Hausa, Igbo ‘ll soon be governor in Lagos
Former National Deputy Chairman, Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olabode George has given fresh insight into how former President Goodluck Jonathan and indeed the PDP lost the critical Southwest votes to the then opposition All Progressives Congress, APC in the 2015 elections. The former military governor and retired Navy Commodore in this interview with TUNDE THOMAS, accused a former Minister of state for Defence, Musiliu Obanikoro of deceiving Jonathan about the political reality in the zone prior to the polls. George, who also looked into the future and saw an Igbo or Hausa becoming Lagos governor very soon, spoke more on this and other national issues.
What’s your take on Lagos State at 50?
We have cause to thank God for the journey so far. At 50, Lagos State has been making progress – it has continued to remain centre of excellence. We must give praise to the founding fathers, for their vision, and for laying good foundation which successive administration has been building upon.
When Lagos State was created, it was a military creation by General Yakubu Gowon and General Mobolaji Johnson was the first military governor of the state. Over the years, there have been series of transformation. In the beginning, Lagos State was much smaller then but later Ikorodu, Epe, Badagry, and Ikeja were added to become part of Lagos State.
Then missionaries were running the schools, and there was discipline and commitment by both teachers and students. Sports and games were also part of the school curriculum, all these added together made students to become not only complete but also useful citizens. Then students were proud of their schools, and even their school uniform.
But what is the situation today? Moral decadence is on the increase, and things are degenerating. Look at the case of students at Falomo, Ikoyi who were tearing skirts of their female colleagues with scissors in what has been described as an attempt to rape the females. That would never have happened in the past. Social malaise has engulfed us now, and this is very sad. Where are we going? Can we now say that at 50 Lagos State is heading into social decadence in spite of monumental growth and development that have been achieved? This is a major problem and big challenge to those who are in charge of governance in Lagos State.
We say Lagos State is centre of excellence, yes, it is truly a centre of excellence but some of the social malaise must be addressed. Government should encourage young minds to focus their attention on those things that will build them and their future and stay away from whatever will destroy their lives and future.
Lagos State is mini-Nigeria because being a former Federal Capital, there is no ethnic group or tribe in this country that is not represented in Lagos State – that is the peculiarity of Lagos State. Even up till today, despite the fact that Lagos State is no longer the federal capital, you see hundreds and thousands of people coming into Lagos everyday, and the population keeps on surging daily.
I remember a time when former President Olusegun Obasanjo was in power, and we went for a rally in Oshodi, Obasanjo was so amazed and shocked by the teeming crowd that he asked where the people came from. The crowd at the rally and the crowd of marketers, pedestrians, artisans and other category of people surging to and fro shocked him. There was hardly a space to move and even in the process, Obasanjo lost one of his shoes while trying to manoeuvre himself through the crowd. The crowd was surging, and we had to smuggle Obasanjo into his car and drove off. This population explosion in Lagos State has become a serious challenge, a big challenge to administrators of the state, how to cope and provide essential social amenities and services to take care of the huge Lagos population is very challenging.
In view of your observation, what is your take on the clamour that Lagos should be accorded a special status?
My take is this, there is no nation where you will not have centre of commercial activities, and seat of the central government located in different cities.
Like in the United States, New York City is the centre of commercial activities in America, in Canada, Ottawa is the centre of commercial activities, Frankfurt in Germany, Paris in France, Brussels in Belgium.
People should not try to play politics with this issue – Lagos State surely deserves to be accorded a special status. There is no tribe in any of the nation’s six geo-political zones that is not represented in Lagos. If Lagos is granted or accorded a special status, it will benefit all Nigerians. Again, thank God that oil has been discovered in Lagos State.
The state has been blessed with crude oil. Lagos State is a land of opportunity for different people, and this is why my political party, PDP fielded non-Lagosians for elective positions in 2015 general elections.
Granting a special status to Lagos is for everybody’s benefit. Lagos doesn’t discriminate against anybody. It provides opportunity for everybody to excel, develop and realize their potentialities. For instance, former Lagos State governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu is not a Lagosian. He is from Iragbiji town in Osun State, but was he not given opportunity to excel in Lagos State? Tinubu is not from Lagos State, and yet he became the state governor. I foresee a time coming when an Igbo man, Hausa man, Igala man, if he makes meaningful contributions to the development of Lagos, and people see the quality in him, then they will vote for him to become the state governor. Lagos State is the only state in this country that can accept a non-indigene as governor. It can never happen in any other state – Lagosians are very accommodating.
On Tinubu’s state of origin, are you saying …
Cuts in … No controversy over that, surely Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State is not a Lagosian. Yes. Quote me, Tinubu is not a Lagosian. He is from Iragbiji in Osun State. I’m no talking politics here but speaking fact. Tinubu is not a Lagosian but Lagosians accommodated him, and gave him opportunity to excel. That’s one thing about us in Lagos State – we don’t discriminate, we welcome all, and we allow you to realize your potentialities. Don’t forget that there was a time it was reported that Tinubu’s kinsmen from Iragbiji sent message to him that he should not forget home. But like I said earlier, granting special status to Lagos should not be seen as a favour but as a necessity that will benefit all Nigerians. Lagos is the nerve-centre of commerce in Nigeria, and the population in Lagos comprises all Nigerians, and this is why the special status being sought for Lagos State should not be seen as something that will benefit only Lagosians, but rather all Nigerians resident in Lagos State.
On the lingering PDP crisis, is it true that arrangements are being made to find alternative solution rather than the judiciary option as being claimed by some people?
The matter is awaiting adjudication at the Supreme Court. I also believe that we are going to get justice against Sheriff. What is the relief or justice that we are seeking (Makarfi faction)? It is very simple. Somebody said he was elected chairman of our party, but we said that he was appointed only Acting Chairman and yet to be confirmed by the PDP’s convention which is the highest organ in the party.
What is happening in PDP today is a good lesson for us. It means that next time, we will be more careful in dealing with people. Next time, we will look just beyond the face of a person before trusting such people. We will do a post-mortem of their past activities before we entrust them with positions.
Politicians when they are seeking elective positions or one favour or the other, they will go out to people and say trust me, vote for me, trust me that I will use the nation’s resources for your benefits but in most cases when they now get what they want, they change and become different thing, this is what happened in Sheriff’s case. He betrayed us. We trusted him but he betrayed us, and PDP is paying the price for that trust, but I’m optimistic that we will get justice at the end of the day. However if the Supreme Court judges ruled otherwise, they will be laying a precedence that one day a man can just wake up from his bed and say he is the chairman of a political party without following the due process. But Supreme Court judges are honorable people – they are distinguished people, and they have their names to protect, I believe justice will be done.
What are your thoughts on the ongoing agitation for restructuring?
I was a member of the National Conference of 2014, and it was during one of the sessions that the issue of restructuring came up. Some members canvassed a return to regional government like it was in practice during the First Republic and that means scrapping the existing states, but I remember what I told some of the advocates of a return to regionalism that it is no longer practicable and that such an idea can’t fly.
To me restructuring should mean that whatever a state is producing, 70 percent or 80 percent of the proceeds would be retained by such state while the balance is sent to the centre. With this arrangement, states will be challenged. There is no state without resources but because states are getting free money from the centre, they have become lazy.
What happened in the United States, which is also a federal state? Look at a state like California, it is richer than many countries in Europe. But look at Delaware, a very small state still in the U.S, they still survive.
The kind of restructuring we are talking about should involve reducing the powers of the central government, while the states develop at their own pace. This is true practice of federalism. It doesn’t promote laziness. States are compelled to develop resources in their states to run their states unlike what is happening in Nigeria today where all the 36 states rush to Abuja every month to collect monthly allocations.
Even on the issue of policing, why are we having a national police? Policing is supposed to be local issue, and that is why creation or setting up of state police is ideal, but where federal laws are involved, federal police now takes over.
State police should be there to take care of local issues while federal police should be involved in federal matters. We should stop playing politics with some of these issues that are relevant to the development and growth of the country. We should also stop this pull him down syndrome synonymous with our politics. We should jettison do or die politics. We should put Nigeria first.
What is your assessment of 18 years of unbroken democracy in Nigeria, that’s from 1999 to 2017, how have we fared?
We thank God that it has remained unbroken. But have we achieved a lot? No. Can we achieve better? Yes. What have been the drawbacks or the stumbling block? These are self-conceitedness, avarice, selfishness and lack of people knowing why they are in politics.
I stumbled into politics by chance – I met Obasanjo in London when they just released him. Obasanjo told me that people are persuading him to enter politics, but initially I tried to dissuade him by telling him that he should face his private business which by the time he came out of prison were in ruins but later I changed my mind and encouraged him to join politics when I realized that by that time in late 1998 and early 1999 that Nigeria was in bad shape and that the nation required an experienced man to stabilize it. I then told Obasanjo that I would return from London to join him in politics. That was how I came back from London. One of the reasons for the unbroken 18 years of democracy is also as a result of the unique constitution of PDP, which creates room for rotation of political offices along the six geo-political zones line. No geo-political zone is left out of arrangement for allocation of political offices. It is what you call turn by turn arrangement which creates room for unity and cohesion. However, for the first time in 2015, another political party took control of the Federal Government. Today, we have APC controlling the centre.
PDP is however unique in several ways. It is not a zonal or tribal political party – it is a national party. It is a formidable party. But APC is not like that, APC is a conglomeration of strange-bed fellows. It is good to have a change of party once in a while at the national level and even at the states level. PDP made some mistakes, and it is human to make mistakes, however I believe we have learnt from the mistakes. All these things going currently in PDP is a sign of tribulation.
Many people deceived Former President Goodluck Jonathan – he too was also too trusting, these are some of the reasons why PDP lost that general election. Look at what happened in Lagos State during that election, those jokers that they would deliver Lagos State for Jonathan, it was nothing but an empty boast, what eventually happened? PDP lost Lagos State, but those of us that were telling Jonathan the truth that he should not deal with wrong people in Lagos State were ignored. Jonathan didn’t listen to us. He deferred to them – some party chieftains were shocked.
But generally speaking, I believe we will survive this ongoing crisis. Thank God, our case is now at the Supreme Court. The court will decide whether our constitution should be followed in resolving the crisis, and also whether what we should follow is the rule of law and not a rule of the jungle. To become national chairman of PDP, you must go through a convention. Yes, Ali Modu Sheriff was Acting Chairman of PDP but he is yet to be confirmed by the party’s convention.
I want to appeal to all those behind this crisis, the forces who are remotely behind the crisis that what they are doing or playing is not politics but politricks.
To decimate a colossus like PDP will bring down this country. What is happening in PDP is not like what happened to the defunct Action Group in the First Republic because Action Group was a zonal party, but remember what even that little crisis caused this nation. That crisis did not only lead to the collapse of the First Republic but was also one of the events that led to the civil war between 1967 and 1970.
Today, we are still feeling the effects of that crisis, so those trying to pull down PDP should please stop it.
We will abide with whatever decision is taken at the Supreme Court. We must learn from mistake of the past. Those forces behind PDP crisis should stop it. They should wait for court’s verdict on the crisis.
The Supreme Court has a herculean task to redefine and reestablish the rule of law and also reaffirm sanctity of the constitution of every political party – there must be rule of law in every establishment, which must be followed, we are not living in a jungle.
What is your reaction to the defection of Senator Musiliu Obanikoro from PDP to APC?
Good riddance to bad rubbish. Nobody is going to miss him. Who brought him to PDP in the first place? I brought him to PDP, and he was later formally accepted into the party’s fold here in my office in Ikoyi, but what happened later? Obanikoro became a nuisance in PDP.
By going to APC, Obanikoro has returned to his vomit. Good luck to him, nobody is missing him. While in PDP, he has never proved to be an asset to the party in Lagos State. It is Obanikoro that will miss PDP. Obanikoro overrated himself. He over-promoted himself.
Those who believe in Koro and trusted him would now remember my warning to them that they should be careful with Koro. I know Obanikoro inside out, he is not the type you should put your trust in. As a politician, I believe in putting my trust in the system and not on individual. For all of them that put their trust in Obanikoro especially former President Goodluck Jonathan that was deceived to believe that Obanikoro was an electoral asset they can now all see who is Obanikoro? He was nobody in PDP Lagos State, and that’s why the party is not missing him. Have you seen any PDP member lamenting about his defection to APC? In fact his defection to APC is a big relief to many because he was like an empty drum that makes most noise.
Another lesson to be learnt from Koro’s action is that never put your trust in a man. A man will disappoint, but come whatever, a system will endure, and this is why I say we should learn how to put our trust in the system rather than in a man. Let us be supportive of the system and not individuals, Obanikoro is empty, very empty politically. An individual will come and go, but the system remains. We should follow the rule of law and not rule of man.
Forget all those who are rushing to APC now from PDP, nobody is missing them. We wish them good luck. The question I want to even ask is this, what impact has APC had on the lives of ordinary Nigerians since the party came into power almost two years ago? However by my training, I believe in exercising patience on some issues at times. Nigerians gave APC four years mandate, but APC has been at the helm for two years now, remaining effectively one year, and I say so because the last one year will be devoted to reelection and election matters, but by 2018, APC should be ready to render account of what they are able to achieve.
APC should also not use any remote control to decimate another political party. This country went through that kind of experience in 1963/64, and we all know the dire consequences. More so, PDP that is being earmarked for decimation is a national party.
On the issue of President Buhari’s health challenge …
Cuts in … I will continue to pray for good health for him. You know he was also my boss in the military. I pray that God will give him good health to fulfill his electoral promises to Nigerians. I pray that he will get well quickly. Buhari requires our prayers at this time for God to restore his good health.
As for the APC administration, I have not seen anything spectacular because things are very hard for Nigerians, and the situation is such that today, the rich are also crying. The essence of governance is to make life easy for citizens, it is for citizens to be able to afford basic amenities of life, but today the story is not like that for millions of Nigerians.