BODE GEORGE/AFTER THE SUPREME COURT ACQUITTAL
“I have seen the best of times and the worst of the valley”, said Chief Olabode Ibiyinka George as he rounded off with an emotion-laden voice, this interview session with Olawale Olaleye and Shola Oyeyipo. Arguably one of the seasoned and popular politicians around, the former deputy national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who is currently aspiring to chair the party, is a mobile reservoir of knowledge. For a man, who was a key political figure during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime, coupled with his background as a retired naval officer and former military governor of the old Ondo State, George’s understanding of the power game and its inherent intrigues is not in doubt. He clearly had a lot bottled up as he took questions on various topical issues including the PDP crisis, the state of the nation, the health of President Muhammadu Buhari and the alleged conspiracy that sealed his sojourn in prison. Above all, this interview answers a few questions on how he’s been dealing with the reminiscences of his ugly prison experience. Excerpts:
Afew months ago, when your party proposed to hold its national convention, you were almost on the verge of becoming its national chairman before the unexpected happened and since then the PDP has not known peace. Is there a future for the PDP, to start with?
I believe there will be a future for the PDP, and let me look at it from two prongs: politically and spiritually. Politically, we needed this shock therapy – the experience of lack of collective responsibility – when some people can arrogate certain powers to themselves to drive a massive organisation like this party. We learnt a lesson that not one tree can make a forest. We have been in government for about 16 years and we then assumed that we were on a cruising level, not knowing the fact that in the outer space, sometimes, you can hit the cloud. We switched off our radar to tell us those bad areas and we learnt our lesson.
No individual can control a massive organisation. It is a movement. Do your bit. In building blocks, build it and let others build. But when you think you can be there in perpetuity, this happens. That was the lesson politically. And if we have learnt from history, we would have avoided the pitfall of the past. Individualism in politics is madness. We are trying to build an egalitarian society, where our children, grandchildren will be able to build on whatever we are doing. So, politically, it is a lesson for us. The experience of that Port Harcourt convention – we came out losing election, we headed into another – double jeopardy.
So, we were almost sent to the canvass. We got a bloodied nose but not a technical knockout. Thank God we went to the courts and we are awaiting the judgment of the Supreme Court to tell us, who is legally by the constitution – the grundnorm of our party – the legal head of the party today? That is all we are there for.
And spiritually, you know I told you two fronts. Spiritually, when you go through tribulation and you have the fear of God in you, at the end of it, if you trust your God, you go through certain trials – certain experiences in life, at the end of it, you become a better person and anybody in life, who has never gone through trials is just a free flopper, because it is just like you see a fine gold, for it to become that fine gold, it must have gone through a lot of heat – batching and all that, the same thing with precious metals. The amount of heat, trials, temptation, experiences, tribulations, they allow you to grow. That is the spiritual prong.
So, on the two prongs, it is a good omen for our party. God is a God of second chance. If we go and have a second chance, some of the attitudes exhibited in the past will never be repeated. We forgot the centerpiece of our manifesto – the people of Nigeria. Individuals just came up, masquerading and they are saying that they are the alpha and omega. Even some people, who nominated some characters into one position or the other, believing that without them there can’t be a party. So, I learnt a lot from the charade. Nobody could have believed that within a short time this story would be like Nollywood. Not any single individual can do it; it is a collective responsibility.
Like you rightly said, the case is currently at the Supreme Court. Do you have worries about the possible outcome?
The important thing is this, why are we in the Supreme Court? This goes to the heart of our party: who went through the due process as stipulated by the constitution of our party? Is it Sheriff? Is it Makarfi? Our own constitution states very clearly that the convention is the highest authority. Whatever is decided at the convention, it is only another convention that can reverse it. So, that is our Supreme Court. To become the national chairman, you must be endorsed and elected at the national convention. If you are not, you’re just perching on the seat – temporary acting. They can kick you out anytime but once you are elected at a national convention, it is only another national convention that can remove you.
What they have gone to now is for the highest court in the land to decide whether Sheriff and the other people with him were ever endorsed or elected at any convention or Makarfi caretaker committee was duly elected at a national convention. And one of the tenets of the national convention is that it can set up any committee it deems fit with a stipulated period. So, that is why everybody is waiting. I believe the truth will be told.
Nigerians are not benefiting from having a very strong and healthy opposition. No party can go on without checks and balance, which we don’t have for now. We are battling going in and out of court. We must be able to represent ourselves that we have learnt a lesson. As a soldier, it is not that you will not fall down but take your gauntlet and keep going and we will. So, we hope that the Supreme Court will come looking at the details of whatever we are presenting: who is officially and legally in charge of this massive organisation called PDP?
Let’s build a bit of safety into these extrapolations. What if the Supreme Court judgment goes south?
I told you the process had eaten deep into the core of our constitution, the convention being the highest level. If they now decide that Sheriff is the authentic chairman, then it means that the party constitution is no longer sacrosanct. I mean the effect is how do you guarantee political activities in a democratic dispensation? If you now tell us that you throw that to the dustbin – that anybody can just walk in and takeover and emerge, where are we heading to? It means anarchy. APC itself has its own guidelines. You cannot just come and say I am now the leader of this organisation. It is so important for the development of democratic practice.
In the interim, do you have an alternative platform as backup plan?
That will be like joining illegality. Then it will be like they have disrespected our grundnorm. It is like one knows our constitution, the dos and don’ts and laws and you flouted them. They must grab you; go before a court and pay. If you can’t serve the time, don’t do the crime. It is not animal kingdom. For me, I will come back to my house and take a bow that I have done my bit. If anything goes wrong, the party leaders will meet. But that we will continue? No!
It is going to be two years since the APC took over the saddle of leadership, are you impressed?
The APC is a party with strange bedfellows. They had existed with their fixation on their cultures and norms and they said they wanted to be a political party. Who gives room to what? Power, now you got power. They have not been able to really melt up as one entity – a divergent mindset, divergent interest rather than national interest. Unfortunately, the leader, who should have been driving is not really very well. I worked with him. I know him. He has his own style and his own mindset. But his own concept of operation is it the same as you go from the corners of this country with the others that are working with him? So, it is like you are pulling to the right, left.
What is the rate of naira to dollar as compared to when we were there? Investors, where are they? And the one that bothers me is this issue of religion. Religion is personal. It has nothing to do with governance but people go under the umbrella of religion. What has that got to do with the price of commodities? That is one area we need to work on.
Now, if you initiate a call from abroad, I am saying this for the DG of NCC to investigate this because it is the greatest shock to our national security. If you initiate a call from abroad, once it hits their terminal, either Glo, Etisalat or the rest, when it shows up on your phone it is a local number that shows. So, how do they trace the number? What are these people doing to our national security? It would never happen anywhere in the civilised world, more so with international terrorism. These people are flouting the laws of the land – financial crime and security issue – no nations will play around with its national security.
Their scorecard, they must showcase and what they still intend to do. We have our manifesto. We have learnt a lesson. We have been there before and that is the beauty of democracy. Every four years, you go back to the people to renew your mandate. So, they decide whether they want you to continue or shove you aside.
The APC came on steam on a tripod of security, economy and corruption. I would like to take you up on the aspect of corruption. What do you think? Do you feel the government is really discriminatory in its approach?
I want to reserve my gun powder. Like I said, as a Christian, God said “whoever that is in government – whoever is your head, pray for them. The time to start serious analysis is not now. We will wait, but occasionally like this, we would say this is an observation. They may still be corrected. Like this one I told you about; lack of national security on this issue of communication. People are wasting our money on CNN. ABSA Bank in South Africa, which is bigger than all our banks put together in terms of their capital base, how many times have you seen them on CNN advertising and burning the dollar that we are crying is not enough? Are they paying CNN naira? So, the issue of corruption, whether it is one-sided or not, let’s leave that till towards the election – we will come up – we are observing now.
In the aspect of economics, we must deliberately go back to the South-south to assist those boys so that oil production can continue. The approach is negotiations, discussions and not military action. They are Nigerians. They are not our enemies. And we in Lagos State too, now, we are working a little bit because just outside of our waters, there has been a discovery of a lot of large deposit of crude oil. We are not just going to be a member of the oil producing states, large scales deposit, I was told – just outside our waters.
So, west of the escravos, east of the escravos, this country is blessed. And the leaders – if the government does that, peace will be ours. They can control who gets what because we have some people, who just stumbled into our wells. They were given the free wells and they are all over the place. Our wells were taken from pockets and dashed. How much have those people paid back to the system? I don’t know. But, like I said, pray for your leaders: Romans 13. Pray for whoever is there so that when they come up with policies and programmes, those policies and programmes will not decimate you. So, we will continue to pray for our leaders and I pray for my oga, President Buhari, that God will give him quick recovery so that he can come and handle his mandate. Nobody can wish anybody evil. God is the one who makes and unmakes. We must pray for his soul so that he will come back and do what he promised Nigerians.
So, it is futuristic. When it is time to play politics, we will examine their policies and the failures but I want to advise that we must get back, talk to those boys in the South-south. That is why our economy has been completely down. Whether they voted for him or not, they are Nigerians. They are not enemies. As a Naval officer, having been around those areas, if you see the environment there and we are still flaring the gas. If we have been able to capture all the gas, that is a lot of energy being wasted! We have been talking – paying lip service; we will capture it.
What about all the 18 turbines that Obasanjo bought, where are they? Power is still about 3,000 megawatts that they said would be at 10,000 megawatts? Those turbines are now there but where is the gas to fire them? They are being burnt off and God gave us people who are sound – educated all over. Why can’t we attract them and utilise them to make the resources of this nation for the benefit of Nigerians – 170 million people. Out of every 10 Africans, we are about 8 or so. You mention any profession in the world you will find one Nigerian, who is an expert. So, what is going on? Does it matter where you come from? Christian, Muslim, atheist or whatever, let’s bring our best minds together for our benefit.
In what context did you see the recent release of 82 Chibok girls?
I don’t want to make comment on that. It is a general comment on this issue of religion. What has it got to do with which religion you belong? If you are born into one family, you would probably adopt that religion, you get over 18 or 21, you can opt to go and become whatever you want. So, what has that got to do with the economic development of your nation? What has it got to do with the utilisation of the resources of your land for the benefit of the people? Do you put it that I am a Christian, I am an atheist or I am Muslim? It doesn’t matter! That one is for another day because it was a negotiation. I was told that they released some Boko Haram people to get the children back. There must have been a lot of discussion behind the curtain to get that done.
Let’s come back to your party again. Across the states of the federation, the party is literarily non-existent, is it the same national crisis that has eaten into the state chapters?
We have a saying in my part of the world, if the head is not well, what will happen to the other organs of the body? But it is not that they have disappeared, no, they are just dormant. It is the fact that all of a sudden, this wind just came and took charge of the whole party and was heading to hell. So, everybody is asking what is going on. Even me, they see me at the airport and say “what is going in our party? Oga, make sure that this party doesn’t die o!”
So, it is not a reflection that people have abandoned the party, but once our head is back on the platform and they now know that we can go back to our convention, do our normal processes, you will see people will come back. They are dormant now waiting for this most important judicial decision. Remember there was a time one case will be in Lagos, another one will be in Abuja another one in Port Harcourt. But this will be over soon.
Now, let’s get a bit personal. A couple of years ago, 2013 to be precise, the Supreme Court affirmed that you were wrongly convicted in 2009, how have you coped with the reminiscence of this ugly experience?
I like the word you used, ugly experience, but to me, it was positive. When God wants to use you, He will send you through tribulation, He would test your faith. He will test your will. It came like an ill-wind; like some kind of unexpected blow on my face. I was a part-time chairman, the management was quarreling. They came and reported to me. The Executive Directors with the Managing Director were quarreling, of course, they would come to me. Now, some people were jealous of the achievements by that board. You know NPA never had a board for a long time. We resuscitated the normal processes of managing an organisation with that kind of capacity. Department by department, due process was enshrined. Memos must come to the board; discussion, approval and all that.
We noticed the amount of wastages in NPA and one of my Executive Director, Operation, Captain Abidoye, a brilliant young man, came up with this concept – you know, he is a Master Mariner, well qualified – he came up with this issue of concessioning the ports to companies, rather than the usual contracts issued by NPA. What are the advantages and the disadvantages and they were presented to the board. So, if you win the concession for a particular jetty, you have a fixed amount you will pay yearly to the ports authority and for every tonnage that goes through your jetty, you pay a certain percentage.
It means rather than NPA spending money, money is coming to government. Brilliant idea! We sent the paper up, they approved it and we set up the bidding. When that was going on, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) was then looking at ports area by area that they can designate the hub for West Africa, the hub for East Africa and so on. They have to come and inspect our ports. You know Nigeria is the biggest in West Africa. We have about 200 or 400 miles of sea lane.
So, the Executive Director, Engineering, then came up, because they had to repair all the bollards, jetties and all those things to say that we have digitalise the handling of cargoes before they can say you are a hub. In other words, a hub means every big vessel coming from South America or from the Middles East would come to Nigeria, discharge all it was carrying and smaller vessels will then come in here and take them to other smaller West African countries and the big vessels will then return to base.
That was going to be a big money for this country. So, we needed to prepare. He brought a memo that the time of the visitation was too short. So, let us take Lagos – the company will do Lagos. We wanted to do Warri, Port Harcourt and Calabar. Brilliant suggestion, we agreed. So, when the EFCC now came because when the executive was fighting they came and said what is the problem? That was the little way the problem started. I remember, Baba called me and said Bode, one Sarumi is coming – that the man they want as minister has recommended that they should disband the management and that Chief Sarumi is coming and that since Chief Sarumi is from the South-west as if he is also from Lagos, it is like somebody from North-west: one is Kano, one is Sokoto, the other one is Kaduna, they say they are from the North-west and therefore, the MD will be different from…and I said as your lord pleases sir.
Then they did the investigation. Ribadu came up with a report; remember one time he said if you have a political problem with Chief Bode George go and solve it, there is nothing wrong with what they have done in NPA. That was the report of Rbadu. They said Baba said that they should do forensic. To all intent, I didn’t even know what was going on and I was working assiduously for this man. After they said Baba said they should do forensic, so the thing was hanging there. I didn’t know. So, Mallam Gwandu Bello came to me and said, they have been to EFCC, they did this, they said that.
Then Ribadu said it was a systemic failure because if you give approval that your limit of expenditure is N1, how many N1 can you spend within a quarter? It is not stipulated. MD, N2. How many N2 can you spend? No limitation. That was the systemic failure, which Ribadu reported. You should now go and put a ceiling on what you can spend. That had nothing to do with me. Day-to-day running of the place didn’t concern us.
When Obasanjo left, I was DG of the PDP national campaign. We won the election. They had decided that the chairmanship should go to the South-east. That was Obasanjo. President Yar’Adua said okay sir, you and I are going to work together. That meant Chief of Staff. Once the pundits heard that, they then brought the report that there is a problem in NPA. They now organised and brought this Waziri girl, who must deal with me. I am saying it, so, she can challenge me now, because I am coming out now and saying this for the benefit of the younger generation. When you go through the path of perfidy, you will end up in hell.
I am not bitter, because it was a good experience for me. I have seen the top of the mountain and the worst of the valley. It is a building experience that you cannot wish away. Suddenly, I came back from abroad, they stormed my house, came to carry me. They said Mrs. Waziri wanted to see me. That night, that was how they took me into their custody. What was the offence? They said we split contract. That is the same contract of building these jetties based on IMO visitation. You know that contract was not awarded before we left – before they disbanded the board. No money was stolen or missing.
We discussed it at the board; we agreed on it, but nothing was given to nobody. So, which contract was split, by who and when? That was how we were railroaded before Justice Bunmi Oyewole. He is alive today! I am told his godfathers have put him also in Court of Appeal. Such characters shouldn’t be on the bench, because in his judgment he said there was no kobo stolen – no kobo missing but he still sent us to jail for 18 months. It was the greatest charade; the greatest ill-wind! I think I want to quote Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe here: “If man to man is quite unjust, I do not know who to trust. I trusted too many to my sorrow – friends today, enemies tomorrow.” That was during the Ejika bank something – Eastern Nigerian Bank.
All the people they brought as witnesses against us said we were in line with the procedure, we didn’t commit anything. They said we split contract. They can go back and check it. No contract was awarded. They were then bringing the minute of the meeting. What is the name of this Jankara lawyer, Keyamo, he was shouting. They hired him. Most of the lawyers within the EFCC said no, this cannot fly. The first one that said it, Waziri sent her back to the police and she ended up at the Police Training College. She removed her.
Then the other man, who was coming to court, suddenly she removed that one too and brought Keyamo from outside. And where did Keyamo get the fiat to try us? Lagos State Government to try a federal officer in a federal organisation. Eventually they sent us to Kirikiri and because people saw it, Kirikiri became a Mecca. The number of eminent Nigerians coming to see me, I couldn’t believe it.
You were there when we were released. Since the first time we entered that prison, till the 18th month that I left, I was never sick. I didn’t go to see any doctor. I didn’t get out of that prison to go and visit any hospital. I believe it is by grace. A night before the day I was leaving, the Commissioner of Police then, with the DSS, with all the area commanders, with the zonal commander of prison, they came to my block and said I should go home now. Mustapha was there. He said oga, this was my experience. Don’t go anywhere! And I said of course I wouldn’t go anywhere. I came here in day light and I would leave in day light.
To go in the night, I said no. To be like a thief, they could say you are running away and get you shot. 7 o’clock, they lock the prison doors until the next 7 – they came by 9, everybody got up and started asking what is going on? The zonal commander of the prison came; he wanted to see me. I saw the commissioner of police, Director of the State Security, all the area commanders, they were there. They said oga, we will take you home. I said which home? Unless you bundle me from here, I am retired general and I would sneak out of here like a thief in the night. I came here in day light and I would leave here in day light, not knowing that the security situation in the state was that there was going to be riot, because they saw the crowd that had been coming.
I said riot for what? Vengeance is not mine. Vengeance is God’s. The people came to show their love. That is the beauty of it. They knew you were just being punished for doing nothing. Of course, my political enemies are happy that they locked me up; that we shouldn’t come back. I said I am not going anywhere. They said there is environmental. I said whatever time it is, I will leave. My family will come and carry me home. We all went back to our cells and they locked the door. In the morning, the crowd was everywhere in the corner.
The day I was going, the whole area commanders, the commissioner of police, the SSS – followed my car all the way to the Cathedral Church to thank God. Is it my making? But at the end of a dark tunnel comes a glorious dawn. And I remember the allocutus of Baba Awolowo: “Blessed be your verdict and blessed be your sentence. This nation will be in darkness but at the end of this long tunnel, there will be a glorious dawn. My only concerns are the programmes that I have started for the benefit of the people of this country, I wouldn’t be able to continue but if it is the wish of the almighty, someday, I will be back. Did it not come up?
And the worst part of it was Baba now came. He came to church. He said they deceived him to come. This is a man that if it is 120 per cent loyalty to give to someone, I think I gave him 200 per cent. I was shocked when he reacted that I was celebrating criminality. I couldn’t believe it! Kobo I never took from him. Me, criminality? What is the offence we committed? I am writing my memoirs. It will be quite interesting. That chapter will be very interesting of man’s inhuman behaviour to man. When I came back, I kept on fighting. You know it is not cheap to fight all the way to the Supreme Court.
Lastly, what was that one thing you took away from your prison experience?
That in whatever, wherever, whatever position you find yourself, the things you do, will you be able to defend it years after before your creator. Will your children be able to look at you and say these things, what did you do? Why did you do that? And thank God that I came from a political home – the Herbert Macaulay and all that. Politics has been part of our making. Many people didn’t know, because I was in the military. And trusting human beings – Yoruba will say trusting in human is nullity.
I didn’t realise it until this experience. It is only God. And looking back, it was worth the while because I’d stayed in bedroom of the president of this country. The inside-inside of the villa; I’d worked there. I have seen it all. I sat on the bed of the president talking to Baba while he was asleep and I’d also seen the worst of the valley. And I quote the wordings of Mandela in his last book before he died. He said, “The prison cell is the best location for you to rediscover yourself.” 27 years he spent there. The prison cell is the best place to rediscover yourself.
The period that I was there, I saw so many young men, who should be given a second chance. We were able to assist a few. There was a man, he was a hunter. He saw what seemed like an antelope; he shot it, when he went to carry it, he saw that it was not an antelope; it was a human being. He was condemned to death. He had been in prison for 28 years on death row. I used to see him in the church always dancing and rolling on the floor thanking God. So, I called him one day and asked: what was the offence you committed? Where are you from? So, he said he was from Ondo. In fact, they plucked out one of his eyes struggling for food. Mimiko came to visit me one day and I told him. He had forgotten. I think during one of the end of the year activities, he just gave that man a pardon and sent the Ondo State Government car to take him.