By Dapo Akinrefon, Deputy Regional Editor, South-West
In this interview, George expressed reservations over the formation of a Third Force saying he does not believe in the movement. He also bared his mind on burning national issues and issues affecting the PDP.
What informed the decision of your party, PDP, to apologise to Nigerians in Abuja recently?
After the 2015 election which we lost, we first of all went into a spin, which is normal. We had predicted that we would rule Nigeria for 60 years, but suddenly, after 16 years in power, we were sent packing. So, we did an assessment of what happened. Where did we go wrong? Do we continue to pretend to ourselves that we were doing everything right? To me, what we did at the conference was the civilised way of approach to go back to power, not in arrogance. We accepted that there had been a problem of imposition, lack of respect for the party’s constitution, lack of respect for the feelings of the other person, manipulation and all those ills that are part of APC especially with Tinubu in Lagos State. Henry Ajomale had been chairman of APC since 1999 – from the days of AD to AC, to ACN and now APC. Perpetual state chairman! Where has the congress ever been done? I have not seen any congress where Ajomale emerged. He must be a beautiful man that the party believes must be their perpetual chairman and he is not tired yet. You see, these are ills that are plaguing Third World countries. I am sure that their constitution must have a constitutional limit. Two terms, end of the show. But in Tinubu’s APC, theirs is perpetual. The man cannot make a mistake and is higher than human beings. You see the fallacy. I think Tinubu got carried away and I am giving him a bell of caution. We in PDP said the same thing years back. Nigerians are no fools. The state of the affairs of this country today calls for Nigerians to dispassionately look at the two parties.
When I saw our national chairman, Uche Secondus talking, I said whoever advised them to approach these problems we had like this is dead serious.
The Secondus I saw was humble, civil and he was thinking of the future. We knew where we were coming from. We were in power and only those who are humble will God continue to bless. For me, that was the catch and I said to him that you have talked the talk, let us go back and walk the walk. Let us go back to Nigerians and tell them we are ready to make amends for these problems that they listed which made them vote us out.
God grants power, He gives to those He wants and those He doesn’t want, He takes from them. But I think it was a lesson for our party. We are going to regroup. We are staying back to repair that house that is leaking. I wish Tinubu best of luck on his 10th-year Colloquium but if that is the message that will come out from there, I think that is not a serious-minded talk. Today is Tinubu’s day of glory; let him be careful that there is an Almighty Being that gives and takes. Don’t be so selflessly impudent and forget that there is a day of reckoning.
Former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, at his 10th annual Colloquium said Nigerians should not accept the apology offered by your party. He also said PDP will never come back to power. What is your take on that?
First of all, let me ask Tinubu, is he God? Or has he gotten the powers of God that he can see the future? I think that is a rubbish statement to make as a leader. If that is what he thinks, I think it is wishful thinking. He will soon realise that everything that has a beginning has an end, and that is the power of the Almighty, the One who was, who is and will forever be. There is no human being that lives perpetually. There are three things in life you don’t control – the day you were born, your nationality (whether you are Chinese, African or American) and the day you will exit. That shows you there is a Being and power greater than us.
So, when people get up and make such statements that Tinubu made, that PDP will never come back to power, that is arrogance being exhibited. Let me advise him that we used to say that PDP will rule this country for 60 years. Then we sat back, put everything on auto-pilot and went to sleep. Alas, we found ourselves on the deck and that was why in humility, during the last conference held by the party in Abuja, the delivery, the content and performance was the zenith of humility.
The APC also claimed that it will continue to talk about corruption under the PDP government because your party looted the nation’s treasury in the last 16 years and battered the economy which APC is now recovering. What is your perspective on that?
Ask any Nigerian today; are you better off now than when PDP was in government? That is the measure, the yardstick to know the difference between both parties. What I would have expected him to do is to close the doors and ask APC members serious questions about the state of the nation under their leadership. I know President Muhammadu Buhari was from my professional calling. That is what we do in the military. We do an in-depth analysis of where we are, where are we coming from and where do we want to go. At times, I look at the APC and ask, so they have never made any mistake? They are saying PDP is corrupt and they will continue to talk about the corruption.
There will be a day of reckoning, no matter how long. People will ask questions. So for me, that is not a proper approach. By the grace of God Almighty and the power of Nigerians, PDP will be ready before the end of 2018.
Is your party threatened by the emergence of SDP which has been branded as the Third Force movement, especially given the fact that some key members of your party have already joined?
I wish them the best of luck; fair winds as they sail into the unknown waters. No matter how fast you can run, if you have a 100 meters race, somebody has gone about 50 meters and you are at the starting block, can you catch him?
In an election year, you are just starting a political party that has no track record. And if you look at it, it is the same people that are rushing down there. Those who have been landlords, they now say their house is leaking and they went to become tenant in another man’s house. If your house is leaking, the rational thing to do is stay back there and repair it, remodel it. If they are looking for utopia, they can never get it. They can never achieve it. That is why I said it is civil for you to accept your failings because God said you will run into tribulations and trials in the road of your life. It can never be always straight without bumps and roundabouts. But if you trust Him, He will always be with you.
Third Force, Seventh Force, Tenth Force, is that the issue? Are the members of this Third Force going to come from outer space? What are they going to do that will be different from what they had done before? The hood doesn’t make the monk. I don’t believe in any Third Force movement. You stay there and repair your house. That is more honourable.
Recently, there has been a clamour for youth presidency by some Nigerians. Are you also in support of this?
How do you define the age of youth? Who is a youth? Is it a person who is 20 years old, 30 years old or 40 years old? Youth in itself comes from your mind. The physical part is what you are talking about. When you say the youth president, is a 42-year-old still a youth? Is a 35-year-old still a youth? When I was young, I used to hear life begins at 40. Now it has been shifted. We need the track record of who will rule the country. We don’t need somebody who has not performed anything and we just say because he is a youth and just put him there. Such a person will make the situation worse. Experience is golden. Managing human beings requires an experience that you can’t get in any classroom.
We have an adage in my part of the world that says when a young man is cutting an Iroko tree in the forest; it is the elderly ones who are there that will tell where the tree will land. Take the example of Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. When they broke away from Malaysia, they thought they were going to die. He took the country and turned it around. He was committed, selfless and loyal. He built an everlasting empire that is called Singapore. When he retired, they called him and said he will remain an honorary member of the Senate which is called consultation. There is no way you can write the history of Singapore that Lee Kuan Yew will not have a very brilliant expose there. It is impossible! Those are things that we are looking for in a leader; leaders who are committed, dedicated, informed and loyal to the system and not to an individual.
There have been talks that Nigerians are now more divided than before. What do you think is responsible for this?
I grew up in this country. When I was young, I knew what this country was like and the kind of upbringing that we were had. My best friend till today is a Fulani man. He is a Muslim, I am a Christian. He is a Fulani man with his cows, I am a Yoruba man with my cap but he is my brother. If anything happens to me, he will fight to finish there, vice-versa for me. When did our paths cross? In the military service. Let me remind people who talk about this ethnic jingoism that in any tribe, everywhere in the world, you will find among the people the good, the bad and the ugly. So, what is the difference? What are all these agitations about? This system must not collapse. Let us be loyal to it and every generation that comes, you build your blocks and let it continue in the same direction that is positive. You said this system must not collapse.
Is that not what General T.Y Danjuma was alluding to recently when he raised an alarm over ongoing ethnic cleansing and alleged military complicity?
General Danjuma is my boss. You don’t comment and you don’t contradict. I am a politician and also a retired General. My approach is the message I have been passing across to you now. I have identified these two ills. Let us find a solution. It is a cancer that is eating deep into the fabric of our nation. Where we are today cannot be compared to where we were coming from. The ethnicity is killing us. General Gowon tried. After the war, he established the National Youth Service Corps for us to understand ourselves and our culture. General Gowon is not a politician, so he talks straight like a General.
My approach is that we must identify these things and proffer solutions to them. Every Yoruba child of primary school age, before he graduates, must be fluent in Hausa and Igbo. Every Hausa child of primary school age, whether the private or public school must be fluent in Yoruba and Igbo. Every Igbo child of primary school age, before he graduates must be fluent in Yoruba and Hausa. The language opens the door. If you don’t speak the official language which is English and you go into your vernacular, you know when you study the language, you learn about the culture too. That will ease the tension that we are propagating.
Like I told you, General Danjuma is my very good boss and we are still one unit. Does it really matter where somebody comes from? We are expanding things that should be ephemeral rather than real issues. We must all hold our system and prevent it from collapse. That is why I am requesting oga (President Buhari) to make a broadcast to the people, to stand up as a father of the nation that these killings must stop! Any killings anywhere will be dealt with by the law. That will send shivers. It will be a turning point in the history of our country. Oga should rise above and address us. He should impart that loyalty, camaraderie, that oneness and togetherness in the system. So, we have to watch it.
There have been speculations that you might join the APC like Senator Musiliu Obanikoro and in a recent interview, the state chairman of the Lagos APC, Henry Ajomale said very soon, he will hand over the party’s flag and broom to you. Are you joining APC soon?
(Laughs) Ajomale must be daydreaming. Like I said, the APC is not a party that is national in its outlook. It is a contraption. They are in utter confusion. Look at all the killings in the country today, they are taking place in states controlled by the APC. The central government is also APC. Where is their party? Do they believe they are really members of the same family? APC is making the same mistake PDP made when we said we will rule Nigeria for the next 60 years. Nigerians have experienced governance under both parties. Are they better off now than when PDP was in government? My great uncle is the late Herbert Macaulay, so I am a genuine, inroad, in-depth politician because I was born into it. They are not.
Do you see PDP producing a governor in Lagos someday?
The people of Lagos are gravitating to now realise that they can’t continue under this yoke of the emperor in Lagos. When Governor Ambode increased Land Use Charge, you saw the reactions of the people. When he came with the Land Use Charge, I said you are overdriving this management. People are hungry, both rich and poor. If you increase Land Use Charge by 500 percent, the landlords will transfer it to the tenant. So, who will be happy? Are you expected as the manager of the people to inflict more hardships and pains on the people or to assuage their pains? My suggestion is that the 50 per cent reduction is not enough, he should scrap it completely otherwise it is impunity in an election year. And then when I saw that bill that Alpha Beta will be collecting the charge, I said what? Nobody knows where that will end.