Despite the odds, the octogenarian former National Deputy Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olabode George is pushing ahead with his ambition to become the national chairman of the party. Segun James takes a look at his chances
The clearest sign yet of the recovery of new vitality in the polity is the strong set of indications coming from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that alliances are being formed across the political divide. Negotiations have begun and people are placing their cards on the table to determine who gets what, how and when.
This is the situation as the jostling for the leadership of the party enters its critical stage.
It is at this point that the name of Chief Olabode George has been ringing as the race for the national chairmanship of the party enters a more decisive stage. This week, George will formally announce his bid for the chairmanship position.
At the start of a renewal, everything seems possible. In the PDP, politicians who have spent the last two years in limbo, pondering how to retake power are now to decide the fate of their party by electing the man who will pilot the party to the proverbial 2019 election where they hope the party will retake power from the All Progressives Congress (APC) which succeeded in toppling the party from power after 16 years in the saddle.
Enters, Bode George. In the Nigerian political space, nobody divides opinion like Chief Olabode George. As the former chairman of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) under the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo, he was a media delight. Anything that Bode George did was a media event, or more precisely, it was bound to generate controversy that would ell the media for weeks.
Controversy indeed is what has followed his decision to contest the chairmanship. To most of his critics, George, a former deputy national chairman of the party should leave the stage for younger and more vibrant men to stir the ship of the party to the promise land.
Today, those who control the party’s apparatchik are persons between the age of 45 and 60 years. George needs to convince these young turks that he has all it takes to take the party to the next level given his age. He would need to relate with them and convince them that he is what the party needs at this critical junction.
Besides, they believe that what the party needed most at this critical period is a leader who is untainted and whose past will not come back to hunt him and by extension the party. It is on record that George was convicted of corruption by a Lagos High Court. However, his conviction was set aside by the Supreme Court.
Other aspirants also jostling for the chairmanship position however, noted that although the Supreme Court has cleared George on the corruption allegation against him, the All Progressives Congress (APC) can still use the scandal to smear him, a situation which will put the chances of the party at jeopardy.
Aside this, some party members hold the views that George does not command the loyalty and control of the party in the south west. They worry that if the south-west geo-political zone fields him as the official candidate of the party, many party faithful may be forced to cast their support elsewhere, a move which may be at the detriment of the party in the zone. This is moreso when the party has merely zoned the chairmanship to the south. Anyone one from the south-east or the south-south can easily beat the south-west to it.
But George sees things differently. To him age is but a number. He insisted that what the party needs now is a man who has the wherewithal, capacity and capability to lead the party at its most critical period.
For those who want to you his trial for corruption against him, his response seems to be: let us see who will cast the first stone.
At a recent meeting to find solution to the crisis in the south-west zone of the party, he made it clear that he would not go down without a fight. George challenged those who think they are better than him to come out and test their popularity.
George believes that he is the man to be at the contest, besides being the most experienced in the management of party affairs and the man with the leadership quality that the party needs at this most critical time.
To George, the most terrifying thing that happened to him was not the moment he was carted away to prison under a trump up charge of corruption that almost knocked him out politically; instead, it was the moment when within a fleeting second, his beloved PDP descended into crisis, and he was not in a position to salvage the situation.
Many fled but George chose to stay believing that as one of the founding fathers of the party, it was his duty to ensure its survival. To him, the period reminds him of the adage that since the party did not die during the time of his predecessors, it must not happen during his time.
It was from this time that he made up his mind to contest the chairmanship of the party and help ensure that it returns to its former glory.
Strong-willed, inflexible and arrogant, Bode George is one man who the hawks in the party will find it hard to push around. He is one man who is not afraid to say his mind on issues and stand by it.
Barely two months to the national convention of the Party, George who is the leader of the party in Lagos State many months ago lamented that the party was at a moral crossroads and struggling with survival.
He said: “We are at a pivotal junction wrestling with what the future holds for us all.
“Indeed, we are now confronted with a troubled destiny as a party. We are equally confronted with our relevance as opposition party in the great march to deepen the democratic processes of our country.
“The Peoples Democratic Party must now re-evaluate itself. We must reassess our values. We must re-appraise our mission. We must look through our party vision and invariably rebuild our party in the crucial journey towards 2019.”
This he insisted is his mission as he contests for the chairmanship.
“Our party was founded on the principles of fairness, justice and equity. We represent all the diverse colorations of our great nation. From the vast stretches of the savannah in the north to the huge coastal waters of the south, we define the richness, the cultural beauty and the limitless aspirations of our people.
“Our party represents the hope, the inclinations and the endless possibilities of all our people regardless of tribe and tongue. That was our foundation. That was the vision of our founding fathers. That was the principle that gave our party the winning ways and the tremendous acceptability of the past.” He added.
He however regretted that the party derailed when strange bed fellows whose greed led to the destructive path took over the leadership of the party.
Continuing he said: “We have derailed from the classical beginning. We have detoured foolishly from the redemptive path. We have lost our bearings. We have left the safety of our anchor for the perilous and the unknown shores. We are now adrift, circling in turbulent waters.
“My brothers and sisters, fellow party men and women, we must discard this new attitude of ruinous greed and desperate avarice. We must abandon the creed of irreverent conspiracy and the recourse to petty malice.
“This disturbing madness will not and cannot prevail again. We must confront new realities. We must jettison the crude, inordinate greed of the recent past. We must eschew the unhealthy and the baseless character assassination in the crazy struggle for power.
“The eyes of our people are upon us all. We must be strong and resolute. We must re-dedicate ourselves to the new horizon.”
Olabode Ibiyinka George was born on November 21, 1945 in Lagos. He earned a B.Sc and MBA. George became a Commodore in the Nigerian Navy, and was appointed Military Governor of Ondo State (1988–1990).
He established the Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo in 1990, a school that now has over 4,000 students. He became Principal Staff Officer, to General Oladipo Diya when the latter was Chief of General Staff, between 1993 and 1997. George was also a Director at the Nigerian National War College (NWC).
George was appointed Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority in 1999.
George was close to President Olusegun Obasanjo, and was given preference in the sale of houses in Lagos State. In 2001, George was made the PDP’s national vice-chairman in the southwest zone. Later he became PDP Deputy National Chairman, South, and then the National Deputy Chairman of the PDP.
To most of his critics, George, a former deputy national chairman of the party should leave the stage for younger and more vibrant men to stir the ship of the party to the promise land.