Former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Olabode George has vowed to  truncate the rumoured 2023 presidential ambition of the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. In this interview with TUNDE THOMAS, George who is also a member, PDP Board of Trustees urged Tinubu to watch it, adding that 2023 may end Tinubu’s political career if he joins the race.

“One of the main reasons I’m joining the 2023 race is to stop Tinubu. If the presidency is zoned to the South-West in 2023, and Tinubu  enters the race I will not only face him but also stop him. Tinubu should remember that Nigeria is a bigger constituency, it is not Lagos where Tinubu and APC have been rigging the elections’’, he  added.

What can you make of the present state of insecurity across the country?

We are in a very dire situation and everybody is deeply worried. The situation in the country today is not only worrisome but it is also very disturbing. But as elders and patriots, we must proffer solutions. We should be able to make recommendations to those  in authority and they can look at our suggestions on the way out of the present quagmire. The insurgency in the North that is usually referred to as the Boko Haram war, with my military experience, I believe is not a regular war. It is guerilla warfare. It is not  a conventional war. When you are fighting a conventional war, you can define who the enemy is, but in this  case, the insurgents speak the same language, they wear the same clothes, and look the same way as the local people. So how do you identify the enemy? When the insurgents come into town, it is difficult to identify them because they have same similarities with the locals, and this is why it has been difficult for the military to contain the insurgency.

Our military personnel are well trained. Members of the Nigerian Armed Forces are well trained and they’ve performed very well in many operations within and outside Africa. They were in Angola, Namibia, Lebanon, Sierra-Leone, Liberia, and  several other places where they performed excellently well on United Nations  operations, and missions. So this insurgency can never be too much for our military to subdue, and deal with if not for  the reason  I pointed out  earlier. The Boko Haram  war  is not a conventional warfare. To win this battle, we must adopt a new tactic. Our approach now must be different. We must explore other avenues to tame the insurgents.

What approach are you suggesting to bring an end to the  insurgency?

Take a look at guerilla warfare in the Latin America, especially in countries like Cuba, Mexico, and other countries like Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, despite years of battle in the bush, they eventually had to resort to dialogue to bring about peace. This is what happened in Vietnam also when the Americans realized that it was going to be difficult to identify an enemy in Vietnam because they all look alike. Recently, the  United States  forces in Afghanistan announced that it was time to discuss with Talibans for peace to reign in that country. This is despite the fact that the Americans had the most sophisticated weapons to fight the Talibans. The Talibans had been a thorn in the flesh of the American troops for many years, and it has not been easy for the American troops to fight them because they dress the same way, and speak the same language with the local people. After many years of battle with the Talibans, somebody now advised the Americans that it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war. I’m suggesting  that we adopt this option in this Boko Haram war  because I believe it is the best for us in the present circumstance.

But some other Nigerians have been canvassing other options like calling for the removal of the service chiefs–

I know some Nigerians have been calling for the heads of the service chiefs, but is that the solution? No. I don’t think so. And one thing again is this, the service chefs are retained at the pleasure of Mr. President who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. I left  the military service over 30 years ago, and I don’t know how many years these service chiefs have spent in service. But one thing I know is that if you have attained the age of 60 years or have spent 35 years in service then you must get out, or you must retire. However,like I said earlier, everything depends on the Commander-in-Chief. It is at the President’s pleasure to either retain or fire the service chiefs. One thing Nigerians must know again is this, it is not only the service chiefs that are fighting the war against the insurgents, it is a congregation of efforts. Therefore it will be unfair to make the service chiefs the scapegoats––the hood doesn’t make a monk. The best option for us now is to embrace  dialogue. No effort must be spared to  get the insurgents to the dialogue table. We must talk with them to find out what they really want or what are their grievances.

It is heartwarming that the new Chairman of African Unity, AU who is also the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa has declared that he will set up a committee to look at various areas in Africa where you have insurgents making life difficult for people. The United Nations also just released a statement where it was stated that the global body may intervene over insurgents attacks in Nigeria. We will be deceiving ourselves if we say that all is well. Nobody is safe again. Everybody is scared. The number one responsibility of any government anywhere in the world is to secure the lives, and properties of citizens. I must  commend our state governors in the South-West  over the set up of regional security outfit, Operation Amotekun. It is the right step in the right direction.

However it is very sad that the level of mistrust among the various groups in the country today is on the increase. When a group makes a suggestion, if you see the level of opposition or attack by another group you will be worried. They don’t bother to think whether such an idea is a good one that will benefit Nigerians. We are gradually losing all sense of civility. We are no longer our brother’s keepers. I have been to different parts of the country, and I can confidently say that God has really blessed Nigeria, be it in terms of natural resources, or human resources. When those South-West governors decided to set up the Operation Amotekun security outfit, I supported them because I see nothing wrong in it. To me, it is a form of local policing. Although some individuals and groups launched vitriolic attacks on me but I have no apology for supporting the security outfit. Operation Amotekun is a form of local policing, and there is nothing wrong with local policing or state police. They have it in  the United states which is our role model. In actual fact, apart from state police, they also have county police, and the FBI in America for effective security management. This is why the need for restructuring of Nigeria is now. If we restructure, some of these issues would have been naturally addressed.

While you are canvassing restructuring, some individuals and groups are opposed to it with some even saying that the body language of those in authority doesn’t seem to  be in favour of the idea…..

We should be honest and bold to tell ourselves the home truths. We  were not like this before. Until 1966 when the military took over the running of affairs of the country, Nigeria was practicing federalism but when the military took over, everything changed, and the unitary system of government was introduced whereby order was being given from a central command. When the Commander-in-Chief gives an order, everybody must  fall in line. But this later proved to be counter-productive because Nigeria is  a country with different ethnic  groups and different cultures. Politics is all about management of resources of the people for the benefit of the people. But  this became a negation when resources from different places are being taken to the centre at Abuja, and later redistributed back to the states  sometimes  in unfairly manner, and this is why you have protests and clamour for restructuring. This is why some are clamouring for a return to true practice of federalism as it was in practice in the First Republic. This is why Nigeria is not working.

Restructuring will make Nigeria to work in  the way envisaged by the nation’s founding fathers. It is unfortunate that some people are giving wrong interpretations to restructuring, while others are having unjustifiable fears about the concept. There is no  part or section of the country that is not blessed with  different resources.

The unitary system, which we are using is an anomaly. It can’t work. Another issue we have to address urgently is  the issue of unity in the country. The level of distrust is too high, and this is not in the nation’s interest. Our former colonial master, the British, created  distrust among Nigerians, and this is  still fertile in Nigeria, even after our  former colonial masters have gone. Although we are pretending that all these mistrusts and hatred are not there,  in reality, they are still there, but we have to jettison all these if we want to move forward. It is very unfortunate that Nigeria is sliding dangerously into the debris of hell.

Some people have  attributed ills plaguing the country to ineffective leadership, do you agree with that?

No. I don’t agree. A leader doesn’t operate in isolation. He works with ministers and other aides. Now if you are a member of the team and you are loyal and you write your own convictions and it is not working in that department, then you quit. That’s what civilized people do because there will always be a day of reckoning, a day to defend your actions. When General Yakubu Gowon introduced the NYSC scheme, one of the objectives was that it would help us understand ourselves. It was a brilliant idea. But it fell short of one thing, and this is an idea I will like to propose. Every primary school pupil  in Yorubaland  before graduating must  be able to speak Igbo and Hausa languages; same thing with Hausa boy, he must be able to speak Igbo, and Yoruba before he graduates, and Igbo boy must also be able to speak Hausa, and Yoruba before he graduates. This will help to foster unity in the country. Language is a powerful tool which we must use to promote unity in the country. This idea I’m proposing is not new. In Switzerland, they have three major tribes, the French in Geneva, the Germans in Zurich, and the Italians in Lugano, and everybody speaks the same language. Nobody is lost. Go into history, no  world war has ever happened in Switzerland, and not only that, their human resource is unmatchable. For us to move forward ,we must emulate  a country like Switzerland. We must jettison the winner-takes-it-all approach from our politics.

 Your party, PDP has been accused  of laying the foundation for  some of the crises  presently affecting the nation, especially the insurgency in the North East  with killing of Boko Haram  founding leader , Mohammed Yusuf….

(Cuts in)..I don’t agree with that. When the   crisis first broke out, there were different stories with some saying that it was only a flash. One state governor was even reported to be using the insurgents for political purposes that time, and when he finished his tenure, and didn’t want to continue using them, they  almost killed him and even killed his brother. That was the beginning of the crisis in the North East. But today, the crisis has festered.

Instead of blaming PDP or start apportioning blames, I believe what we should do is to find solution to those serious problems confronting Nigeria today, and that is the problem of hunger, poverty, and insecurity. Towards the end of President Goodluck Jonathan’s  administration, he started a skills acquisition programme from  which many people benefitted. But what has happened to that scheme today? It has been abandoned. That kind of programme should be revived. Government should be a continuity. Again, I believe that government  should show more cohesion. It should be teamwork. But this is lacking, and a good demonstration of this is the issue of leaked memos between the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno, and the Chief of Staff to the President, Alhaji Abba Kyari. For God’s sake, what is going on there? I think enough is enough.

I will also like to advise President Buhari to call a meeting of all elders including traditional rulers from all the corners of the country. This has nothing to do with politics now. This gathering should  be convened without delay because Nigeria is wobbling. The gathering should be saddled with the task of proffering the way forward for Nigeria. Two heads are better than one. The situation in Nigeria today is terrible most especially for people living in those areas being ravaged by the insurgents.

Some   Nigerians have even gone to the extreme calling on President Buhari to resign following the  insecurity challenges confronting the country, how would you react to  the calls?

How can Buhari resign? Resign for what? A tree doesn’t make a forest. It is a collective responsibility. If Buhari resigns then you will hear people saying different things  including those working with him. Some will be saying we told  him to do this or do that but he refused. Nigerians are very interesting, and one will be shocked by what will be coming out of the  mouths of many  people including some of his own  aides if Buhari resigns. To me, if the country is well, it is everybody that is there that is well, and if the country is unwell, it is everybody that is there that is unwell. This is why I’m advising President Buhari to seek advice of elders on the way forward. We still have some elder statesmen that are still alive. We also  have very senior generals  that are retired  from the Army, Navy, and Airforce that can still give useful advice to President Buhari.

Some are suggesting the President is not doing any of these because he has been caged by some powerful elements. How can I believe that President Buhari, a retired general can be caged? Buhari being caged by who? I don’t believe  Buhari can be caged by anybody. It is President Buhari as the leader who knows where the shoe pinches. But nothing stops him from taking useful advice that can help move Nigeria forward. The buck stops at the President’s table, and I will never subscribe to the idea that Buhari is being caged. The President has not only seen it all but he is also an experienced civil, and  retired military leader  capable of taking his own independent decisions.

What’s your reaction to the threat by the  leaders of Miyetti-Allah  to form  a  parallel security outfit if Operation Amotekun,  and Shege-de-Faka security outfits recently formed by state governors in the South-West, and some groups in the North are not proscribed ?

That’s a joke taken too far. I don’t even know who these people are. On what basis are they threatening to form their own parallel outfit? It is unfortunate that everybody is reading meaning into the good intention behind the formation of Operation Amotekun. These Miyetti-Allah leaders should be ignored. Until recently who even knows Miyetti-Allah? Fulani herdsmen have always been involved in their legitimate trade without any hassles for decades. They bring their cows down from the North to the South to sell and graze, and there were no crises until lately. But why all these now? Miyetti-Allah and any other group that wants to create  confusion and tension should not be allowed to disturb the nation’s peace. Why all this noise by Miyetti-Allah? These  are mere noisemakers who should be ignored. Honestly, we need to make restitution in Nigeria. We need to seek God’s forgiveness for some of these strange things happening in the country today.

On your reported 2023 presidential ambition, some Nigerians are saying that it is not real, that at 75 what are you looking for again, that  it is just a distraction……

(Cuts in)It is not a distraction but real. At 75, I’m still able and fit to lead Nigeria. The idea to run came not even from me, it was somebody  that suggested it and I thought over it  before coming to the conclusion that I must  run. Most importantly if 2023 is zoned to the South West, and some people continue to talk about Bola Tinubu, then I must enter the race to stop him. I will face Tinubu, and I will defeat him.

But Tinubu’s APC has been defeating your party, PDP in Lagos State since 1999, what gives you the confidence that you can stop him in 2023?

Nigeria is bigger than Lagos, and even in Lagos, APC has been rigging the elections, Nigeria is on a bigger scale, and what Tinubu, and his cohorts are doing in Lagos, they can’t try it across the country. If they try it, it will boomerang. Tinubu, and APC have been rigging elections in Lagos. Tinubu  will meet his political waterloo in 2023 if he runs, and I will be his nemesis.

You  were recently reported to have declared that you will run to Togo if Tinubu wins 2023 elections––

I never made that statement. I was misquoted, and it is unfortunate that a section of the press has been publishing that wrong information.How can I run away because of Tinubu? Never,it should  be the other way round.It is Tinubu that should be running away.

But  it was  reported that you made a similar claim in 2015 that you will go on exile if President Muhammadu Buhari defeated the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan––

Some of these things are the handiwork of my political detractors. However, for now, I don’t want to distract myself with some of these issues. For now, my concern, and what concerns most Nigerians  is to stabilize Nigeria. Nigeria is not only wobbling. It is wobbling so badly. Who even knows who will be alive by2023? For now, let’s all join hands to salvage Nigeria. It is when Nigeria is stabilized that we can plan for 2023. We should even allow President Buhari to concentrate on governance now. He has not even spent  up to one year in his second term. He should not be distracted.