Former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George, who is aspiring to become the National Chairman of the party, speaks with DARE ADEKANMBI on his ambition; the future of his party and other issues.
As the eldest of the three contestants to the office of the national chairman of the PDP from the Lagos/Ogun axis where it has been zoned, some people think you should allow the younger two to slug it out, while you play the role of an elder. What do you think about this?
First of all, the scenario is different. The situation in our party requires an experienced, tested and proven person to head the party at this time. The party is going through a very serious crisis and today we are in opposition. You don’t go and look for a J.J. Green who is yet to learn about the tenets, culture and norms of the party. Out of the whole bunch of them, who served as vice-chairman of the party when we delivered five out of the six states in the South-West to the PDP? Who served as the deputy national chairman overall of the party when we won 28 states? “Atari ajanaku, ki nseru omode” (the head of an elephant is not for a small child to carry). That is one side.
Let’s look at the people we want to go and battle with. Is Chief John Odigie-Oyegun a bambino? Is President Muhammadu Buhari a bambino? If we have such people at that level, experienced and seasoned people, we must not joke with the issue of national chairman of the PDP. It is not everything that you learn in the classroom. Experienced is acquired as you move around in life. I have just told you briefly what I have done in the party in the past. I ran the directorate of a presidential election and we won. You see the track record? I have been in so many institutions — be it university, served in the Navy to the level of a General; I went to the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) where the issue of Nigeria was X-rayed. With the kind of problem we have now in the party and in the country, is it not the time now to get our best out? Someone who has not achieved anything that is highly remarkable and then wants to jump into leading the biggest party in Africa. He will have to be servant before he becomes a master. I have paid my dues. When I was elected the national vice-chairman (South-West), nobody would have thought it was possible for PDP to win any election in the South-West. But we delivered the South-West. It was our over-confidence and lack of focus that made us to lose these states. We knew what happened. Where was this young man at that time? He was in the other side when we were building the party. Now, he is less than two years in the party and wants to be national chairman. The grey hair on my head is not something that can be bought in the market. It is wisdom. I have a very strong faith in the Almighty God that I will win the contest. The book of Ecclesiastes says it all in Chapter 3-There is time for everything. An analogy from my own professional calling as a naval officer is this. When a ship is in distress in a sea that is turbulent and is worse than 12 gale force, you need a tested captain to stabilise the ship and bring it safely to harbour. We are in dire strait. The party is almost comatose. I related with the founding fathers since 1998 and I know why the party was created, the focus and commitment they made to ensure that Nigeria will always remain stable. You don’t go and get a carpenter to come and do the job of a surgeon. You don’t bring a fresh graduate to go and carry out a surgical operation or do a transplant. They need to learn the rope. It is not everything that you get in the constitution. There is what we call the tradition, the culture and the norm. Who, out of the whole bunch of them, can say from the very first hour he is elected, he can be directing the party’s affairs hands on in full throttle because he has established people? I have traversed the nook and cranny of the country and all the 36 states and the FCT. They know us and we know them. This is why I am putting myself forward. It is not age now, but experience. As a General, you know we don’t retire. Let us stabilise our party because we were there when they formed the party. So, it is not a job for a newcomer who is less than two years in the party. It is an insult to the founding fathers and millions of Nigerians who have laboured assiduously for the party. Now that we are flat on the ground, we have to resuscitate the party.
What kind of PDP are you going to be leading if you emerge the chairman?
I will be leading a PDP that is one family. We will pull ourselves together. Conflict resolution has been my specialisation. When we were there, we had a lot of crises in the party. I chaired the committee that resolved the crisis in the North-West. After that, PDP won the whole seven states in the region. When we had a crisis in Anambra, when [Chris] Ngige was abducted, who was sent to end that crisis? When we had a crisis in Imo, who went down there to resolve it? When we had crisis the Ife-Modakeke crisis and the state government under Chief Bisi Akande could not handle it, I was made the chair of the committee that resolved the crisis. Since that day, there has been no single gunshot in the area. The terrible Owo crisis, I was sent there to resolve it. There are so many. The experience is there. You don’t just jump from being an infant to being an adult. I thank God that I have a particular strength, which is being tenacious for what is good, just, righteous and equitable. I will hold on to this value and stand for them. That is what our party needs now. I will stabilise the party and move it forward. We have to get back to the [Aso] Villa. We did it in the South-West and overall. At this point, we are either going to make or break. That is the point.
Are you in any way frightened by the entry into the race of Jimi Agbaje who is seen as the likely dark horse in the contest?
As I have said, I am selling myself, my experience to members of the party. We met in Akure as zonal stakeholders and I was endorsed by the South-West based on my experience and all that. I won’t talk for him. He has said that some people are pushing him to contest. That is not my business. I will continue to sell myself to them delegates and of course they know my pedigree and track record. I have served at the national headquarters of the party for 10 years as one of the managers of the party. The position of national chairman is not something we can do as a tea party. This is a serious issue. And if it is the wish of the Almighty God, so be it.
With or without you as chairman, where do you see the PDP in the 2019 contest?
As PDP, we held the government for 16 years and we lost it because of certain things. The party set up a post-mortem committee that looked at why we lost and the committee made adequate recommendations. PDP needs an experienced driver, a tested captain to drive it to our destination going back to the Villa. Now that we are not in government, the style must change. What we are going to sell to Nigerians is that they must see us that we are serious and we have learnt a lesson about being self-confident and self-conceited. We must move away from it and make a centerpiece of all our policies the people of Nigeria. That is what we can do that will lead us back to the Villa. I am not afraid to face the public. I can’t say we will play God. But we will be extremely committed to the cause of our people in this country. And that will deliver us. The final decision will be with the people. Nigerians will compare us with the APC and see who can do better. The Yoruba say if a wife has not tested two husbands she won’t know which is better. Nigerians now know which is better between APC and PDP. We have learnt a lesson and are making amends to re-situate the party along democratic principles. Our party has foundational principles of justice, fairness and equity. As chairman, I will re-stabilise these three tripods on which our party stands. Under my watch, all those who left in annoyance will return. They left as landlords to a party where they are tenants. Which one will they prefer between being landlords and being tenants? They will come back as landlords to the house they built. We will reach out to them and open the doors for their return. The principle which we have lost is discipline and we must restore it. We must obey the tenets and the rules as stated in the constitution of the party because it is where there are no laws that there are no sins. Where there are laws, we must follow our laws and that is what we need now.
How many delegates are you expecting at the convention and how many of those have you reached out to?
One should not jump the gun. Delegates are just emerging this week [last week] from the various states. That is why we are meeting the North-West, North-East and North-Central, South-East and South-South delegates between now [Friday] and Monday. You don’t jump and start running around when zoning has not been done and where positions will be zone to and especially when your zone has not even chosen the person it prefers. I am going around to show myself to the delegates, who already know me, that I am still as strong, mentally and physically to take the mantle of leadership. From the first hour of my being elected, I will begin to manage the affairs of the party.
Part of the concerns being raised about your candidature is that though the Supreme Court has quashed your conviction, it will be difficult for the party to erase the incident from the minds of Nigerians who will ultimately decide if your party should return to power or not.
That to me is complete lunacy and idiocy. What were the charges levelled against me? Do you know what they call convoluted conspiracy? Did the judge who judged the case say I stole money? He even wrote in his judgment that I didn’t take money but that I only spilt contracts. We were railroaded to a judge in Lagos State under Bola Tinubu. I have the judgment of the Supreme Court and you can go and look at it yourself. The concluding part was that our trial was a charade that we ought not to have gone to trial in the first place. What else would you call it if not political persecution? If anybody is using that against me, that person has political lunacy. Have you seen any leader who is unique that has not gone to prison? I didn’t get a pardon, you know. The highest court in the land said the trial was a mis-trial. There was no iota of evidence to suggest that we took money throughout that trial. Even the contract they said we spilt was never awarded. So, what did we benefit from it? If people want to talk in a lunatic way because of this contest, Bode George is not a pushover. The consequence of the mis-trial will haunt the young boy who took the decision at that court. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was arraigned on a trumped up charge of treasonable felony, what did they do to him? If you read Papa Awo’s submission in The Allocutus, you will know that great leaders have always been convolutedly conspired against. My trial was nothing but a complete charade. Who says you won’t have tribulation? But if you trust your God, you will come out tribulation like a shining gold. The people who thronged the prison where I was released, did I invite them? Did you see the crowd there? Millions of people turned out. Remember that when Papa Awolowo came back from prison, there was a standstill in Lagos. The justices of the Supreme Court dismissed the verdict of the lower court as a charade. Those who sent Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to jail thought they were going to punish him. But what happened? He came out and got above them as president. I come from a political family the great grandpa of which was Pa Herbert Macaulay. Go and find out. He went to jail several times, fighting along with others, for the liberation of Nigeria from the clutches of the British colonial masters. Today, the history of politics cannot be complete without mentioning him as one of the fathers of Nigerian politics. That is the stock I come from. In fact, I see a reincarnation of him in me. Anybody who hopes to use my fraudulent conviction for political purpose is wishing the Supreme Court away. Anyone saying that is suffering from political lunacy and idiocy. The laws are the laws and the courts are the courts. Who gave them the hardest fight in Lagos? This was why they said Bode George must be punished. I thank God that I was discharged and acquitted. So, is that an issue? I am even more emboldened now because I have seen the top of the mountain and I have seen the worst of the valley. That has therefore become experience for me. I have seen the people in the doldrums of life and I have dined with those who are at the topmost mountain of life. So, what is it that is coming that I will not be able to handle? We don’t need any J.J. Green who does not know whether to turn left or right as PDP national chairman. I have garnered so much experience in my traversing the path of life.
Are you not worried about what Ali Modu Sheriff may come up with, something like an injunction stopping the convention? He has refused to accept the olive branch being waved at him by the party leadership.
I don’t think he will get any injunction. If the court of jurisdiction gives us a ruling and a court of the same jurisdiction gives another ruling, the judge who gave the second ruling doesn’t have the right to cancel our own ruling. It is only a higher court, Court of Appeal, which can nullify the judgment by the three other judges that confirmed Senator Ahmed Makarfi and chairman. Once we have a new set of managers in the party, the first assignment will be to resolve this crisis. There are still so many meetings that are ongoing to ensure that everybody comes on board. And if at the last minute, we can’t still achieve that, it will be the responsibility of the new managers to broker peace and stabilise the party. I don’t think Sheriff will be a problem. Collectively, we will sit back and resolve our problems. It is not a structural disagreement. It is not a fundamental disagreement. Egos, people’s ambitions have got into it. These are issues we can deal with in a just manner.