Ahead of the December 6 national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), its former deputy national chairman, Chief Bode George, has since declared interest for the exalted office of National Chairman. In this interview with TAIWO AMODU, he says he remains the only contender with adequate experience in the administration of the erstwhile ruling party, having served in various capacities as National Vice-Chairman, Deputy National Chairman at Wadata Plaza, its national secretariat.
Why did you join the race for the PDP National Chairman seat?
I am in the race because our party has gone through a storm worse than the devastating one that wreaked havoc in America recently. We went through a very vicious time, and fortunately for us, we are lucky that the Supreme Court gave back our life.
Now as a party, we have a caretaker committee. Even President Muhammadu Buhari, when he met leaders of other political parties, said it openly and clearly and I want to quote him, “This government and this nation needs vibrant opposition.” Isn’t that enough challenge that we should put our house in order for the benefit of Nigerians who are not even card-carrying members of our party? So, I thought about the situation, consulted widely and decided that I needed to submit myself to the party and serve the people and all members of the party in the position of the national chairman to be elected at the next elective convention of this party expected to hold in December.
Looking at my relationship with this party, I have served this great party at one level or the other, since its inception. I have been national vice chairman when the party had zero representation in the South-West, and I served meritoriously every National Chairman, except when I left as deputy national chairman.
I had the privilege of serving under astute party administrators like Chief Solomon Lar, Chief Barnabas Gemade, I served Audu Ogbe and I served under Ahmadu Ali while all these men were in position of leadership as national chairman of the PDP. When it comes to knowing this party and knowing the network, without any contradiction, I have enough knowledge of this party.
Having consulted round, meeting different classes of personalities and age grades, and hearing the consensus that this is the time for someone with adequate knowledge and leadership skill to come on board and pilot the affairs of the party, at this level, I decided fully to offer myself to do that which will make the party the toast of Nigerians voters who desire good leadership again. Most importantly, I know that as a man, if you don’t give back some of the knowledge you have acquired in life, in providing a sort of service when occasions demand your intervention, your conscience will prick you till you pass on.
After the consultations, I thought deeply that I have what it takes to take this ship of state from the stormy seas, in which it found itself, back to harbour, safe and sound.
So, I decided that I will bring to bear my experience, my knowledge, my energy and get this platform to be stable. You know why? The party is in a state that no one will be proud of right now.
We’ve had impunity, total disobedience to laid down rules and disregard for the tenets, People left the party; those who could be called ‘real landlords’ left the party and I know it takes a mind that knows what obtained when the founding fathers established the party to woo them back; to also lead the party under these circumstances and bring the party back to its glory days. We need to do what it takes to make this party exceedingly great again in the interest of democracy at large.
That’s why I said, as a tested captain, I will be very happy to offer myself if the members of our party will believe in the need to restore the glory days back. But, we have a very short run. What I mean by that is that we have a very short window, between the end of our national convention and the next general elections. It’s just about a year. Can we, therefore, afford to get an untested hand, somebody who has never served as one of the managers of the party, to now lead us at this critical time? I believe the answer will be a resounding no!
This is definitely not the time for experimentation. The time is short, and so from day one, we know what the party should be looking forward to. This is what has been prompting me on. With a lot of support from our party members, I decided I would take a shot at it. Mind you, it’s never a matter of life and death; it’s a service to the people. I know what to do, if given the opportunity.
The office of national chairman has been zoned to the southern part of Nigeria. How will you justify the desire of the Southwest to clinch this seat?
First of all, when something is zoned to a large house, you look at those who have served in that capacity before. The South-East had served as chairman of the party, I don’t want to be quoting dates, but they cannot be considered for the seat now, and that’s why you won’t find anyone from the zone mentioning anything about vying for the seat. South-South itself has acted for two years as chairman. The South-West has neither acted nor occupied that position substantively, and I believe what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Fairness, justice and equity are the major tripod on which this party was established. That is just the political analysis to justify that it is the turn of the South-West. Secondly, there was a meeting last year of all the southern leaders in Port Harcourt and at that meeting, the decision was taken that the South-West should present the next candidate for the PDP chairmanship position.
Now, to me, our zoning is a guideline and this is not the time anyone should rock the boat. This is the time for those who are loyal to the party and committed to come on board, stabilise the platform so that we can have a very formidable campaign and election. The zoning is key, but it does not necessarily exclude anybody. Look at our convention in Jos; the first convention we had in Jos, when President Obasanjo competed for the PDP ticket. They didn’t say they zoned it in particular to one zone. But this one has been zoned. At the Jos convention, Chief Alex Ekwueme contested, General Obasanjo contested, and Alhaji Abubakar Rimi contested too; but the result is obvious. When something is zoned somewhere, the party faithful who love the party will gravitate towards that because that’s the decision that was generally taken by the party. Now, more so that we are not in government, and we have just passed through these series of crises, this is not the time to start another crisis that may be devastating on the party.
So, I will appeal to our brothers elsewhere, we have just one window, one year opportunity to quickly stabilise the party and prepare for national election. The founding fathers of this party created the six geopolitical zones for a reason. The six geopolitical zones were not known to our national constitution, but for their experiences in the First Republic where minorities from both the North and South were completely neglected and they cried out. They came up with a solution that the political parties they were going to establish must be able to take care of all the zones so that every Nigerian, no matter where you come from, must have a sense of belonging. That assisted the party for the last 16 years.
There was a time the South-West was to have the speakership of the House of Representatives, but they said we were fighting amongst ourselves and Bola Tinubu, the leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), then teamed up with some of the rebelling PDP members and they supported the candidature of my young brother, Aminu Tambuwal and he became the Speaker. Throughout that period, South-West had none of the top six positions in the country at that time. I expected that the party would have taken a step at that time to prevent a calamity; but we didn’t. The effect of that was the loss suffered by the party in the South-West as a repercussion. Now, again in their own government now, they said they don’t believe in zoning and now, South-East doesn’t have anyone in the top six positions in the country.
What is causing agitations in the South East? We must learn from that and prevent any such occurrence in the PDP. I believe that our party should follow the dictates of our founding fathers, and get to win the hearts and minds of all Nigerians. Those of us who are card-carrying members of this party, how many are we? The electorate will decide. We must be seen to be fair, to be just, and to be equitable. Those are the things we will exhibit to win the hearts of everybody.
So, this issue of the clamour that the chairmanship is zoned to the South generally, we must be very careful, more so, there is no ‘Villa’ in the party now. In the past, the ‘Villa’ would have intervened and said, ‘ok, let’s do it this way’ and people would listen. If we allow this to heat up and it comes out to the open and we cannot manage it, then, how can we convince the larger electorate that we can manage Nigeria fairly and equitably? It is a turning point, and we can’t afford to miss the right turn. It was a decision taken and I remember that it was former governor, Peter Odili, who made that passionate appeal at the meeting. The conclusion was drawn that the South-West should have the chairmanship seat. It’s about a year ago before we went into the spin. We haven’t forgotten that. If anybody is pontificating and saying that no decision was taken on the matter, he or she is lying.
Has there been any attempt at re-zoning?
We just came out of a quagmire. What are we re-zoning? If you delve into that, the convention is just about eight weeks from now, if we start, then we are looking for trouble. If we heat up the party all over again, and we cannot resolve it, then, we will go into confusion and I can assure you that the government in power will wade into it and ensure we don’t survive it.
The God of second chance has been good to us, having taken a warning from the Supreme Court, and we won, and have been given a second chance, the best for us is to put our house in order. Even if it comes to the South-West, it’s not tea party yet. What we need is a courageous, strong personality that will not be afraid to do what it takes to deliver the party, not some fellow who is going to be doing some experimentation; who is still going to learn the nooks and crannies of the party. We don’t need to start what we cannot finish. I’m appealing to our people, because if we do that, how do we convince other electorate in the South-West that whichever government emerges from the congregation will be fair to the South-West?. Look at the electoral values. The people are watching. We must win all the hearts and minds of all Nigerians, all the zones, to deliver us back into the Villa. And how do we win such hearts and minds? We can do that by being fair, just and equitable.
Even in the South-West, there are some other aspirants. What is your unique selling point? What do you think gives you the edge above others?
The point is very simple: experience, pure experience and guts. I became the national vice chairman of the party in the South-West in December 1999. I occupied worked so hard even at that time to be able to break the clutches of the so-called Awoists— those who merely used Chief Awolowo’s name to deceive to electorate. But God gave us victory, because we remained honest, we remained faithful, and we convinced the minds and hearts of the people. We won elections in 2003 and we won five states out of the six states.
I’m happy to present my credentials that I was the national vice-chairman at that time. We achieved what people thought was impossible. It wasn’t my power; God gave us knowledge, the wisdom and the people believed in us. I then became the deputy national chairman, South. We won almost all the states in the South in that election.
Later, I became the deputy national chairman for the entire party; deputy to Chief Ahmadu Ali. I have served the party. I know this party. It’s like a second home to me. I know the length and breadth of people in this party, from every corner. That itself is an asset. If there is any sort of crisis anywhere, whether state or zone, when you pick your phone even at midnight, you know who to call. This is the scenario now. That knowledge is there. I had also been director-general of a Presidential Campaign Organization for this party, at an election we won handsomely.
I had been several times the chairman of the national convention of the party. I had also managed crisis all over this country in terms of conflict resolution. I remember the time when the then governor of Anambra, Chris Ngige, was abducted. I was the one that went there to resolve it. When there was so much agitation in the North-West, at that time All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) was fighting us so seriously, so viciously. A committee was set up which I headed, to go through all the states there to calm all the frayed nerves. I think I’ve served well enough . We are not reinventing the wheel but unfortunately also, we don’t have the time for any new learner, anybody who has not managed a part of the party to that level, to come and manage the party as a whole at this critical time. We can’t afford to take that risk. I didn’t invent these; these are the tracks of my own experience in this party. When Rome was burning, where were these emperors? When Wadata was in crisis, and people said it was all over, where were these people? Suddenly, it ended up, the soup is ready now, everybody is drawing up their long spoon to scoop some for themselves. They didn’t believe that PDP would resurrect. They didn’t believe it. Some of them were already setting up other political parties, they even told their people that they should not worry; that the judgment of July 12 was not going to favour the party, but that Ali Modu-Sheriff would ill be given favourable judgment!
Today, they are jumping up and down. They are like rolling stone that gathers no moss. Let’s face it: you have been in a small hamlet and now you just want to jump out to be the manager of a big palace. It won’t work, because it is not an experimental thing to manage a palace. Our case now does not give room for experimentation now. To say it doesn’t matter; he will learn on the job: It does matter. We have just one year to deliver, and win elections. Can we afford to play truancy as a party? Can we? I say no, we can’t.
There are some of these individuals who said no single word during the crisis, for or against. They perfectly sat on the fence, so that their words would not be used against them. But we stood up and spoke, fought on the side of the party, and we are happy today that all is well for the terms of the favourable judgment in the Supreme Court. I remember that delegations came to me in Lagos, saying, “Oga, PDP is dead; let’s move out. But I said no, PDP won’t die.’’
Today, those who tried to woo me out of the party then are alive and they are happy that the PDP is kicking and alive. I remember telling a former presidential aide then that what our leaders, the founding fathers of this party planted could not die. It is engraved on a marble, and today I’ve been proved right. The tap root of this party is solid. When we got to the Supreme Court, God gave us a second chance, but we must not blow it. This is not the time for experimentation. I’m singing it on the high roof, I am singing it on the topmost roof of the tallest building in Nigeria, Younger and upcoming generations will not forgive us if we lose this chance. So, my appeal to our people is that it’s not a matter of pride, but a clear fact that we need a tested captain to take the ship to harbour.
You seem to have a strong belief that the PDP has a strong capacity to bounce back. Do you think Nigerians see the party the way you are seeing it?
We have to convince Nigerians. The post-mortem of the PDP shows that impunity was a big problem. Today, somebody wins at the party’s congress, you send his name as the winner, but when the results are out, even before he reaches the doorstep, it’s been changed because of some interest. How do you retain members’ loyalty in such a circumstance? You disobey so many lawful rules and you think it’s going to be rosy? No. Those of us who started with the original concept, who knew what we sold to the people, the good product we produced and the people bought, we know what to do about it again. We know where we erred. We are poised to convince Nigerians; but not only convince them, they must see us as being genuinely repentant. We must begin to let people see our congresses as open, fair, and our pronouncement, our utterances, our actions must convince Nigerians. That is the beauty of democracy.
When President Buhari said we need to have a vibrant opposition, he knows what he’s saying. We knew what they promised Nigerians and now two years into the government, I know that it would be stock taking in the next eight months when they would have been three years in office.
Then, we can take their score cards and show Nigerians what they have done or didn’t do. Then, we will tell them what they had done and what we shall do more. That’s civilised democracy. We didn’t say we didn’t make any mistakes in the past. To err is human, to forgive is divine.
We had done an in-house analysis on why we lost that election, and we will do the right things to put the party back on the right track. If you didn’t participate in the modeling, how can you effectively participate in remodeling? So, for me, the knowledge is there. We are poised to carry on from where the leaders of the past left.
I remember a folklore in Yoruba land where it was said the youths in a village said they were tired of the old people in their community.
They connived and killed them all. But a particular young man didn’t kill his own father. At a time pestilence came, they had no knowledge of the antidote. The one who didn’t kill his father went to him where he hid him and the old man gave him the solution to the problem.
Finally, let me quote one of the books I read recently: old age is like a bank account, where what you start drawing to survive at critical times are what you stored or kept in that account. Goodwill, honesty of purpose, commitment, equity, good faith and wisdom are the things you have stored in your life time which you will draw from when the younger ones will be looking at you and wondering how you manage to solutions to almost all things. It is not by mistake or chance, and I am not being proud now. I served 10 unbroken years meritoriously under leaders who understood party management; learnt very well under their leadership and contributed my humble quota as well. Ten unbroken years, from 1999 to 2009, I served at this party secretariat and I know the experience garnered is invaluable.