A former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Bode George, speaks with TOLUWANI ENIOLA on the PDP crisis, Musiliu Obanikoro’s reconciliation with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and national issues
The Supreme Court has struck out an application by Ali Modu Sheriff asking the court not entertain the plea made by the Ahmed Makarfi faction on the party’s crisis, is this a sign of victory for the Makarfi faction which you are supporting?
The Supreme Court made the right decision. I said it severally that there was something wrong with the February 17, 2017 judgment of the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal which sacked the caretaker committee and affirmed Sheriff as the national chairman of the PDP. After the botched Port Harcourt convention, Sheriff called a press conference to singlehandedly cancel a convention which only a national executive committee has the power to do. So, we are optimistic that the Supreme Court will deliver a good judgment which will set democracy in Nigeria on a good course.
Many people expected both factions to reach a truce with the intervention of former President Goodluck Jonathan. Why did Jonathan fail to resolve the crisis?
This was what happened. When I was in London, the former President spoke with me that he needed to arrange a meeting to broker peace between both factions. I said, “Oga, I appeal to you, let the Supreme Court deliver its judgment first before any reconciliation is done.” Jonathan was humane. He was thinking as a leader. But I told him that one does not reconcile people who disrespect the party’s constitution. I told him there was danger in such an early reconciliation .I maintained that one does not broker peace when there is a Berlin war between the two parties, who are in court. The matters before the court are strategic and fundamental to the future operations of the party. I advised that he should intervene towards 2019.
So, what did Jonathan do wrongly?
He should have waited for the outcome of the court before intervening. That is what we advised. Once the Supreme Court gives a judgement, then he can come in. The Supreme Court judgement will set a precedent for the party.
Are you saying Jonathan made the reconciliation to flop?
I did not say that. He was concerned. He didn’t feel that the court was the best platform to resolve the impasse. Eventually, Sheriff stormed out of the meeting he convened, disrespecting the former president. That was the height of disrespect. He said they didn’t allow him to speak as the chairman of the party.
Musiliu Obanikoro, a staunch PDP governorship aspirant, has reconciled with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, how did you feel about this development?
I am not bothered. I read his reasons for reconciling with Bola (Tinubu). He anchored his reconciliation with Tinubu on the problems in the PDP. But it is when there is crisis that you know the truly committed, dedicated and loyal people. Will the people he is going to meet there (APC) say well done, the faithful servant? I feel sorry for him. Tinubu and others were responsible for my travails during the Nigeria Ports Authority crisis when I was sent to prison for doing nothing. I can only wish Obanikoro the best of luck.
Do you see him as a betrayer for joining the APC?
I won’t use that strong word to describe him because he (Obanikoro) is still my brother. I can only advise him that we are here only for a short time. That popular song says, “Feso jaye.” Let him take heed. Life is not a bed of roses. The highway of life goes into the valley once in a while. There is no human being who will not go through one trial or another. But that tunnel of tribulation is to test your strength and faith in God. If you believe in him, you will triumph. That is what he should think about.
Is his defection connected with his ambition to become the governor of Lagos?
Did he even realise the governorship ambition in the PDP? I have advised him severally, he didn’t listen to me. He said I was too hard and that I hate him. But now, he will go to the APC and he does not need to say I hate him anymore. The benefits and problems of the party should be enjoyed and borne by all. That is the beauty of democracy. It is not only the goodies of the party that you share. You should share in the problems of the party.
What is you grouse with Obanikoro?
During the last administration, I led a delegation from the South-West to Jonathan. I complained that there was no indigenous minister from Lagos State in his government. Jonathan said he would satisfy us. He then asked us to bring three names from Lagos, that he would consider one of them as a minister. I called a meeting of all the leaders from the senatorial districts in my compound to nominate names from each district. Obanikoro’s name was last in the Lagos-Central senatorial district. They didn’t vote for him. I gave them free hand to nominate and vote. After voting, they gave me three names which I took to Jonathan.
Jonathan wanted a woman as a minister. He rejected the initial names we submitted and asked us to nominate three qualified women for the job. I took the message back to Lagos. They nominated the women and I took the paper back to the president, to choose any of the three women we suggested. Then I travelled (out of the country). When I came back, Obanikoro came to my house and prostrated before me. I asked him what the problem was. I said, “I hope you have not committed any crime?” He said no. He said Jonathan had chosen him to be a minister and that he had got his appointment letter. He said he was asked to come and seek my support. I said the final decision on who would represent Lagos could only be taken by the President. I said there was no way I would challenge Jonathan’s decision. Obanikoro went to the Senate for confirmation and the likes of Mrs. Oluremi Tinubu and other APC senators opposed his nomination. But David Mark was able to manouvre for him and he was confirmed. Obanikoro left there and came straight to my house to come and thank me. He thought I would oppose him. I said, “Obanikoro, listen, I am a Christian. If you want to be minister, go and be. God must have said you will be a minister.” Two months after, he came to me and said he wanted to be governor. I said, ‘Obanikoro, if you knew you wanted to be governor, why did you go and lobby Jonathan to be minister? He said, “I didn’t lobby sir.” I said if he didn’t lobby, how did his name get to Abuja? I made up my mind not to support him. I asked him why he didn’t allow somebody else to be minister when he had a governorship ambition. I said, ‘na you alone dey for this party?’
Will you join the APC if the Makarfi faction loses at the apex court?
Me? (Laughs) That is like pouring petrol into fire. If Makarfi did not win, I will be so happy to go to my house and say to my children, “I think I have run the race and played my part.”
Are you saying you will retire from politics if Sheriff wins?
Yes, I am going home. I won’t work with him. My concept of operation would have been affected.
You are also close to Oba Akiolu. What if he encourages you to join the APC?
They know. How can you compare APC to PDP? PDP was established by our founding fathers. How would you imagine Bola Ige to be under the same platform with Alex Ekwueme? What will I get in the APC that I have not gotten under the platform of the PDP?
Do you also intend to reconcile with Tinubu as it appears both of you are sworn enemies?
Bola (Tinubu) and I are not sworn enemies. Bola and I met during the burial of Alao Arisekola in Ibadan. That was the first time I saw him physically after I left the military. I was seated in the front row at the stadium. As I was going out, I saw him but refused to greet him. Then Governor Abiola Ajimobi jumped up and said, “Egbon, you did not greet Bola Tinubu? I said, ‘why would I greet him? Did you know what he did against me where he got the court to convict me for an offence I never committed?” But Oba Otudeko advised that we should use Arisekola’s death to settle the disagreement. I asked Ajimobi to go and call Bola (Tinubu). He (Tinubu) came to where I was and we shook hands. He said, “Egbon, e mabinu (Don’t be offended).” I am not God. So, since then, we settled our disagreement. The prison experience was a period of learning for me. The fact that we resolved it does not mean I cannot refer to it for the younger generations to learn, in order to avoid such pitfalls in the future. The only person you can trust absolutely is God Almighty.
But despite the apology, there are still ill-feelings between both of you?
There is nothing again. If we are in the same party, we probably will reason together. But he is still in another party. We are trying to get our party stabilised to have an effective opposition. When they were in the opposition, Lai Mohammed was criticising us anyhow, but now he is in the government, we want to caution him too because a lot of rubbish is coming from him. Don’t you know that Lai Mohammed is now being referred to as a liar? He is my friend but that is the impression people have of him.
Why is it that you and Tinubu cannot work together?
I don’t believe in Bola’s (Tinubu) concept of politics. Their concept of operation in the APC is different from the way I was brought up. A tree cannot make a forest. That is the difference between us. Let us collectively take up the mantle, not godfather kind of politics. This young man (Governor Akinwunmi Ambode) is doing a great job in Lagos and I am impressed. I went round recently and passed through Epe, while going to Ondo State. I passed through the route several times as a governor of old Ondo State in 1990. I was stupefied by what I saw. He is opening up the ancient villages with good road network and the quality of the road is amazing. Within two years, Ambode has outperformed Babatunde Fashola and Tinubu combined, in terms of infrastructural development, maybe because he is from the civil service. He is better than both of them with his achievements. But I can convince our people that when we settle the PDP crisis, we will present somebody who would be hundred times better than Ambode.
But a factional chairman of the PDP in Lagos, Segun Adewale, also accused you of playing godfather politics?
Adewale can open his mouth and say rubbish. Who is Adewale? Mine was to play the role of an elder and give them financial and moral support. When that same Adewale was going to contest the House of Representatives election, I supported him completely because he won the primary. When the police harassed and arrested him on the day of election, he was bundled to Panti. I called the president who gave the directive that he must be released. The next time, he said he wanted to contest the senate, I asked him to go to the field.
Junaid Mohammed recently said that the North would insist on two terms in 2019 if anything happens to Buhari. What is your take on that?
Junaid is my friend. We must be very careful about making inflammatory statements. The country is in a flux. We are not stable. My best friend is still a Fulani till today and I have no regrets. Junaid’s comment is unacceptable and irrelevant at this point. We have to be careful. For example, last week, I was watching the television and saw a serving justice of the Supreme Court being arraigned in a High Court on a criminal charge. I wept for this country. Someone close to me said don’t you know where he is from? Nowhere in the world would that happen. If they found something illegal about him, the most rational thing is to ease him out through the NJC. People have read many things to it and I am sure it has nothing to do with tribalism but no matter what, that is the major problem. We have not become a united country. During my days in the military, we defended the integrity and borders of this country without tribal sentiments.
The Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, has raised the alarm about soldiers hobnobbing with politicians; why do you think such an alert is coming, especially at this period.
Let me simply advise our men in the military. They should know that was how the military was brought in. Gradually, the dirty attitudes and behaviour in Nigerian politics were embedded into the military psyche and we lost our steam and the togetherness that we cultivated. Let the military face their works and duties. A coup will be disastrous.
Do you think the military of today can foil a coup if staged?
Nigeria is heavily divided now on tribal basis than before. The picture I see now is not the same picture we saw. When we were in the barracks, your next door neighbor could be Igbo or Hausa and he is your family. We fought together and lived together. I don’t even want to take my thoughts towards coup. That will be madness and it will set this country on fire. No nation goes into a civil war twice and survives. We should be very careful. Buratai should stand at alert and educate his soldiers. They should not throw a stone into the well; one million professors will not be able to find that stone in that well. Remember that was how the crisis started in the 1960s in the South-West. The Action Group was to be decimated. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was arrested on the grounds that he committed treasonable felony. It was a Yoruba judge that they used to send him to prison. The West was never at peace until the military struck and there was another counter coup. That was the day that the military got into the politics and destroyed the country.
Is there a similarity between the Jonathan administration and the current one?
I have said that I will not make any political statement until the last quarter of this year when real politics begins. The reason is that by my own training, once a government is in power, you give them that benefit of the doubt to carry out their plans and programmes. We are watching. I will not talk unless it comes to a very terrible scenario. The only criticism I have made against the Buhari government is the marginalisation of the South-South and the oil-producing areas. Rather than turn the zone into a war zone, we should negotiate with them. When the oil and gas sector is down, the treasury is down and so the economy will be down. When the economy is down, investors will run away. I get angry when I see our banks and communications companies wasting dollars on CNN for adverts. Even Globacom is sponsoring adverts outside Nigeria when our children are suffering here. The Federal Government must surcharge any company that advertises on CNN and other foreign media. Why can’t they advertise at home here? The Minister of Finance and the Federal Inland Revenue Service should wake up and formulate a policy to that effect. For every dollar spent there, 50 cent of it must be paid to the treasury of this country. All our banks put together are not up to one bank in South Africa. The communications companies are delivering poor services. They should stop promoting themselves uselessly in the international scene.
In your view, is Jonathan a better leader than Buhari?
I won’t answer that question. I will answer it at the appropriate time. First of all, as a Christian, we are asked to pray for our leaders so that their decisions, policies and programmes will benefit the masses. We must pray for Buhari. Jonathan is humane. He did a lot of things with his conviction which some of us expressed reservations about. We told him to use tested people. He has done the best he could. What we will look at, which I am trying to avoid, is to put them on a tripod and start to examine them. That is looking into their government. When we come to the right period, we will talk.
Should Buhari resign based on his health status?
There is no need for that. If he resigns, automatically, the number two would take over. Then another person would be chosen as vice-president. The APC is a congregation of strange bedfellows. But tribalism is their problem. The highest level of tribalism is being exhibited in the APC unlike the PDP. There is no trust. They said Osinbajo should be Coordinating Acting –President. What does that mean in law to us? Is it because he is a Yoruba man?
But Osinbajo said the President takes him like a son.
No, even if Buhari takes Osinbajo like a blood brother or biological son that is personal. Osinbajo will not undermine his boss. He is trying to say that he will not undermine his boss. Of course as a vice-president, you must be committed to your boss and be loyal, otherwise God would charge you. If they think it has gotten that bad, they should work with Osinbajo and allow Nigeria to work. Millions of Nigerians are suffering.
There is outcry over non-indigenes taking over the Lagos political space. Some are saying that Obanikoro and some other top politicians in the city are not even from Lagos?
Of course (Obani)Koro is not originally from Lagos. I am a bonafide Lagosian so I know a lot of things. Let me tell you a story. Koro’s father, as told by Baba Adedibu, was from Ibadan. The story is that they came to live in Lagos but they are originally from Ibadan. His (Obanikoro’s) mother is an Owu woman, and they worked in Obanikoro’s palace.
Can you substantiate that?
I won’t say more than that. Baba Adedibu told Obanikoro this story when he went to lobby Adedibu to beg me. I said, ‘I have nothing against you. I don’t hate you.’ The truth is that Lagos, right from day one, has been a trading point. We were brought up to accommodate people who came from the hinterland; we accommodated them because Lagos is a trading port.
Oba Akiolu was reported to have said that Lagos is not part of Yorubaland?
What he was saying is this. Lagos was a colony. There were three protectorates; northern, southern, and Lagos. So, what he was saying is that Lagos was on its own and not part of the Southern protectorate. Lagos was not under the Western Region. Although we speak Yoruba, we were never part of the Western Region. That is history.
Why do you think returning to the regional structure as canvassed at the national conference will not work?
When Baba (Ayo) Adebanjo said we should go back to the Western region, and do it the way it was then, I said there would be problem. Remember that Ekiti was under Ondo State at a point. I said if you tell Ekiti people to go back to Ondo, there will be carnage; the same would happen if you tell Ogun people to be under Ibadan. Or that Osun should become old Oyo. In fact, Ibadan people would tell them to stay where they are. In their plans, they said they would make Lagos the capital of the new Western region. I said Lagos was never under the Western region in the first place. So, what Akiolu was saying is that Lagos was not under the full control of the Western region.
That is why the PDP is different. There is no tribe that does not reside in Lagos because of the trading aspect of it. We won elections in many areas in Lagos areas because we gave non indigenes who had populated such regions stakes. Politics is about people.