers that are talking have achieved their aim by sending him out. He would have remained in this party and he would have so celebrated.

He didn’t once but it was local in Anambra but he is now on the national stage, how do you gather the infrastructure and why should people trust this man that if there is a course of action somewhere or he is blocked that he would fight through it and break it through.

That is what you call a great man. I didn’t like the idea and I have been to Doyin Okupe and I told him stories. I don’t like it because he is a man after my heart. I like his gut but a little problem you run, to where? If I leave this party, I’m heading home straight.

The Southern and Middle Belt Forum has taken a decision not to vote for any party that does not present a southern candidate and even congratulated APC and Tinubu for the southern choice of candidate. Do you think that this decision would work against your party?

My thought on that is this: I’m  taking you on the comment you made that they have congratulated Bola Tinubu, by any yardstick from where I come from in Yoruba land, if he (Tinubu) had ruled some other states that I wasn’t in, I would have said that I don’t know him but he had plundered my state. We are the next state to the Federal Government in terms of the debt portfolio.

How can anybody tell us that they want to congratulate him? Let’s put sentiments apart, yes there is a reason, you know initially, there was the cacophony of voices that it is our turn and it is our right to present the next president because Jonathan and PDP spent 14 years in and all kinds of stories that were popping up.

I joined this party in 1998 and the founding fathers of our party had a reason for projecting this concept of zoning and rotation. If you look at our country from the time of the first republic, in the north they had the majority and minorities. In the south, we have the majority and the minorities.

 

On both sides, the north and south majority had their way and minorities were onlookers. In the south majorities had their way and minorities were onlookers.

So, in 1998, Dr Alex Ekwueme, Chief Bola Ige from the South- West, Jim Nwobodo, Pa Solomon Lar, Abubakar Rimi from Kano, Adamu Ciroma, Prof Aminu and the former managing director of Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) came together and said look these military boys every now and then they keep coming back, what can we do to resolve this problem of unnecessary friction that we created where the majority would always claim the system while the minority would-be onlookers.

 

The minority also had very sound and highly educated people and they said let’s divide Nigeria into six geo-political zones. North-West, North-East, North-Central and you can see the majorities and the minorities.

South-West, South-East and South-South and you can see the majorities and the minorities. And they came up and said that there are six top positions in the    land, the president, the vice president, senate president, speaker of the House of Representatives, secretary to the federal government and national chairman of the party.

 

So, these six positions would go into each of the zones so that everybody goes home with something and that after eight years they will rotate, all positions in the north would come to the south, all positions in the south would go to the north to give everybody that sense of belonging and that sense of oneness and it worked. When it now came to General Buhari becoming president, he is not from our party and if you remember APC had said they do not believe in zoning, what happened?

How did they spread all the top positions? It was the same way we did but if you look at our national constitution, there is nothing like geo-political zones. But this system has worked. I told them that in the political equation of 1998, we saw ourselves in PDP because that was the only political party for the first time since 1914 that is national in outlook.

It calls the full emblems and colours of Nigeria. I have traversed all parts of this country, there is no village where you will go and say PDP and you will not find a member. At that time we used to boost that PDP will be on the throne for 60 and all that but suddenly we fell off because of bad management, poor people, we lost and we found ourselves in the clutches.

What happened, when we were discussing about 2023 we reminded them that the founding fathers never thought there could be a parameter. And what is that parameter, that another party could produce the president who can come from either the north or the south?

So, when our friends were shouting they would have nothing to do with APC, I said is General Buhari from Anambra?

Did he come from Lagos? Is he not a Fulani man? When that argument went on the party set up a zoning committee to revisit it, read that report, the number one item on that report was to reaffirm our faith that zoning and rotation would ever remain sacrosanct in PDP. But because of moral suasion purposes because they were saying it is our turn and all this noise but when we explained to them the story changed.

They said what you people are saying is agreed but the managers of the party at that time should have announced the zoning when they rezoned the party positions, which was six months again. Now if you did not announce it at that time, you allowed everybody to be running around and spending money, campaigning and canvassing but we are all members of one family.

So, don’t rob Peter to pay Paul because we agreed this mistake has been made, how do we resolve it. I was a member, so it was now an appeal purely on moral suasion purposes that only now let all the zones go and compete and next time six months before the commencement of sale of forms zoning and rotation should have been concluded and would be announced. But they won’t tell you not to compete because that would be going against the constitution and your fundamental human right.

 

 

But even then, when they zoned it to the south, Abubakar Rimi said he didn’t agree and he was going to compete and the party allowed him. So, we cannot stop anybody from contesting but the party position because of what I told you that those old men wanted a solution to this issue of friction between the majority and the minority in both north and south was what brought this out.

If we look at ourselves, we need to go back to the drawing table and satisfy the mood of the nation and I want to let you know that this party, the mistake we made before when took Nigerians for granted and we paid the bad price, I can say to you that between the devil and the deep blue sea, the choice is our own.

What are your thoughts about ideas of a Muslim-Muslim ticket by the ruling party for the 2023 presidential election?

Last Sunday, we went to our family Church here at Cathedral in CMS and for the first time in the history of the church, the two front doors were barricaded because of insecurity. This is the house of God and it is sacrilegious for anyone to go to the house of God and spill the blood of human beings.

What do you gain? I have appealed to Christians to tone down the rhetorics because we are spinning out of control. I am a general and I know what it takes to go to war and the consequences of war.

We need peace on all sides. We need to provide security of lives and properties. I have made a suggestion of what can be done and I said that community and state policing should be approved. The total number of police officers we have are not enough, so who protects who?

This is why I said that it would be insanity to at this current time when the nerves are so raw and there is so much anger and dissatisfaction to field two Muslims on one ticket. The friction that this would cause will be capable of creating electricity with the way it is now and then you now want to rub more salt on the injury. To even conceptualise it means you have no respect or regards for Nigerians.

It will be a complete lack of respect for the people. We cannot afford to conflagrate this country. So respect for the electorate. Respect for their view, respect for whatever will bring normalcy to Nigeria is what we should be doing.

If the anger exhibited all over the country against religious intolerance and then you exacerbate it by now picking up somebody that is of the same religious sect like you, how do you convince the people?

On religious basis, there is so much unnecessary tension created already with all sorts flying through the media and social media and people are more careful and conscious. Nigeria is a secular state.

 

Is there any crisis in Lagos PDP and how prepared is the party for the election in the state?

 

If you think that there can be any organization in the world that would not have a crisis that would be a big lie. The capacity and the ability to manage the crisis would be a measure of our qualities before the electorates.

 

TRY IT TONIGHT!!! ---

 

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