In this interview with ENIOLA AKINKUOTU, a former Deputy Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Bode George, speaks about the crisis emanating from the National Assembly leadership elections and other issues
The National Assembly election of June 9 was the most controversial in the history of Nigeria. How do you rate the outcome?
To me, it shows that our democracy is still evolving. Like the saying goes, rolling stones gather no moss and the way Asiwaju Bola Tinubu plays his politics is very primitive and dictatorial. Nigeria has moved away from the politics of the 1960s. The six geopolitical zones have come to stay. Anybody that disregards this does so at his own peril. I remember that in the 1950s, when Chief Obafemi Awolowo and others went for the constitutional conference, the suggestion of Papa (Awolowo) and the Action Group was that there should be six geopolitical zones. Let there be North-East and the North-West and then the minorities would be in the North-Central; then the South-East, the South-West and then the minorities in the South-South. This was the concept the Peoples Democratic Party followed and it sustained our democracy for 16 years. According to the PDP style, the President, the Vice-President, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the National Chairman of the party must reflect these six geopolitical zones. But Bisi Akande and other All Progressives Congress leaders came out to say that they did not believe in zoning. I thought they came from another planet when I heard this. Akande must be naive about the diversity of Nigeria. They brought their own concept to play at the national level and I am happy that they were given a political circumcision.
In any case, what are the ideological differences between our political parties? Do we have a centre-right or centre-left in Nigeria? The basic thing in our politics is that you bring a better standard of living to our people and easy access to education, good public health and good roads. Our democracy has not yet developed to the point of ideological differences. But when you come in with primitive politics and sit down in one room and dictate who will go to the bathroom, who will go to sleep, who can be senator and who can be governor, it is wrong. That is very primitive and I am happy that he has been given a political circumcision. He wanted to bring that nonsense from Lagos to the national level and if he is not careful, because they are all strange bed fellows; they will not last. As a sailor, I know that if you swim against the tide, it will not take long before you drown.
I am happy that all the geopolitical zones have got all the principal offices. North-West got President, South-West got Vice-President, North-Central got Senate President, North-East got Speaker of the House of Representatives, South-South has APC national chairman and the South-East will get the SGF by all indication. Doesn’t that augur well for the unity of this country? You see, Nigeria is not a natural country, it is a forced union by the British and not a union willingly entered into by the people, therefore there is no united culture. In Switzerland, there are three major cultures: The French, the Germans and the Italians and there is no problem. Even during the world wars, Switzerland was not affected because everybody accepted that there is rotational headship. Therefore, zoning is here to stay.
The APC won the presidential election through a coalition between the North and the South-West. Don’t you think that if Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s influence wanes, it might spell danger for the Yoruba interest?
Tinubu is not a selfless leader. All he has done is to remain in his cocoon in Lagos. What is his national value? He has become powerful and that was why he was able to determine who becomes governor and who emerges the Speaker of the House of Assembly. He wanted to take that system to the national level but failed. What was he going to bring to the South-West? The PDP is still very strong in the South-West. If Tinubu thinks he has full control of the Yoruba race, then he is a joker and he doesn’t know the history of the Yoruba people. I am an irredentist Yoruba man and I have no apologies for that. In our culture, we are taught to only take that which belongs to us and not take another man’s property.
Development started from the South-West. The first foremost pioneers in law, medicine, accounting, religion and even in women’s achievements were Yoruba. The first Senior Advocates of Nigeria and the first Anglican bishop were Yoruba, therefore nobody can lead the Yoruba blindly. I can tell you that even without Tinubu, the Yoruba cannot be marginalised or made to suffer.
But the Yoruba were not in the scheme of things in President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.
In the last parliament, Tinubu teamed up with the North-West and robbed the Yoruba people of the speakership position. He told his boys in the Action Congress of Nigeria to vote for Aminu Tambuwal and that was how Tambuwal became Speaker. Therefore, in the distribution of the topmost positions across the geopolitical zones, we did not have anything. Hence, Tinubu is drinking the soup that he prepared and that is what he deserves. The APC is a merger and Tinubu nominated the Vice-President and the national chairman and yet wants to pick the Speaker and the Senate President. Is Nigeria practising a dictatorship or a democracy?
The APC wants to discipline Senate President Bukola Saraki and the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, for going against the will of the party. Will the PDP woo them or accept them if they defect?
Yes, of course. A political party is like a police station, we never shut our doors. If you go to a police station at midnight, you will find a policeman on duty. Any political party that closes its doors to politicians is a cult, not a political party. We will open our doors to anybody that wants to join as long as they live according to the law and the constitution of the party. When we were screaming about the Tambuwal issue, Tinubu was rejoicing, he thought he was smart. He forgot the saying that what you do today will have consequences tomorrow. Must they always have their way? Haven’t they been manipulating the system all this while? Tinubu should not seek to make himself too powerful; if not, the APC will die the moment he dies. The party chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, is a seasoned economist and politician and has allowed himself to become Tinubu’s boy and follower. Tinubu is surrounded by those who cannot tell him the truth, including Akande. The South-West needs people like Chief Awolowo who ensured that the Yoruba remained ahead during his time and did not focus on enriching himself.
But Tinubu was able to bring the Yoruba to the centre of national politics which Awolowo failed to do.
Tinubu did that for his selfish interest but he has now been given political circumcision. The PDP brought (Chief Olusegun) Obasanjo, a Yoruba man, to the centre and then brought the Yoruba to the mainstream again in 2003 when we won all the states in the South-West except Lagos. I was Vice Chairman (South-West PDP) at the time. Any house that is built on sand cannot last. They haven’t been in power for up to a month and you can see what is happening.
With the PDP in a vantage position in the National Assembly by getting the Deputy President position, does it mean the party is already on its path to victory in 2019?
I don’t want to speculate but I believe that due to President Buhari’s age, he is not likely to stand for re-election in 2019. I don’t know but I don’t think he will try it because he will be about 76 by then. Even former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar will be a bit too old to contest in 2019 because he is 68 years old now. Thus, the younger generation of northerners like former Kano State Governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, and former Katsina State Governor, Ibrahim Shema, as well as a few others may come forward. Most of them were PDP governors but defected to the APC, except Shema who still remain a PDP member. Therefore, the moment the position of national chairman of our party is zoned away from the North, we will look for a strong politician that will be able to manage the resources of the nation. Once we create that atmosphere, once the next contestants present themselves, I believe that our next presidential candidate will come from the North.
But if Buhari spends four years and PDP’s northern candidate wins in 2019, doesn’t it mean that the North could possibly be in power till 2027?
Let us see how things will work out. Buhari is from the North-West. Our candidate could come from the North-East. When we get to that bridge, we will cross it. The PDP believes in fairness because anything you do may affect the South. That was how the South-South was also short-changed through the APC. When President Umaru Yar’Adua died, some northerners suggested that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan should complete Yar’Adua’s two years and step down so that he could return, and the South-South could have its eight years later.
Let us leave 2019 till later. Politics is about discussions and negotiations. The better debater always wins. That is why it is called politics, not ‘politricks’. ‘Politricks’ is Tinubu’s style. They don’t debate, they just impose.
When the election for the Senate President took place, the PDP had about 49 senators in the chamber while the APC had about eight. Why didn’t the PDP gun for the position of Senate President?
It is not good to get too greedy. We respect democracy a lot in the PDP. We helped to ensure democracy for 16 years through zoning. The PDP would have lost out if we tried to gun for the senate presidency. Remember that APC still has the larger number of senators. Thus, we decided to give it to Saraki, who we trust because he is our former member. Also, what we did ensured balance such that Tinubu’s boys would never have the upper hand. What happened was good for our democracy.
There is crisis within Lagos PDP as the party now has two chairmen. Don’t you think the 14 people who won elections on the party’s platform could defect due to this crisis?
There is no division in the party. It is just some minions misbehaving. There are laws in the party. The state chairman is a member of the National Executive Committee of the party. I didn’t state it: It is part of the party’s constitution that no member of the NEC can be removed by any lower strata except by the NEC. Thus, I don’t know the constitution they used in removing the chairman. They are doing it for their selfish interest. Whatever Musiliu Obanikoro is doing in Lagos is just a nonsensical move. They should be dealt with by the disciplinary committee of the party and thrown out. I think the ultimate plan is to get some people to defect to the APC. Is Obanikoro a loyal member of the party? Party chairmen cannot be removed illegally. When we wanted our national chairman, Adamu Mu’azu, to go, we did not do it illegally. He resigned by himself.
We are at the Election Petitions Tribunal and need to be focused. This is not the time for such misbehaviour.
The PDP has no national chairman or Board of Trustess chairman. How will the party forge ahead with such leadership gaps?
It is only the NEC that can recommend a new chairman and call a convention to ratify the decision. Thus, in the meantime, the deputy national chairman is acting(in that capacity). Since the chairman has resigned, it is the responsibility of BoT members to elect a new BoT chairman and that can be done internally by the BoT members. The BoT does not have executive powers like the national chairman. It is the elders’ club of the party and it only handles serious matters which the party cannot handle. Thus, Dr. Aliru Bello is acting for now. We don’t do elections in BoT, we just do consultation and appoint.
Has the position for the national chairman been zoned?
It is still the North-East that will hold the position until the next convention, after we have zoned our presidential seat. After that, we will ‘re-zone’ every other position.
So, if the president comes from the North, it means the vice-president will come from the South and then the senate president will come from the North, while the Speaker will come from the South. The SGF will come from the North and then the national chairman will come from the South. That is how we do it: three up, three down.
President Buhari has not nominated any ministers yet. Do you think this could slow down the running of government?
I am not a member of the APC but I will like to remind the President that time is running out. He needs to get back to doing things quickly. Time is of essence and Nigerians are waiting. But I believe the reason for the delay is that the APC is a congregation of so many different people with different ideas. Maybe he is taking his time not to make mistakes. But I will advise him to make appointments as quickly as possible. The Senate has settled down and he should send the nominees to the Senate for approval and stop waiting for people like our man who has just been circumcised politically to decide who gets what.