Nigerian political leaders have been warned against any attempt to dump zoning in the country in 2023. Giving the warning in an interview with TUNDE THOMAS at his Lagos home, former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Olabode George described zoning as the pillar that has been helping to hold the nation together, adding that any attempt to dump it may jeopardize or scuttle the nation’s democracy. He also spoke on other national issues.
Things appear to have gone quiet about your presidential aspiration, is it that you have dropped the ambition or you are still consulting?
The best thing in life is to do an appreciation of events from time to time. Like we do in the military, we do an analysis, a strategic analysis before you start jumping from place to place. 2023 is still a long way to go but I pray that the nation will survive till then. The state of the country now is a little bit scary. All over the country, you have discordant tunes and discontentment from individuals and various groups complaining of one form of marginalization or the other, and this is why I pray that the nation survives between now, and 2023, even though some unpatriotic elements are more pre-occupied with how to secure political power in 2023 rather than being concerned about Nigeria’s survival as a nation.
Apart from insecurity, we have COVID-19 to grapple with, bandits, and other criminal elements are also having a field day in some parts of the country, making life difficult for ordinary Nigerians. Many Nigerians are also hungry, and angry. With all these, do you think of we are well as a country? Anybody or group saying that all is well now is deceiving himself.
What all these growing pockets of crises have shown is that it is impossible to manage this country from one centre. It is not ideal and it will never work. The present structure we are running is defective, it is military in outlook, and it can’t fit into any democratic setting. Government must be near the people. There must be devolution of power. When I look at the present situation in the country, the question I ask myself is this; do I still want to contest? There must be a rethink about the structure of this country. I’m seriously requesting President Buhari to restructure this country. He doesn’t have to start from the beginning because there was a national confab in 2014, and the President can start from there. With the way things are going on in the country today, Nigeria can never, and will never work. We are just patching things together but for how long are we going to continue that way? We are now at a level where we can’t continue to patch any longer.
Although I have heard some people and groups saying different things about that confab; some are even saying that it is not ideal for the nation but honestly speaking, I don’t see anything wrong with the confab, and moreover there is no system that is 100 percent perfect. Implementation of that confab report will serve the nation a lot of good. We can start from that point, and re-shape this country before 2023. What I see now is scary, cacophony of discontentment and anger, and my prayer is that the situation will not boil over because if we have serious national crisis on our hand, the Police, and other security agencies may not be able to contain the situation.
I have not dropped my ambition, I’m still much in the race even though I’m lying a bit low for now because I’m much bothered about how to stop the present drift towards anarchy in the country with the rising insecurity, and voices of discontent among various groups in the country. But again, one must not forget that my party, PDP will meet at the top level, to take a decision on 2023. Already you can hear a lot of voices in APC insisting that the Presidency must come to the South in 2023 but PDP is yet to take a decision because the issue requires a lot of strategic thinking.
There are lots of competent people from the North who want to become President, and there are also a lot of competent people from the South who also want to become President in 2023. But for me, it is the party’s position that will determine where the pendulum will swing. If PDP decides it should come to the South, then I will give it a shot. One must be a strategic thinker, and not just a noisemaker. PDP will meet, and take a decision on the issue at the party’s national convention coming up next year, and one of the parameters we can’t discountenance is this, if what APC is saying is true that the party’s presidential ticket is coming to the South we can’t discountenance that in PDP’s strategy.
Two governorship elections are coming up in Edo, and Ondo states, but you have not been seen in any of the two states as a prominent leader of the PDP, what happened?
I may not be physically present there but I’m always there with them in the spirit. As an elder, there is a time for everything but I’m in touch with the party’s leadership, and candidates in both states. The most important thing is for the managers of the party including elders on the final day of the campaign to be present where they will now openly campaign for the party’s candidates. As elder, and a Board of Trustees member, one should be seen just once in a while, and not to be involved in the everyday activities of the party. As elders, one should calm down and avoid the pitfalls of the past. The most important is for us to remain united so that we can face our common enemy, and that is the opposition. But surely, myself and others are going to be there on the final day of the campaign.
How would you rate the chances of your party in Ondo, and Edo states?
I think we have an incredibly good chance to win both states. We are going to defeat APC in a free, and fair election. Don’t also forget the fact that PDP has always been very strong in both states. We have been in control of the states before, and I have no doubt in my mind that the party will secure victory. Governor Godwin Obaseki has done very well in Edo state. He has an impressive record, and that’s why some people like Oshiomhole want to get him out at all cost.
Like I have always been saying, APC is a congregation of strange bed fellows, and that is why with just a little quake, the party collapsed like a pack of cards, and President Muhammadu Buhari had to take the bull by the horn by dissolving the party’s national working committee under Oshiomhole’s leadership, and this clearly showed that the President is actually the leader of the party, and what Buhari ‘s action has shown is that the man who has been parading himself as the party’s national leader is a fake. Buhari through that singular action had cut Tinubu to size.
Tinubu should henceforth stop parading himself as APC national leader. Which national leader is he? While he has been busy junketing all over the place parading himself as the party’s national leader, some of the party’s members were just looking at him, while others are making a mockery of him but now we know who is the real leader of APC is . Tinubu has been dressing himself in borrowed robes by parading himself as the APC national leader. When there was the need to kick everybody in line, who did it? It was President Buhari. They didn’t even invite Tinubu to that meeting. What a humiliation. He overrated himself. Even if he were the one who sponsored this, and that candidate, once the President emerges, he must defer to him. There can’t be two kings in a palace. But now, they’ve shown him who really is the leader of the party.
There have been threats of violence in the two states ahead of the elections, what are your fears?
It should not be a do-or-die affair. It should not be a matter of life and death. Politicians campaigning should sell their manifesto to the people. They should not foist violence on the electorate. Do your campaign, and let the people decide. Then the election must be transparent. What is democracy in terms of management? It is defined as government of the people by the people, and also for the people. What this means in essence is that those that have been elected are to go, and manage the resources within their states for the betterment of all. Violence will never do our democracy any good. So my appeal to both parties is that they should be civil about the whole exercise. I also enjoin the youths not to allow anybody to use them as agents of violence.
In Edo state, former national chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole has been more visible than the party’s candidate , Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu thus confirming rumours that he has been trying to establish himself as Edo godfather as you have Tinubu in Lagos. Do you see the Lagos scenario being replicated in Edo?
I don’t see that happening in Edo state. The people there will never allow Oshiomhole to become a political monster that Tinubu has become in Lagos. I see Edo people resisting Oshiomhole, and he can’t have his way. But the difference between Edo, and Lagos states is that Lagos state has always been a commercial trade centre. Lagos welcomes all, and you can’t discriminate if you are the centre of trade. Lagos is one state where you can excel without anybody discriminating against you, and this is why some people can come to Lagos and claim to be Lagosians when they are actually from other places. But Edo state is not Lagos state, and this is why Oshiomhole can’t have his way there.
Already you can see the resistance against him by the Edo state people. To make matters worse for him, Governor Godwin Obaseki has done very well, and this is why you see people behind him, and that is why the resistance against Oshiomhole has been so overwhelming, and this is why he has not been able to hijack government like Tinubu has done in Lagos. Oshiomhole is not a man of the people, look at the mansion he built in his village. It is obscene, absolutely obscene .It doesn’t show the attribute of a leader that is in touch with the people , and it is this kind of obscenity that will never allow the Edo people to admire him. So, Oshiomhole should banish that idea from his mind if he is ever dreaming to be a godfather like Tinubu. Look at how he betrayed APC former national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun just because he was desperate to acquire political power. He ganged up with others to remove him but has he not been paid back in his own coins? That is what is called God’s judgment. Oshiomhole reaped what he sowed. It is what they call law of Karma. It can never happen if Oshiomhole thinks he can become kingmaker for Edo people.
There have been insinuations about a hidden agenda to keep the presidency in the North after 2023, do you have same fear?
Time will tell . But a lot of northerners in APC including Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna state are even now saying that presidency should go back to the South in 2023. But when PDP meets over the issue, there is no way we will not factor APC’s decision into our own final take on the issue. But generally speaking, if we are to follow the principle of rotation, presidency should revert back to the South in 2023. Ideally, it will be good for us to keep rotation. It is what has been binding Nigeria together, and it is not unique only to us as a nation. We should be careful how we treat the issue, otherwise it is a subject that if not well handled can jeopardize the nation’s unity.
Why would you not prefer a competent person from any part of the country is supported to emerge as President to the idea of power rotation in 2023?
Zoning, and rotation must go hand in gloves. It is not only in Nigeria that it is being done. Zwitzerland is made up of French, the Italians, and the Germans. The French have their own capital in Geneva, the Italians in Lugano, and the Germans in Zurich. The three rotate power among themselves. Zoning is a novel idea in Nigeria and if anybody is talking about competence, there is no problem about that. There is no part of the country whether it is in the North or in the South where you don’t have competent people who can run the country. But what we are talking about is an arrangement that will sustain the nation’s unity. It is only when we have restructured and carry out devolution of power that we can now talk about dumping zoning but without restructuring first, any attempt to dump zoning will backfire. It will have a negative impact on the nation’s democracy. Zoning is the pillar that holds the nation together, and any attempt to dump it may threaten the nation’s democracy.
Are you pleased with the concept of Amotekun security network in the South West so far?
We must commend the South West governors over the Amotekun initiative but it is surprising that Lagos state has not shown active interest. Why ? It is Tinubu that is responsible for this. He is the one teleguiding them in Lagos state , and yet this is a man who wants to be President of Nigeria. Why Tinubu chose to be different I don’t know even when President Buhari has seen reason for the establishment of community policing, and yet he wants to be President of Nigeria.
But I’m proud of other South West governors that irrespective of their political parties affiliation, they came up with the idea of Operation Amotekun because whatever happens to A will affect B. This is how it should be. They have not allowed politics into the whole thing. What is even politics compared to human life?
Policing is local. You must be able to know your locality. Like they do in the United States where we copied their constitution, they have the Bureau of Federal Investigation, FBI, they also have the County Police, and the State Police, three layers of security network but even with that they still have challenges. So it has become very glaring that a Central Police like what we presently have in the country can’t work, and it is heartwarming that the President has already given approval for Community Policing. Not only that, he had also given approval for the initial funding of the project.
Miyetti-Allah group is deploying its Vigilantes across the country, should they be allowed to operate in the South-West?
This is highly provocative, and not only that such an act of illegality is capable of provoking a national outrage, which will end up overheating the polity. Who are the Miyetti Allah protecting? What is the duty of security agents, the police, and others? Are they not there to give protection to everybody? So, if you now allow Miyetti Allah to have its way, what signal are you sending to other groups in the country?
Allowing Myetti Allah to have its way surely is an open invitation to anarchy because if you allow one group to have its way then you can’t shut out others. Relevant security agencies should quickly do the needful, otherwise Miyetti Allah’s action can snowball into a serious national crisis. Why should they be allowed to operate in the South West when such an action can precipitate a serious national crisis? What is the vigilante for? I don’t see any reason for it. Some people will see it as an army of occupation, and resist it. The idea should not be encouraged at all. Laws of each respective states in the country must be respected. It is only where there is no law that you now become king of the jungle.
In the South West here, people have been very accommodating not to only Fulani herders but also to other Nigerians including foreigners. Is this the first time they will be coming to the South West? What is this tribal nonsense we are talking about? It is the system that we are running that is provoking this national division. I have friends all over the country. My best friend till date is a Fulani man. We met when I was in the Navy. He was genuine , honest ,and just. So what are we talking about. We have been existing as a nation since over 100 years ago, so why all these crises now? To get over these crises, we have to restructure, otherwise we are going nowhere. The only thing that is permanent in life is change.
Former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Sokoto state governor, Aminu Tambuwal from the North appear to be warming up for 2023. Governor Tambuwal was actually with former President Olusegun Obasanjo at the weekend, do you fear the former President might be backing any of them against a Southern candidate especially his allies like you?
I think it is still a little bit early to comment on that. Although I have not seen Baba Obasanjo to discuss with him or the purpose of the visit. Anybody can visit anybody. But like I said earlier, it is not an individual decision, the party will meet to take a common decision in the interest of the party, and not that of an individual, and once that decision is taken, I’m obliged to abide by that decision. Once a decision is taken, as a loyal party member you obey.