BODE GEORGE: Atiku Can’t Win 2023 Election without Substantial Votes from the South
Former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Bode George, is one of the leading voices demanding the reordering of key national offices in the PDP National Working Committee after Alhaji Atiku Abubakar emerged as its presidential candidate two months ago. In this interview with Gboyega Akinsanmi, George incisively discussed the triggers of the internal crisis undermining PDP and proffered antidotes to rescue it from implosion, among others
More than two years after Alhaji Atiku Abubakar emerged as the presidential candidate of the PDP, the party sinks deeper into the internal crisis by the day? What are the issues its leaders have not addressed?
Once you have an organisation, especially if it is political, trust is a major issue that must not toyed with. Inclusivity is another critical element that holds a political organisation together. That also means oneness or a sense of belonging. We are all parts of the same political family. We must be able to go home with what has been allocated to us as parts of this big family. Loyalty and commitment to the party, not to any individual, are also fundamental. They were born out of inclusivity. All these elements are the pillars and tenets of a political party. In any organisation, we always have people who are happy with certain issues and those who are not happy with certain issues. But the ability of the party to successfully manage its difference will be the selling point to the larger society to trust us. With this quality, people will be able to trust us that no matter the situation in this country, this party has the ability to manage a crisis. Yes, we have disagreements. Are they surmountable? I believe our party has the ability and capacity to resolve all these crises. But we need to listen to ourselves. Before the national convention in 2021, the zoning issue was very thorny. We were able to resolve that crisis based on compromise, conviction and give-and-take principle. With my experience, I know we have people, elders and youths too in our party, who can proffer solutions to our challenges. We can rub minds. It is not a situation we cannot resolve. Every party should come down from his high horse and negotiate.
Some leaders from the South have been suspecting a sectional agenda, citing the lopsided positions in the PDP. Do you align with this crop of leaders?
That is one of the issues agitating the minds of our people from the South. What has caused that? The present managers of the All Progressives Congress exacerbated this mistrust. This is an unnecessary tribal sentiment. The claims – we have the number; we can do whatever we want and nobody can challenge us – are getting us back to the majority versus minority contention both in the North and South. This is the issue that created the friction that disrupted the First Republic. Our founding fathers found solutions to it. They divided Nigeria into six geo-political zones. There are also six top political offices in the federation. So, every geo-political zone must go home with one of those top political positions. It means each geo-political zone will be represented in the management of this country. If we are driving back to those days of the majority versus minority, it will not help this country. It has never helped us and it will never help us in the future. We must avoid it like a leech. People are angry! Now, the insecurity in the country has exacerbated that friction.
To put it in a clearer language, what are the key demands of the southern leaders of the PDP?
We are simply demanding a sense of belonging. We have to participate in the process or in the management of the party. Nobody can win an election without substantial input from the North or the South. Do we really want to return to the Villa in 2023? If we want to return to the Villa, you need votes from the South to win. This is more so now that the electoral process has been modernised. The new technology is at play. The new electoral system was experimented during the last three elections. And it has encouraged a lot of young people to come out in preparation for the next context. The will of the people is now being respected. The next general election will be a turning point in the annals of our country that the will of the people or the voices of the people will now be heard. The leaders will be elected to go and serve their people and protect their interests. They will be entrusted to manage the resources of the land for the benefit of those people. If you go in for four years and embark on the mission of self-aggrandisement, they will wait for you at the poll again to determine your political fate. Then, they will assess whether a reliable, responsible, respectable and trustworthy person that they entrust the resource of this country in. Their voices will be heard and the power of the PVCs is vital. With the PVCs, the bad managers of public resources will be sent to the dustbin of history forever.
Last week, the PDP convened a meeting of its NEC, it was later suspended and a new date for the meeting is expected to be announced. With the enormity of the crisis at hand, can the NEC save the party from implosion?
The NEC is the next most powerful organ of the PDP after the National Convention. The highest organ, the Supreme Court of the PDP, is the National Convention. The NEC is like the Court of Appeal. Whatever decision that would be made at the NEC meeting will be all-encompassing and all-embracing. So, the need for deeper consultation is necessary. I think the managers have been hearing the cacophony of voices from all the corners of the country and from six geo-political zones of the federation. The most contentious issue is inclusivity. How do we have that sense of belonging? How do we have this commitment? How will our people feel to encourage them to troop out in millions to deliver the voices of our party?
If, for instance, the decision of the next NEC meeting is at variance with the demands of the Southern PDP, what happens next?
Can the North alone win an election to the villa with the South? Put differently, can the South alone win an election to the villa with the North? We must break that barrier. We must re-unite ourselves like the founding fathers did. We must not throw out the way they managed the political fallout of the country into the debris of history. If we avoid the pitfall of the past, then we can grow. Democratic dispensation is not a 100-metre race. It is a continuum. Now, we are in a crisis. I believe we have committed people who can reassess the challenges at hand. It is not a one-dash race. Now, there will be more consultation. There will be more movement. Let us look at how we can resolve these challenges and not individual interests. We should protect the interests of the PDP. If we cannot resolve this crisis now, it is better to spend more time consulting and annexing various inputs for us to come to a conclusion rather than rushing to it and messing it up. We have been hearing various voices. The best thing to do is for the managers of PDP, the elders and some other people to come together and listen to ourselves. The PDP is not a private company. It is the collective responsibility of all Nigerians that own that flag. The PDP flag is a national flag. It is not for the North; neither is it for the South alone. It is a national party from the swamp forest to the Savannah. That is what we should reflect, and our ability to do that will convince Nigerians that these people are going to be disruptive. Rather, they will listen to all shades of opinion.
Fortnight ago, the opposition senators called for the impeachment of President Muhammadu Buhari due to the country’s worsening security challenges. Do you think the proposal is necessary at this time?
Whatever the reasons behind the impeachment plan, I want to plead with our people to be patient. We are at the twilight of Buhari’s administration. What do we want our nation to be like? Do they have the number? So many things have happened in the last seven years that call for questions. They should bring whatever issues agitating to the campaign to convince Nigerians that APC has done more damage to this country than any political party in history. Bring those issues out to the campaign because every party is building up to face the next elections. Pursuing Buhari’s impeachment now will be like a distraction. The senators should not dissipate their energy in the pursuit of Buhari’s removal. Let us see them as issues for debate. Something that is so disgraceful recently is the spending of N1.4 billion to purchase 10 SUVs for the Government of Niger Republic. What kind of decision is that? Our police and security operatives are yet to be paid the new salaries that the federal government approved for them in 2021. Why will you be helping other countries while we are yet to see any difference in Nigeria? Are we Father Christmas? Self-help, they say, is the best help. Is there any return on that investment for us?
Some southern leaders still believe that there should be restructuring before the 2023 elections. From which lens do you see it?
For me, we have been shouting about the restructuring since the 2014 constitutional conference. I believe President Goodluck Jonathan handed over its report to President Buhari. For Buhari, the report of the conference belongs to the archive. That report is more necessary now than 2014. The tribal union we used to have, the easy movement of people from one state to the other and the National Youth Service Corps have almost disintegrated. There is this sense of unnecessary hatred from one tribe to the other. The oneness we used to enjoy is fast disappearing. And fear has taken over the land now. Who is secure? Who is safe in any part of the federation? Insecurity is so high, and we want investors to come. Where are the investors? If we, Nigerians, are afraid in our own country for our daily existence, why will an investor come? We are gradually becoming a pariah state. Where is that Giant of Africa? Look at the situation in the country. If you travel to any part of the world, immigration officials will bring you out from the queue and x-ray you head to toe. All is not over yet. We need good leaders to manage the resources of the country for the benefit of the people.
With the spate of insecurity nationwide, some eminent leaders have been calling for an interim national government rather than conducting the 2023 elections. Does this suggestion hold any hope for the country?
Constitutionally, how do we create an interim national government? From what? Is it going to be by fiat? We should not compound the problem we have at hand. We should debate the state of the nation and the crisis we are going through. We can proffer solutions to it and campaign based on the solution so that our next set of leaders will take it up from there. Fortunately, the electoral process is transparent now. We are not going to elect some first-class jokers, who will go through the back doors and emerge by manipulating the result. These are people with questionable character, whom you cannot define what their names are; what qualifications they have and what they have done positively in the country to emerge as the leaders of the country. That has been the bane of the country. These are people who will access the national funds and squander them and who will not spend according to the budget enacted by the legislative arm. That has been the problem. We know what these problems are. Let us go and discuss with the people. Let us campaign for the people. Let the people go to the poll and vote for the proper people. If they fail to achieve their set goals in four years, you vote them out. What do we want to do with an interim national government? Who are the people that will constitute the interim government? Are they going to be angels that will come from outer space? What can be more interim than talking to the people about the next elections and encouraging the people to tell the truth to power during the next elections?