In this interview, Chief Olabode George, a former deputy national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), discusses the crisis engulfing the organization, particularly the ongoing call for the resignation of the party’s national chairman. Additionally, he discusses the chances of the PDP in the South-West and the 2023 presidential election. AKINWUNMI KING provides the following excerpts:
Some governors in the South are calling on the national chairman of your party to resign for a southerner to take over. What do you make of the development so far in the party?
With less than two weeks to the commencement of campaign season, that we believe will usher in a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government into Aso Rock in 2023, unfortunately, I am compelled to address a ‘clear and present danger’ that might thwart this window of opportunity afforded the PDP.
If pressing concerns are not quickly addressed, our party, the PDP, is on the verge of a serious crisis. A successful plan for winning the election must include party unity and the inclusion of all members. Because of their faulty personal interests, which aim to splinter our great party’s unity, certain of our leaders are pitiably directly or indirectly to blame for the current crisis in the party. As one of the founding members of our party and a former Deputy National Chairman, I urge our party’s members to be aware that it is not in my character to belittle the interest of our party but when issues arise that may dent the progress of our party, one has to speak out and speak loud enough to arrest the attention of our people.
Aside from the fact that I retired as a Navy General with postings all over this country, I am nationalistic by blood, orientation and global view. As a tireless defender of democracy, I have always fought for equity and justice for all with respect to the constitution of this nation and our party. I have never left our party, no matter the situation that besets me.
In addition, I have no iota of tribalism in my blood but will continue to fight tirelessly to ensure inclusiveness for all Nigerians in the political process of this country and especially in this party where some of us have suffered great injustice in the fight for equity and justice for all.
While I reiterate my solidarity with the tenets of our party constitution, I will not remain passive when the collective unity of this party is fragmented. How we collectively address the issues at stake will be a major determinant of the fate of this party at the next general elections. It is pertinent to state, at this point, that I come from a very diverse lineage, with a Nupe great grandmother paternal, and as a descendant of Papa Helas Herbert Macaulay, who by the way in 1946, went to the North to preach politics of inclusiveness but on his return to Lagos, caught pneumonia and died. In fact, the first political party in Nigeria was established in his house in 1922.
Therefore, I repeat that I have no iota of tribalism in my blood and will always fight for inclusiveness for all Nigerians in the political process of this country and especially in this party where some of us have suffered great injustice for the fight for equity and justice for all. As leaders of the party, we must not pander to ethnic affiliation because PDP is the only truly national party. The APC is just a mere congregation of strange bedfellows. Members of our great party must be ready to seize this opportunity to move this country forward but this cannot be achieved when leaders of our party insist on peddling ugly rumours and throwing mud at each other. We should not allow any sentiment – ethnic or religious to divide us. Unfortunately, with what we are presently witnessing, our party may lose the next presidential election if we continue to disregard or fail to address the feeling and grievances of ‘alienation’ being presently experienced by the entire Southern population of this great country.
If this issue is dismissed, we cannot expect votes from them. We should be seen to pursue noble causes and not ethnic agendas. Ethnic groups in this country are at the precipice of collapse. It has never been this bad historically and Nigerians are waiting for us to change the situation of things for the better.
Some have described calls for Ayu’s resignation as a constitutional issue because your party’s constitution says that the person that must take over from him must come from his zone. Don’t you foresee a situation whereby another northerner will come up if Ayu resigns and how is PDP going to transfer power to a southerner, who is the second deputy national chairman?
I heard that people say it is a constitutional matter but the emergence of the presidential candidate of the party was also a constitutional matter. Let me ask this question: Is President Muhammadu Buhari from Anambra State? Is President Buhari from Lagos? He is from Katsina State. Where is Katsina State? He is now in his eight-year term in office.
The zoning arrangement by the founding fathers of PDP was meant to reduce unnecessary friction that was generated in the First Republic. You know that at that time, the majority tribes had their way and their say and minority tribes were just onlookers. Also in the South, majority tribes had their way and their say, while minority tribes were pure onlookers. It created so many frictions that eventually led to the collapse of the First Republic. In fact, that led us to the Civil War and all kinds of things happened, the Western Nigeria crisis and all those issues. But when our founding fathers met in 1998, salami Abubakar, Bola Ige was the only one from the South-West, Chief Alex Ekwueme was from the South- East, Jim Nwobodo from the South- East, Papa Solomon Lar from the Middle Belt, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi from Kano, Alhaji Adamu Ciroma from Yobe, Prof. Jubril Aminu and Baba Bamanga Tukur. All those people who could never have sat together to discuss politics came together and forgot their personal ambitions to ensure that these military boys will never come back to the government.
That was what led to this visitation to the friction that I told between the minorities and the majorities both in the North and South. They created Nigeria into six geopolitical zones because if you look at our constitution, you will not find North-West, North- East, North-Central and the rest of them, it is only states and the federal and then Abuja. They came up with the proposal that we should divide Nigeria into six geopolitical zones and they now came out with six top positions in the land. What are these positions, remember six geopolitical zones and six top positions, the president, the vice president, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Secretary to the Government and the National Chairman of the party.
So, with the six zones and six top positions, every zone will go home with a top position. Brilliant idea but it is not novel because that is what is done in Switzerland. They imported it and we practised it and it stabilized political issues in Nigeria. If the president comes from the North; the vice president will come from the South; Senate President, North; Speaker of House of Representatives, South; Secretary to the Government, North and the national chairman of the party, South. There is no way the president and national chairman of the party will come from the same zone.
Is the position you are advocating supported by the constitution of the PDP?
Let me read the constitution of our party; section 7, subsection(3C), says that the party shall pursue these aims and objectives by adhering to the policy of rotation and zoning of the party and party elective offices pursuant to the principle of equity, justice and fairness. That is the party, it is not me and if the party came up with this, I remember I was a member of the zoning committee that reviewed the report on zoning. The first day we had a meeting, it was riotous because some of our friends were saying there was no need for zoning again and that we should go ahead to the election and anybody who wants to contest should do so. But zoning is even more important now than in 1998 because we have so exacerbated the unity of the country and tribalism has grown beyond human comprehension. You see what is happening in the whole country; who is safe now, who is happy and if that is the context and the submission of our fathers, why are we now dribbling?
I remembered that first meeting was riotous like I said but at the following meeting which was about a week after, our brothers from the North came back and said our constitution is sacrosanct but six months ago, when they did the zoning of the party, nobody mentioned zoning of elective offices. They now requested that we should not add salt to the injury at least for this time. The communiqué we issued is there for every Nigerian to see.
We agreed that we should unite the party so that we can be strong and undivided in fighting the APC. We said that since they didn’t announce where the presidential ticket would be zoned six months ago and they have started selling the forms and people have bought the forms and have been running around campaigning and spending money, we should please allow all the zones to contest for the presidential ticket but from now on, six months before the commencement of any sale of forms for elective offices, the party must announce zoning for both party and elective positions.
On that basis, we agreed and many people would have walked out but in the interest of our party, that is why I said what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. Why are they now saying constitutionality? I have worked in the party for 10 years and the beauty of our party is that we have historical records.
If Ayu refuses to leave the seat, what will be the next line of action by members of the party from the South?
We are not saying the party should remove Ayu; we are saying that Ayu should in the interest of this country, in the interest of our party facing this election, just step down and leave a taste of honey in the mouth of everybody. But to feel otherwise, the consequences would be too dangerous. The ominous is on him because we cannot force him to go but as they requested us to allow Atiku Abubakar and others from the North to contest the presidential primary of the party, it is on the same principle that we are saying ‘please do it honourably so that the future generation will never forget that commitment and loyalty that you brought into the party.’
To say that you are staying there for four years will be against the tenets of our founding fathers. You are saying to Nigerians that in the six top prizes, the Senate President is yet to be appointed, the Speaker is yet to be appointed, the Secretary to the Government is yet to be appointed and these cannot come to the South because it is only the Speaker and the National Chairman but the national chairman we don’t have to wait until after election before we look at it. Come and tell us that ‘because of all the requests you people have made, I bow out in the interest of this party.’
You will see that the goodness of God will follow him but to do otherwise, will affect the party. How do I go out in the South-West to campaign for the PDP? Bola Tinubu will go round the South-West to say that he has come home with the biggest prize but what do I tell people in the zone?
So, let us do what is honourable, just and fair so that people will understand. Nigeria is at the precipice and there is so much anger in the land. Who is happy? Go to the North, East, West and South, there is so much tension and we want this competition to be done very well to guarantee the peace of the future.
If Ayu refuses to step down, yes that is on him, but I will never join a bandwagon of deceitful characters because the truth is the truth and a lie is a lie and deceit is deceit. Let us be honourable and bring into play civilized behaviour to guarantee that the younger generation coming will always look forward and say that we stood by the principles of equity and fairness.
Some people are insinuating that what PDP leaders in the South are trying to do is not possible before the election and that you are stylishly delaying the preparation of PDP, so that you can support a candidate from the South-West. How true is that?
Maybe If I move to another planet, I will support the candidate from the South-West. I have been a lone voice in the wilderness in the South-West. Does the fellow they are talking about in the South-West represent the interest of the zone?
That is why we are saying maybe Bola Tinubu has gone to the witch doctors to be throwing some challenges our way. But you know that the Almighty God has taught us that nothing comes easy. As you traverse in life, you will have challenges but if you trust in Him, you will succeed. I don’t know, but it is not even a rumour that our current national chairman is a very good friend of Bola Tinubu because he said to me before that when he started his political career, it was at Bola Tinubu’s office in Lagos.
And that was how he became the president of the Senate at that time. Of course, he said you know we can disagree and agree but in politics these are issues and it is not for me to start thinking about it.
The presidential candidate of our party should go into his inner chamber and examine all the people running around him, all the voices that are coming, the cacophony of voices both positive and negative for him to determine what is happening. I am an irredentist PDP believer because I love the party. I have served the party even in the worst situation, and I remained a very loyal member of the party. I have said it, no matter what besets me, I know when everybody leaves their personal ambition at the gate, we can resolve this crisis.
There are allegations that you are pushing for Ayu’s removal, so that you can take over as the next national chairman of the party. How true is this insinuation?
At my age, I cannot be canvassing for any party position but as one of the founding fathers of PDP, we must be bold enough to speak truth to power. The tribal mistrust in the land is unprecedented. Nigerians are waiting for us to vote APC out of Aso Rock but due to selfish interests or ethnic attraction, some of our friends are becoming less and less patriotic in their decisions.
What south westerners in our party are asking for is very simple. We don’t want the position of Director-General of the Presidential Campaign Council. Rather, we want the office of National Chairman, and this we have made very clear. In a situation like this, people must not be fixated but approachable and dependable. We must give the South- West a sense of belonging and a sense of inclusiveness by producing the national chairman before the commencement of the campaigns. It is not justifiably equitable to have a brother from the North leading the campaign for a northern presidential candidate. Where then is justice, equity, fair play, inclusiveness?
This is an appeal I am requesting our party leaders to consider, so that we will be at ease to convince the people from the South-West to support our party. This tribal mistrust was not created by our party but by the ruling party, the APC.
We must learn to flow with the political tide and not against it. If Ayu resigns today, the heavens will not fall. In fact, millions of PDP members will rejoice and prepare as war generals to ensure the victory of our party in 2023. As a result of the need to have inclusiveness, oneness and togetherness, it does not make any political sense for the presidential candidate and the national chairman to come from the same zone.
Now, we have a situation in which some elders are saying ‘it does not matter.’ Can we go into the election with Atiku Abubakar and Iyorchia Ayu, from the same zone, leading our national campaign? This will be an affront, impunity and insult to the electorate and party members from the South.
Ayu promised openly before the presidential primary in May to resign if the presidential candidate emerges from the North. So, why has he refused to honour his words? Why is he not reneging? What is driving his reluctance not to resign?
We assure Nigerians that every tribe will have a voice in government once we take power, but how can we expect them to have faith in us when we can’t keep such a basic promise? In such a short period of time, our national chairman has betrayed a promise he made. What significance does it have that the chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) and the head of the Governors’ Forum have resigned?
The BoT and Governors’ Forum chairman do not hold significant power within our party. They don’t even rank in the top six jobs in our nation. They are not relevant to the conversation at hand. Let me state unequivocally that a candidate for president and the national chairmanship cannot hail from the same region. Period!