Chief Olabode Ibiyinka George “Iginla Odua”, was one-time Military Governor of Ondo State, former Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), national vice-chairman, Southwest zone of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and its BOT member.
In this interview, he spoke on critical national issues, including security challenges, politics of June 12 and why the PDP lost Lagos State governorship election, as well as his worries for the country.
One of the things on the front burner now is June 12 and its recognition as Democracy Day. What is your view on it?
Well, what needs to be said about June 12 has been said, but for me, the day has become a red letter day, an unforgettable day to remember for something positive. I expect the fallout to be a lesson to all of us. One of the lessons is to ensure that we get our electoral process right. That is the challenge because what we have now seems to be a huge joke. A situation where the judiciary is always deciding for us who should be Mr President, Mr Governor or who should be Senator etc; should no longer be the norm for us. What happens to the will of the people as I have always asked? Why are we playing politics with our electoral process? We will continue to walk in circles and there will be no genuine development until the will of the people begins to prevail. Democracy is self-correcting and you grow it because it is not a 100-meter dash. When you talk about the lessons of June 12, I still think we have learned nothing.
You were a prominent member of the President Obasanjo administration, why do you think Obasanjo refused to honour Abiola?
You must know the situation of the country at that critical period. Don’t forget that Obasanjo himself was jailed; it is by a stroke of destiny that he is still alive. He was part of those who actually suffered at that time. The truth is that the country was going through severe storm then and needed a tested captain to take the ship of state safely back to the harbor, not an untested skipper at that time. So, they went to him (Obasanjo) and convinced him on why he must take the lead. Don’t forget the Nigerian platform was terribly wobbling. So, when Obasanjo came what do you think should be the first thing to do? For any rational minded person and given what was on the ground the first thing you should do will be the rebuilding of the broken walls of your nation. All the foundation that has been completely destroyed; the challenge before you is to say, let’s start again to rebuild the broken wall. So, for my own perception and understanding, Obasanjo became the Nehemiah, the man who rebuilt the broken wall of Jerusalem. If at that time this nation has not been stabilized and you talk about making June 12 a public holiday, we would have probably gone into another conflagration. So, as a leader there are situations where you need simple wisdom before coming back to the issue when the time is appropriate for it. We say in Yoruba that if a tree falls on a tree the first thing you do is to remove the one on top, you don’t go to the bottom first. He came to stabilize the system first, the first assignment (I am not speaking for him) given the situation of things was to stabilize the country so that democracy can work. That was the role he played. I know the time will come for the Abiola issue, but the Obasanjo era was not the right time if you ask me. He who feels it knows it. Was it not the same Obasanjo that called the Justice Oputa panel for people to come there and talk so that healing will gradually be taking place? Some people are talking because they do not know what was involved at that time of Obasanjo. This is not a time for blame game as I always say. Some people are saying that they were the people that gave Abiola the phone with which he made the call to BBC. Those kinds of talks are unnecessary now, people trying to show they were relevant. The building of a nation is not a one-stop thing. It is not a 100-meter dash race, it’s a continuum.
So you don’t believe the allegation by Babagana Kingibe that Obasanjo was part of the conspiracy that annulled June 12?
Kingibe? Even his role was ignoble, so he should not talk. Who abandoned Abiola? Why did he abandon the struggle? He is entitled to his wrong opinion. Let’s not open up a can of worms on that issue.
Recently, Obasanjo said what is happening in Nigeria is a secret agenda for the Islamisation and Fulanisation of the country. He is your friend, do you think he is right?
Do you think at his level, at his age, he can be that frivolous? The man is in his mid-80 years now, a former General, he is a top-class farmer, a man who has been president both civilian and military, he must have contacts, and he gets information? Why will he want to throw tantrums? Why will he want to upstage governance? You should not ignore his observation. If at that level he makes such observation then let’s try, especially the government and look at what he says to reassure the people that what is happening may perhaps be a flash in the pan, or that they are not a mere aberration, but that you are on top of it.
PDP your party was worse off in the 2019 elections than it was in 2015 in Lagos or you don’t think so?
Let me first clarify an issue. We were not worse off. In the Presidential election, we still believe that we won. We will see the outcome of it from the judiciary. There was manipulation in Lagos for the Presidential election. So, we must distinguish between the presidential one and the governorship election. In the governorship election the attitude was clear from the people, the electorate that the candidate that was put forward, I don’t want to mention his name because it will be like an insult on my person. The name fatigued. It is like Jimmy Agbaje-fatigue. You could still go and check from the people. How did it come up? The last time every member of the party worked their hearts out, so why just four years down the line if you compare the results of Agbaje and Ambode and the one he had with Sanwo-Olu, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that something has gone amiss. The truth is that the people didn’t want to have his name on the ballot. They told us to our faces and the turnout that day was about 16 per cent in the entire state. People told me to my face that we fielded a wrong candidate. They told me, you don’t have a candidate for the party and so they didn’t bother. We did a post-mortem analysis of what happened in the meeting that we had. You know as a politician once all the dust is settled you call the people to know what happened in the management of the election, the procedure, etc. people were tired of the candidate we fielded in Lagos, whereas in Oyo State we were lucky because we also fought an incumbent. In Oyo State, like a cliché used there, people say we brought clean water, meaning the candidate fielded was fresh and one that will deliver, they voted for him. I have said that it is a little bit too early to start talking about the details of the election because we are still at the tribunal, not the governorship, but the presidential one, so I wouldn’t like to open up a Pandora box. Let’s wait for the appropriate time and I will speak extensively on the matter.
But where did Jimmy Agbaje come from? Who imposed him on the party as a candidate because people see you as the de facto if not the de jure leader of the party in Lagos?
I had never imposed candidates; I am not an emperor as they have in the other party. I joined like others; I am not the all and end all of the party in Lagos State. Since 1998 I have been a member of this party when nobody in the Southwest even wanted to touch or have anything to do with the party. Then it was a taboo to even talk about the party in the Southwest. You may have your opinion which may sway people, but you don’t have an authoritarian power to impose like some people in some parties. Here you go through the normal process because the wish of the people is paramount here than your personal wish and so, yes, Bode George is the de facto, de jure, leader of the party in Lagos because I have been there, but I am not the oldest nor the youngest, yes because of my antecedents in the party, I still have that respect, the deputy national chairman overall, deputy national chairman South, I was also vice-chairman of the Southwest, etc, that respect for me spreads not only within the Southwest, but all over. When I make some comments, people listen because I am not a rolling stone. I am sticking to the PDP even when I will be tired. What I do is just to play my path, manage the people and resources for the generality of the people. I don’t detect or impose.
There are some people who are insinuating that you are part of the problem of the PDP in Lagos. How would you react to that?
I think it is a very silly impression that anybody can have. For my style of leadership and for our party we do not impose candidates, so the decision of the party is always respected. I don’t impose things on the party; it is against the party constitution. People will have whatever opinion they want to have. The prophet is not always loved or acceptable in his own land. People will call you from all over the world to get involved with us, telling you to come and do one thing or the other with them, but when you come home, self-conceitedness, crude ambition etc will come in, but I have never stopped anybody, there is never a time I, alone will take a decision on behalf of the party. We always call meetings in our party to deliberate issues and the decision reached in the meeting stands not that I will impose my decision, no. How can anyone say I am the problem? Am I the one to talk to the electorate to change their mind for the candidate of the party? But I still do that, we went to rallies, we campaigned to the people and I also pleaded with the people. I can never be, I have never been and will never be any stumbling block to the party.
This is 20 years of uninterrupted democracy would you say we have made any progress since 1999?
We made a progress up to a point and it looks like there is no progress because on this kind of a journey there are no half measures. You remember in 2015 even the then president (Jonathan) used his card reader it didn’t work in his polling station, a whole mighty president. Later they said they have improved on it so where are we now? We take one step ahead, 50 steps backward. We are not inventing these things now; they are things already existing in other countries so why not go for the programming that you want, which will fit your system. You cannot be manual with your electoral process in the 21st Century and you want to have a free and fair election. At the end of the day, it is the judiciary that will announce who the winner is. Is that a process, is that agreeable? So, the will of the people is thrown under the box? I chuckle when I see certain things happening. We should have been many miles ahead, but we are yet to get up. Who will come and put his money when they know the crude process you are practicing? How can you reassure them (investors) that they will make gain with the money they are coming to invest or you think they want to be Father Christmas?
You are by any standard a statesman that has contributed his quota to the building of this country. What worries you most today?
Sometimes when I see or hear about certain things that are happening today I feel sad. There is total flux. Take any sector, security, for instance, you hear certain security news you think its fake news, but another person will come and confirm it. One Oba from Ondo State spoke with me and he told me he missed being kidnapped by the whiskers, that he almost got abducted. He said his driver drove like hell. Will that Oba be lying? I believe as a matter of urgency the president must do something to re-establish the confidence of the people of this country. There is a need to call a town hall meeting, get a congregation of all tribes, all ethnic groups should be there, let the people pour out their minds because initially, we thought oh, it was all in the Southwest, all the government reserves in Oyo, in Ogun have been subjected to certain fears and the villagers are getting scared. Now, I am 74 going to 75, in my whole years we have interacted with all groups, is this the first time the herdsmen have been going around with their cattle, so why now? Let the people come and talk. This is not a military government, it’s a democratic government. Governors themselves are now calling for meetings. Remember that the governor is the chief security officer of the state, some of them are now shouting wahaala don come oooh. The convoy of Ondo governor, was attacked, a governor of a state, then who is safe? Now, you listen to some stories breaking from the Northern part, Zamfara, Katsina, Adamawa, Borno, etc. When did we get to this level? What is going on? I think we should have a meeting, let him (President Buhari) organize it, let the people come and talk, relay their experiences and you will hear more, then know the truth and find a lasting solution to it. When they see you invite them, at least 50 per cent of the problem is solved, it gives the people confidence that all will be well and you are ready to give them a lasting solution. It looks as if the situation is getting out of hand. People may be pretending that all is well the way I am seeing it, the things I am hearing, all is not well. You don’t know who is next.
But President Buhari that you are suggesting to call a town hall meeting believes that all is well as he has passed a vote of confidence in his security chiefs, saying that one of his areas of achievement is in the area of security?
He needs to travel around unnoticed. He can take a quick visit somewhere. That is the way you can feel the taste of the pudding is that you must eat it. All the news about security challenges cannot be fake news. Why was this not like this in the newspapers before? Some of us are even confused, let him call a meeting and gauge the pulse of the people with experiences that may be shared. I think this is important. Some of us have nothing to gain to lie to him. All the governors I the Southwest I read from the papers want to have a security meeting where they will invite the army, the police, the OPC, some traditional rulers and it is not only in the Southwest that this is happening.
How will you rate how free the 2019 elections were?
But you know it already and you are asking me (laughs). I had a Professor (Prof Ayodele), he will tell you that when you make a definition, you don’t quarrel with anybody’s definition, but what you quarrel with are the proceeding and the outcome. What have we achieved in our electoral process? The world is now a global village. I was privileged to do training with the United States Naval War College in 1986. We went to one of their air stations at Maine; the last US state before you get to Canada. The place is looking after all the United States submarines in the Atlantic, there is where they call a choke-point between Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria all the way down to South Africa. They watch everything happening from there. Right there they put Lagos-Tinubu axis on the screen and you can see the yellow buses and everything happening. I saw our Central Bank and everything around there. They see everything they want to see. They know where you come from, you can see how fast the world is moving and we are here doing blame game, manually carrying election results from location A to B, it’s a shame, given the wealth, not only physical capital, but the human resource of this nation. I keep praying every day that we will not be a wasted generation. Let’s challenge the younger ones and you will not be disappointed with what they will come out with in technology. At least as far as our elections are concerned, let us be rest assured that the will of the people is not subjugated. What we are going through is what late Fela called suffering and smiling. We are on the same spot, no movement. But we can still move.
Are you hopeful as your party will continue to say that their stolen mandate will be restored?
We are still there, we are hopeful.