In this concluding session of last week’s interview, Chief Olabode George, a former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), speaks on the crisis rocking the South-West chapter of the party ahead of its zonal congress. The Atona Oodua of Yorubaland also went down memory lane on how the party defeated the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD) in the 2003 governorship elections.
The leaders of the defunct AD claimed that you used your position as national vice-chairman (South-West) of the PDP to capture five states in the region with the help of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the 2003 general elections. How will you respond to that?
That is a joke. Let people be honest and straightforward to tell the truth, so that in future, students of politics in a Political Science class will be able to do a thorough analysis. What do they mean by capture? The people of the South-West willingly voted for the PDP. I remembered an incident in Ondo when some AD Commissioners came together and told their people they should go and create trouble after the late Olusegun Agagu, who was then the PDP governorship candidate had defeated the then incumbent, the late Adebayo Adefarati. Their own party people, AD members turned on those Commissioners and almost beat them up. They said AD lost the election and they should accept that they lost.
Even the governorship of election of Lagos state in 2003 was won by the PDP but that will be a story for another day because somebody within our party said it openly here that it was he who made it possible that the AD candidate then was returned for a second term, thinking that he was a human being who will support him later on but he turned against him. Truth is very important in politics. If you listened to US President, Joe Biden on Thursday, he said one thing I will promise you Americans is that I will always tell you the truth. He said even if it’s a bad news, he won’t cover it up. If you want to manage people, you don’t lie to them. If you lie to them and they discover, they will lose hope. Once they lose hope, that is the end of your democracy. How can AD leaders say we capture South-West? They were beaten blue, black and red because right from January 2000, I call my people ‘The 12 Disciples’; the zonal working committee. We went out campaigning.
These AD people came on the back of Awoism but it was absolute falsehood. They came nothing close to Papa Awolowo at all. We also grew under the same Awoism and we saw what Papa Awolowo did in Western region. His education, infrastructural, health, agricultural and other programmes; even ensuring that there is an academic scholarship for those whose parents couldn’t afford. The fact that your parents are poor doesn’t mean God has not given you brain. Many of the people you see today benefited from the South-West scholarship because their parents couldn’t afford it. Today, many of them are professors, accountants, medical doctors and so on. It was a unique policy of commitment, dedication and loyalty to the people. There are 137 local governments in the South-West, minimum time in four years, five times minimum that we got to all those places campaigning and we were comparing what they were doing with what Awolowo did and the people saw the huge difference for themselves. They have brainwashed the people not to listen to us then, saying we were not progressives and we don’t like Yoruba people. But we kept going and talking. Later, our crowd of followership got larger and they themselves knew that we had won the hearts and minds of the people.
How did you manage to win Ekiti state despite the opposition of some of your party members to Governor Ayo Fayose’s emergence?
Two things happened in the case of Fayose. Like I said, we’ve been going round the South-West states. We could see the serious ones and the mediocres. At one time, we were in Ado-Ekiti and they said there is a young man who was providing the basic needs for the people. He brought tankers and was giving them free water and also pharmaceutical support. Somehow, he won the hearts of the common people. These are the people who will stay at the polling stations on election day. The first time I met him with his wife, he has one hotel called Spotless. I saw all the tankers going out to give free water to the people in Ado- Ekiti. That was something unimaginable and the people kept asking ‘Who is this?’. The truth is, if somebody came to you and gave you the basic needs of life, he will wake you up and you will see him as the messiah. I met with him and his wife, who is a very religious woman. I told him that I will be in Abuja on Sunday and I will take him to meet Baba (then president, Olusegun Obasanjo). I told him as a young man in his 40s, he was making a very impressive impact on the common people.
Suddenly, the Ekiti vibration of PDP just started blowing up as everybody were seeing our party as a better alternative to AD. So, I told Fayose to meet me in Abuja and he came. I took him to the Church service in the villa. After the service, I took him to the President for breakfast. That was his first meeting with Baba Obasanjo and that was how Baba knew him and also developed interest in him. After their meeting, I told him ‘Look, your election will not be in the villa. So, don’t limit your good works to Ado-Ekiti, spread it out. Let your people in Afao-Ekiti and other parts of the state hear the good news’. And I remembered he did! Then, something dramatic happened to him which God used me to intervene.
What was the dramatic incident?
The reality is that some of our party members in Ekiti don’t like him. They said he is an interloper who came from nowhere to reap from where he did not sow. When the complaints got to me, I called them and I said PDP is not a private company, it is a political organization and everybody who feels he wants to join should be welcomed with open hands. Our boat is big enough and ready to take as many as possible. When the governorship primary came, of course, Fayose won and he became our candidate. The President was now going round all the states to campaign and give our flags to our candidates. The Ekiti PDP then sew a common uniform (Aso Ebi) which is expected to be worn by the President, the governorship candidate and lots of other people to show the carnival-like aspect of the party. They didn’t give the cloth to Fayose and I never knew as I was busy with lots of assignment here and there.
The night before the rally, the president was going to arrive in Akure. The plan was that we will have the Ondo PDP rally first and handover the flag to Agagu first and then proceed to Ado-Ekiti. At midnight, Dare Adeleke, who was the Zonal Youth leader of the PDP in the South-West brought Fayose to me in my hotel. He kept knocking my door and I said who is that? He said ‘Oga, it is Dare sir’. I said ‘Okay, you can come in’. When they entered. I enquired what the problem was that brought them to my place in the midnight and he said ‘Sir, they sew Aso Ebi and they didn’t give this man who is our governorship candidate. Fayose was just looking, he couldn’t utter a word. When I heard the story, I was shocked because Baba Obasanjo was to arrive Akure at 8am in the morning. Who will I be calling by midnight to get the cloth for Fayose? Dare then suggested that they can go to Oje in Ibadan that midnight to get a material that the President and Fayose can wear. I gave them N250,000. They both left around past midnight.
By 6am, they returned with these two dresses. I gave Fayose’s own to him and then I kept the other one for the President.
When Baba landed in Akure, as they put the gangway there, against protocol, I just went up to meet him inside the aircraft. I quickly did that because once he was down, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to talk with him privately again because of the crowd. Everybody knew something was wrong when they saw me going into the aircraft. I went to Baba’s room in the plane. I told those I met there to excuse us and I shut the door. I said ‘Sir, the dress you are wearing, they didn’t give it to our candidate in Ekiti’. Baba said ‘What’?! I said they didn’t give him and you were supposed to wear the same outfit for the rally in Ado-Ekiti. I now told him how we were able to quickly get another cloth for him and Fayose. He now said ‘Okay, Bode. When we finish in Akure, we will be going to commission the NTA station in Ado-Ekiti. After that commissioning in the crowd, he will just call my name ‘Bode’! Once I hear that, I should carry the dress and we will go into the studio to change into the outfit that we bought. So, immediately we finished the ceremony, Baba mentioned my name headed for the studio. People scampered out of the place, wondering what the President want inside the studio. So, both of us went inside and he changed his agbada and sokoto from the original Aso Ebi into the one we quickly arranged. In the meantime, Fayose had worn his own and was already at the stadium waiting with other party leaders to receive the President.
After the commissioning, Baba was still wearing their uniform until he entered the studio to change. Immediately after the commissioning, all the party leaders quickly headed to the stadium for the arrival of the President, not knowing that Baba had changed his outfit. After he was done, we went in his car with his ADC and all the presidential convoy to the stadium in Ado-Ekiti. That was the gift that gave Ayo Fayose that day. When the President got into the stadium, people were shocked to see him wearing the same outfit with Fayose. Unbelievable! The uproar in the field was amazing. The party members who were wearing the general outfit became angry and started throwing sachet water at the party leaders, thinking they deceived them by giving them a different cloth from what the President wore. That was the extra mile we went and the total support we gave Fayose to become governor then.
This is the same Fayose that came on national television to abuse and call me all sorts of unprintable names when I indicated interest in the national chairmanship position of our party. He said Chief Bode George should go and retire from politics and we the younger people will retire him forcefully if he fails to listen. When the BBC Yoruba came to interview me, I said unless the Almighty God did not use me to get to that level where he got today. I also said that he will live to regret it. It is not a curse; it is a statement of fact and I still stand by it.
Although he phoned me recently and he said all kinds of things. He called me this week that he wanted to come and see me. I told him you know my office. When you are in trouble, you know where to come. Is it the first, second or third time he will run here? What do I need from him? So, we won Ekiti and defeated AD hands down. Ekiti state is very unique in the South- West. I had a very rare privilege to have been able to govern Ekiti and Ondo at that time, to know their culture and characteristics, very unique people. From Okemesi to Efon all the way to Ikole, the same language; the same tone; the same beliefs; the same culture; same dialect. There is no other state like that in Nigeria. Their culture is unique. So, you can’t go and say you want to deceive them and mess up with them. They will tell you facts straight to your face and say the truth to power. That is an Ekiti man. Although the old order is changing now, it cannot change overnight to something else.
How best do you think the crisis in the South-West PDP can be resolved?
First of all, there is the national reconciliation committee set up by the party headed by Dr. Bukola Saraki. That committee is doing a very wonderful job. I’m highly impressed with Saraki’s handling of the responsibility so far. He is calling a spade a spade and telling the truth to power. Saraki is like an elephant in the room, saying the truth the way it should be said. When I listened to him, I was very, very impressed that he has really grown and developed. He is no longer the ‘Bukky’ that I knew when he first came to the villa. He is very matured, very intellectually sound and very deep. He is now making a special name for himself and I said ‘Oh, we thank God. We are getting to be fathers now but all is not lost. If we have the younger ones like him coming up that we can handover the baton to, why not? I had a one-on-one meeting with him in my office here. He never minced words when it comes to speaking the truth and I believe that is what the PDP needs at the moment.
On the South-West issue, Initially, I thought it was a joke, carrying myself running for meeting. I was the first elected vice-chairman of the South-West zone in 1999. At the south-west, we have a culture of sharing positions. Lagos/Ogun zone one; Oyo/ Osun zone two and Ekiti and Ondo zone three. If they now give you three positions from the national, you don’t need to be a professor of Mathematics to know that each zone will take one; just the way it is at the national level where the six geo-political zones rotate the six key positions which are President, Vice-President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and national chairman of the party. Six zones; six positions. The national treasurer of our party today comes from Ekiti. When Fayose was governor, he gave the national treasurer to Ekiti and national vice-chairman to Ondo. Osun got deputy national publicity secretary Oyo is the biggest in size with 33 local governments but got zero position. What means is that Ekiti/Ondo which is one zone has taken two key positions which are members of the National Working Committee.
Since I left, Lagos which is the most populated hasn’t gotten any position. Ogun deserves the deputy national chairman (South). When Governor Makinde came, the term of the current zonal executives had run out and we are going to have another zonal congress, I remembered the first meeting we had in Ibadan. I said since we started this arrangement, never have we been so blatantly greedy that we will give one zone two key positions at the national working committee. Where is that sense of balancing, justice and fairness? When I tabled it, Fayose himself said ‘Oga, nobody can controvert what you have said’. I said that is not me saying it, it is the party. We thought we should just sit down and redistribute accordingly so that we will now have justice, fairness and equity. But Fayose still went ahead and ganged up with some fellows to thwart that agreement. We are the link from the foundation fathers to the current people. If you deviate from the norm, you are heading straight to hell.
Fayose in a recent interview said he respects Makinde as governor but he too should accord him the respect he deserves as someone who first became governor 18 years ago…
(Cuts in) In life, if you are a decent man, you don’t demand respect, you earn it. If you earn it, they will give you. When Fayose was there, what did he do to elders? He said they should elbow us and retire all the old men. Ayo (Fayose) should go and calm down for the sake of his family. He has a wonderful wife and children. When they removed his cap in Ondo recently, he accused me of being behind it and I just laughed. When you insult those who are older than you, younger ones will do same to you.
All these tantrums by him is unnecessary. He is behaving like a heavily disturbed child. This country has a way of putting everybody back in their slot and there is no perpetuity in anything. I will leave him with this adage in my part of the world which says ‘A kii yago fun eleshin ana. When you are on the horse and the horse is galloping, people automatically vacate the road for you. But when you are not on the horse, and you start galloping with your mouth asking people to clear the way for you, they will take you to psychiatric hospital.
So, what do you think is the way forward?
Fayose should allow Makinde do his work. He has been fair, just and equitable. I am even impressed with Makinde because despite all the verbal attacks by Fayose, he has not responded once to him. That is the hallmark of an Omoluwabi; a complete gentleman.
Despite that, Fayose is trying to pull him down at all cost. He should tread softly. Is he the only person who can make noise all the time? I will tell him my mind when he comes here.