Chief Bode George, a member of the Board of Trustees of Peoples Democratic Party and former deputy national chairman of the party, is a contender for the national chairmanship position, which his native South-west is agitating for. George says the current disagreements within the erstwhile ruling party are the result of deviation from its foundational tenets and he accuses those who joined the party during the latter stages of its development of largely instigating the aberration.
The PDP chieftain, who is a former military governor of old Ondo State, watches with polite interest the efforts to reconcile the various groups in the party, but says restoring discipline to PDP and respect for its constitution should be the first duty of the next national chairman of the party. George appeals to leaders of the party, especially from the South-west, who are still nursing grudges, to drop their protests and support efforts by the Board of Trustees to reconcile the feuding groups within the party. George speaks with Vincent Obia. Excerpts:
In 1999, major stakeholders in Peoples Democratic Party boasted that the party would govern for 60 years. With what is happening in PDP now, many are worried that it does not look like a party that can endure as a symbol of democracy outside of power and political patronage. Do you share this worry?
In any organisation, if you don’t have a solid foundation, a little wind will blow you away. The party was built on a tripod, a solid foundation of justice, fairness, and equity. As you develop, if any part of the tripod is lost, it becomes an unstable platform. It doesn’t mean it can collapse, but it becomes unstable. Little wind will start to shake it to its very foundation. What we suffered was a gradual move away from the tenets of the founding fathers.
When we were building up the party, we had a lot of people coming. Being a political party, you cannot stop people from joining. But the people who were joining should have learnt the ropes, like we say in the Navy. They should have learnt the rudiments, the tenets that were holding the party together. Some of them, because they had money, thought that having money makes a man. No. Somehow, we got derailed; we got distracted by these characters. Some of us were saying, be careful, where are we going? In any African setting, when you ignore the old people, you are bound to hit some wall.
They thought it was going to be a straight road, like the apian way. Then, a little bump, and they got summersaulted. It is the result of that summersault that is ricocheting, making the party to be in a state of flux.
But because of the solid foundation, based on this tripod, justice, fairness and equity, we have a unique resilience. PDP started from the grassroots. The major problems that bedevilled this country were dealt with by the founding fathers. People whom you never have thought would come together, were all on the same boat. Solomon Lar, Alex Ekwueme, Adamu Ciroma, Sunday Awoniyi, Abubakar Rimi, even Bola Ige. At that time, they had a common denominator, which was to fight Abacha.
The minorities question…
Before 1960, the British didn’t address the problem of the minorities both in the North and South. Our party went to the extent of saying if you want peace in this country, you must carry the minorities along. Then we went into the six geopolitical zones structure. That is reflected in the PDP constitution, to make sure that the party has the full colours of Nigeria.
In the wisdom of the founding fathers, they thought there must be zoning, in other words, rotation of power. That is not new in history. That is what goes on in Switzerland till today. Switzerland is made up of three major people, the Italians with their own capital in Lugano; the Germans with their own capital in Zurich; and the French with their capital in Geneva. How do they run their government? The president comes from those three groups in rotation.
PDP borrowed that idea and adopted the six geopolitical zones. There are six major positions: president, vice president, senate president, speaker of the House of Representatives, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, and national chairman of the party. So no zone would go without having something. If the president comes from the North, vice president would be from the South; senate president would be from the North, speaker would come from the South, in that order. Three zones in the North and three zones in the South. I, personally, termed it, “turn-by-turn-Nigeria Limited.” It was a new concept to ease the tribal tensions in this country.
I have led national campaigns; I have traversed the nooks and crannies of this country. There is no village you would not find a PDP person. It was a movement that carried everybody along.
But sometimes if you get to a high position in government, you forget the tenets that brought you together. The Almighty has a way of correcting people.
The 60 years minimum that we thought we would be in government was without the proviso of saying, you must perpetually look back to see if you are utilising the resources of the people for their betterment and what are their cries. That was how we got a bloody nose.
Do you see PDP as a party that can still come back strong?
It wasn’t too bad. From about 28 states that we controlled, we have 12 now. As a Christian, God never said you will never have obstacles; but He said if you trust in Him you will bounce back when you meet the obstacle, make your correction and get going. That is the stage in which we are today. There is no other political party that is like PDP – deep-rooted, formed by a consensus of nationalists, etc. APC is a congregation of strange bedfellows. They are still struggling to weave together former Action Congress of Nigeria, All Nigeria Peoples Party, Congress for Progressive Change, and New PDP to form a united APC. They had never been in control of the nation before. They have four years. We should give them time and not just punch them at every movement. We know they don’t have the resilience that we have. But after four years, we will go back to the people, with their record and our own record, and compete again.
In the entire story about PDP ruling for 60 years we forgot there was opposition and they could take it from us if we don’t manage it well. Even in your daily job, if you don’t have a kind of feedback mechanism to check if you are still on track, you will derail. We got a bloody nose, but it was not a technical knockout, we would bounce back.
Are you not worried that PDP is too preoccupied with its own internal wrangling to put the ruling party on its toes – at least the way APC had tried to do – and give the country the opposition that the democracy needs to grow and mature?
They were masters in opposition, we were masters in governance. Now the roles have reversed. But our people are still behaving as if we are in government. Like I told you, some people joined the ship midstream; they didn’t know the tenets of the party. They just jumped in there because they had some money.
PDP has a unique resilience. We were on the brink of a total chaos; we would have collapsed as a political party. But somehow, they Almighty God intervened. The separate conventions that were set up would have been the final straw that would break the camel’s back. We were at the precipice, but common sense struck and everybody moved back.
The opposition would have been buried. And without a solid opposition, the ruling party would just be doing what they like.
Do you trust the capacity of PDP’s internal mechanisms to return peace to the party?
Those people, who were selling dummies to both sides of the isle, and those who were heading to courts here and there, will now get back to what the founding fathers stood for, to bring sanity back to the party. The party is not a lawless organisation. There are issues where if you go to court without exhausting all the structures of redress within the party, you can be cashiered. Now injunctions are like one for two pennies. But I still remember that there is a subsisting judgement of the Supreme Court that the courts should not interfere in the political wrangling of a party.
There are self-adjustment mechanisms within the party. For example, we have the Board of Trustees, the conscience of the party, which should be neutral when crisis come. One of the mandates of the BoT is to intervene when there is crisis in all the other organs.
People forgot that we don’t have the Villa anymore. If there was the Villa, that would have been the “supreme court” where you arbitrate. We are now getting used to being in the opposition. Our modus operandi must change. And people who are bent on decimating the party must be shown the way out so that we don’t crash. But, thank God, sanity has come into play.
But there are officers of the party, especially from the South-west, with pending court cases against the dissolution of the NWC and NEC and the setting up of a caretaker committee, which lie at the heart of the current crisis in PDP.
I want to seize this opportunity to talk to the two officers, the national secretary of the party and the national auditor, who are from the South-west, to sheathe their sword. All the others have come back on board. Let them stop struggling in uncharted waters and come back quickly. Because when they were seeking that office, we called a meeting of elders of the South-west in my house in Abuja and all the elders intervened. And I remember that we had to beg Chief Babatope and Professor Adeniran to drop the cases in court challenging those two people representing the South-west, and allow Professor Wale Oladipo and the national auditor, Alhaji Adewale Adeyanju, to go so that we could have peace.
As the Atono Oodua, I am also asking them now to go and sheathe their sword. They should cast their minds back to how they got the job so that there can be peace, so that history would be kind to them. There is no perpetuity in anything you have. The only thing that lives forever is our Creator, the One who was, Who is, and will forever be, the God Almighty. They have served their time, they have run the race; allow the system because the party cannot be held to ransom by an individual.
I want to remind them, they still have a way to come back home. Don’t let people deceive them. All the other NWC members have accepted the position jointly held by the BoT, governors, and the founding fathers of the party. They can’t win. They are like somebody swimming against the tide, no matter how good you are in swimming, you will go down. Let them come back on board before it is late.
I am appealing to these people, just few of them now, to retrace their steps and get on board so that history will have positive things to say about them.
What is the position of the South-west with regard to their earlier resolve to produce the next PDP national chairman?
We have a pool of human resources in the South-west and South-west has been very politically active way back, even before the white men came here. I believe when they throw it there, the elders would meet, and we will throw up a responsible, dedicated, and committed person who would represent the South-west in carrying the burden. The burden of leadership now is going to be different from the time we had the Villa. It is a burden of responsibility.
You were reported to have said you were not interested in the position of PDP national chairman…
I didn’t say that. What I said was that it is not a matter of life and death. I thank God Almighty, since I was 42 I came into public glare. I was appointed governor of the old Ondo State. Of course, in the university I was an active student politician. That was when I saw the act of governance. When I left the Navy, I didn’t even know I would be this active in politics.
I was in London when Baba Obasanjo was released from prison. He called to say he and his wife, Stella, were in London and I should come and take them out for dinner. I took him and Stella out and that was where the discussion started. He narrated how people came to him to say he should be PDP’s presidential candidate. I also reasoned that we needed an experienced captain to stabilise the ship of the Nigerian state at the time. I arrived this country from London the day he declared his intention to contest at Golden Gate.
So, talking about PDP, if they want me to work, to help to stabilise the party, that’s okay. But it must come from them. If you are going through trying times, you can’t but look for an organised, committed, loyal and dedicated person who knows the ingredients of the management of a party. I was at the national headquarters of the party for 10 years. I have been chairman of many national conventions. I have also been the national chairman of the national campaign. You need somebody now to bring sanity, discipline back. In other words, somebody who would uphold the tenets of the constitution of the party.
If you become PDP national chairman, what would be your main focus of attention?
The main thing is that the moneybags would know that they are just ordinary members of the party. There must be discipline in the party. We will all be forced to follow the constitution of the party. That is what derailed this party, lack of respect for the constitution of the party. Everybody has a right, but you cannot have a right that would override the tenets of the party. You must sustain the tripod upon which this party was founded: justice, fairness, and equity.
People got very disenchanted and headed for APC. PDP is not owned by anybody and that was why we were able to come back from the brink. This is not ANPP or ACN. But our attitude in PDP must be so positive to the electorate that they can believe we have learnt our lesson and we would manage the resources of this country for the betterment of the society.
Virtually all the state chapters of PDP in the South-west are in crisis. What is behind this and what can be done to resolve it?
What is behind it is what I have just explained. Some moneybag just emerged and thought he could have control over the executive members of each state. And some former chairmen of the party succumbed to the manoeuvring. No individual should be allowed to control the party. PDP is the only party up till now that is non-tribal, national, and has membership from every nook and cranny of this country.
Are you considering leaving PDP?
Never! The day I leave, I’m back to my house. I’m not a rolling stone. We are the landlords in the party. Even if the roof is leaking, we must repair it rather than go and be a tenant elsewhere. I’ve been talking to some of my friends, you see, out of annoyance they left. Maybe, deservedly, but what has become of the defection.
A tenant will always be a tenant. The day the landlord comes, he can say, get out of my house. Let them come home. That must be one of the major jobs a new chairman would do. To get us back and make sure we re-establish the foundation.
How do you see the legality of the caretaker committee?
Once you have this kind of crisis, the best thing is to appoint one or two people to go and run the system until you stabilise. That was why they gave them 90 days. They are to manage and consult in order to reduce the tension in the party. It is acceptable in our constitution if you have a crisis like that.
Besides, the convention is the highest authority of the party. The national convention was mandated by NEC. Once that is done, whatever is discussed at the national convention, it is only another convention that can change it. That is the way the party is organised.
But there were two conventions.
We generated delegates for the convention in Port Harcourt. The convention in Abuja was a congregation of some concerned elders. They did not have the power to generate delegates from the grassroots up to the national level. The one in Port Harcourt generated delegates from the grassroots and they congregated there. That is the convention. It was as a result of the disagreement as to whether or not Sheriff should convert himself to perpetual chairman that the other one in Abuja held.
The caretaker committee is legitimate; they have the mandate of the convention, which is the highest authority of the party. Anybody who wants to change the decisions of that convention must wait for another convention. I read where Sheriff said he stormed out and since he was not there the decisions were illegitimate. That is why you have a deputy, and the deputy said he was present.