Olabode George is a former deputy national chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). He spoke with some select journalists on a number of issues, including the state of the nation, report of the #EndSARS panel in Lagos State, his purported rift with former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu. INIOBONG IWOK brings the excerpts:
There’s news making the rounds that the PDP has been ejected from its Lagos secretariat over nonpayment of rent. What is your take?
It is true. We were in some corner of Ikeja and it wasn’t in an appropriate place to gather politicians and crowd, I think people in the area decided so and then the landlord drove us away from there. The first political office for PDP was donated by Salvador because he was the man who brought the PDP flag to Lagos. So, he donated his office in Akilo near the Guinness. That was where we started and after that, of course, he said look you people should pack your bag and baggage since we haven’t been able to get an allocated land to build our own structure. So, we got that place I paid for it and kept paying for it.
And I think that is why the party thought it is a free lunch. I stopped paying and I told them that there was a reason why I stopped paying because of all the funds that you people collect, the first thing you should set aside are the overheads and that when some of them decided that it was time to be paying salary to themselves apart from those who are non-elected personnel. As you heard, they have taken, in fact, there was a time we almost bought that property but the children of the owner were divided especially when they heard that we were going to pay, they were even about going to court. I would blame the Secondus administration on the way he interfered in the management of Lagos PDP and I blame him for everything because he refused to follow the constitution of our party. They mismanaged everything in the party.
A call was recently made to you by an APC leader, Joe Igbokwe; that you should call a truce with former Lagos governor, Bola Tinubu, and work together for the development of the state and the southwest. Are you thinking of doing that?
I am brought up to stand by the truth. If we say the truth, we will die; if we don’t say the truth, we will likewise die. I have no personal issue with Bola Tinubu; it’s nothing personal. I feel sorry for the younger generation of my state, Lagos. I read the piece from Mr. Igbokwe and I laughed. If it is to reconcile, the day Bola Tinubu or the Lagos State government scraps the Alpha Beta Company and returns all the monies that are in their account to the state, I will be the first to go to Bola’s house; it is an issue that bothers me. It has never happened before, from Brigadier Johnson, Baba Jakande, Otedola and to other military governments, nobody. And it doesn’t happen in any part of the country. The Alpha Beta Company collects all the revenues of Lagos State every 30 days; they take out their 15 percent and remit the rest to our treasury; so they have become our LIRS. Where is it done anywhere in the world. I thank Mr. Igbokwe for his suggestion but it is not me, he should talk to Bola Tinubu to remove his knees from our neck because it is choking the state. What is being collected as percentage can set up and encourage those artisans and petty businesses across the state. If Igbokwe that I know is from Anambra State, has that kind of man running Anambra like it is done in Lagos, how would he feel? Lagos is a trading pot and we don’t chase anyone; that is the culture of Lagos. I am saying it to Bola Tinubu that the day he scraps Alpha Beta from Lagos revenue, I will be the first to visit him, dine and wine with him.
The Lagos State PDP congress was stopped midway in October for fear of violence. How soon will the congress hold in Lagos?
We requested it. We wanted it stopped because they had created so much tension. Whichever way it would have gone on that Saturday, if we hadn’t postponed the congress, people would have killed themselves for no reason.
Now we have witnessed the carnival-like atmosphere at the recent national convention. That is what I’ve known to be our convention, a peaceful gathering. The party leaders said they wanted to come penultimate Saturday to hold the congress in Lagos State. I asked what the urgency was for? We decided to have it postponed, so that we could have a long time to calm our nerves. Whatever they came up with would have been okay.
Let the conducting of the congress in Lagos State be a litmus test for the new managers of the party. Let the outgoing managers go, we don’t even want to see their tail lights anymore. The new ones should come and conduct the Congress. As you know the new broom sweeps cleaner. I am not talking of the APC broom, not that kind of broom. We are in touch with the leader of the party now in the South-West, Seyi Makinde. Let us do it properly.
I want to say this now: We have a big problem in Yorubaland. See what happened in the North; immediately they said the party had zoned the chairmanship to the North, it took only five days to bring one person. The person has even said that if the next President comes from the North, he is ready to resign. That is deep rooted politics. Can it happen here, where one person wants to be everything?
You once said that you would quit the leadership role in politics after the 2023 general election. What led to this decision?
I was discussing it with my first child and while we were talking, he said, look daddy, we need you more now. You know I just had a surgery. Maybe after the surgery he is beginning to think differently. He said daddy you spent 25 years in the Navy. By 2023, you would have spent 25 years in politics. That is 50 years of your life in service to this country. He said he thinks that is enough and that they need me more now. When I looked at it, what he said made a lot of sense to me. I am even 76 now. If I have put such a number of years into the service of the nation, I think that is okay. I will remove myself from partisan politics. So, I will not be for Party ‘A’ or Party ‘B’ and I will be the father of all. If there is anything that is not going right, we will proffer solution and discuss. By 2023, I will be 78 years- old. Well, Generals don’t retire, we only fade away. But my body system is sending me an alarm. I was a state governor when I was 42. Now I am 76 years-old. So from 2023, I won’t be participating in partisan politics and you know another person will emerge.
Tension is rising and people are expressing their anger over the outcome and the report of the judicial panel set up by the government on the #EndSARS and police brutality. What do you have to say generally about the report, denials and reactions that have trailed it ahead of the expected release of the white paper?
First of all, let me congratulate those who were members of that panel. What it has done to me personally is that it has changed my mind set about our country. Over 200 million people, we still have people that have the fear of God in them. It was not just one person but a public panel and their names will remain golden that they told the truth and it is only the truth that can save and keep us alive. I want to congratulate them that they put their pen to paper and wrote the report the way they saw it.
They listened for months and months and then they came to that conclusion. Kudos to them and if we have just a few like that and it is not seriously an indictment on the government, of course, they will take their own but the fact that they set them up. They handpick them but they came there because of the future, the younger generations would read the report and say, how courageous. So, I really want to congratulate them.
Secondly, when you pass through the tollgate now, you could see that they are doing some wiring and testing, I want to advise Sanwo-Olu, this happened during his watch; I was a governor; I think I left in 1990 and I have been in and out of Ondo State. You know that time it was Ondo and Ekiti states if I had misbehaved, would I have the guts to go back there. So, I want to advise him, Sanwo-Olu is a big name and his mother comes from Lagos, the Cole family, a very big family and a Godly family, you can’t put and cover such for a long time.
The recommendations that they have made, first of all, even if they are pushing him to reopen the tollgate, the truth have come out now. From January next year, political activities would start, governance is over because by December we will start having all the elections. So, I don’t know because there are too many rumours flying all over that Bola Tinubu now wants his son to come and contest for the governorship of Lagos. So, they turn it into a family affair but let him think that he has a family name behind him both from his mother’s side and his father’s side. And that the truth has been told; of course, people will talk but my own contribution is, let him study that document and be straight with himself and his God and take appropriate action.
To err is human but to forgive is divine. It is not a repetition, it happened; lives were lost and he should read that document cover to cover and make amends and apologise to the people of this state. You know Lagos is mini Nigeria. There is no tribe that exists in this country that you will not find in Lagos. So, if Lagos sneezes, Nigeria catches a cold. So, let him look at it from that and take a cursory look and in-depth analysis and correct the ills. If there is a need to apologise to the people, of course, he has to apologise.
Let him be bold enough as a child of God and say he is sorry for all the stories that came out and do something for those who lost their lives. Of course, I believe the military itself because I was in the service you don’t take orders from any governor or anybody. The only fellow that gives you order is the commander in chief and when he gives his orders straight to the minister of defence from the minister of defence straight to the chief of defence staff. So, that is our chain of command, no civilian will just call the military out to come and do something, how? So, people wanted to know how the military get involved. If it was a mistake, it should never happen again. Number two, if some people are pushing him to reopen tollgate, he should go back and do a rethink. Like I said from January 2022 politics will be on the rise.
Some people that reacted to the report said it is actually the president that should apologise to Nigerians and also ensure that the military and the police that are culpable should be brought to justice because his ministers lied to Nigerians that there were no killings. What is your take on that?
Let me say this and I’m not trying to cover my professional colleagues here, it is also a lesson for the military. Although as a governor, the security outfit in every state, you have the Navy, Air Force and you invite them as members of the security committee for the government, it is normal. But if the mistake was made which is what this has shown that it is only the commander in chief that can deploy military personnel. I was shocked that day when the Vila said they didn’t know how the military got to the tollgate, how?
Who was the commander there and that was the first lesson you learnt? Once you come from the civilian and remove your civilian background, they will reshape you so that you know that orders are orders. But who gave that order? How didn’t come to be? Vila said they don’t know and I’m saying how they landed there. I don’t know but now the report is out, whoever made the mistake depends on the hierarchy of their command; it is an issue that can lead to court-martial. Fortunately, the minister of defence himself, we were there together, if he calls for court martial and finds out that they were out without an adequate pass from the appropriate quarters, it is an offence.
I don’t know about the police, but the military, if the governor calls you, for what and what business do you have with the governor? There is a chain of command and that is what you listen to. That is why you see that all our other ranks do not pay tax. Only officers pay tax. All those people from private to warrant officers shouldn’t pay tax because they are like government issues (GI). Their uniforms and their daily needs must be provided for because when there is a need to deploy them the order comes even if you are sleeping with your wife, they will wake you up and say we are moving and you must move.
So, how did that order come from, from whom to where and it shouldn’t be swept under the carpet because it should be a misunderstanding for the constitutional duties. The high command I’m sure would investigate this report because I remembered the brigadier who was in charge of some unit was saying he himself was shocked that he saw his officers and asked them what are you doing here. If you remember and did you hear anything again about that issue. So, it is so important because the first thing you learn when they deploy you anywhere or they transfer you to any unit is the standard operating procedure and you learn it by heart.
When I left the military a number of years ago, I’m sure the military has not gone backwards. In fact, the quality of education is now high because you can’t be an officer unless you are a university graduate. If you go through the other ranks to become an officer, there is a limit to where you would grow. And there are limits to the levels of appointment they can give you. If you go to our academy today, you will find brilliant people, well-schooled, well-groomed and well-educated, but the whole concept of this idea be pumped into them.
Did you call for public enquiry panel of the Gerrard building collapse?
On the Gerrard road tragedy, I sighted a letter from the structural engineers when they opted out, the engineer said they can guarantee the safety of the other two structures and only four floors of the collapsed building and they regret that since the builder is not allowing them to operate, they are pulling out and their name should be removed from the signpost. With such a letter should the building have been allowed to even go beyond those four floors?
It is not only here you find this kind of thing. Let’s do it the way civilised people do them. When I heard the information that they are going to sit in camera, why? It is a public building is there and everybody saw what happened. What about those labourers? I was told that some Togolese, Beninois came there to work; this is why that structure engineer must not be called to come and testify in camera. We are demanding because this government supposedly was elected by the people. So, the people have the right to say what they want to hear.
So, I’m advising his Excellency that this must also be a judicial setup because when you go people will listen and it will prevent others from even attempting to make the same mistake. That is the essence of public service because if we don’t learn from history we become sands to the dustbin. So, let us know Mr. Governor the true story of the letter because I also saw the letter. You can imagine because all those people too can be professionally dealt with if they fail. You don’t want to go and hire somebody whose qualification is questionable. What are the experiences of the structural engineer?
There are still many people who are architects that have not passed apart from their university degree, you needed to pass council and professional exams. So many have not passed and they are still practising, how? So, I agree with you, take it to the open and if he doesn’t do it, it will be a political discussion. I’m talking to him now as his Egbon, not political lilies now very close to my area and I’m challenging you guys to round Ikoyi, you see all those high rising buildings they are empty, why?
Do you really think that there will be answers to these questions like for instance, you said that the land housing that particular building was that of Old Nitel. Do you really think there will be answers to this?
I said these are my personal views and from personal views, they become public views, we demand to know who owns the building because when you start to know all those details then you will be able to answer some other questions. The Lagos State taskforce or whatever they call it went there, locked up the place and I saw them holding this gentleman in his trousers at the back pulling him along and then they carried one boy like a rat. That was what got my attention and I said what is going on in that place. Then, not more than two days after they release them and they went back to the site. So, those are issues and lessons would be learnt on both sides because you yourself will say why am I going to cut corners if something happens where I can go to jail for the rest of my life or I can even die.