Former National Vice Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Ondo State Military Administrator, Chief Olabode George, has said that until each state is made a federating unit and proper restructuring is done, Nigeria can never make progress.
The Lagos PDP leader spoke at his Ikoyi residence in Lagos, on the crisis in the state chapter of the party, saying that the South West will not tolerate interference from the national body over the affairs of the party in the zone.
Nigeria is celebrating 20 years of democracy, what is your assessment of the journey so far?
When we got independent in 1960, the British left us with three major regions, and the head of those regions who were the premiers were very powerful because they managed the resources of their regions for the benefit of their people which is the real definition of democracy. If you look at the three major regions at that time, in the East, we had the majority tribes and the minority which we now call the South South. In the North, we had the majority and the minority, and the minority is what we now call the North Central. In the South West, we also had the majority and the minority; eventually they extracted the mid-west from the Western region.
Even though I come from Lagos Island, we all benefited from the management style of the premier of the Western region and across the country, everyone developed based on the resources available to the people.
Politics is the management of the resources of that area for the benefit of those people. The major problems we had in the first republic were issues that had to do with the various minority groups in each of the regions, otherwise, everyone developed according to their needs and were able to give a token to the national government to maintain the army and other sectors. Follow my thoughts and see where we deviated as a nation.
When the military came, the only thing that they understood was the hierarchy system, which is from top to bottom where once an order is given from the top, it must be obeyed. Every resource now came from different parts of the country and went straight to the centre and the centre now became extremely strong. When General Gowon came, the agitation of the minorities in each of the regions was high. So Gowon created 12 states and the creation of these states eased the tension of the first republic. But then, we now created the problem of having a very strong centre, rather than allowing the units to survive with the resources within them. That is one of the major problems that is yet to be resolved till today.
Creation of states and local governments has never been handled by any civilian administration, why? The military created all the states and we are still fighting over the imbalance because some zones have more than the others, and all the resources of this country go to Abuja till date. That was not the original concept accepted for the federation of Nigeria. Lagos produces almost 85 percent of the total VAT in this country, but when it goes into the national basket and it is redistributed, what comes back to the state is about 11 percent. Is that justifiable? Unless we go back to do a correction to these ills, there will never be peace.
Do you think the states can survive on their own?
Nigeria is a big nation and I am happy to have had the opportunity to transverse the length and breadth of this country. There is no area in this country that does not have natural resources. Some have crude oil, some have mineral resources that are being secretly extracted, and some have economical trees and so on. If well planned, each state can survive on its resources. Waiting for redistribution of resources based on local governments is wrong. I am from Lagos State and the population here is bursting at the seams but how many local governments do we have? We have 20 but Kano has 44 and funding of those local governments come from Abuja. Why? Is it justifiable? These are the issues at stake of some of the things causing the ripples in the country. But because of position and power, people keep quiet and do not talk about real issues. Why are we alive if truth cannot be told? I am 74 going to 75, if I cannot speak the truth now, when will I speak it?
I have been quite fortunate to have seen the first republic, to have seen what led to the war, to be part of the military, when we handed back power to civilians instead of going back to the real federalism, we continued the military concept of operation and that is the major problem till today. Can I tell you why I joined the PDP? It is because all other parties were tribal parties. The founding fathers of the party realised that there was need to carry every Nigerian along, so they came in with zoning concept. If the president comes from the north, the vice president will come from the south. They ensured that the top six positions in the country were evenly distributed to the different zones and that was why Obasanjo’s tenure was seamless. I am being told that the ruling party said they do not believe in zoning. What we should ask ourselves is, are we moving forward, stagnant or retrogressing? If you start shuffling yourself on the same spot, you will think you are moving, but you are just shaking.
You have mentioned some of the issues the county is facing; what then are the solutions?
I have given a history of where we are coming from and the mistakes that we have made as a country but nobody is addressing those mistakes. The national conference we had came out with a brilliant solution. I was there and every item of the agenda was debated in the full session and at the end, every recommendation was unanimously adopted. Some initially said that we should go back to regional government, and I said that would never happen. Can you tell an Osun man to go back to Oyo? Or tell an Ekiti man to go back to Ondo? Or tell a Katsina man that he is going back to Kaduna. It would not work. Let us have federated states of Nigeria; let every state tap into the resources of their land for the benefit of their people.
We copied this constitution from America but we are not doing it the way it is done in the US. States in the US control their resources. You cut your cloth according to the size of your cloth. California is the sixth largest economy in the world and there was a time the national government was saying the US would cut off trade with China, but the government in the California said no, we would continue to deal with them for the survival of our people. In America, the numbers of counties you have depends on you, if you create as many you like; you would take care of them. Everything is not controlled by the government at the top. These are the solutions; true federalism and proper restructuring of the country. If this is done, people would know that if you don’t elect a credible leader to manage your resources you would suffer for it. All this emperors and godfathers that manipulate our electoral process would be eliminated.
The government declared June 12 as democracy day but people are still pushing that May 29 should be scrapped and replaced with June 12. Do you agree?
What is in a date? Has making June 12 democracy day put food on the table for the children? Has it improved our roads, the cheating and manipulation of elections results, have those things disappeared? Has that encouraged the judiciary to be fair and uphold justice? No matter how you want to manipulate it, MKO Abiola would always be part of history. But what have we corrected? What has it done to the price of milk? Has it brought in more foreign investors? Why are they running away? Has it stopped the killings by herdsmen?
When Obasanjo left office as military head of state in 1979, a lot of Yoruba people blacklisted him saying he should have handed over to Pa Awolowo instead of a Fulani man. There was no name that he was not called but Obasanjo is a straightforward person. Recently, he made a comment as an observation that things are not going right in this country. The incursion of herdsmen is disturbing. He is also a farmer and a lot of farmers are complaining bitterly that their farms are being ravaged. My friend, the former governor of Jigawa, Sule Lamido accused Obasanjo who has always been a nationalist of being a bigot. What Lamido said was absolute nonsense and an insult. Does he know what Obasanjo suffered? Was it not the same man who made Lamido whom he is by giving him the opportunity to become a minister? But he is now turning round to call him a bigot. Why did Lamido not find out from Obasanjo why he made that statement? Wole Soyinka made the same observation that Obasanjo made and you know that both men are not usually on the same page. Maybe we should reverse roles and get some Agbekoya farmers from the South West to go to Lamido’s village and start ravaging farmlands, and then we would know what he would say. What is right is right and what is wrong is wrong. I invite Lamido to come to the South West and I will take him round the villages so that he can see what these farmers who are losing their livelihoods are feeling.
You have been the leader of Lagos PDP since its inception and have been accused of being at the centre of the leadership crisis in the state chapter. How do you feel and how would you address the recent defections of high profile people from your party to the ruling party?
Let them go. Some of them were good guys but now they are going to a place where they do not practice democracy at all. Those people who defected to the APC, from where did they originally come from? They came from APC. Ogunlewe was a member of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), so he simply moved back to where he came from. They came from the APC. One of them came to my house and told me that the only business he does is to be a PSP operator and that a letter was written to him threatening to sack him; so because of his daily bread, he had to go back to APC. In the case of Dipo Olurunimu, his case was a different ball game. At a time, he was the only PDP member left in the Lagos State House of Assembly when others defected. But they were harassing him and he had to join them. APC is not a political party. Look at that Rita Orji she came around and got the ticket after that she started running around claiming to be the leader of the party in the state. The experience we have had in the South West is that there has been an unnecessary incursion of control over the affairs of the party from the national body. There has been interference in the management of the party in the South West and we met some days ago and decided that never again are we going to allow anybody outside of our zone to come and interfere in the affairs of the party.
Let the leaders face national issues; you cannot know my house more than me. They were handpicking candidates and imposing them on us and we have seen the results, but we are determined that this would never happen again. Segun Adewale’s case is laughable; we need to pray for him, he is a very sick young man. The national body of the party has written that he is not a member of the party. If he says he is the chairman, I don’t know what party he is leading; but it is definitely not this PDP. We fought a good fight in the presidential election, we worked for Atiku and we are sure he won. But for Agbaje, he said he knows it all. We didn’t work against him; it is the people of Lagos that worked against him. Where did Agbaje originally come from? Was he not part of the ruling party in the state from the beginning? Some people are saying he is now in APC and all his movements indicate that he is now with them.