Chief Olabode George, the Atona Oodua Of Yorubaland, is a former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, he speaks on the state of the nation, new Ministers and portfolio, as well as solution to Nigeria’s security challenge. Excerpts:
President Muhammadu Buhari last week inaugurated his cabinet but he has come under severe criticisms for asking Ministers who want to meet him to go through Abba Kyari, his Chief of Staff. Do you think Mr. President is right?
My take is this: there is a saying that different stroke for different times. Maybe that is the methodology the President wants to adopt. During the era PDP was in power, the way we operated when we were in government, ministers have direct access to the President because as executive president, he appointed them and entrusted the running of such strategic ministries to them to manage. If he now decides to have a clearing house or choke-point, to me personally, that will delay decision making. As a Minister, when you go to the President, you have discussions with him on the challenges you are facing in your ministry and if you need his assistance in one way or the other, you can tell him immediately. That is the way we operated.
There is no legality about it so if the President thinks that is the best style he wants to adopt, I wish him the best because this will greatly delay decision making. There is no time to fritter away now in Nigeria. Every minutes matters a lot in governance because the people are hungry and they are therefore very angry. That is one major issue.
As a leader, you fast-track decision making but when you are mandated to see the Chief of Staff before seeing the President, it means you have to first take your case to the Chief of Staff before he now takes it to the President.
Don’t forget, he is also human and he has his duties already. He is responsible for the daily programmes and activities of the President, in terms of his timing and arrangement so that there is no collision of events.
If a Minister wants to see the President, he should go straight, see him and take quick decisions. The whole thing will slow down governance and that to me will not be in the interest of Nigerians. On our part, we are still hoping in our party that maybe the Tribunal will be quite favourable to us and our mode of operation will be very different, effective and impacting on the lives and minds of Nigerians. There is too much suffering in the land. The President himself said Nigerians are hungry and he is now putting roadblock on the way of the Ministers; that to me is worrisome. How many ministers can that man (Kyari) attend to in a day? I wish us the best under this administration.
The President also created new Ministries and also removed Power Ministry from the portfolios of Babatunde Fashola. Do you think this is a good move?
Like I just said, I am not a member of their party. As a Nigerian, my prayer is that whatever methodology the President wants to adopt, that is his prerogative as long he is acting within the laws of this nation. The taste of a pudding is actually in eating it. We saw the last four years of the current administration. To me, it was a charade. The next four years, we are waiting. However, as a Nigerian, we pray for whoever is in authority. That is what God told us to do in Romans 12. But when it comes to PDP, as a party leader, we will reserve our comment till the last year of his government. But now, we are still hoping that the court will give us judgment and that they will be fair and honest. If we get there, we know what to do. But since President Buhari is still there, there should be no vacuum. If we didn’t win in court, we will allow them to keep running. We will only interject when the thing gets too unbearable. Also, the last year of his governance will be time for politics and we in the PDP will come out massively.
What is your reaction to the attack on former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu by members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in Nuremberg Germany?
One, as a Nigerian, I feel very sad. If you have a family feud, traditionally in an African setting, you don’t take your mess to the market place. I don’t want to go into details what Ekweremadu or IPOB members did, but this is a nation that is blessed with many resources, both human and material. If they have a grudge, there are better ways of addressing issue. What happened in Germany lowers our respectability in the civilised world. From that angle, they could have been a bit calmer in a foreign land. I don’t know the kind of news that will spread in Germany. They will say look at Nigerians. If you remember, Nuremberg is the place where they had the trials of the Nazi Generals. My take is that the IPOB members could have expressed their anger through words. They could have told him to his face that they are not happy with what is going on at home but to resort to hounding, hitting and tearing the cloth of a former Deputy Senate President is uncalled for. I want to appeal to them and everybody that we should please tone down because we are getting to the precipice. Violence will never resolve any problem, it is dialogue. That was why I had suggested on several occasion that this government must intentionally call for a national dialogue. Everybody is heading in different direction and that is not good for the cohesion of our nation. A divided house is a defeated house. I am happy that the President accepted that there is hunger in the land and he said that to the new Ministers. How do you resolve it? What about the security of lives and property? Every day, we hear unpleasant news. It is either one policeman is killed here or some civilians are killed or kidnapped. That is enough to call for a national dialogue. As a democratic nation, if things are heating up this way, it means there is a need for a dialogue to be chaired by the President. The solution to the problems in this country cannot be resolved by one man. It has to be a collective responsibility. That is what we in PDP will do as a party. We need to call ourselves together and resolve all those grey areas where people are pontificating on. The gulf between the tribes, rather than closing up is getting wider by the hour. We need to resolve this amicably, sensibly and with the love for all our people.
You are advocating for a national dialogue, what about the 2014 national conference that the current administration has refused to implement but kept in the archives?
What I am talking about when I said national dialogue, I am not extending it to the whole gamut of our problems. There is one major cancer ravaging this country today and that is the insecurity of lives and property. They keep talking of herdsmen attacks in the South but what about Zamfara, Plateau, Taraba, Kaduna and other places in the North? So, it is no longer a Southern issue, it is a national malady going on. For me, the issues discussed at the national confab are the detailed way by which Nigeria should be managed. The 2014 confab report is a much bigger issue, this discussion or dialogue will be centred mainly on how to effectively secure this nation. The national conference took months, this one I am advocating is like a National Town Hall meeting which can be done in a day or two. All over Nigeria, people will be represented; from governors, youths, traditional rulers, clerics, market women and so on. It will be televised for all Nigerians to see. People will say what they are experiencing in their locality and the President will listen to them and decisions that can be taken will be taken on the spot; otherwise the Ministers at the meeting will know the areas that concern them. That is how we used to run the traditional African setting. When there is a crisis in the village, the king will send the traditional rulers and invite everyone to a meeting where the issues will be discussed. We can’t say because we are now in a civilised world, we now jettison that method. A lot needs to be done in the area of security in this country.
What is your take on calls for creation of states police as a panacea to the security challenges?
I believe there is an urgent need to start state policing in the country. Let every state go and look for the best way to manage the security issues in their domain. We copy the American constitution. Why did we half-copy it in the area of security? In America, we have County Police, State Police and the FBI. Everybody knows what level they are; once a situation passes a level, the other takes over. Why can’t we do that here to be effective? Policing is local. In every community, if the police there are from that community, they will be very effective because you will know them and they know you. If they see any strange fellow hanging around, they ask questions. Employ the locals as policemen to secure their neighbourhood but their activities will be detailed. Once something is more than what they can do, the national police take over the place. It will be very effective at least for maintaining peace and order in a community. Maybe this can be adopted during the national town hall meeting because people will proffer solutions. We have just 334,000 policemen in Nigeria for 200,000 people. How can they effectively secure the people? It is not possible. What are the functions of the military versus the police? I know that there is an operation we call ‘Aid to Civil Power’ in the military. Once there is an insurgency and the Police can no longer cope, they go back to the Inspector-General of Police (IGP). The IGP in turn will go to the Commander-in- Chief and tell him ‘ Mr. President, we can no longer cope, we need the support of the military. It is the Commander-in- Chief who can deploy troops. Once he does that, there is a process of taking over and handing over. It is a short therapy to support the civil power. But today, what are we witnessing? People will go for operation and they are shot like we witnessed recently in Taraba. What the hell is going on? There is a need for an urgent national town hall meeting where the issue of security of this nation must be discussed.
There is this belief that the PDP as the country’s major opposition party is not providing the much –needed opposition to keep the APC on its toes. Do you agree with that ?
I have heard this severally everywhere I go. I want to believe that maybe it is because we are still waiting for the outcome of the Tribunal. We are still in the Court of Appeal. They just submitted their final briefs now to the court. I hope very soon they give a judgment and if we win, we know what to do as a party. But either way it goes, the case will still end up in the Supreme Court. So, let us wait until that exercise is over. I think that is one of the reasons why the PDP is not doing much in terms of criticising the government. We are so convinced that PDP won the election fair and square. Of course, politics is very dynamic and I am sure the managers of the party are also managing the other entire crises in other places. You can see some fly by night, fair weather politicians. Immediately INEC announced that we lost the election, they jumped ship to APC. If by tomorrow the court declares PDP as the winner, they jump out of APC to PDP. So we need to be careful and see those who are loyal to the cause of the party. I believe the outcome of the Tribunal is what is slowing us down because what is the essence of wasting all your salvos when you know the tenure of the present government may be temporary?