FIERY politician and former National Deputy Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olabode George has warned of the inherent dangers of the current crises plaguing the party, saying that it poses a big obstacle to its bid to regain power in 2019. George, who was a former military governor of old Ondo State identified the adherence to the party’s constitution, and the enthronement of equity, fairness and justice as panacea that would give lasting peace. He spoke on the opposition of Ekiti State governor Ayo Fayose to the Muhammadu Buhari government, admonishing him to tread slowly in his own interest. He spoke further on other national issues in his characteristic devil- may care style. Sunday Sun met him in his Ikoyi, Lagos home.
In a letter to the president dated March 8, 2016, Northern elders urged him to devote about 70% of the capital expenditure in the budget to the North, since according to them his government was installed by them, but the South already takes over 75% of the bureaucracy and, therefore, corners virtually the recurrent expenditure through wages. How do you see that?
I would just say it is surprising. This is the first time I am hearing such a thing. And if they sent a letter like that to him, I am sure he will not immediately jump at it. You know it is easier for people outside to interpret issues the way they like. But when you are in the saddle, and you are looking at this country, the way it is constituted legally, you will have to be careful. The laws of the country are very important. There are laws guiding the allocation of resources, and the distribution of such resources on capital projects. I am sure he won’t go against the law .I am totally surprised at this, because I have been away for some time. But I believe he will work within the laws of the country. It is not a matter of because you are there, you should just do whatever you want; people will shout. He got the mandate of the whole country to be president, and he has to be fair and just in whatever he is doing. I am shocked about this letter. Let me say that the people thought that they can just hoodwink him, and throw that as bait to him. He will be very cautious.
In the letter which was signed by the much respected Maitama Sule, he was charged to crush IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) with every means at his disposal
I believe, it is a request to him. Maitama Sule is somebody I have known as a young man from my secondary school days. He is an elder statesman and like a father to me too. I have not read the letter, and I do not know the tone. But I am sure Buhari will be cautious, because when things go awry, he bears the brunt. But I am sure Nigeria has passed that stage where anybody can just come down heavily in doing things. It is a democratic process. He will need the approval of the council, and of course the National Assembly will be part of it. We are not in the military days. And the whole world is one. Whatever we do here, you hear it all over the world. We must take that into cognizance in managing the affairs of this country.
You just assessed him as a fair-minded man. Do you think he has so far put that on the table in ruling Nigeria?
I have said that I will… they have even asked us to give them time. It is just a year. Personally, I don’t believe this is the time to start kicking them. Nigerians are very impatient. They told us to give them time.
But it is almost a year gone?
But they have a four year mandate. As a party man; as an elder of my party, you see the problems PDP has now is too much, and you want me to talk about the specks in the eyes of the other man who is in government, when we have a log in our eyes. Let’s go and put our house in order. When we have removed the log in our eyes, and stabilized our party, we will have a better platform to have a robust debate, intellectually induced discourse, and convince the hearts and minds of the electorate that we can provide better service for them. For me, it is still too early. Understandably, they came from different groups that make up the party. They are still struggling. If you don’t have a stable platform, politics, and political activities are the foundation for economic growth. If you don’t have a solid political foundation, forget about any economic growth. It is sine qua- non. There is CPC, ACN, APGA, PDP. It is a congregation of strange bedfellows. It will not take time for them to melt. We don’t want to go into that, (crises and divisions), because we know what happened to our party that we got a bloody nose. Thank God it was not a technical knockout.
The PDP just zoned the offices for the 2019 race, and zoned the presidential slot to the North. Was PDP blackmailed into that, because the configuration is such that the two leading parties will have their candidates from the North? What is your view on that?
I think immediately after the elections, the National Working Committee, NWC set up this special Committee headed by Senator Ekweremadu to look into why we lost the elections. One of the recommendations was that at least for 2019, the presidential slot should go back to the North. I wasn’t even in the country, but I know that the sentiment was that South-south had held it, and so it should go back to the North. They have taken it to NEC,(National Executive Committee), which is the highest organ in the party and it has approved that. In our party we have a procedure. It is not a party owned by an individual or a group of people, like what is happening now. When you talk about ACN, if Bola doesn’t talk, nobody talks. But that is not PDP. The NWC will deliberate an issue, bring it to the caucus of the party, and it goes up to the Board of Trustees, (BOT)- the conscience of the party, the old men, the upper chambers to look at it From there it goes to the NEC. That is the chain of our processes.
Are you happy with the developments in your party?
What is happening now is that the report has been given that the president should come from the North. It has been approved. Automatically, the chairmanship of the party must come to the South.
But it was zoned to the North?
We agreed at the same NEC that there should be a zoning committee. Zoning must take place if the presidency is going back to the North, because the way it is, if there was no convention, no congresses, to produce the presidential candidate, Jonathan still remains our leader. But now that they have agreed and they have accepted that report that the presidency should be zoned to the North, it means they have agreed that the number one position should go to the North. Then, all the other positions, the working committee has set up a zoning committee that will look at it. The founding fathers in their wisdom and experience zoned Nigeria into six; six positions for purposes of the way our country is, and for being politically sensible to the effect that nobody is left out of the pot. We have six major positions; the president, the vice president, the senate president, the speaker, the secretary to the government, and the chairman of the party.
Each position will go to each of the political zones. If the president goes to the North, the vice president goes to the South, senate president goes to the North, the speaker will come to the South, secretary to the government goes to the North, and the national chairman will come to the South. three up, three down for balance. We utilized this and it worked without any acrimony. Why should we have a change? If Ekweremadu’s report that has been adopted by the NEC said that the presidency should come from the North, automatically the vice president must come from the South. It is there. It is not Bode George’s law, or any individual’s law. It started since 1998.
Since they are not doing it that way now, what do you think should be done to quell the growing disquiet?
I don’t want to say they are not following it. The committee they set up will do the zoning and report to the NWC that set it up. They will x-ray it, make their input, bring it to the session of the caucus, to the BOT, they will add, subtract, freshen it up, and bring it to NEC for ratification. Whatever comes out of it becomes the issue for the general public. Anything reported now is a nullity.
On current standing do you think the PDP can withstand APC in 2019 based on the envisaged campaign issues?
Whatever campaign issues there are, if we don’t have a stable platform, how can you launch any attack? A divided house is a defeated house; a disgruntled army is a sine qua non for defeat. That is what we will watch; you cannot arrogate yourself as an individual that you own this party. There must be a lot of discussions. We should settle a lot of things that are burning.
Who is arrogating to himself these powers?
If for example, they set up a committee, and the committee doesn’t go through all these processes I said, that is what I am saying. Anything approved by NEC becomes binding. Everything must obey it. But if you don’t bring it through, and you begin to do something, then you are looking for trouble. That is completely outside our constitution. We will battle it legally if they don’t go through that process. A divided house is a defeated house. A disgruntled army is ready for defeat.
If you don’t put your house in order, there is likelihood that you can’t confront the APC in 2019?
How can we? How can we confront them? When your house is in disarray. If you are going to war, and your boys are not in unity. You say go left, somebody will say go right. A divided house is a defeated house. PDP is known for robust discussion, robust debate. That is the only political party since we started in 1960 that has the complete colouration of this country. The full blown Nigerian concept is embedded in PDP. The founding fathers envisioned that the foundation is built on a tripod – justice, fairness and equity.
Do you suspect any foul play in the arrangement and zoning of political offices?
One hears all kinds of stories. That should not be my concern. As a leader of the party, you remember how I started as national vice chairman? I spent 10 years at the national secretariat of our party. We have a culture, we have a heritage. We have what we call the foundation principles. We will not compromise on them. Whatever it takes… at this age? In my 70’s? What am I struggling for but to look back and tell our founding fathers that we have not derailed. If the political platform is stable, there will be economic growth. But if you take out one section and think you can do it alone, you have a wobbling platform and you cannot launch anything.
How do you look at Buhari’s fight against corruption?
He has conceptualized his own procedure, and, of course, there is rule of law. Courts will have their say, but whoever is accused will have his day in court. In America, by the time the FBI comes knocking on your door they are damn sure you are fully wrapped up. If they don’t get your details from the beginning to the end they won’t come and bother you. I want to wish him well. If there is shortage of training of those investigators, let us strengthen them. Let us network out. I support the idea that there should not be free lunch with our money in this country. If you get it inappropriately, you must vomit it.
The perennial clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in the South are taking a turn for the worst. How do you react to it?
My view is that because it is a potent, divisive issue, we should have a national discourse. This issue came up during the last national conference. It has become a national problem. It is not making it a law that will make it work. No. let us debate it democratically. Making it a law means you are postponing an explosive day.
Who are those behind the crises in PDP?
You cannot zero it down to anybody. You have various kinds of groups, everybody postulating and promoting themselves that they are larger than life. We will tell them we have a culture. You won’t change it overnight..We will be there to protect the tenets of our constitution and we will adhere to them, until otherwise changed by the national convention.
How do you look at the role of Obasanjo in this government?
I wish him the best of luck. He is no longer in my party. He knows what he is doing. Whatever you sow, you will reap.
Any day you see him what are you going to tell him?
What do I need to tell him? First of all as a younger man to him, I will say, baba ekaaro sir (good morning, sir) Outside that, nothing. We are sitting back to make sure we repair the broken walls of our party.
But he said some unsavoury things about you. Have you forgotten?
He told you to go and sin no more.
Did I sin in the first instance? The only person who can tell you not to sin no more is the Almighty God. He said there is no human being created by him who is not a sinner. And he said he will forgive your sins 70+70 times He did not create me, and I did not sin. If he had at the back of his mind that Bode sinned, that was his perception. He took me before the court, the convoluted conspiracy was unraveled by the superior court of the land, which said that we shouldn’t have gone on trial at all.
Of course I knew it was a political witch hunt of those conspirators. I say, do unto others what you wish to be done unto you. I have played my role; I have run the race; I leave the rest to the Almighty God. I will never pick him on anything. Whatever you sow, you reap.
Governor Ayo Fayose has taken up the gauntlet as an opposition figure to the Buhari-led government at a time the PDP is in disarray. Why do you think he has stepped into the gap, on this seemingly dangerous assignment?
We have an adage in my language. The wisdom of the elders; the grey hair is not for cows, or ram. It is a true reflection of so many experiences and learning. When you see a young man, boisterous, firing on both sides of the cylinder, then my word is ‘gada nkada, ankali, jee-jeeo, Nwayo nwayo, slow- slow’. You see snail? Sometimes you see it on top of a roof. It has no hand, it has no leg, but it climbs and gets to the top. How does it do it? It will look right and left and move. If you touch it, it will hide again, and can stay there for a long time. My advice to him is that though we must have opposition, it must be constructive; it must be intellectual, nothing personal. When we were in power, opposition governors used to come to discuss what they wanted in their states. You don’t put him perpetually on attack. He is the president. I think it is a little too much when you start firing a letter outside to another president to dishonour a loan agreement. That is a little too much for Ayo. I know Ayo. One thing that he should be grateful to God is that they haunted him out of government house. He is still my boy, my little boy. That was during Obasanjo’s era. What they did to him was illegal, it was not right. He knew we supported him. But see the way the Almighty works. Exactly 8 years, on the same day, he came back as governor. What else does he need other than to praise God and do what is right. He can book an appointment that he wants to see the president. I am saying this because the very first time he came there, the whole people in management conspired that he would not be governor. He and my mother’s younger brother came to me at 2.30 am at a hotel in Ekiti when Obasanjo was coming the following morning. I gave him N230,000 to go and buy his own dress; that he will get the ticket that morning to be governor. He didn’t believe it. I said, go and sow it overnight, which he did.
I went on board the aircraft, because they had given the dress of another man they wanted as governor to Obasanjo. They had given it to baba. I explained to baba and he said, okay Bode, keep the dress. I would be going from here to commission NTA station in Ekiti. After that, I will announce and call for you. Bring the dress inside the building. I took the dress there. After Baba had finished commissioning the station, he dropped it, and called out ‘Bode’. I said ‘yes baba’. He said ‘ Oya come.’ We went into one studio there. That was where Baba changed. You know everybody had to move to the stadium. We changed into Fayose’s dress. When he entered the stadium in Fayose’s dress there was surprise, and that did it. He should remember, because if you forget about history you will repeat the mistake.