Olabode Ibiyinka George, a former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in this interview, speaks on the state of the nation as the Buhari administration clocks two tomorrow and Nigeria marks 18 years of unbroken democracy, saying the situation has become bad so much so that even the rich are crying.
Nigeria is celebrating 18 years of unbroken democracy. What is your take on the state of the nation?
Let us define politics because that is the area you want to go. Politics is the management of the resources of the people for the benefit of the people. 18 years of unbroken democracy, thank God it’s unbroken.
Have we achieved a lot?
No! Could we have achieved better? Yes! What are the drawbacks? I will define the stumbling blocks as self-conceitedness, selfishness, and lack of the understanding of why you are in politics. Look at the French election, immediately after the close of voting, which was 7 pm our time, 8 pm their time, they predicted by 9 p.m that Macron will win and, after that, the opposition party congratulated Macron as President.
As I was watching, what was going through my mind was, did this happen in my generation? In my lifetime, it is technology.
Are we saying we are completely out of that or is it the wuruwuru of our national politics?
I was a very active student-politician, and then I joined the military. Of course i came back, stumbled into politics by chance after I met Baba (Obasanjo) in London after they just released him from prison. I was the Principal Staff Officer to (Lt General) Oladipo Diya (a former deputy Head of State) before I was fired. I left the country, it is not as if we were not serious when Baba came and said ‘you have come to me’. Yes, I came back, it is history now. I managed within those four years to fight for Baba Obasanjo in his home base, for people to believe that they could trust him.
The old politicians came together; they were fighting that the late Sani Abacha should not transform to life president. These people said, ‘Let us form political parties’. They agreed on what to do and contributed money to do it, and the concept they brought is what is responsible for the 18 years unbroken democracy. They did an x-ray of why the First Republic fell and why the Shagari government also fell. Our founding fathers now thought, ‘Why don’t we divide this country into six geo-political zones?’ They now took care of all the stakeholders, the majority and minority groups, and then they went further to say that the topmost positions in the land, the President, the Vice President, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the National Chairman of the party, six zones, six positions, one to each zone. So at the apex in the land, every zone will be part of it.
These six geo-political zones are not in the nation’s Constitution, but in the party’s Constitution, and that is what has sustained democracy for this long, and that, after eight years, it should be rotated. So, you have ‘Turn by Turn Nigeria Limited’, that’s how I termed it, wait for your time. You don’t need to pull down the roof; someday, if it’s not you, your children will be there.
This is the first time that power will change hand to another political party and I tell you the difference. You know we started from zero; the seed was planted, it germinated with a very strong taproot at the centre of Nigeria. PDP is not a tribal party. I have run elections on the national scale, as Director-General of the national campaign.
I have been to every nook and cranny of this country. It is not a zonal party, it is not a tribal party; it is a national party that carries all the colours of this country. It is a formidable organisation. When our brothers (All Progressives Congress, APC) came there, they have had their own political or zonal or tribal parties, and now suddenly they came together to say ‘we are now APC’. It is a congregation of strange bed-fellows. To be in governance there must be one voice, one choice, one direction, you may argue, debate; that is the beauty of democracy. Once a position is taken, nobody should undermine it.
The President is from North-West, Vice from South-West, Saraki from North-Central, Dogara from North-East, they left out the South- South and South-East. Do you think the agitation going on is not connected with that?
It is a collective responsibility. We (PDP) made some mistakes and it is human to make mistakes. I believe we have learned from the mistakes. All these things going on within our party is a sign of tribulation, like a wake-up call. Look at those jokers who told President Jonathan that they will deliver! Jonathan deferred to them, and some elders were saying ‘ah’.
What is the situation now?
There is resilience in our party; everybody in this country has a resemblance of PDP. That is why we have survived till now. Thank God we are at the Supreme Court on the dispute to resolve the PDP leadership crisis. I want to appeal to all those people who are remotely controlling this: that is not politics, but ‘politricks’.
To decimate the colossus that the PDP is will bring down this country. Tell them to please stop it. It is good training for us, we made terrible mistakes, but to err is human and to forgive divine. We must learn from our mistakes. The 18 years of unbroken democracy is as a result of the planning of those founding fathers. It started like a small thing. The Supreme Court has a huge task to redefine and re-establish the rule of law and the sanctity and make sacrosanct the Constitution of every political party. There must be rule of law. But some PDP members are now crossing to the APC.
How do you see that development because some of them are saying that they don’t see PDP surviving this crisis?
Good riddance to bad rubbish. Who will miss them? We wish them luck if they think it is safe where they are going. What impact have they (APC federal government) had on the standard of living of the people? And I said, by my training, four years is what Nigerians gave them. We have hit two years now, mid-term, they have another one year. But by the end of this year, as we enter 2018, going to 2019, politics will start, that is when they will bring out their scorecard.
They will also be ready to defend their policies and we will be ready to say, ‘Look, we did it before; this is what we can still do, this is what we are doing’. But don’t use any remote control to decimate any political party. This country went through that experience in 1962, 1963, 1964 until 1967, we don’t need that again. More so, the party that is being put on trial, for decimation is a national party; it has tap-root in this country. All those people jumping ship, they are yet to find their sea-legs. They are lucky if they land on the other ship and don’t land on water. There is no doubt that the APC is rolling out the drums. They will tell us that they have ‘achieved this and that’. If you are going to give your honest verdict of the APC-led government, do you think they have in any way alleviated the plight of Nigerians? Where do you think the FG is missing it? I am not a member of that party, but I am a Nigerian.
President Buhari was my ‘oga’ in the military. I will continue to pray for his health, as a Christian, that God will work on his mind and give him good health to be able to achieve what he came out and told Nigerians he will do, it is very important. There is an undefined economic tension in the country, unemployment is rising, and their promise to make policies that will attract investors to come and create jobs is yet to be implemented. We are in May now; the National Assembly just approved the budget; that is almost half of the year. If you just approve the budget, what time do you have to implement it?
Thank God, I hope the funds are there now to implement it. One major issue is the people’s welfare; who is happy? Even the rich are crying; that is the state of the country. Do you see prospects in the case before the Supreme Court as it rules on the crisis rocking the PDP? I am a testimony. The Supreme Court is not like all these mushroom courts.
For erring judges, for those making such decisions that are not right, there should be punishment for them. In England, if there are cases you did so badly, they will remove you from the Bench. Remember my own celebrated case, Justice Oyewole, in particular, said there was no money missing; in fact, the contract they talked about was not even awarded. It was a discussion at the Board meeting, but they sent us to prison for 18 months, and we went to the Court of Appeal.
I will tell the truth so that the younger generations coming will see the ills and avoid the pitfalls. So, we went to the Supreme Court. When the justices looked at it, they said ‘how?’ No contract was awarded, nothing was executed, no money was given to anybody and then you sent us to prison. They said the case of the prosecution rested on the shifting side. And that we should never have even gone to trial. What I am trying to say is this, I have gone through that and believe those who have been appointed to the highest court should fear nothing but God Almighty.
What are your thoughts on restructuring?
I was a member of the 2014 National Conference, and the issue of restructuring was from my committee, it was part of our decision. Some people came out and said, ‘Let us go back to the regional government arrangement’ and I remember what I said to one of our respectable Baba. I said, ‘Baba, tell an Ekiti man that he is going back to Ondo, or tell an Ogun man that you are going back to Oyo; the man in Oyo will resist it’. So we came up with this idea, that let the state remain, or whatever you produce there, 70 per cent to 80 per cent to be retained by you and just send the balance to the centre. That is the reverse of what you have now; it means states will be challenged. There is no state that God didn’t give resources and because you will not be getting free lunch from the centre, you find a way of surviving. The restructuring they are talking about is for you to reduce the power at the centre, and let the states go and develop themselves. I believe that we are not yet there, we are struggling, and we should stop playing dirty politics. Things are tough, but let us move away from personal gain, personal interest, let us push up this nation. Nigeria may run aground, if …..