Former Deputy National Chairman (South) of the Peoples Democratic Party, Bode George, talks to EMMANUEL OJO about the party’s chances at the Presidential Election Petition Court and why the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, should not be sworn in on May 29
You recently stated that you refused to visit the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, because your party is in court to challenge his victory. Was that the only reason why you made that decision?
Well, what will my visit add or subtract from him? If my party is in court with him, contesting the result of the last presidential election, and I am a life member of the board of trustees of the party and one man representing the whole of the South-West in the national caucus of the party, what other level of respect and regard could they (the PDP) have given me? If the court decides that he (Tinubu) is the winner, we will still do a post-mortem analysis and at that time, we will pray for Nigeria that God will lead this country right. I remember when President Muhammadu Buhari was coming. There were certain definitive statements that he made, that he would fight corruption, among many other things and we were all praying for him.
Once anybody emerges, all we can do is call the grace of the Almighty to take control of this country to be peaceful. Forget about the individual. Our political differences are as different as day and night, so, what will I say I am going to do (by meeting Tinubu)? To look for (a political) position or what? All we will do is wish them well, that the Almighty God will bring peace to Nigeria using them, but the experience we had here in Lagos is that my state is in dire need of leadership. Nigeria is in dire need of leadership, no doubt about that. We are drifting like a ship at sea, with hurricane storms increasing; so, we need a lot of prayers. After praying, if I’m not satisfied, I have the option of getting out. I’m almost 80 years old. What else am I looking for? I want to spend the rest of my life in peace, not with these character-ravaging guys on the streets; the ‘agberos’ (louts). They left them on the street when they could have organised skills acquisition programmes for them to acquire skills. We have a big issue ahead of us in this country.
Are you very optimistic that your party will win in court?
Yes, that’s why we are there. We have made presentations to the court and all the other political parties have also tendered their reports there. I am hopeful that the judiciary will remember their oath of office and that lady of justice, the stature you find in all law courts that is blindfolded with a sword and a scale, saying that she will dispense justice irrespective of colour, name, or race, will dispense justice based on the fact before it. So, we are praying for it.
Some have called for the inauguration of Tinubu to be placed on hold. What’s your thought on that?
I completely disagree.
We have a process. The electoral law also accepts that process. The contest is not complete until you have finished with the judiciary. So, what is that hurry? I also remember that to meet up with the deadline of May 29, the court came up with a concept called frontloading. I’m not a lawyer but they said those of us that are not lawyers are not learned, but I still went to school and did well with my English and literature. They told us that all petitions and all documentation for and against must be frontloaded. In other words, they must be delivered to the court. On the very first day they want to start to sit, the judges must have read all those petitions for and against so that they can just come in there to ask for clarifications of those documents that have been read and the defence lawyer can add other important information, if there is, then, they will rise for a minute and re-converge, and the judges will then give the judgment, the written judgment. So, there is still time between now and May 29 to look at the petitions before the Judges to clear their mind. They should not allow the devil to drive us.
What if the court is not able to give judgment before May 29?
That is a monumental crisis if we don’t meet it. As they are saying that we must inaugurate, look at the temperature of the country right now from the North to the South. It’s graveyard silence. Where is the jubilation? What is that hurry? Whoever becomes the President will spend the next four years in office, so a few more days to allow justice to be dispensed is not too much.
Are you saying that if the hearing at the tribunal is not concluded before May 29, there should be no inauguration?
Yes. They should hold on. My question is: what is the hurry? Buhari also said he would move to Daura or run somewhere.
Won’t suspending the inauguration contravene the constitution?
No. What I am saying from my layman’s view, because I’m not a lawyer, is that if there is supposed to be a hand-over on a particular date because the constitution says so, the national leadership, because it has the peace of this nation at heart, can stay on, not because they really want to, but for the peace of the nation. They can make an immediate arrangement for somebody from the National Assembly to be sworn in. At least, there are no questions and queries about their election.
Aren’t you suggesting an interim government?
Not necessarily an interim government; somebody can be there. You have the President, the Vice-President and if all these people are not there, you have the Senate President. There are three arms of government: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. They are independent and if we cannot form a (new) government, what is wrong with them telling the President to stay on for some more days? That can be for peace.
The inaugurations of former presidents on the platform of your party were not suspended because their victories were challenged in court. Why do you think such should be done now?
Do you know why? At that time, the results were clear. They met the required number in specific states – 25 per cent in two-thirds of Nigerian states and Abuja. The results are not clear now because apart from (Peter) Obi, who got 25 per cent, including in Abuja, who else won in Abuja? I’m arguing here as an engineer because in engineering, if you are building up a structure and a part of the structure is not okay and you are saying that it should be managed, the building will collapse.
At those times you are referring to, it was clear and definite and there was no argument about the number of votes that were won and the 25 per cent won in the required number of states. So, it got to the judiciary, it didn’t take a long time to reach a decision and get a written judgment, but in this case, there are grey areas on the 25 per cent and people are defining it in several ways. Some are saying that they take Abuja as a state, not part of the 36 states, and so on. You can listen to these arguments and I wonder where they are coming from. At least, I went to school. I’m not a lawyer and I wished I was but I’m a fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers. The judiciary must also make sure it has all the documents, reads them, and dispenses the right judgment.
You are one of Tinubu’s critics. What do you think a Tinubu presidency will offer and what should Nigerians expect if he is sworn in?
(Laughs) Let me say this. As a believer and as a Christian, I am not a soothsayer, nor do I look into a crystal ball. As I said to you, whoever out of those three becomes the President, we will pray to Almighty God to descend on our nation and on the mind of whoever will emerge and direct him on the path where he will respect the definition of what is democracy and will maximise and utilise the resources of this nation for the benefit of Nigerians.
Are you saying that with adequate prayers, Tinubu can lead this nation right despite your opposition to his presidential ambition?
Talking about Tinubu, I’m not in that swing. Whosoever emerges as the President (after the petition tribunal), we should pray for that person because it’s not easy sitting down there (as the President). I have worked in that (Aso Villa) place. I retired as a military officer from the Villa. I also worked as a civilian in that place, so I know what it entails. Whoever is there needs prayers.
We will be full of prayers but let me say something in my language that I don’t know how to translate into English. O wa l’omode, óò f’akoyo, o wa ni giripa, óò d’abira, o gbo gbo nkan bi, o wan s’eju npako npako bi ako oka, se igba yi laro l’arugbo nsuku omo. That’s my answer to you. They need prayers. What I quoted for you in Yoruba is deep-rooted.
Some have also speculated that Tinubu will outshine Buhari due to his ability to source skills and talents. What’s your opinion on that?
As I told you, I’m not really inside his mind. I have seen the way the performed in some of the assignments given to him and I am not a soothsayer. I don’t look into crystal balls. We will continue in prayer because I believe so much in the awesome power of the Almighty God.
Some APC supporters have argued that the reason why they can entrust the nation to Tinubu is because of the way he handled Lagos and built the state. Being a Lagosian and having spent many years in the state, do you agree with that claim?
Built Lagos? That is absolutely shambolic. They must be daydreaming. Built Lagos? Now, the rains have come. Come and visit Lagos and see. The lagoon is now on a higher level than the road. All the assets from (the late) General (Mobolaji) Johnson that were created, all the monuments that he created – the first shopping mall in Lagos, Falomo Shopping Mall, who has acquired it? What happened to the first nursing hostel built to train nurses at the General Hospital? The local government secretariat on Glover Road by Kingsway, who has acquired it? Look at the Kuramo Waters. They have built houses on it. There have been cases of building collapse here and there. So, where is the governance?
Do you think the state would have been better if Tinubu and the APC had not held on to Lagos since 1999?
This is my take. Political power rests with the people if the process of electioneering and electing the leaders has been left to the people. You can only defeat the people once. If the process had not been designed in a way that people can manipulate, change figures, and find results, despite what the people want, it wouldn’t be like this. This is why we embraced the new methodology introduced by Buhari that he wants to leave a positive legacy, that there will be a new dawn in Nigeria, that elections will be modernised like they are done in civilised countries and they were going to buy modern equipment and computers such that there won’t be manipulators. If we had done that, we wouldn’t be like this. We were all looking forward to the modernised elections until we were told that there was a glitch.
I was a weapon system engineer in the Navy. If you are on a warship and a missile is launched at your ship, there is no excuse that there was a glitch and that the computer didn’t work because the action will lead to death. So, how can you have a system that you paid so much to design, (yet) there was a glitch in one route and it couldn’t go through another route? Who are they deceiving? I’m talking now as an engineer, it’s crap. If it were in the Navy, the person would be executed for being a traitor.
Are you suggesting that the Independent National Electoral Commission compromised the elections?
I don’t want to know. Whatever they want to do, they should do a post-mortem analysis.
Do you think the PDP deserved to lose in Lagos?
We also have our problems and there is no organisation anywhere in the world that will tell you that it is trouble-free. We had our problems and we warned against the issue of arrogance and lacklustre attitude but nobody listened. We will go back after the court decision and do a serious post-mortem analysis. All was not well with our party too but I won’t discuss all that; it’s like having a family problem and going to the marketplace. We will meet and tell ourselves some serious truth so that we don’t go back and make the same mistake again. A divided house is a defeated house. We suggested that to them but they refused to listen to us.
Are you still certain about leaving Nigeria if Tinubu is sworn in as the President on May 29?
Well, what I’m saying is that if he wins fairly and credibly and genuinely and if the status quo remains, no growth, nothing and the area boys are still the ones taking up the area, I’m almost 80 years old, I can decide to go and spend time anywhere in the world. I want to spend the rest of my life in peace. Anywhere you go here (in Lagos), it’s all hell, even our Bar Beach has been sand-filled.
Do you intend to leave Nigeria permanently?
If it suits me better there than here, why will I come back? At least, I still have a house here and my legacy here and everything here. If I go somewhere to stay, I think it’s better than giving myself hell here.
Are you also considering renouncing your citizenship as a former deputy governor of Lagos earlier threatened?
No. If I look at my background, the George family are from Lagos. My father’s mother (my paternal grandmother) was a returnee from Brazil. My mother’s grandmother (maternal great-grandmother) was a returnee from Freetown, Sierra Leone, but my great-grandfather from my mother’s side was Aganga Williams, originating from here (Lagos). So, I’m from here (Lagos).
If the President-elect requests reconciliation with you, forgetting all your party differences, and wants to incorporate you into his government, will you consider it?
Let me tell you. I said very soon, I will remove myself from partisan politics. In other words, I won’t be partisan anymore but if the President consults me on some issues, that’s part of the consultation. I remember when (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo came in 1999. It was an all-inclusive government that he set up and he invited Afenifere and non-Afenifere people. Go and check those who were his ministers.
If it’s something that he invites all of us to come and do, it won’t be me, because I’m not the custodian of all the knowledge but we share and discuss and I will tell him my view about the issue. But in the aspect of calling me to come and serve, to serve as what?
Do you think Senator (Godswill) Akpabio, who was a governor on the platform of the PDP, will be a good Senate President if he merges the winner?
I wish them the best of luck. It’s their party, not ours. Well, for Akpabio, I know him because he worked on the platform of our party once and he is a lawyer by profession. He worked when he was working with us. He did the best he could. He’s now with the opposition party, so I wish him the best of luck.
Are you hopeful that your party can reunite?
Yes, if we are sincere and honest with ourselves. The fact that we are down doesn’t mean that we are out. No. You make certain mistakes and learn from them, then you move on.
What’s the position of the party on the G-5 governors?
All of that will be discussed. There was a disagreement on a very genuine policy that was established in the party. I remember that the former chairman (Senator Iyorchia Ayu) refused to listen and we have the outcome now. We would have been dancing before the gate now, getting ready to enter the (Presidential) Villa. We will learn.
One of the G5 governors, Nyesom Wike, has been seen fraternising with some All Progressives Congress chieftains. Going by your party’s constitution, do you think he is guilty of anti-party activities and should be punished?
Let me leave that to the post-mortem discussion. I don’t want to pre-empt anything. Everybody will learn. The truth will be told, then, we sanitise and move on. We will then decide that never again would we allow any group to hijack the party for their greed.