Former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George, spoke with KEHINDE OLATUNJI on the future of the party, and why May 29 is not sacrosanct for inauguration of a new government.
What is the future of the PDP? Don’t you think the party is on the verge of extinction after its poor performance at the last election?
As an elder of the party, it would be incongruous for me to start the post mortem analysis of the last elections in public. The Yoruba have a culture that when you have a family problem, you don’t go to the middle of the market to sort it out, you start from home. So, I am waiting. By the grace of God, when we finish at the court, that is when we will decide. Our party is in a wobbling scenario, we will have to go back and do a thorough post mortem analysis among ourselves. How did we get to this situation? What were the lessons that must be learnt? How do we now plan going forward? There were mistakes on all sides; we deviated from the norm established by the selfless, committed and loyal elders of the party. We turned the party into a private fiefdom and we landed where we are.
If we were united, by now we would have been by the pilot gate preparing to dance into the Aso Rock Villa, but self-centredness brought us to where we are today. We must tell ourselves some home truth and I pray to God Almighty to still give me the health to be at that meeting. I pray we don’t go the way of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) or Alliance for Democracy (AD). No individual owns the party. The party is bigger and larger than everybody. Yeah, all is not well, but let’s finish at the court, once the court has taken its decision, we never can tell, the outcome of the tribunal might favour us.
Do you think the presidential candidate of your party, Atiku Abubakar, has chances of regaining his mandate from the court?
I pray that Almighty God will work on the minds of the Judiciary to tell the truth to power. When you go to the court, you will see a statue blindfolded. We call her ‘the lady of justice.’ On one hand, she has a sword; on the other hand, she has a scale. She doesn’t know who the heck you are. Given the oath that they (judges) took, they owe Nigeria fairness and justice.
The future of our great country depends on the outcome of the court. We won’t be the first. In Kenya, since the British left, there have been tribal war, the last election would have divided the country into shreds, but the aggrieved people went to the court and it took due cognisance, listened without biases and followed the rule of law, rather than the rule of mob and the court decided that the election be repeated because the procedure of the earlier election failed to meet certain guidelines.
That is what I am looking for, equity and fairness. Once you have passed 70 years, you are at the departure lounge. So, what are we struggling for? What are we fighting for? Nigeria has a well of resources: human, mineral, and agricultural among many others. All we want is leadership. We want honest, committed and loyal people to manage these resources for the benefit of all.
They have one local language now they call japa. In our days, when you finish school abroad, you are running home because there was hope, but the reverse is now the case. What do you think is responsible for the insecurities in the country? The young minds are not at peace.
Prior to the election, you supported the candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, and indeed voted for him. In another breath, you believe Atiku might win at the Tribunal, why this?
Going to the root of the crisis, as an irredentist PDP member, I spoke both in private and public, warning our people that the route they were taking will be inimical to the party. I didn’t hide my feelings. LP is not a political party; it is a serious wind of change. Both Obi and the governorship candidate of LP in Lagos State, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour were in PDP? The LP doesn’t have the root and the structures that we have. Nigerians, who were tired of the old order, joined them.
There was a particular reason I didn’t support Atiku Abubakar, and I didn’t hide it. My position was clear that if the party would not recognise my people from the Southwest, I would not vote for Atiku. There was a cause and effect. Our founding fathers divided Nigeria into six geopolitical zones; this gave room for both the majority and minority zones to be inclusive. What did our party do? The Presidential candidate is from Northeast, the national chairman is from North Central; the Director General of the campaign is from Northwest, the Vice Presidential candidate is from South South, and the Acting Chairman Board of Trustee (BoT) is from Southeast. Where is the Southwest in this calculation? And you want me, a thoroughbred Yoruba man, the Atona Oodua of Yorubaland to support such an arrangement? You have no regard for me and you want my vote, how will you get it? I was speaking on behalf of my people. And I said to him (Atiku), your first wife, Titi is Yoruba from Ilesa, so your first five children have Yoruba blood, give the Yoruba something in your calculation. He said after the election, but we aren’t fools.
Are you saying the outcome of the presidential election serves the PDP right?
It’s a lesson. The founding fathers in their wisdom gave six top positions to the six zones because that was the major problem of the First Republic. The majority always had their way, while the minorities were onlookers. That was why the country under Tafawa Balewa didn’t move forward. But, when they realised that was a major political problem, Nigeria was divided into six geopolitical zones to give room for both the majority and minority to thrive in all the political zones. Everybody, within these six top positions, President, Vice President, Senate, Speaker, Secretary to the Government and National Chairman of the party, one of these six will go to each zone.
From what you just said, the bickering in PDP resulted in its woeful performance; you also said that LP doesn’t have the structures like the PDP. Does it mean that these scenarios aided the victory of the APC?
The fact that LP does not have the structure did not mean the youths are not rooting for that party, even my children came out and said, ‘daddy, we don’t want your party and APC, we are Obidients.’ LP was a movement!
But, the movement was limited to the South; it didn’t spread to the North
You are joking. What happened in Nasarawa and Plateau, among other Northern states that the LP won?
These are Christian communities?
What happened in Kano?
New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP) won there
Is that PDP or APC? All the way from Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Jigawa and Katsina, LP did very well. A divided house is a defeated house. Let’s look at the South, did Tinubu win in Lagos? Somebody like Bayo Onanuga came out to say that the Igbo have learnt a lesson. He came here (Lagos) to look for laurels. Traditionally, we don’t drive people away in Lagos. This is because Lagos is a commercial centre.
Do you think LP has more chances than the PDP at the tribunal?
I’m not a lawyer. A verse of the Bible says, “Let justice flow like a river and righteousness like a sea that will never go dry.” Let’s keep praying that what is just will be done. My appeal is that judgment should be given in good time. Judgment can be given before May 29. There should be justice, fairness and equity. I pray the judiciary is not compromised in this matter. The judgment of the tribunal should be declared before the presidential inauguration, otherwise if Tinubu is sworn-in on the premise that there is an ongoing court case, it would be difficult to remove him.
Though the physical voting has ended, the general election is not over. So, why are we in a hurry? For God’s sake, I am appealing to this government and the people, why are we in a hurry? Is it sacrosanct that inauguration must hold on May 29?
In 2003 Buhari challenged the victory of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. No court stopped the inauguration while the court process was on. In 2010, Obi won a re-election as Anambra governor, Ngige challenged it but Obi’s inauguration was not stopped. Why the thinking that Tinubu’s inauguration should be stopped?
Is it the same scenario that played out in 2003 that we have now? Was the contention like this? Was the 25 per cent an issue? Didn’t Obasanjo have the national spread and 25 per cent in Abuja? Does Tinubu have 25 per cent in Abuja? Those are the technical issues that we are asking the Supreme Court to sort out. He (Tinubu) didn’t win Abuja. There should be no inauguration. The Constitution did not say fixatedly that it has to be May 29. If there are issues, then they should be sorted. It’s not a matter of having an interim government. It means President Buhari cannot head out. He should remain until the matter is settled.
But Nigerians cannot wait for Buhari to go
We have to wait. We are here today, because of the shenanigans of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The Commission gave us a sham of an election.
Every petition by those contesting the outcome of the election is already with the Justices. Elections are not over. How can you now declare a winner or do the inauguration when elections are not over? That will lead to more crises. Do we need it? What is the hurry? Four years? Why can’t we wait for a couple of more days? Buhari can stay on, till all election matters are resolved.
You are a known critic of the President-elect, is that why you are clamouring that he shouldn’t be sworn-in on May 29 until the tribunal gives its verdict?
I come from a family that came from Herbert Macaulay root. He fought the British. He was the first Nigerian to establish a political party in 1922. Till he died, he was fighting and wooing Nigerians that we can manage our resources ourselves, that we don’t need the British. He was from a privileged family. Several times, the British punished him, but he remained truthful to power. That is my background. As a Christian, vengeance is the Almighty’s, not mine. Yes, he (Tinubu) offended me. He did something that was unjust, uncouth, and unreasonable to my person and he and his cohorts thought they had cocooned me. There were some people that I worked closely with, fiercely defending them, who were part of the conspiracies. But the beauty of God is that if he needs you, he will select you. If you go through that channel, and you still trust him, you’re going to come out on the highway of triumph.
For him (Tinubu), he did me a lot of evil. Initially, I was angry because I didn’t do anything to him. We can disagree without being disagreeable, and that is what is called democracy. The fact that you have a different opinion from me doesn’t make us enemies. They congregated and brought out charges that made no sense. They alleged that we split contract. I was a part time chairman of Nigeria Port Authority (NPA). If they don’t bring memos, I don’t take decisions. I wasn’t the day-to-day manager of the place. Yet, we were sentenced to prison, I went there and it was a lesson for me. I have stayed in the bedroom of the President of this country and I have also been to the bottom of the valley, sleeping in the cell in prison. The first one week, I was ravaging, that was the military me, asking what was my offence? What sin did we commit?
They’re still alive but see the powers of God, all those who perpetrated the evil, God is already descending on them. The lesson I learnt was, you can only trust one being and that is God Almighty.
Many thought you would be at the state banquet organised by Governor Nyesom Wike of River State, where some thought there would be reconciliation between you and Tinubu?
There is no fight; therefore there is no need for reconciliation. Life is short; there is a day of entry and exit. So, let’s do it well. Who am I? I hate nobody. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love your neighbour as yourself.” Those are my beliefs.
Do you have any advice for the youths?
I plead with the younger generation to remain calm as the court concludes the cases before it on the outcome of the elections. This will define the future for them. The judges have children too. What future are they planning for their children?
With the Oyo and River states governors hobnobbing with the president-elect, what is the hope for PDP?
They (Makinde and Wike) overstretched the battle. I did not support the move and comments by Makinde. He could have waited a bit if he was committed to this party. Our party is still in court but he has gone to pledge his loyalty and commitment to Tinubu. It was a tactless move to visit Tinubu before the judgment of the tribunal.
Wike didn’t make the comment, which Makinde made to the effect that the ‘elections are over.’ Words are like arrows. I wish them well. The party will meet very soon. All sides to the conflict were stupid.