Former National Deputy Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olabode George, speaks to TOBI AWORINDE on his relationship with former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the gale of defections hitting the ruling All Progressives Congress
Recently, you and some leaders of the PDP met with former President Olusegun Obasanjo. What was the purpose of the interview?
Any former president, who is still alive, remains a source of inspiration and a source of knowledge because he must have seen a lot. So, we went there to tap from his fountain of knowledge and experience. Experience is not something you get in any classroom. You acquire it as you go along and, for any of those past presidents, whether military or civilian, we cannot wish them away. The same thing happens in America. They remain icons and we must always tap from their knowledge. So, our party decided it was going to visit, consult, discuss and see what better approach we can have to stabilise our nation. And it was a very useful discussion. We enjoyed and tapped from his milk of experience. We all left feeling satisfied. You know Baba (Shehu) Shagari is very old now. Even if there is anything like it in America, they won’t go to the old man (George H. W.) Bush; they would probably go to his son (George W. Bush). So, that kind of camaraderie must be established so that you don’t completely lose your past because they will be able to open up. It is like reading their autobiography. Where they made mistakes, they will admit. Where they think there are still one or two things to be done in the interest of this country, they will explain to you. That is the essence of democracy because no generation can finish it. If they think what we are doing is not in tandem with the way they did the building of this nation, they will advise us. That is the kind of interaction we had and I thoroughly enjoyed it because it brought back a lot of memories. You know I worked very closely with him (Obasanjo). The younger ones, who are now managers of the party, also tapped from it. And where he thought we wronged him, we apologised, so that there can be progress and good heart. Then, we had lunch and we enjoyed ourselves.
A lot of people could not ignore the fact that you and Obasanjo were in the same room, especially with his government’s role in your trial….
Yes, a lot of people got shocked and surprised. I remembered that day when that young man pronounced that we were guilty for committing no single offence, I looked back and said, ‘God is awesome and I am going to use my own as a solid case study for younger generations that are coming into politics. Several times, in my reading, people have said the journey of life must come into a trough once in a while but that if you trust in God almighty, you will end up in the highway of triumph. I have experienced it. People ask, ‘Were you not angry?’ I say, ‘Angry? I am not God. Vengeance is His, not mine’. I went there; for half a second, I was never in the sickbay, sick or rushed to any hospital. It was an opportunity to see the other side of midnight to learn about life. God didn’t say in your journey of life, you won’t have tribulations. I remember one young man — an accountant, a Yoruba boy — who was lying through his teeth to accuse us of things that didn’t happen. So, it is him now that must have a time with God. We had gone; we served (the sentence). Eventually, they said the case shouldn’t have gone to court at all. The Federal Ministry of Justice sent me a letter thereafter that they had no knowledge about my case. So, what do you do? Do you go on your own vengeance? It is a lesson; it is an education that is special, but it strengthens you. It doubles up your resolve that you will stand by what is just, fair and equitable. That day in my house, he (Obasanjo) was there too; all my family members who suffered the indignation were all there. My political leaders were also there and it was a thing of joy that Baba (Obasanjo) came to commiserate with us on the death of my son. Nobody thought that that kind of day would ever come. That is why, in life, whatever you do, remember that the pages of history will be the judge. So, I didn’t have any anger. My conscience had been done. And Baba held me. To me, that was vindication. That was justification that in life we make mistakes once in a while. It just brought back memories of the way we were.
As a politician, what have you learnt from your prison experience?
I saw the other side of midnight, the lives of younger Nigerians; some being wasted away, some we could assist to salvage them to give them a second chance in the prison, which I would never have (crossed paths with otherwise). There was a young man from Ondo. He had been on death row for 28 years. Every Sunday in church in the prison yard, when it was time for praise and worship, you could see the genuine worship in him, the complete holiness in him. So, one day, I sent for him. I said, ‘What was your offence?’ He told me he was a hunter in Ondo, from Garage Olode, at the first roundabout if you are coming from Ore. You know, I was governor there (Ondo). He said he went to his farm to hunt at night and that he didn’t know it was a human being pretending to be an antelope. He took his Dane gun, shot and went to carry it, only to find out it was a human being; so they condemned him to death. He said every day that he lived, it was God because they don’t kill those who kill people now, but on the other hand, every day of his life was a gift from God. I said okay. A lot of my friends are governors. One day, (then Ondo governor) Olusegun Mimiko visited me and I mentioned it to him. He met with the middle-aged man who got there as a young man. And (by) the miracle of God — about three or four months after, Mimiko remembered. He was the first to be granted amnesty and he left (prison). The day they brought his warrant of release, the whole yard went into jubilation because everybody saw him as a source of inspiration.
I owe nobody any grudge. Papa (Obafemi) Awolowo also suffered injustice. He lost his son while he was in prison. But Papa came out, and struggled to get to the highest level to turn this country in a direction, which he believed would be useful for the common man. He didn’t get there, but by love, the history of this country, in whatever format you want to write it, you will have a special golden place for Papa Awolowo. Papa remains a special creation by God almighty. He’s done his own time. His records are there for us. Many leaders in the western part of this country benefited from his free education, including the late Chief MKO Abiola. He said it that it was through the scholarship of Baba Awolowo that he went to Glasgow University to study. The lesson I learnt is that the moment you lower your bridge, all kinds of miscreants will climb on board the bridge and try to disrupt you.
Do you think you will ever reconcile with Tinubu as you have done with Obasanjo?
We have reconciled. I’m just saying it for purposes of history. Now, he will learn that that is not the way to pay back. We can disagree without being disagreeable. All of us cannot sleep and face the same direction. You have certain ideas; I have certain ideas. Let the better idea run. It doesn’t mean you are my enemy. The oyinbo (white) man will say you can disagree without being disagreeable. That is the tone behind that. We (Tinubu and I) met at (Alhaji Azeez) Arisekola’s burial. He was with the governor of Oyo State. They said, ‘Egbon, I noticed that you didn’t greet (Tinubu)’. I said, ‘Greet him? What for? Do you know what he did?’ I’m saying this for people to learn from it. It will be in my autobiography because it is a lesson now. It is not fresh; it is already in the past. I have no grudge against Bola. I only thank God that I didn’t get blind, crippled or get any diseases. You know the way the prison bed is; the kind we were using in secondary school in your little cubicle there, confined with no freedom. I thank God almighty that I went through it. I am a trained general. We are trained to survive in any situation. Amos 5:24 says, ‘Let justice flow like a river’. Let it be seen, not to intentionally want to (retaliate). You didn’t create the person; so, why are you doing that? The judgment of God can be vicious.
Several members of the All Progressives Congress have been in talks with the PDP to join the party. What do you know about the deals being made?
What I know is this. Every four years in this democratic dispensation, you must go back to the people to renew your mandate. Take all the political parties in this country. There are no ideological differences. The basic tenets are to secure the lives and property of the people, to provide employment for the teeming millions of youths, to provide good education for the up and coming, to provide good health, to make sure we enhance agricultural development of this nation and infrastructural development. The will of the people must not be trampled upon. I am appealing to all sides to be calm, to be peaceful.
Do you think Obasanjo’s failure to recognise Abiola and his victory in the June 12 election is a minus to his administration, in the light of Buhari’s decision to recognise the late politician?
The students of history in the future, not the participants now, will do a thorough analysis to distinguish the facts from fiction. I read some articles written by my dear egbon, Chief (Duro) Onabule, demonising Obasanjo and calling him names. Yes, it is admirable for them to recognise the late MKO Abiola. I have no questions or queries about that, but when facts are thrown into the public domain, let it be complete. No half-truths and ‘half-lies.’ Don’t rob Peter to pay Paul. It is a time of joy for (the children of) MKO Abiola to thank God almighty that their father didn’t die in vain. Somebody has recognised that, but don’t think that you will now use that opportunity to demonise some others. Whoever did anything, yes, it is commendable, but don’t think the others are like demons. I don’t want to go back into the whole history.
One lesson I have learnt over the years is that the Yoruba need to take a second look at our attitude and public perception of ourselves and our leaders. We are the worst in trying to destroy ourselves.