By Dapo Akinrefon, Deputy Southwest Regional Editor
CHIEF Olabode George is a leader of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.In this interview, George warns that peace will elude Nigeria if the presidency does not rotate to the South from the North in 2023. He calls on the present crop of leaders to emulate how the PDP was able to perfect the zoning of prime offices while in power. Excerpts:
There is this growing debate about the North attempting to produce the President in 2023 when, going by unofficial arrangement, power should rotate to the South. What do you make of this debate?
There is some kind of a devil that is haunting us or testing our will. You know, when the British left, we had regional governments. That was a very sane system and they were all tribally based: the NPC for the North, Action Group for the West and NCNC for the East, although that system did not recognize the minorities like the South-South.
You remember that, first of all, they created the Midwest out of the Western Region and we did not complain because whatever Chief Obafemi Awolowo (then-Premier of Western Region) did, benefited a lot of people from today’s Edo and Delta States. The education policy, the agricultural policy, the need to have communal development, he did all of that. When General Yakubu Gowon, as Head of State, now created 12 states, that was where we started expanding the differences. Although holistically, if you look at it, you would think he satisfied the minorities but we never went back to regional governments. We now centralized the full control of this country. It was never the same, it was never like that. So you now created more states and did not call them regions; that is where we lost it. People are now saying let us go back to the regions. We now have 36 states to satisfy the minorities. But this nation is too large to be controlled from one particular spot. You garner all the resources from all these other states and then you put them in one big basket and then start to share. It cannot work. We have tried it for so long and it did not work and, no matter what we do, it would not work. Those who were participants in the First Republic sat down and said there was a problem because there is no perfect system. The majority found out that the minorities were not catered for at all. Once you finish elections, the majority would have their way while the minority would only have their say. This did not augur well for Nigeria.
Then the military came with their hierarchical way of doing things, which was okay with our method of management. There must be an order that comes from the top and it would permeate to the units down the ladder. That is the military concept but in a civil organization, let us look at the definition of democracy apart from the general concept of saying it is the government of the people, by the people and for the people.
So, we now built this massive management style and we copied the American system. Federal laws are there but governors manage their states, they raise the resources from their states, they manage the resources of their states. Take California for instance, it is the sixth-largest economy in the world. They cut their coat according to their unique cloth. Usually, you have two chambers: The Senate and the House of Reps, but if you cannot afford two chambers, some states in America have only one chamber and the local governments have mayors who manage their resources. Apart from the states, they even have County Police, State Police and the FBI. There is no collision due to effective management but what we have done is to concentrate in one place and you think it can work. I am giving this preamble for you to appreciate that we have a problem and we cannot make things work that way. I am not talking as a PDP or APC member. No. I am talking as a Nigerian. I am 74 going to 75 years and I thank God that I am not talking from lack of experience. I was in the military, retired as a general and I went into local politics. We have run the system.
One of the non-regimental appointments I got was the military governor of Ondo State. That exposed me, then I came back, became a politician and became a manager of one of the largest political parties in this country. So, I am talking about knowledge. Now when then-Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, said ‘let us go back to civil administration’, all those people who were activists during the First Republic knew what regional powers were and the flaws of the regional powers. All those people came together and said ‘wait a minute; we have another opportunity to fix this. The problematic military is now going to let us get back’ and that was how they sat back and analyzed these problems. It was an opportunity to rewrite the wrongs and they said ‘let us divide this country into six geopolitical zones: Three in the North, three in the South’. We have the North-West, North-Central and North-East in the North and then in the South, we have the South-West, South-South and South-East. Three up and three down! That is not in our Constitution but it was a workable and unwritten constitution, a norm, a culture. Then they said ‘now, let us look at this: if the President comes from the North’…before then they knew that there are six top positions in the land: President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Reps, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the Chairman of the party. There are six zones and there are six top positions. So, every zone would go home with something unlike before where the winner takes all. Minorities are to be seen and it worked.
So, the six positions would be divided, three to the North and three to the South. How can there be problems? And after eight years, you rotate.
I joined in 1998, I listened to the wisdom of the elders from the East, West, North and South; those, who had been practitioners in the First and Second Republics. They came back and said ‘this should resolve our crisis’ and so after eight years those positions in the South would go to the North and those in the North would go to the South and I termed it ‘Turn by Turn Nigeria Ltd’. So when you now hear people say we want to retain the presidency in a particular zone, I would ask: Have you forgotten history? Unfortunately, I have been told that they do not teach history anymore in schools. Those who forget history are doomed to repeat past mistakes. I am appealing to them. What is in life? Is there a life perpetual?
My best friend is a northerner, he is a Fulani man and he is still my best friend; so I am not talking on disparaging terms. I am talking about our nation. This (zoning) is a concept but how do you work it? You think if it is you alone, others would sit down and look and there won’t be any trouble? Why are we looking for trouble? I read somewhere that it is only PDP that has zoning, APC does not have zoning. I wish them the best of luck but that is not national, that is not Nigerian, that is not a true federation. That is not the kind of thing I want to hear in my old age about people who believe power resides with them. It was tried with the military, it did not work. Nigeria is not the first country to adopt this concept of zoning. Till tomorrow in Switzerland, that is what they do because in Switzerland you have Italians, French and Germans and they rotate. Why are people now trying to throw up another problem? If anybody is thinking about that, let them go into history and find out how we came about zoning, it did not just drop from the sky. People reasoned it out by saying ‘how can we have peace? How can we have a sense of belonging and make sure that every Nigerian has a sense of belonging?’ That is why I tagged it Turn by Turn Nig. Ltd. There would be peace, take your cool. Sometime, it would come over to you by the time you rotate it. There are 12 positions in the National Working Committee of the PDP and there are two for every zone. How it works is that if your state, within your political zone, has occupied a position before, you have to allow other states to occupy too so that there would be a natural camaraderie.
Let me tell you the story of Alexander the Great: He was a general, conquered everywhere in the world at the age of 32, he had enough resources to rebuild another world at 32. When he knew he was going to die, he said ‘I want to make three wishes. I should be allowed to talk before I go. The doctor who is treating me is to be the one to take me home’ because he was conquering the whole world. He was as wealthy as you can imagine.
Secondly, he said ‘scatter all these treasures along the path to my burial ground, give it to people’ and his last wish was ‘when you bury me, put my hands out of the coffin so that people would see that it is all nothing’. That is a lesson and it was, it is and would forever be.
Consequence of reneging on zoning
I am an old man now, I cannot go back into the Army but I am still in the reserves meaning I can use my brain to advice. My advice to them is simple: When you are planning, pray to the Almighty God who knows the end from the beginning and say ‘let your will be done’.
You may be ambitious but let God’s will be done because if He gives you a load on your head or gives you an assignment, he would support you. We have lost our ways; we have lost the ways of God in this country. So, all the people who are pontificating saying ‘I want to be President’, we are in 2019 who knows who would be alive in 2023? There is hunger in the land now, there is tension in the land now whether you are from the North, South, East or West and I am happy that the President himself has acknowledged this. The people are getting to the precipice. Even for the educated ones, there is no job. There is now a brain drain of the younger ones who are now heading to Canada, Australia and Libya. In my graduating class, we were all employed before we wrote our final exams. That is just about fifty years ago. So where are we going? I expected us to be moving forward. What is the future for the young ones? They now believe in theft. Is the tussle for power going to be in the interest of this corporate body called Nigeria? If it is not, why are you pursuing something that can blow up Nigeria?
We copied the American system. My solution to these problems is that (the panacea) number one on my list after the Supreme Court judgment, whichever way it goes, they must scrap INEC, sack everybody in INEC, even if that is the only thing President Buhari would do that would make his name be engraved on stone, scrap it and start all over because all we are doing now is a charade. What is the total number of people who voted in 2019? Are they up to 20 million? In India, 800 million people voted, almost four times the population of this country. It took them two weeks to count. Not one dissenting voice. It is indeed a shame on us.
If eventually, power does not shift to the South, what could be the consequences?
I am not a soothsayer; I do not look at crystal balls. Can there be peace when only one tribe monopolizes power? That was the route we passed, why should we go through that same route now? What we resolved was that we go into regional cooperation. The states have come to stay. So rather than scrap it, we can now call it the United States of Nigeria. We copied the presidential system, let us fully copy it. Why can’t we have local government police or even start with state police? We are not starting anything new and we copied the presidential system because the parliamentary system does not agree with the African culture and behaviour. You need to see the British when they are in their parliament. The way they talk across the aisle, we cannot do it here. In the African culture, the obaship, the rulership is like a presidential system. Let us do it a full-blown presidential system with a little caveat that at least for now in the next 50 years until we are fully embellished. We can even start a system where all Yoruba children would have to study Hausa and Igbo, and vice versa for children in other regions. That is a solution that should have been to ensure the commonness of language. However, we can still start it but if people are struggling for power, power is transient it is not perpetual. Besides, you do not get to decide which part of the world you get born into. Why don’t you live the day and ensure that your neighbor is as comfortable as you are? That is the only way you can guarantee your comfort. In summary, there would not be peace if power refuses to rotate in 2023.
Path of perfidy
Everything I said, if you dissect them, it shows that I have been doing this analysis as a picture in my mind. Are we moving forward or retrogressing? Are we avoiding the path of perfidy or are we encouraging it? Everybody is talking about their political ambitions. How about the people? How do they survive? There is hunger in the land. I said to someone that yesterday (October 1) should have been dedicated as a day of national prayers and fasting. We have a crisis; we are to pray to God to forgive us of all our sins and for us to have a deeper introspection.
Angry, hungry youths
The anger in the youths is getting thicker and thicker and it is frightening. The youths are still begging now there is a time that they would become emboldened to demand and then what do you do?