By Chinelo Obogo
Former national Vice Chairman of the South West zone of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Olabode George has expressed fears over the future of the country and the 2023 general elections. He said if insecurity persists and if the President does not assent to the Electoral bill which should include electronic voting, then the election may not hold. In this interview, he spoke on various issues.
Pastor Paul Adefarasin advised his congregation and Nigerians to look for alternative route because of economic hardship and insecurity across the country. Do you agree that every Nigerian should have a plan B?
If your house if leaking, do you abandon the house and go somewhere else and you think you have succour there? If your house is leaking, as a committed and loyal member of that household, you will stay and repair it. Is there any part of the world today that is not in crises? Let men of valour and principles rise up to defend and rebuild because running way won’t solve the issue.
Remember what we did to Ghanaians? They came here for succour and were very useful in education, teaching our people, doing bricklaying and all those artisan jobs they were involved in. Suddenly, the government at that time said Ghana must go and they shipped them out in lorries. Who tells you that that will not happen? With our population, anywhere we surge into becomes Nigeria and you think those people love us? That giant of Africa called Nigeria, what happened to it? The present generation collapsed the system. If you send your houseboy on an errand to buy something for you, he will want to cut corners. Even those selling food stuffs at the market are not different. So, cheating has become a national sport. I believe that the devil found a home in Nigeria and he is spreading like cancer. We must go back to God genuinely and pray for Him to forgive us our sins.Nigeria is in dire straits, so running away will not solve the issue. You want to run to America? They have crisis now. You want to go to England and you think they don’t have their own problems?
On the issue of security, Southern Governors recently converged on Asaba and unanimously banned open grazing in their respective states and called for restriction, a piece of advice that was derided by the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives who told them to restructure their own states first. Where do you stand on this?
I am totally in support of the governors because it is our system of governance that gave rise to these problems. We have distanced government from the people. What we have today is a military organisation. The military handed our constitution to us and for more than 20 years, we have been trying it but it is not working. The Senate president and the speaker are holding opposing views to what the governors said but are they really impacting on the lives of those at the bottom? The statement of Lawan and Gbajabiamila is very demeaning. Let them come down from their high horses and know that someday, they are going to come back and report to their constituency. If genuinely they were elected, do you think they will be talking like this?
Devolution of power means reducing the power at the Centre and giving more powers to the states so that they can impact positively on the people that elected them. Why do we need that massive number of lawmakers in the National Assembly? You know how much money that is costing this country? Nigerian senators earn more than American senators. If you convert our own to dollars, they earn more here than Americans. Is that not a joke?
Don’t you think that the statement of the governors makes it appear as if the South is now united against the North?
The agitation today in this country is national, so let’s forget about tribe now. You think the Northern people are not suffering? The economic and social situation in the North is worse than in the South. The governors didn’t say in their communiqué that they are going to start asking for devolution of Nigeria. Open grazing for instance should be done as it is done in those other civilised countries. What is wrong in that? We have had Southern presidents; today we have a Northern president, and tomorrow we might have a Southern president. Is it a matter of your areas alone? What they said is not wrong. It is an observation and a suggested solution.
You are one of the founders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). What is the state of your party right now?
It will be incorrect for me to X-ray our party publicly but I will just tell you that all is not well and that is why the APC is gallivanting and having a lot of fun because there are no challenges from the opposition. It is like we are dead men walking. I won’t go deeper than that because it will be self-inflicted on our personalities. But we are not yet ready.
You once said that if the APC zones the presidency to the South, the PDP should also zone theirs to the South, otherwise the country would be more divided. Do you still hold that view?
In fact, if we try that now, it will be suicide because the scenarios now are so bad. The ethnic tensions have worsened. Look at what is happening in Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo and Lagos also now. So we need the usual practice, which is for the party to get to that round table and debate on the issue.
At a time, some people were pushing for you to contest for the presidency. If the PDP zones the presidency to the south, would you be interested?
You know in two years I will be 78 years old. Joe Biden is the President of the US and because of the state of the country, he said he was going to run because America was veering away from the norm, so why not do a very short run to get back on track, then others can continue. Collectively, we must pull and push and carry the load of this nation so that the future generations too will say this is what our fathers did and we must continue in them. Otherwise when some people build, some others will come and destroy it.
Many people have expressed fears that if the insecurity situation worsens, there may not be a 2023 election. What is your view?
I also have that fear. Who would you go out to campaign to? When you do, they will ask you the votes we had that time, what has become of it? So like I said a couple of weeks ago, I am appealing to the President to call a round table; one, to give a good name to our profession – the military. This month will be exactly two years to 2023. So, we have effectively one year to revisit this anomaly. If he comes down to look at it passionately, honestly and sincerely, with God on our side, it is still possible because this system is not working.
The report from the 2014 National Conference has been submitted; they either add to it or subtract from it, but that is a starting point. We are not saying dissolve Nigeria, no. Let the system we are going to run make more sense so that it can positively impact on the people. What we are doing now is not working but the President can turn things around within one year. That report is very cogent. I was part of it, I saw it and read it and it is still very relevant.
Local Government elections are coming up in Lagos in two months’ time and PDP doesn’t seem to be on ground and it seems that you have decided not to be part of the system. How are you going to save the party in Lagos?
The managers from national executive came and imposed their own choice on the people in Lagos but you cannot know my house more than me. For example, they say I am the leader but do I jump into their local governments to tell them to choose this man as chairman or that man as chairman? No. I can’t know their local government more than them.
You are talking of local government elections, and we are even complaining about the national elections. Is this the way to do an election, in a modern day when people are physically carrying results from point A to point B? When people don’t turn out, it means they are fed up. Lagosians are tired of these antics, they are tired of the theft that is going on. They think we don’t know who owns Alpha Beta? Where else in the world have you seen that they have the Inland Revenue staff and you set up a company who will now be collecting tax on behalf of the government. What is the job of the Inland Revenue staff? And you take a certain percentage. First of all, they pay into Alfa Beta Company’s account and then they deduct from source and hand over the balance but one day, there will be a day of reckoning
You seem to always go very hard on former Governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu. Is there a score to settle between you?
How and which score? You know I am from Lagos Island. When you go home, you see those boys and girls jobless, you see the state of the schools, and you wonder what is going on. But when you know that the financial resources are very heavily available and one man in one year takes billions from our coffers, think of how many children that will benefit from that if it was used in the state. But he is there sitting. He is the one who appoints who will be chairman, speaker, are we running an emperor system? I have absolutely nothing personal between me and him. If for example he has factories, you will know how he is making his money .
What if he emerges the presidential candidate for APC?
Let them put him forward then we will campaign to the people, they will hear. If we continue the manipulation of the system with the money, didn’t you see what happened during the last election with the bullion van? Was it carrying food or carrying drinks to his house? These are the issues building up these time bombs in Nigeria. People may not talk but they are building up the anger in them. You think they are not watching and because they haven’t gone on the streets you think all is alright? No. they are not happy. Who the hell is this boy appropriating all the resources of the people? Things that they should use to benefit the people? That leads me also to the system of the electoral process. Is the rubbish we are doing an election? If the people cannot have an impact why are you saying you are running a democratic dispensation? It is their votes that keep you there.
If Lagosians are not happy as you claim, why are they not revolting?
What can they do? Even the elections when you vote against them, they manipulate the results because it is manually done. Even if there is only one voice shouting in the wilderness, it’s okay. The problem is that there are some of our elders who have shared the money with him but they think we don’t know them. They connive with him instead of telling him the truth. He is from Osun State and you think Lagosians are stupid.
What is your thought on INEC as we go into 2023?
If we do not go modern, then it is a joke. We are just groping in the dark because I know that the INEC chairman has been struggling. The President should sign the electoral bill; that is when you will know the facts. We need to start electronic voting and in fact, there are young Nigerians who can write the software. Look at people on the riverine areas, during elections, they will wait in the collation center in Abuja for results from those areas and you see INEC officials physically carrying results. If they don’t stop manual voting, someday it will blow up this country. Whatever they want to do, we have exactly two years to do it, otherwise it is a joke and waste of time.
One of the most brilliant things that this country has done was the free zones, to allow companies to come in to the free zones so that the encumbrances like unnecessary taxation, bottlenecks, bureaucracies will not be there, so that, that is an incentive for people to come. Agencies of government now go to those free zones to harass them. Look at Ghana, they copied the free trade zone from us and they now have a $130 billion cocoa manufacturing company there.