Former Deputy National Chairman of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George, in this interview, says his 10 years cognate experience in administrative matters at the party’s National Secretariat gives him an edge over his co-aspirants for the National Chairmanship position of the party. MUYIWA OYINLOLA presents the excerpt.
The campaign has started in earnest, where have you taken your campaign to and how has the reception been like?
First of all, we arranged that we were going to go through every state and when we had a meeting with the Apex member of the campaign team, they said the roads are bad and we would not be able to complete the state-by-state campaign by the time the election would hold. It was then suggested that we talk to the Zonal chairmen so that we could meet all the states under any zone at the zonal capital. So, when we opened our office, we requested that the North-Central comprising of Plateau, Nasarawa, Benue, Niger, Kwara, Kogi, and FCT that we can meet here in Abuja. We couldn’t meet all the members but the chairmen and party leaders were here,including all the members of the exco. So, they were the first set of people that we met here. So, in that light we’ve met with the North-Central.
We have also been to the Noth-West, Kaduna being the headquarters. We met the chairmen of all the seven states in the North-West, all the members of the zonal executive, the secretaries, all the leaders. We met them in Kaduna.
We have also been to the South-East. Fortunately, we got there at a time the governors were holding a meeting. All the PDP Governors in the South-East, with the Deputy Senate President. That gave us an opportunity. But unfortunately, they had to leave because it was late. But I really appreciate that all the chairmen, all their key leaders waited for that our meeting in Enugu.
We then proceeded to the Nort-East where we met the leaders. Because we do not control Bauchi that is the headquarters, they then arranged that we should meet in Gombe, and that gave us an opportunity to meet with the governor of Gombe State. The reception was good. It was rewarding. It rekindled that spirit that was in PDP when I started in 1999.
Yes, everybody agrees that there were certain mistakes that were made in the past, every expressed readiness to work for the party. That was the spirit that I felt everyone should imbibe.
We now have the South-West and the South-South to cover before the convention.
Considering the fact that it is the same reception that your co-aspirants also receive from these zones, how confident are you that you truly have these people’s support?
You know, what you need to do is to sell yourself. You market yourself. It’s a family meeting. We’re not going into a general election. If we get it right as a party, we know where to go . If we get it wrong, we know what would happen to the party. We have experienced that before. Now, the state in which the party is now, can you afford to have a bambino, an untested hand to manage this party at this level? Can you? PDP is not a mushroom organization. It’s a very massive organization and let them look at our credentials.let them look at what you’ve done before.
I have the the privilege to have taken a ministerial position, which Baba offered me. And I said ‘No sir, I want to stay with the party’. Of all of us contesting, I spent 10 good years uninterruptedly at the national secretariat. So, learning, knowing the ropes, knowing the dos and don’ts, things that are unwritten, the tradition, the culture, the norm of the party. These are like oral history, oral tradition handed over from one generation to the other.
If you have not served there, these are not a normal time. We have no Vila now. We need somebody who from day one would hit the ground, who knows who is who in each zone, in every corner of this great nation, that will add value to the party. And that is who the party requires now. And if you look at it, from the end of our convention to the national election, we have just one year. One year to start learning about the party? That you’ve been a minister; without being a manager of the party, how do you learn it? I know the differences. Yes, I was also a governor but without a state assembly. But even then you were a governor.
I can tell you that because I have been on the party management side and I’ve also been on the other side, I know exactly what it takes, the difference, because in managing party, you’re perpetually managing crises and stabilizing the party. It’s different from being in the executive room of a governor. It’s different because as a governor, they may not even have access to you but as a party leader, you listen to all kinds of crises, all kinds of voices and you must be able to resolve issues. You must be seen to be just, honest and sincere, to be fair to all. Otherwise, your party would be wobbling and if your party is unstable, how can you launch your attack?
Out of about eight people jostling for this position, about six of you are from South-West, why is it difficult for those of you from your zone to close rank and present a consensus candidate from the zone?
There are certain norms of this party, established by the funding fathers. If they understand the norm, the culture, the attitude, the unwritten laws of the party, some of them would have dropped out. Micro-zoning is fundamental issue for the sustenance of this party.
Why did they micro-zone? They wanted that oneness. They wanted that unity. They wanted everybody to be part of the party. To have that sense of commitment. That sense of dedication to the party, because you can’t be a committed member of any group if you cannot aspire to the topmost position there.
Maybe I should explain to you this issue of micro-zoning. The people who established this political party called PDP were First Republic politicians. They knew the flaws at that time. Recall that in their time, we had regional governments. All the major political parties were completely tribal. The Action Group (AG) to Western Region, NCNC to the Eastern Region, NPC to the Northern Region. The minorities in the North and the minorities in the South were subdued under the heavyweight of the majority tribes. It didn’t augur well, there was friction all the time. And whether you’re born into a minority or majority group does not determine your level of intelligence, it doesn’t determine the quality of person in you.
What I’m saying is this, in the First Republic, minorities were to be seen and not heard. They were given pittance, hence their sense of oneness of belonging to this mass country called Nigeria was diminished. So, when General Abacha came and the agitation for civilian raged, he set of five political parties of which he was presidential candidate of them all. That made all the First Republic politicians, the old brigades, irrespective of their political leanings to say ‘No’, they won’t agree. They suffered for daring the lion in his den. But at the end, by divine intervention, Abacha passed on. And they now sat back and said, yes, they have differences, why can’t they form a political party? The late Chief Bola Ige (South West), Dr. Alex Ekweme, who ordinarily would not seat on the same table, politically with Chief Bola Ige, then Chief Nwobodo of another party then. The late Pa Solomon Lar, who also ordinarily would not sit with them or sit with Ciroma, politically and then the Talakawa party, Alhaji Rimi, Sule Lamido and the rest. Babanga Tukur, Professor Jibril Aminu. These were the people that now formed G18. They started from G14, they ended it to G 18 and it eventually became G34.
The G34 now came up with a solution to the minority problem who either to were to be seen and not heard. They worked with the then new arrangement of dividing the country into six geo-political zones by ensuring that party positions, the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party would have 12 positions. If you divide the 12 positions by 6, it means every zone, in line with the six geo-political zones arrangement would go home with two NWC positions. That is justice, fairness and equity.
On the elective side, which is subject to general elections. There are six positions also. President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Secretary to Government and National Chairman of the party. Six positions, six zones. Now, each zone would go home with one of these. You can see fairness being brought into play. So, they created that mind of oneness and unity of purpose. Every eight years, if you have three positions zoned to the North and three zoned to the South, they rotate every eight years. Whatever was to the North comes to the South and vise versa. It assisted democracy in this country. It stabilized this nation. Nobody could be seen as an outcast that cannot be part of the system. And this is what I term ‘Turn by turn Nigeria Limited’. Just wait for your time, something will come to you. That sustained democracy uninterruptedly for 16 years.
And this is where the micro-zoning comes in. Even within the zone, take the South-West as an example. There are six states. Zone 1, Lagos and Ogun. Zone 2, Oyo and Osun. Zone 3, Ekiti and Ondo. The positions that even come to the zones are also micro-zoned so that no one state would run away with everything. These are not written. But this is the culture of the party. They went against it and they paid dearly for it. They derailed it in the South West and the South West paid dearly for it. There was a time we didn’t have the Speakership for four years. North West now had two positions, two elective positions: Vice Presidency and Speakership. We were not part of the system. We went to the election and we were thoroughly beaten. All the governors were wiped out.There was a Tsunami.
So, if they understand this and they respect the culture of the party, some of those contesting now would not even dear to raise their heads because you’re infringing on the already established culture of the party. Presently, Zone 3 controls the Vice Chairman, South West who is also a member of the NWC. If anybody now comes out to contest from that Zone 3, and he wins, you know that is the beginning of chaos because it means the National Vice Chairman is from Ekiti/Ondo, the National Chairman would then also be from Ekiti/Ondo. So, Lagos/Ogun, Oyo/Osun will just be onlookers. That is not the dream of the founding fathers. So, if you don’t learn about the culture. You won’t understand micro-zoning. The party set up the Peoples Democratic Institute so that people will come to be educated on the culture, the norms of the party.
I went into this detail so that the reading public and every political stakeholder would read the commitment of the founding members. We must ensure that we return to this path.
If we go into the convention without micro-zoning, do you what will happen? Everything that is thrown to the South will now be contested for by everybody in the South. Are we not heading for chaos? What will public perception be? Everybody will now be struggling for the same thing. It’s only the elective positions that are not micro-zoned. But all party positions, for purposes of oneness, they must be micro-zoned.
Some are even saying that why not leave it for younger people. There is time for everything. The state in which PDP is now is not meant for bambino.
Are you optimistic that the position can be micro-zoned before the election and are you prepared to step down if that is the consensus?
When you do proper micro-zoning, it is the turn of my zone. You don’t just micro-zone, if it wasn’t the turn of Lagos and Ogun states, I would never have jumped in. Let them educate those coming from outside that zone to take a back seat. If you’re coming and you don’t respect that law, how can you manage the party that you want to head?