A former deputy national chairman of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP has said that the party may be on its way to regaining power at the centre in 2023 if the right things are done. George in this interview with TUNDE THOMAS also spoke on the presidential ambition of APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu among other controversial issues.
What’s your reaction to the recent Supreme Court’s dismissal of the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar against the election of President Muhammadu Buhari?
I’m still in a daze by that decision. I thought they would first adopt the briefs, look at it, before giving judgement. But for the judges to have just dismissed the petitions like that, I’m surprised. For me, I’m shell-shocked but as a General, I believe that PDP would have to go back to the drawing board. There is no need to cry over spilt milk. We need to restrategise for the next battle, which is 2023.
We can also do a postmortem to look at what happened so that we can start preparing for the journey towards 2023. I wish Nigeria well because after Supreme Court’s decision, there’s nothing left to be done again except for us to restrategise towards 2023. Has it ever happened like this? We were also in government before, wonders will never end. I wish our country the best of luck, but for PDP, the Supreme Court’s judgement is a wake up call. It is a wake up call for us to get all party’s elders and leaders to hold a very important meeting to plan the way forward. This is time for us to have serious analysis of the situation.
Then our leader now who is Alhaji Atiku Abubakar should rally other members of PDP together, he must return to the country so that we can have this important meeting on how to strategise and plan for 2023.
What’s your take on the Operation Positive Identification by the Nigerian Army, which has been condemned by many Nigerians?
I want to plead with President Muhammadu Buhari that the Federal Government needs to tread softly on this issue. How can you have the military being drafted outside to monitor and check the identity of people in time of peace?
We are still trying to convince foreign investors to come to Nigeria, but now for the military to come out and stop anybody on the streets for identification is an aberration. We are not trained for that. The military is always ready to shoot and fire, and not only that, any disobedience is seen as an affront, that’s our training.
So stopping people for identification is not part of our training. Where are the policemen? Where are the Immigration officers? That should be their responsibility, and the most disturbing aspect of the whole matter is that this directive came from the Army.
Initially when I was told about this operation, I was shocked and surprised and then I asked why must the army be involved? This should be a civil matter and the police are supposed to be in charge. We have to tread softly, softly.
Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC has come under criticism over its conduct of recent elections, what’s your view on that?
I said before and I will repeat it again, the greatest fear for this country is election procedure, if we don’t do everything to tackle the problem of manual manipulation of elections, this country will never develop. INEC should be structured in such a way to avoid manual manipulations of elections. If we don’t do that, this nation will never develop, it is not a curse because democracy is about the will of the people. If you now subvert and subjugate the will of the people, it will have unpalatable consequences.
Not only that, we also need to look at the judiciary. Again if we subjugate the will of the people by letting some judges determine or decide election results, and winners, then why are you asking people to go and line up to vote on the day of elections?
Look at India, 800 million people participated in their last election, it took them two weeks to conclude and declare results but no single candidate went to court for adjudication. What this means is that the election process was transparent.
Recently, Argentina held election, the incumbent lost and he immediately congratulated the winner. How many people are voting here, are we up to 20 million? When I saw people here physically carrying ballot boxes inside Keke Marwa, helicopters, and buses to go and deliver results in Abuja in 21st century, this is a big shame on Nigeria.
President Buhari must as a matter of urgency clean out INEC, and we must start on a fresh note with a caveat that our electoral processes must be technology based. No manual voting procedure again. This is what they are doing in other parts of the world today. Indians did it with their 800 million population, so why can’t we do it here?
If you live in the remotest village in Nigeria, if somebody send money to your account, your receive an alert, and if your account is debited you also receive an alert, is that not data processing? So why can’t we do that with our elections here? Why are we deceiving ourselves and giving different flimsy excuses in order not to make the whole electoral process digital oriented? It is a shame that we are still doing things manually electoral wise. I’m over 70 now, so why should I be afraid of saying the truth?
There was a time Nigeria was on the same level with India, Brazil, Singapore and Malaysia but all these countries have now overtaken Nigeria. What a shame. Why are we still physically carrying election results in Keke Marwa and buses to collection centres or even to Abuja? This is a big shame. We should scrap INEC and send the staff packing so that we can start afresh with a digital oriented electoral body and we still have enough time to do that between now and 2023 when we have the next general elections. We cannot make progress as a nation without having this electoral reform.
Look at the nonsense that took place in Osun State during the last gubernatorial elections there. I want to appeal to our judiciary to watch – they said because a judge didn’t come one day and they just gave judgement based on what they called technical reason. But is that fair? Which technical fault is that? Were the people who voted responsible for that judge’s absence? Was it their fault? The people voted for the man they wanted as their leader but the will of the people was subverted, and we are saying all is well, all is well, where?
As a retired military officer and also as a politician, I have been both sides, I’m not talking as a partisan politician but speaking as a patriot who wants Nigeria to move forward.
Look at what they call Trader Moni, it is a shame. It is a shame that the nation’s Number 2 man will be carrying money to markets to give Nigerians.
This is not only a shame but it is also very wrong, what federal government should be doing is to teach Nigerians how to fish instead of giving out money in the markets openly. They should teach Nigerians how to acquire skills to make them self-employed. Even in the politics of First Republic and succeeding ones, nobody took money to market to share and give to people. They were teaching people how to acquire skills. But where are those skills acquisition centres today?
Look at Lagos today, since 1999, one man has been running the show, but what can we show for 20 years of APC’s rule in Lagos? There is no part of Lagos that is not derelict. Whether you are in Ikoyi or Ajegunle, there is no difference. There are no drains. Roads are terrible – refuse is overflowing Lagos streets. Even the lagoon, they’ve sandfilled it to a lunatic situation and they are still sandfilling and selling the sandfilled places to themselves without consideration for the negative impacts such will have on the environment and the people. They are being driven by greed. They are very greedy and selfish politicians, these people that have been ruling Lagos since 1999.
Could that be the reason why some individuals and organizations have been saying recently that the APC and its leadership must be made accountable over the party’s control of Lagos State since 1999?
I have been saying that, and I fully support Pastor Tunde Bakare on that – but in the past, whenever I say Tinubu should be made to give account, some people will say I hate Tinubu. Why should I hate him?
I didn’t create Tinubu, so why should I hate him? You love all but trust few. Tinubu has totally disemboweled Lagos State. I’m recommending to Tinubu to go and read the story of the legendary Alexander The Great, what he did, and what he said when he was dying. We all came into this world stark naked, and the day you depart this world, you go back stark naked. You can’t carry anything to your grave. So what is this greed all about, what is all the avarice about? There’s so much poverty all over the place – there’s an army of restless unemployed youths. We are all sitting on a keg of gunpowder. The situation today in the country as a result of hunger and poverty is serious, our leaders should wake up and quickly do the needful. Their lust for greed will boomerang if the situation continues like this.
Some Nigerians advised President Buhari to reduce his foreign travels in order to have more time to address domestic challenges such as insecurity, economy–
They are telling us that all is well, but in truth, is that in reality? situation in the country today is harsh and tough. Nigerians are passing through difficult times.
But my advice is that my party, PDP should go back to the drawing board and plan for 2023. We should not be downcast and say all is lost. When you fall as a soldier, you take up the gauntlet and move on. There is no perpetuity of anything in life.
As for the president travelling and travelling, well, he has a choice, we can’t stop him. There is nowhere in the constitution where it is stated that he can’t travel. But if Rome is burning, the emperor cannot go away. Nigeria has been classified as the poverty capital of the world, that’s very disheartening. But my prayer is that it shall be well with our nation. I want to plead that the issue of tribal division, religious divide, we should throw them away. The gulf among us in this country today is getting wider and wider.
How will you react to the claims that PDP is not providing a vibrant opposition to the ruling APC?
That’s why I say that there is the need for the current managers of PDP to call an emergency meeting more so that the Supreme Court has given the final verdict. Let’s do a thorough X-ray of where we are as a party, how can we strengthen this party, because PDP was formed by unique personalities, PDP was formed by political icons of this country including late Chief Solomon Lar, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, Sir Alex Ekwueme, Chief Bola Ige and a host of eminent others. We can disagree without being disagreeable. But we don’t have to be abusive and bring tribal sentiments into politics, such things don’t help. Giving conditions that if this tribe or that tribe wants to be president, this is what they should do, that should not be the language we should be using. I have friends all over the country, and my best friend is a Fulani. He is a Muslim, and I’m a Christian but we bond together very well. We should promote things that will unite us.
To promote unity in Nigeria, I have suggested that all Igbo primary school children should study Hausa and Yoruba language, while all the Hausa primary school children should study Yoruba and Igbo, while all Yoruba primary school children should study Igbo and Hausa. Once you speak unifying language, it breaks barriers, it opens doors and also promotes unity. Why can’t we do this?
Yes, Nigeria is not a natural country but yet we have been living together. I want to appeal that we should be promoting things that will unite us rather than dividing us. What is power? Have you seen anybody that has held power in perpetuity?
Where are the leaders of yesterday? Where are they now? Where are the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and other leaders, they’ve played their own roles and are gone. We will also play our roles and go. It is the beauty of your contributions towards the upliftment of your people and country that will be the memories people will have about you. In Lagos State, they’ve legalized stealing. Look at the Alpha Beta thing, look at what they are doing with Alpha Beta. It is the only company that collects all the taxation and internally generated revenues on behalf of Lagos State government, this never happened in any civilised society.
Lagos grosses between 30 to 40 billion naira as IGR every month, look at the interests that will accrue on that money, and an individual gets 15 percent of that money. But look at the derelict in Lagos with all the money. What is all these? But these people lording it over all Lagos, and ruining the place should remember that there will be a day after. Certainly there will be a day of reckoning. A day of reckoning is coming. They said I shout too much about how Lagos State is being brazenly looted and raped, and to keep me shut in their desperate conspiracy, they sent me to jail. But this man playing God in Lagos State, Tinubu is not God. What does he think he is doing? And some mentally sick people will come out and say that he is bigger than Awolowo, he is bigger than M.K.O. Abiola. And that he is also bigger than former President Olusegun Obasanjo, are these people sick?
The record of Baba Obafemi Awolowo till today in the Western Region is unequalled. Go and read Papa Awolowo’s books, his books on methodology of management, go and read all his books. He ruled Lagos for eight years, but has he still let go? He has become emperor in Lagos.
Some people in their ignorance will even say Tinubu is in control, in control of what? Let us make sure that the electoral process is not a sham, then you will see how people are angry with their votes. That’s the only power people have. We should allow the will of the people to prevail. If the will of people is allowed to prevail, he will not be sitting down there taking people’s money. Calculate from 1999 till today, 20 years how they have been raping Lagos.
Look at that statement made by one of the former directors of Alpha Beta that they are owing him 45 billion naira, an individual saying they are owing him 45 billion naira in my own state, Lagos State, and this money is supposed to be Lagos State’s money that the man is now claiming they are owing him. Lagos State today is flat broke. The debt portfolio of Lagos State is unimaginable. Who will pay for it? Our children, our grandchildren?
They have impoverished Lagos State. Now he is saying he wants to be president, let him go there, and see what will happen. Some of his followers are also saying that he is the only one that can do it, some even promised to deliver 20 million votes for him. What a deception. They are just pushing him. He should return all Lagos money. I’m even told that he is now planning to make his son the governor of Lagos State. What an insult! We don’t do dirty fights in Lagos, but Tinubu should remember that certainly a day of reckoning is surely coming. Tinubu has over dazed us to stupor. When I see some of our friends now complaining about Tinubu, I tell them why are you complaining now. I said a long time ago that Tinubu should be checkmated. Let us make sure that the electoral process is modern so that the will of the people can prevail. It is only when the will of people prevail that Tinubu can be checkmated. We are not in the stone age, we should reform and modernize our electoral process.
The election of Professor Banji Akintoye as the new Yoruba leader has been generating controversies, what’s your own position on this development?
I want our people to know this, you don’t elect leaders, leaders do emerge. We may disagree but we must never be disagreeable. Leaders emerge naturally, and it is God who made leaders. You don’t congregate and say you elect a leader.
I have tremendous respect for Professor Banji Akintoye, he is an intellectual par excellence, and he is a Professor of History. He still has a lot to give this country especially in the Southwest but he should know that there are still Yoruba elders who are older than him. There can be a situation where those that are elderly than him can now delegate him to act on their behalf, if that’s the situation, I can understand. We have to do things the way they are supposed to be done.
I believe that Afenifere should drop the toga of a political body. It should not be seen to be partisan. It should be apolitical. Let Afenifere be the socio-cultural organization for all the Yoruba. It should be an umbrella body for all Yoruba, and any member of Afenifere can belong to any political party of his or her choice, but Afenifere as a group should be a rallying point for all Yoruba. Afenifere should be our rallying point. Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF is not a political organization, it is a rallying point for our brothers in the North, same with Ohanaeze, it is also a uniting socio-cultural platform for the Igbo. Afenifere should also stand for same purpose, but the moment Afenifere stands for political colouration, then the platform will alienate some people.
We must make sure we leave a positive legacy for the future generation to emulate, and keep on building Yoruba race and this nation in a positive manner. The reverse is unthinkable.