By Christy Anyanwu

Chief Olabode George, former military administrator of Ondo State, is a chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview at his ikoyi, Lagos office, he spoke candidly about his growing up days, life in the military and lessons life had taught him.

You will be 78 in a few months, but you still look fit. What are the secrets?

Well, having been in the military, you know the dos and don’ts of life. Keep your medical attention. There are things you don’t do. Over-drinking, over-smoking, those things wear your organs, and you avoid them and keep doing your exercise. Have a clear head. Don’t get your head into some areas where you won’t be able to sleep at night, wondering, what is this, what is that? And cut your clothes according to the available cloth and leave the rest to the almighty God.

Be consistent. Serve Him. There’s that part of you that will always be telling you that what you want to do is not ideal. Listen to your inner mind. It is very important. And when the time comes, like I said, I have run my race. I am retiring from partisan politics after this election. I will just be like any other Nigerian. I may contribute, I may make comments. I am not going to be running around PDP or any other party.

So, in my 80s, I will be playing with my grandchildren, go anywhere I want to go. I was 42 when I first got into public office. From my secondary school days, I was a great footballer and when it came to debating and literary societies, in the whole Western Region, inter-college debates, I was very active. In football, I was the captain of my school, Ijebu Ode Grammar School. I was too rascally in Lagos, so my father shipped me to Ijebu Ode. If I come back to life, I would still go back to Ijebu Ode Grammar School. That was where, those formative years, those tenets of the Almighty God, were implanted in us. We had the fear of God and I was lucky I went to a boarding school. If I have the opportunity to come back, I will still go to Ijebu Ode Grammar School.

Who talked you into joining the military?

When I graduated, Niger Dam Authority, Kainji, came to interview us. I think three of my friends were employed. We went to Kainji. The total number of engineers then in Kainji, we were fewer than 12. That was where I did my pupillage training because, after graduation, you go for pupillage training for two years. After that, the Nigerian Navy advertised that they needed engineers because they were modernizing their systems. That was why I applied. I went for the interview and we were admitted. I remember that they had to send us for training to direct us on the kind of maintenance we needed on board the ship because, when we came in, I became weapons system engineer. You know, they had modernized the system, they no longer used human beings to be looking out for incoming aircraft and start rolling the guns. Everything became automated. Though you had the radar pickup, calculations going through the computers; computers would decide where to turn the gun. And you sat in the operations room to watch all these. In fact, it is now much more modern, with satellites. We were just the first that got into the Nigerian Navy and the training I had was excellent. I enjoyed it. I was trained at the Royal Engineering College, England. I was at the US National War College. I have been to so many other training institutions, missiles, submarines, surface-to-surface, etcetera. The flagship of the Nigerian Navy till today, NNS Aradu, we were the first to serve on board that ship as weapons engineers. All the missiles, all the guns, all the radar, and it’s always a thing of pride for me to talk about it. That was when Shagari was President. He commissioned it. It’s like, if you are building a house, can you forget? I had a brilliant boss, Rear Admiral Chijioke Kaja. He is late now. My commanding officer that time was Admiral O.P. Fingessi and we had the second-in-command, Ayinla. Akhigbe too served as first lieutenant on board. We were both engineer officers aboard the ship. Those were good times, good days. We went all over the world. Each missile at that time cost $1 million, to show you the wealth of the nation. Anytime we went into any country with NNS Aradu, the people came out to see that these were all black officers. You could see the pride of Nigeria. When we entered any country, especially in West Africa, they would be wondering, which big ship is this? And all blacks, no Oyinbo (White man) there. What has happened to us today? That was the way we were. Then what happened?

At what point did the deterioration start in Nigeria?

It was gradual. It was coming gradually, gradually, and then when we went back to civil rule, apart from the military administration, when we went to civil authorities, the system we adopted was corrupt and it was a nuisance. From the polling station, you hand-write the results, and then you carry by hand to collation centre. They drive the opposition away and put all kinds of figures. That was how many of these characters emerged. That’s how he claims ‘I’m the Emperor of Lagos.’ Which kind of election is that? An election where you go and change figures and put Oluomo and those rascals? You pay upfront to do all sorts of things? They think that people are stupid because they keep quiet? All our elders in Lagos, they have all been bought. The time will come when there will be a day of reckoning. All these things they have done, we will be watching them on the television like Nollywood. They think they are talking to villagers who didn’t go to school.

You love wearing white outfit. Is this because of your naval background?

Having served in the Nigerian Navy for 25 years, you are bound to get used to white. One per day. You can’t wear your uniform twice. The khaki people can, but us? No way. It must be bright and shiny. From that background, my wife knows that, any social occasion, it’s white. It comes from the naval background. I enjoyed the training, the exposure, the life, challenges, we learnt about operations, about planning. In my profession, I’m a logistician by training. If we are going to have a war, what are the requirements, what are these, what are that? All those visuals must be there. Nothing must be lacking.

Having travelled far and wide, which is your best destination?

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I have been to every country in West Africa, all the way to Las Palmas. I enjoyed my naval life. I went to the US War College in Newport, Rhode Island. We also travelled round the whole of the United States. I have travelled round the United States, in those naval areas, Florida, California, we went to the postgraduate school in San Francisco, in San Diego, where they have the aircraft carriers. Also in Virginia, where these Chinese were all trying.

What lessons have you learnt from life generally?

The important thing about life is, there are those biblical teachings: First lesson, what you will not like to be done to you, don’t do it to anybody. Be open. Where it is possible for you, assist. But if you can’t, God knows your mind. If you direct your trust to any human being, you will learn a lesson. The trust you have should be in your creator. He will never fail you. I have had experiences. I have been to the highest mountain in this country. I have sat in the room of the President inside that Villa, where Baba (President Olusegun Obasanjo) slept. I sat on that bed that belonged to the President of Nigeria. You know it’s a rare opportunity. I have also been to the bottom of the valley. That is, sleeping inside prison cells. You see the difference? I have seen the top of the mountain. I have seen the bottom of the valley. And my conclusion about life is, never be afraid to tell the truth. What you cannot defend, don’t do it because there will be a day of reckoning. What doesn’t belong to you, don’t appropriate it. Be careful. Pray most times and let the Almighty God grant your requests. If it comes, fine. If it doesn’t, fine. You don’t need to bully or to corruptly go and acquire what doesn’t belong to you. You pay a bad price for it. Nothing done under the sun can be hidden forever. When you go through the tunnel of tribulation, the Almighty God is the only helper you have, because He knows the end from the beginning.

I have seen all shades of human spirits. The good, the bad and the ugly. That still doesn’t stop me from helping people. If I’m in a position to assist, I will, no matter what you have done. That doesn’t mean I will not tell you, “Ah, why you are so bad, go and change. If you do, it’s to your credit.”  Having seen the shades of people from the topmost mountain to the bottom of the valley, I’m not rattled.

You are talking more like a preacher. Have you always been like this or did it come with age?

With age, you learn all these. I have gone through many tribulations. That is the beauty of tribulations. If God wants to use you, he would take you through his own desert to teach you, because, if He takes you through His spiritual desert, it is hell, but you would learn, if you really are calm. You will leave that place a much better human being and you would have gotten all the lessons. I was born in a Christian home. I grew up as a Christian. I have lived all my life as a Christian and, the more you interact with the public, the more you know human behaviour ranges from zero to infinity.

You see, in the military, if I look at you, I look at your shoulders, see your rank, I should be able to predict the amount of pressure I can put on you. And if you fall short of that, I can lock you up. It doesn’t happen in civilian life. In civil life, the politicians, you find all shades of characters. It means there are certain pressures I cannot put you under.

Look at the man who went on television talking. Who is he? In the Navy, he wasn’t even near my shoes. He said he advised me to retire from politics. Being a military officer, he goofed so badly that, if we were still in service, I would have asked them to shave his head and lock him in the cell. He was talking about Baba Obasanjo. He even wasn’t in the service when Obasanjo retired. He came into the Navy and he was a secondary school teacher. He didn’t really grind into the nitty-gritty of military training. If he had, he wouldn’t dare open his mouth to talk to his superior. It shows you the greed in him, the senselessness in him. Who is he? It’s like me looking at Baba Gowon and talking back at him. Ha! They would skin me alive.. When you look at life, you ponder about it. Those tenets you read in the Bible, if you follow them, He would always be at your side. I’m talking from experience.

How do you spend your time these days?

I do my devotion very early in the morning. That spurs me on for the day. I’m never afraid of anybody. I come to the office, meet with all sorts of characters, all kinds of people. I have done my bit; I have run my race. Like my mother used to say, “Ti Oluwa lase (Let the will of God be done).”

Did you grow up in Lagos?

Yes, apart from the time my father shipped me to Ijebu Ode Grammar School. In fact, until I went to Ijebu Ode Grammar School, I had never passed the bridge. I grew up on Lagos Island.  I had my primary school in Lagos Island. Ours is between Isale Gangan, Ita Faaji and Campos. My family house is on Oreja Street. Isale Gangan, Lewis Street, Ita Faaji, Bamgbose and then Campos, these are our areas.

What is the meaning of area father? It is Baba adugbo. Omo adugbo is ‘area boy.’ But they now misinterpreted it to mean rascality. If your neighbour found you at Tom Jones. Who sent you there? They would pull your ears and take you to your father’s house. The love of neighbours and the commitment of area fathers were enormous. If something happened, it was always our obligation to sympathise with you. That was the Lagos of old. Then suddenly these young boys started growing, no school, no trade, no job, and no money. What happened to all those Faaji boys and girls clubs?  In those days, we had these clubs that attracted young boys and girls. It was either you would be doing boxing, netball and table tennis for women. It was communal living.  Now, it is to your tents O Israel. And the idle mind is the devil’s workshop.