Chief Olabode George
Former National Deputy Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party, South, Chief Olabode Ibiyinka George, spoke with journalists in Lagos, on some of the recent happenings in the country including PDP’s readiness to capture Lagos in the next election. Charles Ajunwa was there. Excerpts:
What’s your take on the recent de-registration of political parties by INEC?
You see, I have been in management for over 40 years. We know that those political parties are no longer in existence. Administratively, they could have put conditions down. Elections are coming and there will be updating of voters’ register. Some of these parties that cannot meet the INEC conditions will die naturally.
But when you say you want to deregister, it sends a very different signal to the outside world. Democracy is about people. Look at India: you know how many political parties they have? People can say, in this village, this is the party we want. Then, they will win on that platform. By saying you want to deregister them is like sending a wrong signal to the world.
Can you explain the reason for the total loss of your party in South-west and can you actually stage a comeback in 2015?
The victory then was a collective one; I cannot take the credit alone. There is one popular saying by one philosopher that: “In life and in death, you have been a public figure, there is one thing they will remember you for: the problem you were able to solve and the problem you were able to create. If what you are able to solve is higher than the problem you created, then you are a good man.”
The South-west is a highly sophisticated zone when it comes to understanding politics. The Action Group that started in 1951 was started in Owo. Chief Obafemi Awolowo started all these politics that we are all enjoying today. Everybody is now saying Awo, Awo. I said these people are fakes. Which of the Awo’s policies have they replicated?
Is it in education? Is it in infrastructure? Is it the social services, health or agriculture? Even in industrial development, what Awolowo did should be taken as a template in governance. Ondo State Governor, Olusegun Mimiko, took two of the issues on health and infrastructure. Go to Akure, the state capital everywhere there is light.
Where there is no light, he provided solar. I entered Lagos last night and it was like driving from paradise to hell. How much does Mimiko get as an allocation and how much does Lagos State get? He is still looking to borrow 600 billion dollars. Who is going to pay for it, our children?
Now why did we lose? Unnecessary in-fighting! It is a very dangerous trend in politics. According to late Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, “you talk, I listen.” When I talk, you listen. If you say now- I am a big man- remember that one day, you will leave that power. I remember when I was in the cooler, there was in-fighting between two governors in the South-west over a university. I said these people should be careful. That was how AD (Alliance for Democracy) governors started.
Having gotten the mandate from Baba Adesanya, whenever he called meetings, they refused to go; they would say what is that old man talking there? Baba said eh? So, when you get there, don’t let it get into your mindset. Unnecessary jealousy, pettiness, innuendos crept in. It is expected in public office, but in the interest of the people you, have to say: ‘let’s call it off’.
Our loss was due to unnecessary in-fighting and bickering. We have learnt our lesson. The people that tried ACN (Action Congress of Nigeria) now know that there is only one gate to ACN. When I was coming from late Justice Kayode Eso’s burial, I went to Ibadan; I went to Baba Adedibu’s house to see his family. I went to Adeojo’s house. I went to Governor’s Ladoja’s house and I went to General Rasaki’s house. I saw the shock on their faces; it was a nice re-union. I listened to them and they complained about various crisis. After the demise of Baba Adedibu, there is a vacuum.
There must be a leader to replace the vacuum created by Adedibu’s demise. Everybody is now saying I am the champion here. They have agreed that maybe I should intervene but I told them that I am not in the front runner of running the party now. But the National Chairman will come and settle the matter. My concern now is Lagos. People have seen the difference now. Look at Ekiti State, that one is a first class joker. Osun was vibrant before Aregbesola came in.
So, how prepared is Lagos PDP towards 2015?
Let me start from the state of Lagos PDP first and I will talk from my own level but the actual manager of the party presently is the chairman. As a committed leader of the party, I will tell you what I know. We have tested our hands in one or two elections. In the past, we used to boycott illegality in the creation of 57 local governments including Local Council Development Area (LCDA) and we said we wouldn’t take part.
This time around somebody advised and said why don’t you take a shot at it and test your strength and we did. Despite the fact that all the procedures were to be like INEC procedures, they called it LASIEC (Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission) in Lagos State. At the collation centre, you know by law, each particular ward/location was to announce the results. We won so many councillorship and chairmanship positions.
Of course, ACN has the highest number than us, but the shock was when we got to LASIEC office, the chairman of LASIEC said ‘we won all’. That was the way he announced the result. But what happened to so and so location? He said that is their business; that anybody not happy could go to court. Nigerians are not stupid! Look at the election done in Ghana next door here, when are we ever going to grow up? We are now 14 years into democratic practice, are we still going to be writing figure by hand? Technology has moved on. Let us go outside of this so that the effect of anybody in government can be felt positively; so that people will not come and blindfold the masses.
People have to be very careful. People knew that the election would be thorough and they voted for the candidate of their choice, not you allocating results to people. For us, we are ready. A lot of people who fell out on their own are finding their way back to the party. They know that the opportunity the 2015 is offering is a great one; even Lagosians have seen lack of purpose in the pronouncement of those who have run the state for 14 years.
Have you been better for it at all levels- the lower, middle and upper levels? If they don’t run you out with over taxation, they will run you out with LASTMA and now they can send you to jail for that. If you believe that the actual purpose of politics is to alleviate the suffering of the people, you will have a lot of human feelings in you. The people pronouncing such policy will leave power one day. May be he is the one that will be arrested by LASTMA too and be taken to jail. You know when you are digging a grave; it may be that you are the one that will fall into it so that nobody will be able to lift you out.
It takes me back to the issue of governance- democratic practice- the government of the people by the people and for the people. The electorate is your leader. When you go about campaigning, you are saying trust me. I’ll do this, I’ll do that. I have this and that experience, only to turn round now and say: who the hell are you? That is what they are saying.
Look at the case of Okada people in Lagos State. They came here and we told them that we had told them before. They bought them helmets and started running after ACN. Now what happened? King of Bourdilon has disappointed them and now collapsed their business without any alternative. You can have a change of policy that will affect people in the civilised democratic practice; you will discuss with them that look, this is what the government is intending to do, what are your views?
Dialogue and discussion are important. This is not a military government. Even when I was the military governor of Ondo State, I did not govern that way. We still had to network and consult wide. So, the PDP is waxing stronger, getting ready for 2015 but we want to beg this country for something, Professor Jega has enough time now to plan that election. The President has said openly and even in private that he believes strongly in one man one vote.
Democracy is about people, so, let Professor Jega go and use the best of equipment to prepare us for 2015. In fact, in 2014 we are going to have governorship elections. You saw how many logistics provided for Ondo election? IG was there, every known face in INEC was there. Just imagine the election generally- the logistics involved should be planned now. It is going to be a year of decision for this country.
Has there been genuine reconciliation in the PDP?
What was the quarrel? Was there anything that they shared that somebody got more than the other? The accusation was cleared! It was anti-party activities. Some of them are saying how can we follow ex-convict, it was Bode George they call ex-convict. What took me to prison? The person that said he knew my background, we worked together both in academics and socially in Lagos.
What did Oyewole say that we stole there? He said no kobo was missing but we disobeyed Federal Government circular in Lagos State court. They wanted me to disappear so that they can take over the party. I did not force myself on the people; the people said they wanted me. You saw the crowd of people. The voice of the people is the voice of God. Some people are saying don’t talk. I said me? Maybe the day I die I won’t talk again because it is hereditary. My kids are saying Daddy forget these people. I said no, when God anoints you, He will give you all the necessary tools. But if you now run away, you have disobeyed.
My great grand uncle is Hubert Macaulay, the man who founded politics in Nigeria. Papa was an engineer, I’m also an engineer. He did his own and I’m doing my own. I hope one of my kids too will continue. Those who say they are coming back for reconciliation, reconciliation with who? To achieve what; what have we got on ground? Our goal is to win election. You don’t demand for leadership, you earn it. I cannot be there in perpetuity. If they want, they can come.
We want the younger ones to come so that there will be continuity in the system. There is an adage that says all of us cannot sleep and put our heads in the same direction. But if we are able to work as a solid team and we get to Alausa, we shall make a change. It is for us to be united and be ready. Let our platform be solid and that, we have done as it is humanly possible. The electorate- those that will decide are more ready than we are; they want a change. We are saying we will provide a stable platform, a party reliable and dependable.
There should be no manipulation in the election results. If you are good, people will vote for you and if you are bad, people will vote you out, but not you voting yourself in there. That is why you turn yourself into a military government. For us, we are ready and our platform is ready.
Look at what happened to Okada riders, will they not vote in the next election? That is the power they have! All the people in the Lekki area will vote. Baba Jakande constructed the road, you just expanded it and you slammed toll fees on them. What about education? Baba Jakande founded Lagos State University, LASU. You came and increased the fees to N250, 000.
How can the children of the poor afford such fees? It is the right of every child to be exposed to education. Education makes it easy for people to be ruled and difficult to be enslaved. If you educate the kids, you will liberate the nation. Democracy is about 14 years, what is 14 years in the life of a nation? We benefited a lot from this nation. When they created Lagos State, I led UNILAG students to General Johnson’s office. That was how Lagos State had scholarship board and they gave us bursary. What are you doing now? If you don’t educate the kids, you are building up gun powder.
As a politician, given your vast experience, what gives you joy at this age?
First of all, let me define what politics is all about. My own definition of politics is that politics is about the management of the resources for the benefit of the people. When you say you are a leader, you look back and nobody is behind you. Then who are you leading? All these people that you call common people, how much money do I have to give anybody? What I have learnt is to tell the truth, no matter whose ox is gored. If you are wrong, they will tell you Baba, you are wrong. They will tell you the truth there.
When they are coming, you can’t shut your door at them. They see you as somebody that is able to solve their problem. When people come, if you are in position to help, help because this nation trained us. This Lagos State trained us. Otherwise, how could we have become what we have become today? Give equal opportunity to serve. You never can tell who will be the best to serve. What we are looking for is not the job for the boys, but to get the best to manage the resources in the interest of the people.
I took time to read a lot of Awolowo’s memoirs. He was head of government from 1954 to 1959. See what he achieved in the Western Region at that time when Ibadan was the capital. He built all these GRAs and industrial estates. In about two years’ time, I am going to near 70. I belong to the position of elders now. We now become a moderator so that in your old age, you don’t see rubbish. All these mansions you are not going to take them to the grave. This is the time of sharing, share it with under-privileged.
The Eti- Osa Local Government secretariat, Bola Tinubu bought it. He has acquired it now, turned it into what? Nursing hostel on Awolowo road, Bola Tinubu has bought it. Where are the scholarships you have awarded? Where are the jobs you have created? Number 8 Queens’s Drive was the governor’s guest house during the tenure of Akhigbe. Then, I was the military governor of Ondo State.
That place was given to Bola Tinubu as a parting gift. If General Johnson had been doing parting away gift, would he have met anything there? Look at what Baba Jakande did. We came to this world naked and we will go back naked. Let’s use this period to share whatever we have with the less privileged.