(INTERVIEW) ‘Our headache as opposition party’ – Bode George
At 71, how has the journey been?
Most times, I get emotional. Whither Nigeria? I remember my youthful days, we were very hopeful, we had a very wonderful upbringing. As a young man growing up in Lagos with my parents, there was hope. Though we were yet to get independence at that time, the British were in charge of the political affairs of this nation, all we wanted to do was to get education and you know for real that the future was bright.
When you are outside the box, I mean outside the country, you will be able to look at your nation without bias and you can easily come to certain conclusion. When I came back to Nigeria, I was a little depressed. I remember in 1952 during the first election, I was with my father marking the little papers of the election. My great grandmother, Mrs. Aganga Williams, came from Herbert Macaulay stock. So my mother’s side has been very heavily involved in politics. I never knew I would end up myself in politics but my papa was traversing the length and breadth of Nigeria trying to fight the colonial masters; he was imprisoned on so many trivial issues just to break him but he was unbroken.
So that kind of picture, that kind of drive was in us. Of course Lagos was not as heavily populated as it is now and you know Western Region extended to Fadeyi and Idi Oro in Mushin. Lagos Island, Mainland, Surulere came up later when they were building Eko Bridge. So it was closely knit, everybody knew everybody’s else .
Area Boys in Lagos
The concept of Area Boys came from Omo Adugbo, you know we used to enjoy as groups playing football. Isale Igangan was our local stadium, little Campos Square was another local stadium. Rascality was an odd thing then.
What is it that is driving our youths today? I have been thinking that if, in another 20 years from now, I am 71 now, what would this country look like? I want to bare my mind because, at this age, the Bible says three scores and ten, that is our official years. Anything after 70 you are alive by the grace of the Almighty. If you can’t say your mind on issues now, when will you say it? You can be called home (heaven) anytime. Like I have said to a lot of people, the more you grow old the more you are religious. A passage in the Bible read in my Church on Sunday, Amos 5 verses 22-24, was striking to me, very relevant for this country. It says let justice roll like a stream and let righteousness flow like a river that will never dry up. These are two very salient statements. With the two statements, I started thinking, even the neighbourhood communal living that we grew into has stopped. We had Area Fathers and Area Boys but everything has all been twisted now.
The connotation Area Boys now is a terrible thing. The policing then came naturally; if your neighbour saw your child somewhere he was not supposed to be, he will take him home and say, ‘I don’t know what your son was doing there and I brought him back to you’. So, everybody took care of everybody. But what do you find these days? If you are lucky you are not kidnapped, you are not picked for rituals. So, where are we going? Nigeria is endowed and nothing happens without the blessing of the Almighty God . As a Christian, nothing happens without God’s knowledge. So, God, having done that for us, are we still really uniting as a country? This is what has been agitating my mind and, on my birthday today, I said let me come out of my submarine mood.“You know as a naval officer, when a submarine, especially a nuclear submarine, dives, there are certain levels because of the echoes, it is not a vacuum but, because of the configuration of the underwater, it knows the best place to hide and be there hours un-end and surface ship would be moving round and round trying to locate it. So I said let me be in that submarine mood and watch.
So many topical issues nowadays have come to the fore. You know Abraham Lincoln said that it is not when everything is rosy that you know who are leaders, it is when there is tribulation and those that stand up then are the real leaders. What Abraham Lincoln said at that time is as still relevant today as it was then. So where are we going as a nation? And this is not politics now. Yes I belong to the PDP but, at the same time, General Buhari and I belong to a very important profession in this country and that is the military. I also retired as a general and when I sit back, I keep thinking, what is happening? I looked at the issue of Boko Haram, the issue of corruption. I have listened to the issue of the judiciary and watched the movements, the comments of the generality of Nigerians regarding our own brothers and sisters from the South-South, the oil producing region. My advice to President Buhari, who is my senior in the military, is softly, softly.
On the crisis in the Niger Delta
Those people who live in that area are also Nigerians, they are not enemies. The degradation in the place is disturbing. The late President Yar’Adua went into a dialogue and came up with a solution to improve the lives of the region’s youths. Many of them are abroad studying to become professionals in various fields. Jonathan continued from where Yar’Adua stopped but most of them are now stranded in some of the universities.
Now, thinking as an economist, that area is the source of our revenue, our oil production has dropped massively and that is affecting the income of this country. If you now look at how much it will take to sustain those youths in the universities versus how much we are losing income, there is need for dialogue. I plead with the President, as a staff officer, as his junior and as a naval officer, the area will not augur well for any warfare, he should reconsider his stance. As a political leader, he loses nothing by encouraging all citizens for better life.
If we don’t have income, how would they do all the social services required for the majority of Nigerians? I have seen both military and democratic governments, but the beauty of a democratic government is that you must dialogue, you must reach out, you must listen; otherwise it becomes a monotony. Democracy is not a monotony, it is a creation of dialogue. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. That is one major concern for me as a Nigerian at this age.
On 2015 polls
During the last general elections, we (PDP) erred; we made a fundamental mistake but there is nobody who is above mistake.
What kind of mistake?
We made many mistakes, the way the elections were conducted but that is for our internal consumption. I want to accept that we made mistakes.
So, it is okay to say the choice of Senator Modu Sheriff was a mistake?
It was a monumental mistake. Sheriff is my friend. It takes one crazy person to throw a stone in the well, but one million professors will not be able to bring out that stone. That is where we have found ourselves now. There will be tribulations.
In the same manner, an issue happened at Ifako-Ijaiye (Lagos) where, during your party’s primary, a female aspirant won the election by 22 votes; the first runner up, also a woman, got five votes. The latter was, however, declared winner of the primary. What happened?
We have made our report but, personally, I would never stand for illegality or injustice. I have spoken with the Acting Chairman of the Caretaker Committee and the representative of the South-West and I believe there is still room for mediation. We cannot afford conflagration in Lagos because Lagos is the largest pool of registered votes. We have six million voters in Lagos alone because Lagos is now a mini-Nigeria. We are not in Aso Rock Villa, which means that the police, INEC, DSS and other agencies are not under our control, they are all under the executive. We don’t have such opportunity. We must present our party in a manner that will endear us to the masses. If they decide that this is the direction that they are going, all the agencies I mentioned earlier cannot stop them. I am pleading that we should not go through that path, we must be careful. I was at the National Secretariat of the PDP for ten years. Once there is no justice in what you are doing, you are creating a big hole for yourself. That is my stand. We have made representations and we are all waiting to know why the woman who won was disqualified. But I urge that we tread careful so that we don’t follow the party of perfidy.
With all these happenings in the party, what is the future of the PDP?
It is very bright. Let us go back to how this party was formed. You know the founding fathers of the party, Chief Bola Ige, Alex Ekwueme, among others, operated under the same political roof. If you check well, since 1952, all political parties were based purely on tribe. We had the Action Group in the Western Region, Northern People’s Congress in the North, the NCNC dominated Lagos but Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe went back home and formed his party. All the parties then were tribal parties. Somehow, when Abacha was military Head of State and he wanted to become life President, some people came together and rejected the idea. That was the beginning of the discussion. How could you imagine Alhaji Abubakar Rimi from Kano being with Malam Adamu Ciroma in the same party? But they all came together and, when Abacha passed on, they felt it would be nice to form a political party. I have campaigned round this country, there is no village you won’t hear of the PDP. The party has a very deep tap root; otherwise we would have gone under. This little tribulation, to me, should serve as a lesson. Would you abandon your house because it is leaking and build another one? I am using this metaphorically so that you can understand the problems of running away.
The best thing we can do is to strengthen the PDP and we are now in the process. You must accommodate everybody because democracy is all about debates. Those who ran out of the PDP headed for the APC due to one issue or the other. A committee has been set up to go round and reach out to them, remember I described the APC as a congregation of strange bed-fellows. They are in government alright but is the government in them? Where are they now? The old men who founded the PDP had the experiences of the 1950s, the 1960s, the first republic, the second and the military interregnum. Some of them even landed before military tribunals but they survived. They came up with the six geo-political zones and, as a practitioner, what sustained our party and democracy in this country for 16 years, was this issue of Turn-by-Turn Nigeria Limited. It was a brilliant concept and that brought peace. We made some mistakes but we have learned from the mistakes. That is why we set up the committee to ensure that those who left the party can return. We are doing our repairs of the house and with the background of the mistakes made in the past and then re-present ourselves to Nigerians.
Are you saying a new party is not possible?
I wish those planning a new party the best of luck. Let them start it. Do you know how long it takes to start something to become a colossus? It takes time, even we have not fully developed yet. We are now knowing what it means to be in the opposition, that it is a different process of learning.
What if it comes in form of alignment, will you be part of it?
Aligning to where? In politics, a political party is like a police station, you don’t shut your doors. If you go to a police station, it is always open, you do not shut the doors. We have set up a committee to go round and talk to those who left the party but which party has that tap root that is national?
There is a movement to ensure that your zone-South-West-is not short changed.
It is a brilliant idea but where are they heading to? The South-West alone cannot win the Villa, no zone alone can win the Villa; you have to network and, going by the concept of our party, you know what will come to you.