Elder statesman and former Vice Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Bode George, speaks with KAYODE OYERO on the 2023 general elections and the hope of the opposition party to dislodge the ruling All Progressives Congress in Lagos State, among sundry other topical issues
Many people of your age would agree that Nigeria is at a crossroads. How did the country get here?
It is very heart-breaking and heart-wrenching for some of us who were there pre-independence and the independence time to see the lack of cohesion in the country, the system of government and the impact the military have had on government and the kind of constitution we are running and so many things that have conspired against the development of this nation. I’ll tell you I am not disturbed because democratic dispensation is not a 100-metre race; it is a continuum but what we want is that every generation that comes must be able to build their own blocks in a manner that makes sense, that is civilised and respects the rule of law, justice, fairness and equity. They must be based on all these principles.
The inter-tribal separation has become so widened where we are today and the lack of trust amongst ourselves is so disturbing. We still can’t get ourselves as one indivisible nation; everybody is with their clenches and there is distrust between the North and the South. For those of us who went into the military, that wasn’t the training, the upbringing, that we had. In the military, it doesn’t matter where you come from, once you are a Nigerian, you are a Nigerian. You go to every operation as a committed and loyal person to your constitution and to your country but getting out now, there is so much mistrust and mayhem. Even those who are ministers are not as committed as nationalists, everybody is to their tents, pretending and doing what they want. It is a state of helplessness and hopelessness.
Do you think the constitution should be changed?
People have spoken about the constitution, that it is not the appropriate constitution; that it was prepared by the military. It is too unitary in its structure and there is too much power at the centre. We visited the constitution in 2014, there was a national constitutional conference and that report is still there gathering dust. It was the first time since the ‘50s that a civilian administration set up a constitution review (process) and from the beginning to the end, we were able to finally get a document. Every decision in that document was brought to the plenary session, debated, argued and unanimously adopted. Never in the history of this country have we had that. Why did they keep it in the archives? I was a member. What is wrong with that confab report? When people say we must go back to the pre-independence constitution, I ask them have we looked at the one we submitted in 2014 to the President? It was supposed to go to the National Assembly for ratification but until now, it is kept in the archive. Why are we deceiving ourselves?
Why do you think the 2014 confab report is yet to be adopted?
Ask the President because (ex-President Goodluck) Jonathan submitted that document to President (Muhammadu) Buhari and he said they should keep it in the archives and it has been there ever since then. Why can’t we look at it, positively or negatively? That will be a starting point. Let them go and look at it. We have been living in the dark and deceiving ourselves that all is well; all is not well. We owe the highest amount of debt on the globe. Where is that giant of Africa? We keep on borrowing money as if life is coming to an end. What are the things to show for it? Is there any return on investment?
The 2023 general election is less than a year and there are about 18 political parties recognised by the Independent National Electoral Commission. What are the chances of your party in the next election?
When a country is in a state of helplessness, a state of hopelessness, the decision on the survival of this nation rests principally on the electorate. Let everybody sit back and think. Have we been able to make this country workable with the system we are running? What about the hunger and anger in the land? What about the insecurity in the land? We must sit down and everybody who is eligible to vote must think of where we want this nation to go. This means putting those parading themselves as aspirants or candidates on a pedestal to check what they have done so far and whether we can trust them because public office is public trust. If we can’t trust any of them, why are you going to queue and vote? But if you see anyone of them that is capable, that will be committed and build one indivisible nation, then, go for that person. The government of APC (All Progressives Congress) has failed woefully.
Is there any competent presidential aspirant in your party?
Many. They have been going out talking to people. In the South, there are many competent aspirants. I won’t mention names. There are people who have succeeded in their private lives and who have shown that they have the empathy of the people, who can pick Nigeria from the doldrums to very much higher pedestals; there are many of them in our party. We know that whoever will come out as the candidate of the party would have been somebody who has been given to a complete Nigeria, loyal to this country, and not only to his family, his friends and his own stooges. No, public office is public trust.
PDP presidential primary is in two weeks. Are you in support of your party choosing southerner as presidential candidate?
Why not? I would be in support. I was a member of the PDP Zoning Committee and we reaffirmed that the issue of zoning and rotation will remain ever sacrosanct in our party. The issue came up purely on moral suasion grounds. Those who are managers at that time should have announced zoning six months or so ago, that it is zoned to the South or to the North but they refused to do so. So, everybody came out, spending money. And because of that, purely on moral suasion grounds, we thought that we don’t want to put salt on an injury, we decided to allow all of them because they have spent money and they have spent time. It has never happened in our party. But that is why the committee agreed so that we don’t create a problem among ourselves as a divided house is a defeated house. But the party will still try to work around a consensus.
Who is your preferred aspirant for the PDP candidacy slot?
I can’t tell you that; I am a leader of the party. Twenty-four hours in politics is a long time. We are still watching them and looking at them. If I start committing myself to them now, it won’t be wise. Let’s give everybody that chance till the end of the month.
The PDP hasn’t had the chance to rule Lagos; is there any hope for your party in 2023?
I have been struggling and fighting against the archaic system of electoral process. I am the happiest man in Nigeria today when there was a move to change from the mundane and nonsensical process that we had been using for our election. The illegitimate procedures that have brought these mediocre personalities to government will end. They manipulate whatever they want. Look at the humongous amount of money this man has cornered. How would a bullion van be driving into a personal property on an election day? Where in the world is that acceptable? Are they carrying garri or elubo to his house? Would he have done that in America and go scot-free? Let’s tell the truth to power. No individual can be bigger than our nation, Nigeria.
The votes from the polling station to the collation centre are carried away. That is absolutely nonsensical but I thank the (INEC) chairman and the President to have accepted that there would be electronic voting. No more human interference but everything will be done through the computers. Let’s see how the result will be. We won all the election. When I was the vice chairman, we won all the six states in the South-West but they manipulated it for Bola Tinubu and that is why he sits down in Bourdillon thinking that Lagos is a private property to him. He sees the party (the APC) and Lagos as a private enterprise. It is heart-wrenching, it is stupid, it is direct insult on the real indigenes and the non-indigenes who live here. What is Alpha Beta doing in Lagos? I have been shouting about this? An individual collecting N11.5bn every 30 days? He should be in jail.
Who should be in jail?
The man who owns the Alpha Beta should be in jail.
Do you think an indigenous Lagosian would ever come into office as governor?
Let the process be properly done. This man who is sitting there as the emperor of Lagos has so much manipulated the system. It is a shame on all Lagosians. We here in Lagos do not discriminate. Lagos has been a melting pot and the centre of commerce not only in Nigeria but in the whole of West Africa. So, we don’t drive away people. We give you land to settle and we buy your wares. There is no place like Lagos in Nigeria but the way this man has operated the state is not like Lagos. Now, he has admitted that he is from Iragbiji. Why was he lying to the people that he is the Tinubu of Lagos? Which Tinubu is he? That is not his name? He didn’t go to school here. Even if he speaks Yoruba, you will know that this man is from upland but that doesn’t matter. He should have told us that this is where he came from and that he settled in Lagos.
Now, he wants to handle Nigeria. Who will give him Nigeria to handle? Who? The APC, I don’t think so, he doesn’t have the brains and the commitment. He is not a god-fearing person. All those people who were with him, why are they denouncing him now? Was the Vice President (Yemi Osinbajo) not his Commissioner for Justice for eight years? When did they found the Alpha Beta? Let’s finish this hurdle; we will go back to it in election time. They must explain themselves. If you are coming into public office, we must X-ray you completely to trust you. I am sick and tired of all these people. These are not people who are committed to serving this country. N100m to buy a form! What have they done in the past? What is their present? The humongous amount of money they claim to have, where did they get it from?
If the APC makes that mistake and hands over their candidacy to Tinubu, we will fight him with everything that God has given us. The process this time is modern and is going to be very technical, no human manipulation.
From the late Funso Williams to Jimi Agbaje and others, what do you think were the major reasons PDP governorship candidates failed in previous elections?
Forget about Jimi Agbaje. Let me say it openly. Bola Tinubu sent him here (to the PDP) and it was the inadequacies and the interference especially from the locals of our party that brought Agbaje here. Was Agbaje working for us? Funso Williams was a complete gentleman; he was civilised and gave everything he had to our party, to our state. Stop talking about Jimi Agbaje. He didn’t campaign, he said he was holding a town hall meeting; is that the way to win an election? Ask him now if he can go to any congregation. Bola Tinubu through his manouvering sent him here. We will not accept it this time round. This is the last Battle of Berlin. I will fight it with everything God has given me and fortunately we have the electronic voting; so, let us see how they will manipulate it. Enough is enough! Nigeria must move forward.
To your question directly, how could any of PDP candidates in the past have won the governorship seat of Lagos? Elections that they manipulated? Elections that from the polling unit, you got the results but they would write whatever they wanted? It was a charade. How can one individual tell you who would be governor, who would be deputy governor, who would be House of Assembly member, who would be commissioner, who would be Speaker, members, councillors and all that? It comes straight from his table. Is that what is called participatory democracy? He’s an emperor. If I am talking rubbish, let them come out for a debate.
A debate between you and Tinubu?
Anytime and anywhere he wants it, even at midnight in the burial ground, I would be there. I have nothing personal against him; he has not taken my wife or my business. It is the style of his governance. If I cannot say truth to power, then, what is the essence? I don’t have anything against him, let him change his methodology and commit himself to the people of this country and serve the people. The poverty in Lagos is beyond comprehension. Go out to the streets, graduates are there, no jobs, no skill acquisition for those who are not educated and you are getting billions monthly!
Do you think the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), will hand over power to Tinubu in 2023?
That is between them but I pray that God will go into his (Buhari’s) mind so that that kind of character doesn’t go near government. We know what the outcome is from Lagos.
How can the resources of Lagos be used for the people of Lagos?
Go around Ikoyi, go around Lekki and you see the amount of government land he has to himself. Who owns the LCC and collects tolls? His son handles the billboards of Lagos. Do you know what that means? What the heck is this? He spent only eight years in office; book at the humongous amount of pension he arranged for himself. I spent over 20 years in the military, what is my pension a month? Just over N200,000 a month as a general. He has one massive house in Lagos and one massive house in Abuja and every four years, they must change his bulletproof cars for him. For doing what? So many things that he has turned in, there would be a day of reckoning and all those babas who were with him and who pretended they didn’t know, all of them will face the power of the people to ask them questions. I am talking because I am a Lagosian and I have no other place to go to. This is my heritage, my hometown, this is where I went to school and this is my family tie.
Can you say you have a competent PDP aspirant that can defeat Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu?
Not only one, we have many aspirants that are committed, that are ready to fight the battle. I wish I could reduce my age by another 20 or 30 years when I would be much younger otherwise, I would have been there. We need courageous people, we need people who are ready to serve the people, not stooges.