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By Omoniyi Salaudeen
The dwindling fortune of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as a leading opposition is still the talking point in the polity. In this interview, a former deputy national chairman (South) of the party, Chief Olabode George warns that the nation’s democracy may be heading for the rock, if the alleged systematic decimation of the PDP by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is not checked.
How would you react to the statement credited to ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo saying that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is ‘sunk and gone’?
I am really shocked that such a statement would come from Baba. If that is his wish to us, it is unfortunate. That is his personal interpretation of what is going on. You don’t expect a party as big as PDP not to have hiccups. But to think that this would be the end of the party is very unfortunate. We believe that this party will survive. We are going to work assiduously to make sure it survives because, if the PDP doesn’t survive, the end of democracy is assured. We have a very strong tap root in our party.
Are you actually not surprised that such a statement is coming from somebody like him who is the greatest beneficiary of the party?
That is why I said to you that it is unfortunate. As far as I am concerned, that is not the wish of God almighty. With commitment and dedication of foundation leaders of the party, we will survive the current crisis. We will survive because that is the only party in this country that is absolutely nationalistic. In fact, that comment is going to give us a much deeper drive to achieve our objectives. I don’t share in his view and I believe we will survive by the grace of God. There are still respectable founding fathers. Baba Ciroma is still alive, Dr Alex Ekwueme is still alive, Sule Lamindo is still alive, Atiku Abubakar, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Prof Jerry Gana and other foundation members of the party are still alive. For me, there is nothing to fear.
We have made some terrible mistakes in the past, we have learnt from the mistakes and we are going to make sure that we tread the path of honour, justice, and equity. And we are not going to fail. We are going to grow bigger than during his time.
Senator Ahmed Makarfi and acting National Chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, have again turned down the advice of former president Goodluck Jonathan asking the two of them to step down to allow peace to reign in the party. What hope is left for the resolution of the lingering crisis?
Makarfi stands on the constitution. He didn’t just bring himself in and pronounced himself as the chairman. It was the national convention which is the supreme body of the party that put him there. You can’t just come from nowhere and say both of them should step down. It is completely apolitical. We are going to go to the Supreme Court to interpret the Appeal Court’s ruling. It is only another convention of the party that can remove Makarfi.
How did you receive the news about Court of Appeal sitting in Port- Harcourt which pronounced Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as the authentic chairman of PDP?
I was shocked. To use the word shock is the minimum I could say. My immediate conclusion was haa, this is the voice of Jacob and the hands of Esau. I leave the rest to the pundits to analyse. But for whatever it is, it is a very bad day for our democracy.
It would shock a lot of our old men, those founding fathers that thought of uniting this country, in their graves. For those ones that are still alive, I pray it wouldn’t send them straight to early grave. It was a very sad day.
That the party that was once in government, the most populous political party in the whole of Africa, is being decimated and reduced to Sheriff as chief manager is unbelievable. This is nothing, but a complete muzzling of opposition.
A lot of people expected a vibrant opposition. Now, they have taken the opposition’s vibrancy to an appendage of the ruling party. I cry for our beloved country. I weep for my country. Those who are masquerading and manipulating all these things should hands off and allow the system to run. We cannot afford to ride another dark period in the democratic history of our nation.
If nothing can be seen clearly or be decided in positive manner in the nearest future, I cannot see myself playing political role any more. I have run the race, I don’t deceive myself. I am also a retired general. When you see things in a foggy mode and you can’t see clearly, you need to be careful.
I don’t know what reason they had for nullifying our convention because that was the basis for which Makarfi emerged as the caretaker chairman of the party. Are they saying we didn’t hold that convention? Are they saying the convention was not organised? For whatever it is, the shock is worse than the Hiroshima bomb.
What is your reaction to the recent defection of six out of the eight PDP lawmakers in the Lagos State House of Assembly to the ruling APC?
I am extremely disappointed in them. A rolling stone gathers no moss. Those who tried that in the past, where are they today? If you bite the fingers that feed you, you are already heading straight to perfidy. Can the people they are going to join in that political party trust them? It was through our sweat, through our hard work that they got there. We sat down, we worked, spent our time and money and resources to convince the people. What they have done now is that they have disappointed the constituencies that put them there. Would they have the nerves except they are shameless to go back to their constituencies? Did they consult them before they jumped ship? It is the most irresponsible behavior ever. It is shameful. Most of them are young. Anybody who goes through a window into a house is called a thief
But the lawmakers attributed their defection to the crisis in the party
(Cuts in)… Which crisis? Now, there is no crisis because the court had given it to Senator Ali Modu Sheriff. Let them stay where they are. There is no political party as stable as the PDP.
As a follow up to your lamentations about the state of the PDP, are you saying that the case of the PDP is beyond redemption?
I have grown in the party and I know the nooks and cranny of the party. I have worked so hard because I spent 10 years as one of the managers of the party. We did our best building it up. It is a political colossus; it is not something you can wish away. Any decision taken at the national convention is sacrosanct and it is only another convention that can change the decision of that convention.
Now, the judiciary has changed the decision for the party. I wish our nation the very best. We need prayers. During the 16 years of the PDP, we never went on that channel to decimate any political party. We never did. Rather, our approach was to use the powers of government to woo the hearts and minds of the people to the party. That is what is done in a civilized world.
Some people are saying that there is written or unwritten agreement that whosoever the court pronounces as the chairman will be supported by the party members. Isn’t it so?
I wish them the best of luck. I will never be a party to that. I can’t be A today and B tomorrow. Flip floppers don’t achieve anything. That is not the concept for which those old Babas established this party. If anybody wants to join Sheriff, it is a voluntary thing.
I will remain a public commentator. I will be vocal and objective when there is a need for it. I am happy also that our Babas have said that Afenifere would no longer be a political group. There was a time Afenifere was associated with a political party. Now, with good conscience and the situation in the country, they have decided that Afenifere would no longer be a political group. It will now be a cultural voice of Oduduwa people as the ACF is for the North and Ohaneze in the South-east. As longer as you believe in the tenets of the Yoruba people, then you can be a member. It is for the good of the society. I will be a part of anything that will add value to the growth of this country. But for this ball that they are kicking like a tennis ball; today it is this; tomorrow it is that, you don’t need a rocket science to know that it is heading for perfidy. I will never be a part of it.
Are you saying you are withdrawing your membership?
I will sit in my house. This year is critical for politics. By the middle or last quarters of this year, political activities will start, no matter how small. And if you don’t have definitive direction, would you be able to achieve anything? You are running a hundred metre race, some people have started running and you are still on the starting bloc. Can you meet them on the way? I am a retired general; I don’t need to waste my time, I take my back seat. This is not the first time a thing like this is happening. Go back to history. There was decimation of the Action Group. Where did it lead Nigeria?
Is reconciliation still not possible?
The reconciliation started, Sheriff backed out. The BoT met and decisions were made. We said they should send five members each. He pulled out and said he was heading for the court. Now, the court has given him the mantle of office. We didn’t pull out of the reconciliation. What do you want to reconcile now? To him, he is on the position of legal strength. But does he have the muscle and the people? That is another problem. How is he going to convince a lot of party faithful who have been labouring for the party since 1998? The judgment is a sad one for our democracy whether you are in APC or you are in other parties. What guarantees anything in the future anymore?
What is the implication of all these for the party in Lagos State, especially now that preparation for local government election is already on?
The sad thing is this: we have the Makarfi faction which has a bigger membership and a tiny group belonging to Sheriff. And since the court has recognized them (Sheriff’s faction) as the authentic group, they will go and conduct the election. Unless the Supreme Court reverses this, and I can’t see that happen before the local government election, you will see what will happen. Let’s just wait for the results of the election. The bigger side has been sidelined. Of course, you will see some political jobbers who will run to them. I wish them the best of luck.
There is this report about your commendation of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s achievements and some people are saying you are probably planning to go to APC. Are you planning to join APC?
Maybe it was a misrepresentation. I had an MITV interview and there was this young man who asked me how I would assess Ambode in terms of infrastructure. In my conscience, this is physical something you can see. I said, ‘I must commend this young man for what he is doing even though I have never met him and I don’t want to meet him. I don’t need anything from him.’
Go to Epe and see what he is doing to his people there. It is commendable. This has nothing to do with politics. It is something that is fair and credible. You can see it. He is bringing Epe from the rural setting into the apian way. I have been going through Epe since I was the governor. It was my shortest route to get to Akure from Lagos. You will think you are on Ibadan-Lagos Express way. Once they open it, economic activities there will jump up. It seems every governor likes to start with his home base. If you knew Surulere before, you will appreciate what Babatunde Fashola did for his people. The same thing Amode is doing for his people in Epe.
But let him remember that Lagos Island is the first Local Government in Nigeria. There is nothing in Lagos Island. He should also replicate that in Alimosho and other areas so that people can remember him in terms of infrastructure. He should not limit it to Epe. He should also look at the education and health sectors as well as the general wellbeing of the Lagosians. Politics is about managing the resources of the land for the benefit of the people. He should make sure that he raises the standard of living of the people. By the last quarters of this year, he will start preparing for another election. He has already won the hearts of the Epe people because what he is doing there is international standard. I commend him for that. But that is not to say that I am going to join their party.