In this interview with ENIOLA AKINKUOTU, the leader of the Peoples Democratic Party in Lagos State, Chief Bode George, speaks about the just concluded elections and other national issues
In your clear assessment, what do you think led to the defeat of the Peoples Democratic Party in the last elections?
The PDP was not defeated. We were manipulated out and history will judge what I am saying. When (Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission) Prof. Attahiru Jega came up with the use of card readers and Permanent Voter Cards, technically, you would have thought: ‘Thank God, we are in the 21st century, we have arrived.’ Take my state, Lagos, for example, 5.9 million people were registered to vote but until the week before the election which was fortunately postponed, we had 3.8 million PVCs delivered to Lagos. That means 2.1 million people were cut off. In areas where there was insurgency, there was between 80 and 90 per cent distribution rate. Most of Jega’s areas had no problems. Thank God Jega is a professor. Let’s assume that he is teaching a 400-level class in a university. He teaches Classes A, B and C. In Class A, he has completed the syllabus but in Class B, he completed 60 per cent while in class C, he only completed 30 per cent of the syllabus and they are all going to write the same examination. Is that justifiable? Is that equitable? Thus, just looking at that, would he in his own mind, be satisfied that he did a good job?
Remember he first had February 14 as the election day. We thank God it was shifted. Yet he attributed the shift to the insurgency and the military wanting to operate. In his heart of hearts, can he face his Creator and say what he did was fair? Technically, we must move with the rest of the world but this manipulation was so vicious. I come from a highly politically-inclined family. The late Herbert Macaulay was my mother’s grandfather. Thus, we have always been politically vibrant in my family. I remember the politics of the 1960s. I sat back after the elections and when I saw the political setting, I concluded that after 50 years of independence and meandering, we are back at the starting block where we were in 1960. What have we achieved? The Northern Peoples Congress is now the All Progressives Congress. The National Conference of Nigeria and the Cameroons is now the PDP which was in control of the Eastern Region and the Western Region. We have come full circle and we are back to the starting point. I love this nation but when we look at how things are being done, there is no equity, justice or fairness. I am praying we will alter the course and take the ship of state in a direction where every Nigerian will be proud to commit themselves to the unity and indivisibility of Nigeria. After an in-depth post-mortem analysis of this election, we will know that we have taken a journey that has led to nowhere.
Are you saying the elections were not credible despite President Goodluck Jonathan’s acceptance of defeat?
On the day of the presidential election, at about 1pm, when the card readers were not working, suddenly Jega said we should go manual. If you check the time it takes for a person to be accredited and the initial 500 people per polling unit and later 750; you would be shocked that over two million people were accredited in Kano within the remaining time and they all voted. We must have been a more developed country than America to pull that off. The result that came out of Kano was 1,903,999 and then I shuddered. If I have to go to a classroom to teach and analyse this result, I would say there is no improvement at all and it took us straight back to the 1960 setting. We are now back to the era whereby people vote based on tribal sentiments. This was the kind of thing (former Head of State) Gen.
Yakubu Gowon wanted to stop and that was why he came up with the National Youth Service Corps programme to put all of us in a melting pot so that a Nigerian colour could emerge but we have not achieved that. Will this not haunt Jega? He should go into the inner-most chamber of his house and beg God for forgiveness. I am ready for a debate with him with facts and figures. There needs to be a total overhaul of INEC because if not, it means one section of the country will always determine who becomes President. Does that augur well for peace?
When President Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat, he said he knew the election was manipulated and that he was not a coward but he had sworn that he would not allow any Nigerian to be killed on his own watch; thus, he threw in the towel and wished Nigeria well. His action doused a lot of tension.
There was heavy manipulation in Lagos. Why would Ajegunle, Ajeromi/Ifelodun’s ballot papers be found in Kosofe Local Government? Why would Kosofe’s ballot papers be found in Ojo Local Government? Why were hoodlums snatching ballot papers and shooting into the air? I have been calming frayed nerves because there is a graveyard silence in Lagos and people are not happy about the results. I have said we should not conflagrate Lagos. We must follow the example of the civility exercised by our President, gather our information as humanly possible and head for the tribunal.
But the South-East and the South-South gave the PDP almost 100 per cent votes. Your party also got millions of votes from Rivers and Delta states.
Most of the states in those places were originally PDP. The founding founders of our party were people who were of diverse backgrounds: Alex Ekuweme, Bola Ige, Adamu Ciroma and Abubakar Rimi came together with others to form the mega party that was Nigeria in all ramifications.
It is on record that President Jonathan got over N21bn the week he announced his intention to run. Lagos is also said to have got the largest chunk of the money in the campaign chest. But PDP leaders allegedly used the money to buy mansions for themselves instead of campaigning for Jonathan. This was said to have led to your party being outwitted by the APC. What is your response to this?
When we do a thorough post-mortem analysis, you will get the details. Those who collected the money would have to explain themselves. No kobo was sent here. I have also heard of complaints both from the APC and the PDP. It shows you the level of poverty of the mind and of the stomach. People think politics is all about self. The great orator, Cicero, said we are not born for ourselves alone but for service. If all they know is ‘grab it’, how will the money last them? The Yoruba say money is for spending. Those who stole the last time, where are they? I was inundated here with complaints of people collecting money and fleeing. It was done by the APC and the PDP. We will do an analysis and reappraise. Some people have disappeared like a submarine. We will do analysis. People cannot be fully trusted but the people given the resources will have to account for it.
Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd) has a reputation of being an incorruptible person. Do you think he can clean up the system?
The new government hurriedly put themselves together. They have no taproot; no culture. All they are after is power. On May 29, they will have the power. When I listened to Gen. Buhari’s economic postulation, I laughed. The world is in the 21st century. No one is talking about establishing Nigerian Airways or automatically turning a naira into a dollar. He said he would look into all the governors that have used their state Houses of Assembly to approve stupendous benefits for themselves. He said he would cancel it. But this is not a military government. My oga will now know what it means to deal with a National Assembly and their idiosyncrasies, state governors, political parties and their idiosyncrasies. I know Buhari to be a man that does not want any stain on his public posture. But when I was young, my mother used to say, ‘show me your friends and I will tell you who you are.’ Let my oga show me his friends and I will tell him who he is. Let him start to clean his own household because it is filthy.
I am from this state and I have been involved in politics since 1998. Bola Tinubu and I have settled our quarrel but facts are facts. Friendship is different. If I still see him, I will tell him to his face. His acquisitive tendencies know no bounds. He decided to bring (Akin) Ambode to manipulate the system and throw a lot of funds around. Where is the growth in Lagos?
Are you saying Asiwaju Bola Tinubu can stop Buhari from doing well?
Are they not in the same party? Who calls himself the national leader of the party? If Tinubu says let’s go South and Buhari says lets go East, what happens? You cannot have two captains on a ship. I told you the APC has no taproot but it is just an experimental party. I know Buhari will not want to contaminate himself but what of those who have fast hands in the tillers? We are waiting for him to announce his cabinet. Four years is a short time in the life of a nation. He is almost 73 and he should fear nothing. All he needs to do is to leave a good name behind.
You once said if Tinubu finds his way into national government, you will go on exile. Now that he has, when will you start packing your bags?
There is nothing he can do to me. I am not afraid of him and he knows that but I am now 70 and most of my children are abroad. My little girl is also abroad. I will spend more time there doing my memoirs because if I am here, I will be dealing with too many things. The book will include my 16 years of politics in Lagos and my youthful experiences.
You and Tinubu are believed to be archenemies but a member of your party, Buruji Kashamu, has described him as a role model for Yoruba and the architect of modern Nigeria. How do you see Tinubu now?
One little boy who just delved into politics said I am a mole of Bola Tinubu. He must have woken on the wrong side of his bed. Bola and I are not enemies; we are in two different parties with different ideologies. His concept of operation is at variance with mine. We are not enemies; we did not grow up together. I even went to his village in Iragbiji to campaign for our party in Osun State. I met his Oba there and they even showed me his primary school. One of his friends with whom he lived in Ibadan was my classmate at the University of Lagos.
Initially, he thought I hated him so much and convolutedly conspired to use a judge to put me in prison. Whatever you sow, you will reap. The Supreme Court said the judgment was a conjecture which means it never existed. They did not know they were helping me to go and rediscover myself. Of course it was painful. We later met at the Adamasingba Stadium Ibadan, at the burial of my good friend, Alao Arisekola. The Governor of Oyo State, Abiola Ajimobi, who is a younger brother of mine, sprang up and said, ‘Why are you and Tinubu not greeting each other?’ and I said Bola is on a different planet from mine. [[i]b]Oba Otudeko was also there and he said, ‘today at the burial of our mutual friend, Arisekola, we should end our hostility’ and I told them that he was involved in the conspiracy to lock me up. They called Bola, he shook my hand and said he was sorry. It was in public. Since then, if we meet in public, we greet each other but our concepts of politics are different.[/b][/i]
For me, there is no enmity, just differences in political approaches. For me, democracy is about the people, service and the majority of the people choosing who will lead them. His own concept is imperial. He decides who should go to sleep and who gets what. Now, there is Gen. Buhari. If I remember the kind of person he is and the Bourdillon dictator, I wish them the best of luck.
There are still those who believe that if the PDP had chosen Musiliu Obanikoro, it would have performed better at the polls because he is a grass roots politician that would be able to face Tinubu. What is your take?
Obanikoro face Bola Tinubu? When people say such things, it baffles me. Let him (Obanikoro) come out openly and say it. Without mincing words, whenever he needs something, he (Obanikoro) comes here to prostrate but you see I am an irredentist of the truth. When I know that you don’t have the qualities needed for a job and you are asking me to support you, I will tell you the truth. So, he went out to say he was going to campaign on his own and I wished him the best of luck. The people decided at the primary because Jimi Agbaje was unique. The public wanted him and they voted for him. It was not about Bode George. If I were a weak leader, Obanikoro would have got away with all his shenanigans.
Why did the PDP play the ethnic card, pitting the Igbo against the Yoruba after the Oba of Lagos made threats against the Igbo? This is believed to have contributed to your party’s defeat.
That is arrant nonsense. I am happy you asked this question. Before his statement, candidates had emerged and we were getting ready for election. According to the way I was brought up in Lagos, the centre of commerce, everyone is welcome. That is why Lagos is different from every other city in Nigeria. If you come from anywhere, we accommodate you because buying and selling was our business. Thus, leaders of the South-South and Igbo came and said we should select some of their indigenes for the National Assembly and House of Assembly elections. I told them we do not select in the PDP except for where you have an advantage. For example, in Ojo, there are many Igbos. In Ajegunle, Ajeromi/Ifelodun, it is a mixture of Igbo and people from Delta. In Amuwo Odofin, there are a lot of Delta, Edo and Igbo people.
As the leader of the party, I sat down and asked my people, what is democracy? It is about representation. These people live here, have properties here and pay their taxes here. If they win, they will be representing their constituency that is made up of their own ethnic group. Already, some of them were members of their local government executive committees. They participated in the primaries and won and for the first time in the history of this state, we have some Igbos who are representing Lagos at the National Assembly. They are not representing the South-East but their people in Lagos. Therefore, it was not a matter of us playing the ethnic card. It was my friend, the kabiyesi that was pitting the Yoruba against the Igbo. When it is time for local government elections, it would be foolish of us to go to Agege, where there is a large northern population, and present a Yoruba man as our candidate. If you want to win, you put their own person there. Lagos is the melting pot and we are showing the rest of Nigeria the way. Tribalism must be buried and totally abandoned and that was why I said we have returned to the 1960 pattern of ethnic voting.
For the first time, the Lagos PDP is on its own without federal backing. How will you survive in the opposition?
We will survive through dedication, loyalty, sincerity of purpose and absolute commitment. It is going to be tough but this is when you will sieve the boys from the men.
The failure of your party nationally has been traced to the defection of five governors, which President Jonathan did not handle properly. With the benefit of hindsight, what lessons can you take from this?
I will not like to talk about my personal views because we have not had our party post-mortem analysis. Who did what, when and how should be an internal matter. I am a leader of the party and I remain a full member of the caucus and a life member of the Board of Trustees and National Executive Committee, hence, I will not wash our dirty linen in public.
What will Jonathan be remembered for?
He will be remembered for a lot of things, one of which is his meekness which is not a sign of weakness. Even at the peak of power, he kept his cool and history will judge. He did not behave like a bull in a China shop.
Your wife is the Director-General of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency. Will you allow her to continue with the Buhari administration?
If Gen. Buhari asks her to continue, I will not stop her. That is a very sensitive organisation and requires absolute trust of those in government. We are not alone in the fight against drugs. The Europeans and Americans are heavily involved in it. She is brilliant and has gone through all the trainings. She is very competent. If they want her to continue, it is fine but we have to look at those she will work with. I know Gen. Buhari. I will not say more than that.