A member, Peoples Democratic Party Board of Trustees and South-West leader of the ruling party, Chief Bode George, comments on topical national issues in this interview with Punch’s Tunde Odesola. Excerpts:
As a member of the National Conference, what’s your view over the debate on immunity clause?
Delegates raised many issues for and against the clause and the proponents believe that why should there be anyone higher than the law and you remember that even in America no one is above the law. Some delegates believe that if there was an allegation, no matter how frivolous, you will be investigated and the recent one was that of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky over the relationship he was alleged to have had with the lady. So, the fact that people trusted you to go and manage the resources of their nation on their behalf does not exclude you or make you a superhuman above the law. Proponents in support of the clause argued that why should you allow frivolous cases hold an elected executive down? I support that the clause should be removed. It will assist our democratic growth. No Nigerian can be higher than another Nigerian. We are all equal before the law and you know the beauty of it? If you go to any court of law, you will see the statue of Justice blindfolded with a sword and a scale. So, who are we to continue with immunity?
What’s your view on resource control?
The issue was so sensitive at the conference. The first conference we had in the country was supervised by the British while the second one was supervised by the military but now, no soldiers and no British. We have those who attended the 1956 conference in this conference. We have those who were ministers in the Tafawa Balewa Government in this conference. Those who fought on either side of the civil war are also there and those of us who had a bit of military and civil leaderships are there. The youth are also there. The youngest being 23 years old is there. So the spread is unique and that is what has brought about the camaraderie. We will perform to the extent that no section of this nation will go home without something tangible. The resource control was heavily debated and people reminded us of the groundnut pyramid and that it was the groundnut pyramid money that was used in sustaining other regions. What happened to the timber and cocoa? Now, this mad crude oil. And it could be something else today. If you see the destruction of environment and aqua life, whatever decision that was taken that brought about the 13 per cent should remain the same. Oil is the mainstay of the economy and resource control should remain as it is now.
How do you see the public endorsement of Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, a governorship aspirant on the platform of All Progressives Congress by the traditional ruler of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akinolu?I was shocked because the kabiyesi is my friend and we have known each other for a long time. We agree on everything except politics. He should be the father of all. He is the Oba of Lagos and not Oba of APC and he should follow in the footsteps of his fathers. So, how will we approach the Kabiyesi for royal blessings? Will he bless us or curse us? So, I leave it like that.
There is a call for the country to return to parliamentary system of government on the grounds that the presidential system is too expensive. Do you share this view?Every village in an African setting would naturally have an emir or oba or obi, who would have advisers based on family houses. The presidential system is more natural to us. The culture of the British is not the same as ours. Parliamentary system requires a high level of tolerance and we don’t have it. So let us not go back. Why did the parliamentary system fail? We are not doing too badly in the Presidential system. In parliamentary system, a man will contest in his constituency and become a prime minister. Lastly, let them tell me one former British colony that is running the parliamentary system in Africa? None. And we cannot use both parliamentary and presidential as is being done in some countries. Some are arguing that the presidential system is too expensive. Let us cut down on the number of federal constituencies and reduce their salaries.
A backlash of criticism has greeted the Federal Government’s handling of Chibok abduction. What’s your view?On the issue of Chibok, I look at it from both military and civilian perspective. In a typical warfare, you can discern but in this scenario, you don’t know who the enemy is. They may be at the table with you, planning and discussing. In insurgency, the tactics is different. They are opening their mouths saying Jonathan does not know what to do. Bola Tinubu too is opening his mouth to say this. Does he know what to do? When he hears the sounds of a gun can he wait? Every Nigerian must be concerned about this. Our military has performed brilliantly in every part of the world they have been sent to. Now, do you think it’s a matter of just going there and rooting them out? The President said something at the inter-party conference. He said he would love to be President but not at the expense of the life of one Nigerian. The Chibok case is a national disaster and should be of concern to all Nigerians. I detest the methodology adopted by Oby Ezekwesili, she is looking for cheap popularity. If it was her daughter that was there, she would not be castigating the government but her sympathy would be suggestive.
President Olusegun Obasanjo is at loggerheads with the Goodluck Jonathan administration. Why?He is dancing to music which only he can hear. He has no need to be getting himself involved unnecessarily. Baba Obasanjo should stay in Ogun State, where we would all go to consult him. Look at former President Sheu Shagari and Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar (retd.), who many say birthed democracy. Abdulsalami is being praised today. You should do things that will make you be remembered for good tomorrow. After two terms and a glorious ending, he should be a father to all.
Nigerians have condemned the multi-million pension being giving to some serving and ex-governors in the country. As a former military administrator, are you benefiting from this too?The Lagos State Guest House on Kofo Abayomi was given to Bola Tinubu as his parting gift. What did he do to deserve this? Does someone like him deserve pension after eight years in Government House? The pension law says that he must have two houses in Lagos, two in Abuja plus the financial benefit. When they said on the floor of the plenary that this was what was approved in Akwa Ibom. I called the governor and he said they have cancelled it and I said God will bless you. That is a man that respects the public opinion. but Tinubu is still collecting his own, he has not rescinded, he will say his Assembly approved it. But I can tell you something, the next election as the governor of the PDP is sworn in Lagos, that money will be used to alleviate the suffering of the people of Lagos. As a former governor during the military era, we were purely on a non-regimental appointment. So, your salary was still being paid and your rank remained your rank and when you leave, you will be paid as an ex-general and that is what I am still getting which is just about N100,000 every month. The money is too small and we have been shouting that there is a need to take care of our retirees so that we don’t end up in penury but that is not to say that Ondo State, where I served as military governor should pay me pension.
Religion has become a factor in Lagos politics. Is the PDP going to choose its governorship candidates along religious lines?Religion has never played out in Lagos politics. For example, my immediate older sister is an alhaja, born in a Christian family but married to a Muslim, I sent her to hajj. My younger brother is married to a Muslim. Bola Tinubu did two terms and Babatunde Fashola too. Fashola’s wife is also a Christian but people are agitating somehow. On our political calculation we cannot wish that away. We must put it there for us to land properly. Unnecessary political interference is already an issue in the polity of Lagos and if you don’t care, you do so at your peril but when we get to the bridge, we will cross it but it is a very strong parameter in our political calculation. We have a lot of high quality people and people are demanding for a reliable and mature candidate and we are still searching. As the leader, I don’t dictate, we allow everybody, both Christians and Muslims, we consider the opposition as well, and that is the methodology. We will know by September, October when the heat begins. All options are on the table, we won’t shut our doors.