A former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olabode George, speaks with some journalists on the state of insecurity in the nation, his plans to contest the 2023 presidential election, and the problems in his party, among others
You have shown interest to contest the 2023 presidential election. What are the motivating factors?
First, our party will have to agree if it is coming to the South-West or not. We have a highly cerebral group made up of seasoned Nigerians where we discuss issues on Nigeria and the South-West. The thought came out when people started talking about the South-West and in my part of the world, if some people are wishing you to do something, you do not deflect it. Although the time is still far ahead and nobody knows who will be alive or not, when this discussion came up, I got calls that this is what they were thinking. I did not tell them to stop, neither did I tell them to go ahead because these are things you will have to put into prayers and if it is the wish of the Almighty, it will get open to me. Like I told them, there is a myriad of problems in this country today and usually, in four-year term governance, you start political discussions at least during the third year. If you have a problem, you will start to address it from the top to the bottom. We just concluded an election process and it is not up to one year but the state of the nation gives me a lot of concern. I am talking as a Nigerian. The level of our civility, development and the level in which this country has achieved, the whole thing is crumbling.
What is responsible for that?
First, it is our nation and it has nothing to do with a political party. If you do not talk when issues are like this, then you have no right in the future. You may advise which may not take, but to be quiet is immoral and dishonest. Look at the recent rating by Transparency International on our corruption index, we have further plunged. As a nation, how well are we respected internationally? I can tell you that it is almost zero.
So, what is responsible for the rising debates about the 2023 election?
They probably think that if they start early, there would be calmness in the minds of the people. Or are they afraid that the present administration should wind up and get out of the office? There are so many meanings you can read into it. Our major issue now is not about politics but the management of the country. All is not well. There is hunger in the land and hunger does not have a tribe. We are expanding the grudges between tribes and promoting divisive things. You cannot make suggestions without attacks from other quarters. What is responsible for this? However, let us resolve the issue of mistrust before we talk of any election. Why are we looking at ourselves as enemies? A divided house is a defeated house. Our nation must survive. I concluded that we would need to go and dedicate one week to pray to God Almighty because we have offended His dictates. Whether Muslim or Christian, we need to fast and pray.
You had also recently expressed desire to challenge the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, in the next election. Why did you make a direct challenge?
It is a challenge. It would be the most illogical and most disruptive issue to have him (Tinubu) elected as President. If this happens, I will disown Nigeria to take the citizenship of Togo or any other country. Look, what this fellow did in my state, all the lies and the most painful thing was that on the day of the election (2019 election) two bullion vans drove in the daylight to his house and what did Prof Itse Sagay say, that he (Tinubu) had been a very wealthy man before. Where was he wealthy? If his (Sagay’s) conclusion was that, then something is wrong. Let us call a spade a spade and stop deceiving ourselves. So, if that is the way they want to do it, then I am ready to face him (Tinubu). Let us get out there because it would be the greatest disservice for our nation to have him contest as a presidential candidate.
But Tinubu is one of the pillars of the APC and people believe he can lead the country…
The APC to me is a congregation of strange bird fellows and you can see the effect. Nobody is talking for the party or the government, all you hear are a cacophony of voices and that is why the party is not working. So, if Tinubu is one of the leaders of the party, it means it is not working. I am convinced that Nigerians who voted the APC into government would be regretting it now. I am not saying this because I belong to another party, but the management of that party (APC) is archaic and it is rural in its concept. They can modernise themselves though. You heard what the National Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole, once said that all those that have sinned before should come to the APC and their sins would be forgiven. Is that the kind of statement that should come from the national chairman of a ruling party? So, it (APC) is a congregation of sinful people. What is required in Nigeria is the provision of food, shelter, and good infrastructure, but the APC is now very far from providing that. Whether you are a rich or a poor man, we all fall into the same category and it is scary.
Your party is trying to realign ahead of the 2023 election. What are the best ways to achieve this?
Our party itself needs a remodelling. All is not well with the PDP unless we are deceiving ourselves. When they should have been out in the field before the Supreme Court judgment on Emeka Ihedioha (former governor of Imo State), they were asleep and suddenly they popped out- that is not the way to manage a party. If you have a case of that nature, we should have been all out to give him all the necessary support from the onset, not now trying to act when it is medicine after death. If we go on like this, we would be beaten stupid at elections. The PDP itself has a monumental problem and that is why I accepted this interview because I do not want to talk on the platform of being partisan. I want to talk as a Nigerian.
Specifically, as one of the leaders of the party in the South-West, what are you doing to bring the PDP together?
Fortunately, we have a governor (Seye Makinde of Oyo State) and we have resolved that there will be a meeting of elders by next Thursday (February 20) in Ibadan. This meeting will take care of all the things going on, positively and negatively, in the party. The guy who is managing the party in the South-West has created some ripples in some states and when it comes to issues like these, we would concern ourselves with ‘righting’ the ‘wrong’ by doing what is just and fair. This meeting of elders in the South-West is to stabilise the zone ahead of the party’s national convention that will be coming up in April.
What is the problem of the PDP in Lagos that has made it difficult for the party to win elections in the state since 1999?
It is mainly attitudinal and the lack of cohesive and comprehensive electoral process. What normally happens is that when the people go for election, from the polling unit the results are hand-written to ward collation centre and from there to local government area collation centre before it gets to the state collation centre. So, cheating is unimaginable and undependable. That is why you find out that when a government makes policy, should it not be in the interest of the people? If they do not respect the people then it shows that they know that they would go back to the election to manipulate the result because of the archaic methodology that is adopted. That is all that is happening. It is not that our people do not win elections in Lagos State. Look at the last general elections, especially the presidential election; it is so mundane and illogical. We cannot continue this way and say the election is credible. Results are constantly being altered as they go from one collation centre to the other.
You had wished to contest the presidential election with Tinubu, are you not worried that the APC in which Tinubu belongs had been winning in your local government area all these while?
This is why I am telling you that the system of operation is very abysmal, terrible, and illogical and it does not make any sense. How many elections have we had that does not end up in the court? The technology is available with the use of the Permanent Voter Card. This would enable us to reduce the paper voting. I believe we have a long time between now and the next election for the electoral body to get things sorted.
So, are you saying with credible conduct of elections, you can win the APC in your Lagos Island LGA?
People will make up their minds. Who is happy in Nigeria today? Everybody is crying under the heavy storm. We are all at the precipice and my major concern is the electoral process. This is the 21st century and we are still carrying results from location A to B and C by hand, why would there not be complaints. Let us respect the will of the people and the only way this can be done is to make sure that elections are transparent, just and fair. Look at what happened in Osun and Imo states where the court took over the role of INEC, adding and subtracting figures.
There is a general clamour that if the Presidency rotates to the South, it should be the turn of the South-East?
I had said it before that ideally, from our party, once it comes back to the South, it must go to the South-East. But, when we, in the South-West, were looking for some support, I was shocked about what some of their leaders in the South-East did. I was one of the first to express my belief in the zoning system based on the rotational level, but when it was our turn to produce the national chairman of the party, the South-East people abandoned us. However, as I Christian I have risen above that level, but it is just a reminder that you should be careful in life to be just, fair and rational because someday it would be your turn. So, ideally, when it comes to the South it should go to the South-East because they have never had it, but if the name Tinubu pops up in the APC, I would go all out to contest with him.
But some members of the PDP believe that the 2019 presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, could still clinch the ticket in the 2023 election. If this happens, what would you do?
That was why I said baring all last-minute discussions, I believe in good thinking. I cannot stay off that because of personal things. Whatever they discuss or plan, I will go along with it, but there is a caveat.
What is the caveat?
Our party requires introspection because the management style currently being exhibited calls for a question. We would get worse than the APC if we are not careful. However, whatever the party decides, I will swing on it.
There was a change of leadership in the structure of the Lagos State PDP. Are you in support of the new state executive members?
I am not in support of that change. Those are the kind of things that I am talking about. The mismanagement and arrogance in the leadership style will take us nowhere. I was one of the party managers for 12 years, if we had mismanaged the PDP the way they are doing now there would have been no party. We are derailing like a ship without a rudder in a sea-state that is very bad. I believe that the elders and founders of the party must come together for us to have a closed-door discussion. The party is sinking. Although the case of Lagos PDP is in the court, that management style is bad. You cannot have a total power control. You must discuss with the elders of the party. Politics is all about discussion. You cannot just wake up from the wrong side of your bed and just take a decision. It is affecting everything. If you start taking illegal steps, of course, people would challenge you. Did you consult? You did something illogical and illegal because you are managers of the party now, it cannot work. These are things that we must revisit to put our party and reinforce our platform, otherwise, it would keep wobbling. If you stand on a wobbling platform you cannot fly.
The state of insecurity in Nigeria had topped the front burner in recent months, as a former military officer, do you think our security agencies are doing well in the fight against kidnapping, banditry, and insurgency? I have thought very deeply about this. Ideally, all those areas mentioned are all for the Police, but when the Police cannot cope with the operation, they reverse to the President to tell him that they cannot cope with it, then the military will come in. The way the military is set up, we are to fend off enemies of this country. If it is a matter between Nigerians, which side is the enemy? Unless they are doing things that are inimical to the stability and quietness of our country and it will be in a short-term operation with the military. A quick bang, finish the operation and move back to the barracks. Our training is different from that of the Police but right now, this issue of insurgency has made it also perpetual and I do not know where we are. People are still being murdered and people are not safe. So, I believe it is not a job for the government alone anymore if we are serious. The government must now open their doors and open up a national discussion. This is mistrust and it is getting out of hand. The lack of love that we once exhibited is no longer there. We are 100 years old as a country and people are going to the precipice to say we should go our separate ways. To me, separating is not the issue.
As a result of this insecurity, the six governors in the South-West came together to set up a regional outfit code named Operation Amotekun, was it a right step?
There is nothing wrong with the establishment of Operation Amotekun by the South-West governors. The reason why I am in support of the intervention is that the number of policemen for the population of this country is inadequate. How many policemen do we have at the moment that is policing over 200 million people? I learnt we have about 300,000 policemen right now, how can they be effective? So, if the state governments now adopt a concept like the Amotekun issue to have people doing community policing, there is nothing wrong with that. These people will come from the localities that they are operating and they will checkmate the activities of strangers. Community policing is such that the operatives will know members of their communities and that will be a deterrent to criminals. You will know for instance that Fatai, who leaves next door, is a mechanic. This was what we had in place during the pre-colonial and colonial era. We copied the American system of governance and we should know that the local government areas (counties) in the US have their Police. There is also the state Police and the Federal Police. So, the immediate surrounding is secured by those who are there. They will not, for instance, get someone from New York to carry out the task of community policing in Florida. We can make it work in Nigeria. This central control of the Police was introduced by the military because of their style of government where the order is from the top to bottom, and it was appropriate for them. But in a democratic dispensation, the power comes from the bottom, so it is bottoms up. We cannot have people sitting in Abuja and ruling over my local government area in Lagos, or other LGAs in Sokoto, Borno, Rivers or Niger, it cannot be effective. So, there is a need for us to devolve power and give to Peter what is Peter and to John what is John, otherwise, we are going to continue to swim in the dark. It is already affecting our image outside. Where is that giant of Africa today? We started the vision 20:2020 a couple of years ago, we are now in 2020. Are we among the 20 economically viable nations in the world today? So, for me, it has become imperative for us to discuss it.
With regards to insecurity, there was a recent call for the service chiefs to be removed, would you subscribe to that?
Let me do an analysis here. Yes, it is the prerogative of the President to hire and fire them. Nigerians are now getting involved, is it the problems of service chiefs that is responsible for all these? The beheading of the local chairman of CAN in Adamawa State will you tie to the service chiefs? Their defined jobs are to defeat enemies of the country. What we have right now is the insurgency largely as a result of mistrust between people of different faiths and tribes. The service chief is just one man and a tree does not make a forest. It does not mean that if you change one man all is well. Those who are currently service chiefs have GOCs, Flag Officers and so on, it is teamwork and the joint team goes back to the number one citizen to report. If the number one feels their performance is below his expectation, he can fire them. Yes, there is also a need for morale-boosting by elevating those looking forward to being service chiefs too, but basically, it is either you clock 60 years of age or 35 years in service, whichever one comes first they retire you. If the President says you should stay on, you can stay on, but any day you leave, the system will collect back every kobo that you received after you had clocked your retirement age. I do not know the ages of the current service chiefs, but the issue is a collective responsibility. Their loyalty to the country must outshine everything they think of.
In the recently conducted governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states, there were complaints of heavy involvements of security operatives and people are getting worried that such development should be curtailed ahead of the 2023 general elections, what do you make of that?
If the electoral system continues that way, this nation will never get out of the doldrums. There are a lot of young people who are so versatile in this age of Information and Communications Technology; we should engage them to make us go fully electronic during elections. We still run elections in a semi-automatic manner. Why can’t we go the whole hub? Look at the United Kingdom, they recently had a general election and just a few hours after voting had ended, the result was already in the public domain. Why can’t we do that here or are they saying we do not have people with brains? Our electoral system is very faulty and people are still saying the process is good. God loves this country and I believe that we are stretching our luck beyond sensibilities. If we do the right thing the security operatives cannot assist people to snatch ballot boxes. The current electoral system is faulty and useless and we must do something about it. We still have enough time to build it up. I believe that voters could immediately vote with the Card Reader technology immediately after accreditation and this will be recorded instantly in the database instead of this thumb printing on ballot papers. All those results that they take from the polling units to the ward collation and state collations centres, the results will keep changing. The unfortunate situation is that we have these vice-chancellors who are being used as state collation officers to carry out these damages to the system. I remember the Osun State case where a Chief Returning Officer, a vice-chancellor who said they can go to court when vote-counting was still ongoing.
What is your position on the ban of okada and tricycles in some parts of Lagos State?
How can they (state government) do that? Let us forget about politics, the governor is my younger brother and his uncle is my friend. I talk to him like an elder. He should sit down and revisit that law. It is inimical to anything that makes any sense at all. Most workers in Lagos work in the Island, how do they get to their offices early now? Must everybody buy a car? Which alternative employment do they have for the people that they have stopped from riding a commercial motorcycle? So, how do they survive? They are only expanding the kingdom of armed robbers. The number of people out of job is unbelievable and you are adding to it. Get the Amotekun to be in every area and they will monitor the movement of these people (okada riders).