Chief Olabode Ibiyinka George, retired Naval Commodore, former military governor of Ondo State and former chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) is an astute politician who has held the strategic positions of the national vice-chairman, South West, deputy national chairman, South, and National Deputy Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
But the PDP under his watch has failed in the last 20 years to win the governorship seat in his home state of Lagos. The 2019 poll was the worst, he admits.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was worse off in the 2019 elections in Lagos than in 2015. What went wrong?
No, that is not quite correct and I will clarify. We were not worse off. In the presidential election, we still believe we won convincingly. We will see the outcome of that from the judiciary.
There was manipulation in Lagos for the presidential election. So, we must distinguish between the presidential and the governorship elections.
In the governorship election, the attitude was clear from the people, the electorate didn’t want the candidate that the PDP put forward. I don’t want to mention his name because it will be like an insult on my person. It was a situation of name-fatigue. The people were Jimmy Agbaje-fatigued. You could still go and check from the people.
Now, the question is, how did that come about? The last time we had elections, members of the party worked their hearts out. So why did everything change just four years down the line?
If you compare the results of Agbaje and Ambode in 2015 and the one he had against Sanwo Olu in 2019, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that something went amiss. The truth is that the people didn’t want to have his name on the ballot. They told us to our faces and the turn-out that day was about 16 per cent in the entire state. People told me to my face that we fielded a wrong candidate. They told me: “You don’t have a candidate.” But I said that was the party’s candidate, and so they didn’t bother.
We did a post mortem analysis of what happened in the meeting that we had. You know as a politician once all the dust is settled you call the people to know what happened.
People were just tired of the candidate we fielded in Lagos, whereas in Oyo State, we were lucky because we also fought an incumbent. In Oyo State, like the cliché used there, people said we brought fresh water, meaning the candidate fielded was fresh and one that will deliver, they voted for him.
I have said that it is a little bit too early to start talking about the details of the election because we are still at the tribunal, not for the governorship but the presidential election. So, I wouldn’t like to open up a Pandora box but definitely before the next elections. We have had an in-house post-mortem analysis but this is not the time to start talking too much about it because you will be ruffling a lot of feathers and I don’t intend to do that now as a Board of Trustees (BOT) member, and an elder. What I know is that something was not acceptable to the generality of the people. That Pandora box will be opened at the appropriate time.
So, the result was appalling not on the presidential but the governorship election. The marked difference showed that something must be wrong. The difference was so high but like I said, it is still too early to make our in-house analysis public.
But definitely, something went wrong and we have to talk about it, we have to look into it to prevent a repeat. That was the worst election for the PDP in Lagos State.
While I will respect your decision not to talk about the issue for now, there are some people who say that Chief Bode George is the de facto if not de jure leader of the PDP in Lagos State …
(Interrupts) What does that mean? Does that mean that Chief Bode George is responsible to the electorate that voted?
It means you cannot wash your hands off what happened. Where did Jimmy Agbaje come from? Who imposed him on the party as a candidate?
I am not an emperor as they have in the other party. I joined the PDP like others. I am not the be all and end all of the party in Lagos State. Yes, since 1998, I have been a member of this party when nobody in the South West even wanted to touch or have anything to do with the party. Then, it was a taboo to even talk about the party here. And then I became the Vice Chairman Southwest at that critical time. And I knew the effort we put in, the amount of work we did. So, you cannot throw us under the bus. You cannot throw experience under the bus. When it comes to politics, we may not be on the frontline perpetually but you cannot throw the baby and the bath water away. You can’t. It will be a very serious mistake on your part and in this party, you may have your opinion, you may sway people but you don’t have an authoritarian position of power to impose like some people do in some other parties. We go through the normal process.
In PDP, you go through the normal process because the wish of the people is paramount here than your personal wish. So, yes, Bode George is the de facto, de jure leader of the party in Lagos because I have been there, but I am neither the oldest nor the youngest.
Yes, because of my antecedents in the party, I still have that respect. I have been the Deputy National Chairman (overall), Deputy National Chairman (South); I was also Vice Chairman (South West), etc., so that respect for me is there and it goes beyond the South West but all over the country.
When I make some comments, people listen because I am not a rolling stone. I have been member of the PDP, I will still remain a member of the party. When I am tired, I will still be a member of the PDP.
I don’t want to insinuate on your comment. I have had people say, oh, you are like a stumbling block. We don’t have that in the PDP.
What I do is just to play my part, manage the people and resources for the benefit of the generality of our people. What I do like the American ship captain is to sit and watch the performance, you only get involved if someone is making a mistake. They call it command by negation. You have been trained enough to manage a particular thing during an operation, so the captain believes too that you are good enough to manage your own assignment, so when he sits down watching the overall job going on unless you are doing something that is wrong he will not interrupt you. I am not here to dictate and say you go to the Senate or House of Representatives, etc. No! We don’t do that in the PDP.
Even with my influence, you don’t dictate and force the people to fall in line. If you say there was a lot of external influence, you may not be too wrong. Let’s wait for the Supreme Court, may be after that you come back so that by that time the party will be ready to speak out, tell the truth so that the devil will be shamed. For now, I don’t want to start washing dirty linens in the public. We have done the meeting and we know what went wrong but it is not in my training to put the cart before the horse.
Some people believe that you are actually part of the problem of the PDP in Lagos State. How would you react to that?
I didn’t want to draw that out from you because that is a very silly impression that anybody can have. That was why I took the time to tell you about my own style of managing issues. People will have whatever opinion they want to have.
I don’t impose things on the party; it is against the party constitution. People will have whatever opinion they want to have. The prophet is not always loved or accepted in his own land. People will call you from all over the world to get involved with them, telling you to come and do one thing or the other with them but when you come home, self-conceitedness, crude ambition, etc., will come in.
But I have never stopped anybody, there is never a time I, alone, will take a decision on behalf of the party. We always call meetings either of elders or just senior party members to deliberate on issues and the decision reached in the meeting stands. We call more meetings than Bola (Tinubu) will package together in a long while.
How can anyone say I am the problem? Am I the one to talk to the electorate to change their minds for the candidate of the party? But I still do that, we went there, we campaigned to the people and I also pleaded with the people.
Let me put it like this: a hunchback man carrying a load for instance and the load is tilting and you say why don’t you correct the way it is tilting, you are looking at the head what about the legs and the bottom where the entire thing started, so how can he stand straight?
I can never be, I have never been and will never be any stumbling block to the party. Some passengers that were picked up along the line on the journey of the party now want to know the rules of the game more than you. When you tell them to bring their story from the constitution they will not and they will come with all kinds of idiosyncrasies. Some people when you look at their track records where they are coming from what drove them there is the same attitude they are trying to exhibit where they are now. It is not my law; the party constitution is clear on all issues but they want to disobey the constitution and when you speak out, they say you are the problem.
Mine is to ensure I do the right thing, they may have their wrong opinion about me, and it doesn’t matter. My life is that of service and I will not compromise on it.
You know some people come to chop, they come for the easy donations and scrapings, once in four years, after that they disappear like the submarine. You won’t hear them again talking on any topical issue, directly or indirectly about the party, you don’t hear their voice until another four years.
The party is wiser now. All these shenanigans, you know the way prostitutes behave in their hour of need? You know I come from a highly political family and the principles of my great Pa, Herbert Macaulay, started is still in us, it is service, service to the people.
Personally, my business has no link with this political thing; I don’t need them but once you put your hands on the plow you don’t look back. That is the lesson we learned from the grand-master himself, the first Nigerian politician. And I came from that same stock.
So, let us leave some of these things to the pages of history. History will do the vindication. People say since we have been running elections that we have never won Lagos. The cancer created in Lagos has become national cancer now. The man that created real cancer in Lagos who is ravaging everywhere is still there but we are not resting. But the greater danger is if you are committed and not for monetary gains you join the team but you find people who will tell you one thing yet they go subterranean in the night and they think you don’t know. When you are more than one, you will hear. People will come back and tell you to be careful and tell you what is happening at your back, so the party is getting wiser by the day now. Those who are not part of your house cannot know the house more than you do.
I am talking in parables and I don’t want to mention names because if I do, they may think they are important. If you see that a man comes around every four years to look for the contributions so that he goes back and he disappears like a submarine and some people outside are saying: take him, take him then they don’t mean well for you.
There is nothing that has a beginning that does not have an end. The only thing that is everlasting is God. Anybody born by a woman must have an end and so the students of history will read and pass it on. That was why I said all our actions are on the pages of the newspaper. My children will also read my activities on the pages of the newspaper like I have read that of the others.
I was too young in the days of Herbert Macaulay but I am too proud of all I read about him today. He was not arrogant, he was a humble man, he gave selfless service, and he dined with the high and mighty as well as with the low. You know the way a snake behaves? They used to call him the snake of the town … meaning there is nowhere he cannot feel at home. He mixed with the people, a man of the people. That is my own upbringing, my own stock, my own DNA.
The last time we had interview, I said Asiwaju Bola Tinubu may be politically savvier than the PDP in Lagos State the way he keeps wrong-footing the party. With what has happened again in the 2019 elections, don’t you think the man is more politically sophisticated?
It is not a matter of sophistication. The type of money at his disposal is huge. There is nowhere in the civilised world where you have an internal revenue agency, you will now go and employ a consultant who will be collecting your revenue on behalf of the revenue collecting agency. The biggest capitalist country in the world is the USA and it will never happen there.
It will never happen in any of the G7 or G8 nations. The consultant gets the money for you, keeps the money until the end of the month and here we are talking about billions of naira. For any day that billion stays in the bank you have an interest. Who collects the interest? What can be more corrupt than this?
When we shouted at the corrupt act, he got his selected group in the House of Assembly to pass a law that what he was doing was legal. When it started, we shouted and raised the alarm on the danger and criminality but the House backed him by law. So, he thinks the road is free. There is no morality there. If he collects an average of 6-7 billion every 30 days, some states don’t even earn that as their internally generated revenue (IGR) outside the Abuja allocation. The irony is that at the same time Lagos State is the largest debtor state in Nigeria.
So, you need money for so many things in elections – logistics, intelligence, etc. To win election doesn’t come cheap, you need to pay the bills. You need huge funds to undertake party assignments. This last election, even the blind man saw the two bullion vans moving into his house. What were they carrying? Were they bringing Christmas turkey?
When you have so much money to throw about, of course, to a great extent it determines the outcome of many things in our type of politics. Most of those people hanging around are like chickens when you throw the corn on the ground, they will be there to eat it. Whether I am lying today or telling the truth everything will be on the pages of history. It is a new day and when you talk about corruption where else do you beam your searchlight? Nothing in life is permanent, there must be an end one day.
How will it end when the culture is getting entrenched by the day?
I wish them the best of luck. There is an adage in my part of the world that when you train and train your son and he doesn’t listen, someday he will get out and they will teach him a bitter and lasting lesson of his life.
What worries you the most today?
When I see or hear about certain things that are happening today I feel sad. There is total flux. Take any sector: security for instance, you hear certain security news you think its fake news but another person will come and confirm it.
One Oba from Ondo State told me he missed being kidnapped by the whiskers, that he almost got abducted. He said his driver drove like hell. Will that Oba be lying? I believe as a matter of urgency the president must do something to re-establish the confidence of the people of this country. There is a need to call a town hall meeting, get a congregation of all tribes, all ethnic groups should be there, let the people pour out their minds because initially we thought oh, it was all in the South West, all the government reserves in Oyo, in Ogun have been subjected to certain fears and the villagers are getting scared.
Now I am 74 going to 75, in my whole years we have interacted with all groups. Is this the first time the herdsmen have been going around with their cattle, so why now? Let the people come and talk. This is not a military government, it’s a democratic government. Governors themselves are now calling for meetings. Remember that the governor is the chief security officer of the state, but some of them are now shouting.
The convoy of Ondo State governor was attacked. If a state governor is not safe, then who is?
When you hear some stories breaking from the north – Zamfara, Katsina, Adamawa, Borno, etc., you ask yourself when did we get to this level? What is going on?
I think we should have a meeting, let him (President Buhari) organise it, let the people come and talk, relay their experiences and you will hear more, then know the truth and find a lasting solution. When you invite them, at least 50 percent of the problem is solved, it gives the people confidence that all will be well and you are ready to give them a lasting solution. It looks as if the situation is getting out of hand. People may be pretending that all is well the way I am seeing it, the things I am hearing…. All is not well. You don’t know who is next.
But the president believes that all is well. He does not see anything wrong; he has passed a vote of confidence in his security chiefs saying that one of his areas of achievement is security?
Maybe, President Buhari needs to travel around incognito. He can take a quick visit somewhere. That is the way you can feel the taste of the pudding, you must eat it. All the news about security challenges cannot be fake news. Why was this not like this in the newspapers before?
Some of us are even confused, let him call a meeting and gauge the pulse of the people with experiences that may be shared. I think that is important. Some of us have nothing to gain lying to him. I read in the newspapers that all the Southwest governors want to have a security meeting where they will invite the army, the police, the OPC, some traditional rulers and it is not only here that this is happening.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo said what is happening is an Islamisation/Fulanisation agenda? Do you agree?
Do you think at his level and age, Baba is in his mid-80s now, a former general, top-class farmer, a man who has been both civilian and military president, he will be talking flippantly? He must have contacts, he gets information. Why would he want to throw tantrums? Why would he want to upstage governance? We should not ignore his observation.
If at that level he makes such observation, then let’s try and look at what he says to reassure the people that what is happening is like a flash in the pan, a mere aberration. The president must reassure the people that he is on top of the situation after he must have heard from them.
What is wrong with talking? You cannot be saying nothing is happening and every day there are reports that something is happening which poses a great danger to our existence. The first thing a government does is the security of lives and property; you have to be alive first to enjoy a good economy or a good life.
What is your impression about the 2019 elections particularly the use of INEC server?
I listened to the Chairman of INEC (Yakubu Mahmood) recently talking about a manual election because there is no full coverage, that there are gaps and I laughed.
Truth is that there is nowhere in the world that the coverage is 100 percent. There are some places things like high-rise houses block the signal but they will have a way to go round it and get their data. How can we still be going manual, carrying ballot papers from the 36 states to Abuja for collation?
It is shameful with all the data experts that abound in this country. You pay in money in the bank from anywhere and you get an instant alert but when it comes to election and its data, we play politics with it. Look at some of our providers including some of our banks advertising on CNN, wasting money. How many American providers do you see advertising on CNN? There are some banks in South Africa that if you put most of our banks together, they are nowhere compared to them, in terms of capital they are bigger but you will not see them advertise on the CNN. It is reckless, they waste depositor’s money. I believe members in the National Assembly should look at the bill and the issue critically, for every one dollar paid on an advert, they should pay its equivalent here, there should be a penalty and that money should be channeled towards education. Where are we compared to South Africa? We are not even at the footstool of India, 800 million people voted in the last election in India. Ours looks like a charade because as I said if you do any banking transaction now anywhere you are, you get an alert immediately, the same data, the same companies. So why is that technology missing in our electoral system? As long as our electoral process is manual, we can never get it right. I watched the last election in France, by 6.00 p.m. they were coming out with projections and by 9.00 p.m. same day of the election the loser called the winner to congratulate him.
You finish an election; the people will vote for their chosen candidate and the thing will end up in the Judiciary and the Judiciary decides who wins. Is that a legitimate process? How many times have you seen other countries, especially developed countries going to the court to determine who wins?
There is no perfect system anywhere but theirs is near perfect and you can trust their electoral process that the choice of their candidate will emerge. Here you expect individuals to physically carry results from their states by hand to Abuja, in the 21st century Nigeria, it shows we are sick, it’s a shame, it can never be correct. There are kids now that are experts who can design and perfect a system to deliver results of the election almost immediately, so why are we fooling ourselves? What are we waiting for?
Since after June 12, 1993 what has happened to our electoral process? We are one million times worse, so what lessons have we learned from June 12? When I read what the INEC chairman was proposing I thought I was in the outer space. The world is moving, Nigeria is no longer at an embryonic stage again. There is no known profession anywhere in the world that you won’t find one Nigerian as an expert. So, are we being challenged? We have children in all parts of Nigeria who are brilliant.
Here, it is the Judiciary that decides who is the president, so where is the will of the people?
Everybody is gallivanting, everybody is pontificating. What is the lesson of June 12, I ask again? What is wrong with us? We cannot make any progress without an election that will reflect the wish of the people, so why is it difficult for us to put a process that will produce a free and fair poll?
This is 20 years of uninterrupted democracy. Are you saying we have not made any progress since 1999?
We made progress up to a point and it looks like there is no progress again because on this kind of a journey there are no half measures. You remember in 2015 even the president (Jonathan) used his card reader it didn’t work in his polling station – a whole almighty president. Later they said they had improved it so where are we now? We take one step ahead, 50 steps backward. We are not inventing these things now; they are things already existing in other countries so why not go for the programming that you want, which will fit your system.
You cannot be manual with your electoral process in the 21st century and you want to have a free and fair election. At the end of the day, it is the judiciary that will announce who the winner is. Is that a process, is that agreeable? So the will of the people is thrown under the bus? I chuckle when I see certain things happening. We should have been many miles ahead but we are yet to get up. Who will come and put his money here when they know the crude process you are practicing?
How can you reassure them that they will make gain with the money they are coming to invest or you think they want to be Father Christmas?
So, how would you rate the 2019 elections?
I have said it all. I had a professor at University of Lagos (Ayodele) and he will tell you that when you make a definition, you don’t quarrel with anybody’s definition but what you quarrel with are the proceedings and the outcome. What have we achieved in our electoral process? The world is now a global village. I was privileged to do training with the United States Naval War College in 1986. We went to one of their air stations at Maine; the last US state before you get to Canada. The placing is looking after all the United States submarines in the Atlantic, there is where they call a choke-point between Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria all the way down to South Africa. They watch everything happening from there. Right there they put Lagos – Tinubu Square – on the screen and you can see the yellow buses and everything happening. I saw our Central Bank and everything around there. They see everything they want to see. They know where you come from…You can see how fast the world is moving and we are here doing blame game, manually carrying election results from location A to B, it’s a shame, given the wealth, not only physical capital but the human resource of this nation.
I keep praying every day that we will not be a wasted generation. Let’s challenge the younger ones and you will not be disappointed with what they will come out with in technology. At least as far as our elections are concerned let us be rest assured that the will of the people is not subjugated. What we are going through is what late Fela called suffering and smiling. We are on the same spot, no movement. And it is a pity because we can still move.
Are you hopeful as your party claims that you will get justice in the courts?
We are still there, we are hoping.
That means you agree with your party that your mandate was stolen?
Yes as a member of the party I believe so, in Lagos it was. Let’s go and prove it in the courts. You know we are saying they should bring out their server and they say they have no server, this is foul.
The sad thing is that every time, it is the Judiciary that “elects” for us. How many times have they gone to court in France or in Germany or in Great Britain, United States, Canada, etc.
We used to say that Nigeria will be one of the greatest countries and biggest economies in the world by 2020? Is it not next year? You ask yourself what is going on.
The rave of the moment now seems to be June 12 as democracy day. What is your take on that?
For me, it has become a red letter day, a day to remember for something positive. The fallout should be a lesson to all of us. To prevent a re-occurrence. I think I have spoken a lot about our electoral process, it’s a joke. The judiciary always deciding for us who should be president, who should be governor or who should be senator, what then happens to the will of the people as I will continue to ask? If the procedure has no human input, well …. Talk about the lessons of June 12, we have learned nothing.
You were a prominent member of the Obasanjo administration. Why didn’t Obasanjo deem it fit to give Abiola any honour?
Those who hold that view are looking at the tail end of the story. Remember the same administration, through that process, Obasanjo himself was charged in a phantom coup and jailed; he is lucky that he is still alive. He was part of those who actually suffered at that time.
At the end of it when he was released from prison, he went back to his farm and people came and said the ship of state would need somebody like him to steady.
The country was in a severe storm then and needed a tested captain to take the ship of state safely back to the harbor, not an untested skipper at that time. So they went to him and convinced him. Remember the Nigerian platform was terribly wobbling. When Obasanjo came what do you think should be the first thing to do with all that crisis that was still boiling? Thank God General Abdulsalami Abubakar forced them to do a post-mortem on Abiola, otherwise, people were already shouting that he killed him. It was still hot when Obasanjo became president. Any rational minded person the first thing you do is to go and honour Abiola? The first thing you do is to rebuild the broken walls of your nation. All the foundation that has been completely destroyed let’s start again to rebuild the broken wall.
So in my own perception and understanding, Obasanjo became the Nehemiah, the man who rebuilt the broken walls of Jerusalem that was the role he played. If at that time this nation had not been stabilised and you talk about Abiola we would have probably gone into another conflagration. We say in Yoruba that if a tree falls on a tree, the first thing you do is remove the one on top, you don’t go to the bottom first. He came to stabilise the system first, to stabilise the country so that democracy can work. That was the role he played. I know the time will come for the Abiola issue because you cannot wish the pages of history away but the Obasanjo era was not the right time.
Was it not the same Obasanjo that called the Justice Oputa panel for people to come there and talk? At the time of the Oputa panel, things were settling down a little bit so Nigerians heard firsthand what happened. Have you forgotten? This is not a time for playing games. Some people are talking because they do not know what was involved at that time of Obasanjo. This is not a time for blame game as I said earlier. Some people are saying that they were the people that gave Abiola the phone to make the call to BBC or is it CNN? Those kind of talks are unnecessary now, people trying to show they were relevant.
The building of a nation is not a one-stop thing. It is not a 100-meter dash, it’s a continuum. That is why we are praying that even Buhari’s tenure now will further build and consolidate the nation.
I told you that one major issue that is staring everybody in the face today is insecurity. Have the issues of Abiola and June 12 brought the issue of insecurity to the table?
If we are committed to this nation, there is need for each person to do his bit, play your part.
Abraham Lincoln tried for 11 times to be president and he almost wanted to commit suicide. Everything he touched was bad. Everything he wanted to do, nothing was working for him. Today, his name occupies a special place not only in U.S. history but all over the world.
Why? Because, he endured it to the end. He said I must do something for my country. That was what he kept reassuring himself. He was on the brink of lunacy. But he said no. He came back and reunited America, brought the north and south together at the end of the civil war. Go to America today, his stature is there looking at the Congress and White House.
So, it is not how long you live that matters but how well you are going to positively impact on the nation. That is the real issue.
The number of houses, cars because of which you are manipulating and spoiling things, is that what you want to be remembered for?
The man who seized all our lands in Lagos and built it into his empire, have you seen any man that came naked and didn’t go back naked? Have you ever seen any man that came with a skyscraper the day he was born? All the dollars and things that Tinubu has accumulated to the detriment of the people, will he go with them? We came naked and we will go naked. All these funds, bullion vans running into his house, why can’t he start a foundation to impact on the people – the downtrodden of this state?
We need a new orientation in this country. We need to start impacting positively on the younger generation.
So you don’t believe the allegation by Kingibe that Obasanjo was part of the conspiracy that annulled June 12?
If I open up … Kingibe? Kingibe? Kingibe? Even his role was ignoble so he should not talk. Who abandoned Abiola? Why did he abandon the ship? He may have whatever comments he may want to say about Baba (Obasanjo). He is entitled to his wrong opinion. Like I told you, it is all about blame game. This person did this, no it is the other person. You saw the professor of political science who said he gave Abiola his phone to make BBC interview. Is that an issue? Which mobile phones were available in 1993?
You know what I will say to President Buhari, let him listen and record all the statements that are being made now, the day he leaves, ask the same people to make comments on the same issues and he will hear what they will say. Let’s not open up a can of worms on that issue.
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