Chief Olabode George, a retired Navy Commodore, was a former military governor of old Ondo State. He was also a former national deputy chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and currently, a member of its Board of Trustees (BoT).
In this interview with Sunday Sun, George spoke on elections in Nigeria and their processes, describing them as “shameful and archaic”, demanding the scrapping of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
He decried the prolonged stay of the presidential candidate of the PDP in the last elections, Atiku Abubakar, abroad in Dubai, describing it as cowardly, calling on him to return home.
On the problems in the party, which made a presidential aide to aver that opposition politics is dead, he canvassed an extraordinary meeting of party leaders for soul searching.
He also said that judicial officers are the bane of Nigeria’s democracy, having taken over the functions of the electorate. He conceded that Bola Ahmed Tinubu is politically deft and greedy, urging him to think of life hereafter. Excerpts:
A presidential aide recently said that Nigeria is heading towards a one-party state. How do you react to that?
I think, my initial reaction is a wake-up call to our party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Shehu Garba, has been enjoying all the freedom, but all that glitters is not gold. I like that statement, because he is telling us that we are missing in action. He is saying “where is the opposition who should keep them on their toes? So, it is a serious wake up call to our party.
But is the PDP not providing the necessary opposition? We read and hear of their reactions to issues in the press. We know that they always join issues with the government. So, how and where is the opposition lacking? What is PDP not getting right in its role as opposition party?
As a very senior elder of this party, I used the term it “wakeup call”. It is a very serious issue. We will meet in our citadel, shut the doors and tell ourselves some home truth. As a naval officer, I know that when your ship starts taking in water, and you pretend it is okay, because you are still moving, it won’t be long before you go down to the bottom of the sea. It is a wakeup call. I believe the other elders will be bold enough to join in the call for an emergency meeting. It is a grave insult.
Is it a call for an emergency meeting of the National Working Committee, NWC or what?
I mean an emergency meeting of all the leaders of our party, not just the National Working Committee. He did not particularize the insult on the NWC, he said the PDP, the opposition party. It is an insult to those of us who have been in the front liners in the party. As the former British Prime Minister, Cameron said about Nigeria, we are sleeping behind the wheels. What? Telling us that we are asleep behind the wheels? There is an urgent need for us to have a meeting. From my part of the world, when something happens like that, you don’t wash your dirty linen in the public. So, my advice is that, yes, it is a wakeup call for us to come together and revisit what is going on. Why is that punch now lily-livered? Why is the APC that is a congregation of strange bedfellows now thinking that it is waxing stronger? Those are the things that should compel us to close doors and talk. I have my views, but I don’t think that at my level, it is correct to take my party to the market place to disrobe it. I believe that my advice should be taken. Let the managers call the leaders for a serious heart- to- heart meeting.
Is the PDP drifting or derailing because they lost election or what? At what point did you notice that they are derailing?
You know, when you’re hit by a tornado; when you think you’re cruising and all of a sudden, you’re hit by a tornado, and I am talking as a sailor now; first of all, you need to think of how to stabilize your ship; how do you get all your systems working again so that you don’t go down below? Those are the things we must now get together, close the doors, shut the windows and go into our inner chambers to do a thorough analysis; post mortem analysis, and come up like the real original PDP founded by those committed elders.
You are talking about coming up? The political atmosphere then was different from what we have now. For PDP to emerge as a virile opposition, do you think the APC-led government will allow that?
They only have control of their party. The constitution provides for freedom of association, freedom of speech. If it is to carry us to prison because we speak, then we challenge the law. You know, we will not do what is illegal; meeting of minds is still acceptable and allowed in our system, no matter what. I don’t want to delve into my own analysis. It is personal, and which I can share with our party. But I believe that for this sleeping giant, it is not over yet. We have the resources; we have the reserved energy to throw a punch that can land the APC on the floor.
Talking about enablement and atmospherics, there appears to be uneasy calm in the party. Notable leaders of the party are said to be on the run. How can this resurgence be possible when they are already on the run or underground?
If you talk without making illegal moves to subvert the government, it is allowed by the system. That is why I am asking that they should call this meeting, a serious meeting for committed leaders of those who were there; who were part of the foundation building of the party. We lost our track and normally in a developing country, when you lose your track, it takes time and concerted efforts to trace it and recover it. Let them call the elders. If you think that as a younger man you know it all, do you know how you’re going to end up? But this thing they call wisdom is not acquired in the classroom. It comes from your interactions. Somehow, some political parties can have their lowest points, but they bounce back. With committed people, dedicated people, serious minded people, loyal people, we will bounce back and attract the hearts and minds of Nigerians the way we used to do. God didn’t say that the world will be a bed of roses and that if we get on the highway, we should just keep cruising. When you cruise and suddenly hit a roundabout, we must slow down, otherwise you will bounce yourself on the roundabout and land on your belly. I want to shorten my analysis, but the key thing is that there is need to call for a meeting for soul searching and tell ourselves some home truth inside a shut room.
I want to ask you this. The presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, who is challenging the results of the elections at the tribunal is said to be on the run. Why has he remained outside the country when his petition is at the tribunal?
That is also part of what we will discuss within. I agree with you. This is a good observation. I believe that a committed political leader should not be far from the point of contest. Rome cannot be burning and Nero is fiddling. A committed leader should stick to what he believes in. If you have to go to prison so be it. Did Mandela not spend 28 years in prison and came back and became president? Did Obasanjo not go to prison based on falsehood and later became president? You see many world leaders that have gone to prison on falsehood? I also went to prison on falsehood. Buhari himself had been to prison on falsehood. The point is this; political victory is not given like that; a la carte. You fight for it. This will be part of our discussion and he should be part of that discussion. Let him come back here. Let us discuss our party. He is still the leader of the party.
Is he really the acknowledged leader of the party when an ex-president is still in the party?
He is the leader. Jonathan got to the highest rung and retired as a president. He is no longer the current leader of the party. Atiku is the current leader of the party. He is an elder statesman in the party. Once you leave office you don’t perpetuate yourself. Atiku flew the flag of the party and he is therefore the leader of the party. He has experience. He has been vice-president for eight years. He should stand firm because, we are ready. We believe in the course of justice, law and order. Our party carries all the colours of this country from the swampy forests to the savannah region. PDP is not dead.
But it is dying?
(Laughs) It is not dying. We are not in comatose. We were hit by a tornado. Even a super tanker can be hit by a tornado. God did not say you will not fall, but that you will fall, learn a lesson and bounce back. This is because, if it is all smooth and you’re cruising, you will not appreciate that level you attained, and that it is not you that got yourself to that level, but through the power of the Almighty God. There is an adage by the Japanese: You fall seven times and you must jump up eight times.
I want to know this. What happened to the PDP in the Southwest, particularly Lagos State where you hold court? There was resurgence at a time and the party managed to do well in Osun and Oyo states. What is actually wrong?
It is a combination of so many things. Some people are of the view that ah, you never won an election here. It requires all hands to be on deck. If you’re perpetually undermining the leadership and think you sabi (know), the leadership will fold its hands and watch you go and do it. Try it. People who are loyal, committed, and experienced will simply sit down and watch you do the job. Don’t think you know more than those who have been in it for long. You know that politics is war by other means. If you go to war, and lose, when you come back, that is where you start from. What were the mistakes, what were the problems, what were the obstacles? Don’t think you sabi, (know) sabi what? I laugh at these people who think they know the house more than….Can anybody know your house more than you? I just barge into Chidi’s house and I know where the bedroom, everything is? Is that possible? He has to start from somebody within, who will put you through and make you stand. That is the way it is done. Look, I am a General and a logistician by training. They gave the flag to somebody who was coming fresh from the enemy camp.
Oh, the candidate was in APC?
Of course, he was there; a strong member there. If he was coming from there and then you over promote him, there is a saying from my part of the world that the higher a monkey goes, the more he shows his black arse. We must meet and tell ourselves some truth.
Do you not think the problem is because of Ahmed Bola Tinubu who is adjudged very formidable…. For more than two decades now, he has been in charge uninterruptedly. How far is he the problem for PDP in Lagos? Is he unassailable?
He is politically deft. What you should do is to look at the state of affairs in Lagos. The worst social life is here in Lagos. The largest number of unemployed, the youths are here. All the social ills in Nigeria are here in Lagos. Is it market women and men, transportation, look at the state of the roads? You spend more time on the road than in your office. Each time I go back to my local government area, and I see these able bodied young men without future, I weep. There is no support like social allowances or skills acquisition for them. Yet, you say he is in charge. Look at the number of highrise buildings springing up here and there. They are owned by who? Is that the way to pay back? Let me remind you of the story of the great general, Alexander the Great. He conquered the whole world at the age of 32. He had so much wealth in his hands. He was so rich that he didn’t even know what to do with money any more. But the call of the Almighty God came. He was heading back home to Macedonia and on his way, he became very sick. He knew he was going to die. He had a doctor and he said, look, before I pass on, I have three wishes. The number one wish is that you, this doctor will take me back home so that people will know I died a natural death. Number two was that, you see all these treasures, on the way to my burial ground, start giving them out to people. Throw them out to people. Finally, the third one, when you put me in that coffin, stretch my hands out and open my hands so that people will see that there was nothing that I was taking back. He had all the resources, made so much money and in the end he said, see my hands, it is empty. I came empty handed and I am going empty handed. Why can’t you throw something back into the society? It is not giving people kobo; kobo like Osinbajo was distributing money in the market? One, as a pastor, two, as a professor of international law, it was absolutely demeaning. You think the way to alleviate the pains of the people is to give them money? Tradermoni? What a shame. They should teach the people how to fish so that they can feed themselves forever, not to give them stipends and then, it means everyday they will be coming to you – give us money, give us money. What will you be remembered for on the pages of history? So, for me, all this blighted ambition, running around, controlling this and that, there will be a day after.
In what way did you offend Tinubu that he came after you?
When you talk of offence, I said the truth, and he had to be afraid of the truth.
Were you posing to alter his plans and dreams for Lagos? Were you a stumbling block in any way?
Till tomorrow, I will remain a stumbling block. Let it be in the pages of history that at that time, when so many of our people were going under, and were begging for stipends, some people stood up and said no, this is not the Lagos we knew, this is not the Lagos we want, and this will never be the Lagos of our future.
Is that the only offence against him?
That‘s all. How did we meet? He is from Iragbiji in Osun State, I am from here. So, where did we meet? We have nothing in common, no serious quarrel between us. I was only saying that his methodology was not right. If the previous people had done Lagos like this, what would be there for him? Now, the major challenge is the Alfa Beta Company. Till this hour that I am talking to you, that Alpha Beta Company still collects the resources and taxes of Lagos on behalf of the Lagos State government. You know how much that is?
But then, are there no strong men in Lagos?
You know the way he called them that they are like chicken. Once you throw maize on the ground for them, they all go there scrambling for it. There will be a day after. I come from a politically active family. My great grand uncle, Herbal Macaulay was a great fighter for the people of this country. He fought the British to a standstill. In and out of jail they were throwing him. He was a master. You know, his house, the Kingston hall that was located where the British built the General Post Office in Marina. That was his house. They demolished it to totally obliterate him from history and erase his name. But all his deeds are still evergreen. He still came back from the North telling people to move. He was gathering them together, gingering them to get independence. Then, he came back and had pneumonia and died. He fought for this country. You read about Baba Awolowo, you read about the Sardauna, you read about Zik. They played their roles; they ran the race. Now, if it was just acquisition of wealth and land, how would they be remembered today? Did you see the sand filling of lands going on in Lagos? The other day, it rained in Lagos. My house here in Ikoyi was flooded. I thought we were going to drown. Fortunately, I am a sailor. I woke up that Saturday night, all the foams, couches down floor were all water. Water was flowing from the backside, the front side, the other end, through the sitting room to the other side downstairs. There is absolutely nowhere the water can go. They have completely built on the drains, built on the water channels. They have sand filled the lagoon; the lagoon is higher than the land where we are, and they think it is perpetual. The rich are now crying. I woke up that night, it was hell. I said, what is going on here? If we didn’t have the resources to buy pump and be pumping out water as if it was an ocean, it would have been a sorry story. Look at the mess they created on the sea front. There was a professor that said that all those places, within the next 10 years, they will be washed away. The coastal lines have been washed away completely. Who is talking about that? The Kuramo waters, that is the buffer for Lagos lagoon, they have sand filled it, shared it among themselves. Lagoon water, Lagoon water, where is it today? What is going on? What is this greed all about? Where are those leaders of yester years? If General Mobolaji Johnson had been this greedy, if Jakande had been this greedy, where will Lagos be today? If the other governors, Mudashiru and others had been this greedy, what will be left for these people to plunder? Why can’t some people sit down for God’s sake and be mindful?
Let us look at the party in power in Nigeria – APC. They have been in power for about five years now. How do you look at the party and the people therein?
You want to hear my voice on APC?(laughs)
APC is a congregation of strange bedfellows.
They are strange bedfellows, but regardless, they are literally making babies.
They can be making more and more babies, if you like, but they are still strange bed fellows. What matters is how many people they are able to lift up. I don’t want to go into any debts. It is not like my brother Osinbajo going to the markets to distribute money. What do they call it – Tradermoni? When I was in the university, almost 50 something years ago now, in my graduating class, eight of us were in the department of electrical engineering , and I tell you, all the eight, we had our employment letters before even writing our final examinations. That is not possible now.
The Oxfam International, IMF, World Bank said that Nigeria is now the world capital of poverty? What does that portend for the country?
I didn’t even know that. This nation, we fought financially, gave support for the final demise of apartheid in South Africa; for the liberation of Angola, for the liberation of Namibia, for the liberation of Northern Rhodesia which is now Zimbabwe. We spent money and personnel in Sierra Leone, in Liberia. Where is that giant of Africa? That was our name. For every 10 Africans, seven or eight are Nigerians. Yesterday, I was watching football, one Okonkwo fellow was playing for Switzerland, and another Okon was playing for Norway. What about the professions? All the professions, go and check, you will have one Nigerian as a top expert. So, what is our problem that poverty will now be associated with us?
I want you to look at the PDP petition at the Supreme Court. Do you have hope that your candidate will be victorious?
Yes and no. We still believe that we won, but the judiciary is saying no, we didn’t win. The Supreme Court is there. We are waiting hopefully for their verdict. I have said this before, and I will repeat it. The greatest problem for this country is the procedure of electioneering. The way the umpire was set up, their procedure of operation lacks luster. It is archaic. It is defective. It is shameful. Every Nigerian that opens an account in any bank, no matter how rural, if somebody puts money in the account you get alert instantly. That is the modern way of banking transactions all over the world. But when it comes to elections, we prefer to remain in the Stone Age. How can we in the 21st Century run an election and boldly claim that there is no server? We are not interested in electronic voting. We are not this, we are not that? In fact, when I heard that, I just covered my face in shame. We have no more shame in us. India, you know we were almost at par before, India almost landed on the moon about a month ago. Are they more brilliant than we are? Eight hundred million Indians (registered voters) went for their general elections, it took them two weeks to complete the exercise, after the elections, not one candidate went to court. Doesn’t that speak volumes? Here we are. The implication of this is that those people who won the elections know that all those who lined up at the polling stations, don’t matter. We are arguing about electronic voting and server. The manipulation and human involvement cannot be removed from the Nigerian elections. Today, the judicial officers now decide who will be governor, senator, president and who will represent the people at all levels. The people have no say over who represents them. That is not democracy. The power resides with the people. The judiciary should have sent the candidates straight back to go and revisit that contentious election again, and not to say ‘you won, you lost’. Then, why are you asking people to go and queue up? I am waiting for all the professors of law to come and talk on this. Where does the power lie? The will of the people, the voting power, do they lie with the judiciary or are they with the people? If those people who are elected realize that at the end of the day, they will go to the judiciary, and they will do what they will do there, why would they bother about the demands of the people? Why will they bother about the people’s requirements and requests? You see the flaws in the system? My own take is that INEC should be disbanded after the Supreme Court judgment. General Buhari was my senior in the military. Thank God we are both military men and politicians. The only legacy we can leave behind is to go and rebuild the broken walls of that institution called INEC, sack the whole bunch there and start the damn thing all over again. Anything they are going to do without technology is foul. If they don’t know it, go to India. And I am telling you that there are millions of Nigerians in that field or profession. When the presidential elections held in France, by 6:15p.m, they announced that these were the projected results. By 9:00p.m, the woman that lost called the victor to congratulate him. But here, human manipulations are the order of the day. From the polling stations to the collation centres, somebody will add some figures. Yet, you say there is no monitoring process. Come on, this is the 21st Century. Scrap INEC. Scrap it all and start all over again. That way, Oga’s name will be written in gold. If we don’t get it right, we will just be groping in the dark. That is an area of major contention.