*Obasanjo’s comments after I left prison shocked me to my foundation, he says
The primary mission after the interview was arranged was to get Chief Olabode George to talk about his life in prison. But the former deputy national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would rather prefer to have the story of his prison life told in a memoir, hence his insistence not to tell the story now. The only aspect of it he elected to tell is the one relating to the reason he was jailed for two years for fraud at the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) while he was chairman.
Bode George spoke about a ‘conspiracy’ to imprison him. He also shared his perspective on the controversy trailing the zoning of the nation’s top offices ahead of the inauguration of the new government, advising President Goodluck Jonathan on the path to toe. He commented as well on the PDP’s defeat at the polls in the southwest and his Lagos base.
BY WAHAB ABDULLAH & DAPO AKINREFON
What do you think is responsible for the defeat of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the South-West especially Lagos State?
I was shocked when our members came to report to me that there was massive thumb printing all over the place, but the elections have come and gone. They (ACN) know that there were so much irregularities and anything collected through fraudulent process will never last. But, having said that, we were overwhelmed by the amount of money they (ACN) spent, there was so much inducement on the line. Where can we get that amount of money to spend? But, at least, we got them on their tracks.
Aside the reasons you just highlighted, there have been arguments that one major factor that led to your party’s dismal performance during the elections was in-fighting within the fold?
When people talk about wrangling, which party does not have wrangling? This is not an election among party people.
Would the so-called people quarrelling have given the PDP more money to influence anything or would they have been able to prevent the difference in the results?
In a democratic setting, where you have your internal dynamics, some will win, while some will lose; but if you are a committed member of that party, you will follow the dictates of the party. The fact that you lose does not mean you quit. Those who quit are political prostitutes, rolling stones that gather nothing; they don’t seem to me like they are committed. You cannot be in the same party and agree with all the policies – and there are rules in every organization – only for you to lose and start crying foul.
The difference between our party and the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, is that the ACN has only one source of income and there is nothing democratic about what they are doing. You will see the implosion either now or in the nearest future.
Having said that, do you foresee a situation where members of your party will defect to the ACN?
(Cuts in) You mean our party? Defection will continue in Nigeria for a long time because of the level of poverty; there is a lot of poverty in the land.
The reason I asked the question is because, presently, the PDP has no single governor in the south-west while the ACN is virtually in control.
You forgot that we (PDP) were like that in 1999 – that is how we were. But let us leave it to the real strategists; I won’t open up our strategies now. It was done before and it is still possible because the ACN does not have the key to the minds of our people, like they thought they did. The Yoruba people have come a long way.
Education has been one major industry here because education makes it easy for people to govern, but very difficult to deceive. There was a time in our land, once you are cheated through rigging, people would come out with cutlasses, with bows and arrows, burning houses, but we have passed all that. You now know that with the power of your vote, you can do a lot.
There will be some movement, no doubt about it, but when the dusts settle, the real loyalists, the real committed people who believe in the tenets of our party, will remain in the PDP. The fact that you’ve lost an election does not mean that you’ve lost everything. It just means that you need to go back to the drawing board and be sincere and honest with yourself and try to make sure that you re-plan. Being defeated does not mean you are condemned to the dustbin of history. I believe that is the attribute of those of us in the PDP. We will never quit.
What plans does the party have to restructure for future polls because there have been calls for the disbandment of the executive committees in the states of the region?
I see that as a misuse of words. The party structure is the party’s structure. The dissidents in the Lagos PDP don’t know the culture of the party, they don’t know the constitution of the party. It should not be because you lost elections, the next thing is to disband; there is a time for everything.
Most of those you are talking about, even when they come out now for elections, they will not win a single election in the party congress, because when the men and women who are committed to the party were on the field working, these dissidents did not do anything. I have heard that before, but those are a bunch of noise makers. You see, those calling for the disbandment came from the Alliance for Democracy and ACN, where there is no organization and no planning.
The current party executive has a four-year term. In December this year, the four years of the party’s executive, across the length and breath of Nigeria, will end because they have spent four years; the party executive from the national to the ward. And so, we have time for everything.
We will go back to the congresses by the end of this year. In other words, they don’t disband; they run out their time. Now that the elections are over, there would be some re-zoning; since the presidency has come to the south, certain other positions must go to the north. On that basis, you will have a national convention starting with ward congress to local government congresses, to zonal congresses and then, to national.
PDP is not an organization that does not have plans, there is an arrangement; every four years you go back after elections and, by December of that year, you go for congress. I have been in the party exco for nine years, I finished in 2007 as the deputy national chairman of the party. What am I running for? They say they don’t want Bode George but I will not want that baby that I was party to establishing and bringing up, making it look enviable now and allow it die at infancy and head home. Generals don’t leave their troops on the field and go home. I am not a member of the state executive and I cannot be in the zonal executive. The only position I can vie for at the national level is the national chairman of the party.
Are you going to vie for it?
It is not zoned to the South-West. You don’t do things in a disorganized manner; things are done methodically here in the PDP. If it is not zoned to the South-West, how can I vie? It requires zoning and that zoning concept is what has made democracy to last this long. There is a historical antecedent of what should go where because, ideally, once the presidency shifts to either north or south, all those positions that are based in that particular area will shift with it; then those that have been in the south will also shift with it. This will allow balance, oneness and commitment of every zone to the centre of the country.
Do you foresee the possibility of the party contesting the outcome of the elections in the south-west especially where the governorship candidate has already conceded defeat?
Our flag bearer in the affected state congratulated the declared winner but the party asked him why he did so before the details came. We just did an appraisal of the whole elections. He explained that he did what he did to prevent any outrage based on what INEC had announced. Some members of the party felt he should have taken time to see the final results before doing what he did.
In Nigeria, we are yet to get to the Eldorado, the normal way of doing things and so, we have to be careful. We should allow the system to be clean; if you are defeated, you take heart, our system is still not perfect and it will take some time before we can get there. Professor Jega should call his men and do a serious appraisal because there were cases of leakages of ballot papers. How did they get out?
I am an advocate of electronic voting so that human involvement will be very minimal. The way it is, there is so much problem in the system. We are already in court but I want to appeal to Jega to do a thorough analysis and I’m happy that he is also an academician. We still have a long time before we hold the next general elections, but, by that time, things must be better.
Appointment of board members of federal government agencies and the issue of zoning are rearing their heads. As a chieftain of the party, can you shed more light on the issue of zoning?
Traditionally, the culture of the party is such that there are six positions that require immediacy and they are the president, the vice president, Senate president, speaker, the Secretary to Government and the national chairman. The concept was by Chief Alex Ekweme and zoning of these offices is what has made democracy to last this long in Nigeria, but I call it Turn by Turn Nigeria Limited. It is not winner takes all, there is that sense of belonging for everybody.
Now, the presidency has been zoned to the South-South, the vice presidency has been zoned to the North-West. Before, the presidency was in the North during Yar’Adua’s time, everything that went up North was there; because everything that was in the South when Chief Obasanjo was president went up North. But when Yar’Adua got there, everything that was in the South went to the North, while everything that was in the North came to the South.
Now that the presidency has come to the South, the ideal thing to do is that everything that has been in the North must come to the South, while everything that has been in the South must go to the North. The vice presidency shifted from the South-South to the North-West, presidency shifted from North-West to the South-South; now, the Senate presidency had always been in the north and Secretary to Government had always been in the North. We had the speaker and the national chairman in the South; now, if there is that shift, it must come down because that is the historical antecedent and culture of PDP.
Based on the historical antecedent that has sustained democracy and the party stability up till now, the speaker and the national chairman must go up, the Senate president and Secretary to Government must come to the South. How they will now joggle it will be based on a lot of meetings and discussions. But for the sanity of this nation and to maintain the historical antecedent, those positions must follow the presidency. It is very simple. Once you begin to tinker with this, then, you are looking for trouble. That is why zoning has been a major uniting factor of the party and invariably of Nigeria because no part of the country is left out in the scheme of things.
How is your relationship with former President Olusegun Obasanjo because…
(Cuts in) I was shocked the day he said I was celebrating criminality. Me, Bode George, celebrating criminality based on conspiracy?
What did I do? You know in Yoruba culture, you have a lot of respect and regard for the person you have worked so hard for, not getting any reward but because you believe in that cause. The comments shocked me to my foundation. Where else could I have gone to thank the Almighty God for or were they wishing me to die in prison?
Whether in this world or in another world, those who were all conspirators will never go scot-free and they know it.
The accusations they made against us about the circular, the one we used at the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, is still the one being used till today.
Why didn’t they railroad the others to jail? In any case, I didn’t generate the circular. They talked about contract splitting. How can a part-time chairman split contract when there is a managing director?
What laws were we charged with?
They were laws made by the Lagos State House of Assembly.
We were brought to court by Lagos State attorney-general, convicted by Lagos State government, while we were working for the Federal Government.
It is Bode George today, they will be tomorrow.
There is no problem between baba and I but the truth will unfold one day.