Former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George has implored members of the party to close ranks, and stop trading blames over the party’s loss in the 2015 presidential election.
George, who spoke with Saturday Sun’s TUNDE THOMAS in Lagos, urged members of the party to start strategizing with a view to returning PDP to power in 2019.
The PDP chieftain, who recently clocked 70 years, also spoke on his prison experience in Kirikiri Maximum Prison, the Supreme Court judgment that upturned his conviction and President Muhammadu Buhari leadership, among others. Excerpts:
How do you feel at 70, sir?
Very good question to ask. Everybody has been asking me how I feel attaining the age of 70. It hasn’t dawned on me yet that I have attained 70. But when I look, I thank God and I have every cause to celebrate. But I’m still the same Bode George that I’m. The only difference is that the agility that was there before is no longer there.
I used to be a very active sportsman but now if I go into the squash court, I can’t play again the way I used to when I was much younger.
My first daughter is 43 years old now, and I have grandchildren I play with, with all these and some people including my wife now calling me Baba George, I realise that I have truly passed the age of a young man. For me to have attained the biblical age of three scores and 10, I’m grateful to God.
What are some of challenges that you have faced, and how did you cope or overcome them?
The challenges were many. I had my own fair shares of them but in all things like we were told in the Bible we must always thank God. I still can’t forget that vicious convoluted conspiracy against me.
While serving in the military?
No. They conspired to jail me as a politician. This was when I was a former chairman of the Nigeria Ports Authority where I thought I did my utmost best to serve the nation. But some people conspired wanting to denigrate the name and reputation I have built over the years.
But thank God that they didn’t charge us that any money was missing. They only said that we disobeyed the Federal Government circular, and that the contracts awarded were split. This is very nonsensical, very very nonsensical.
Now looking back, the whole thing to me was very idiotic. The young man, who pronounced us guilty, was not God-fearing. But thank God that we have three layers of courts, High Court, Appeal Court and the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court looked at the whole trial and conviction and eventually exonerated us. The Supreme Court upturned my conviction and that of others charged with me. The Supreme Court judges in their pronouncement said we should not have been tried at all.
My trial and conviction by lower court which I would like to describe as persecution by my political opponents who were jealous of my rising profile almost made me to lose faith in the nation called Nigeria. But I thank God that I didn’t lose my mind during the trial and incarceration at Kirikiri Maximum Prison. The spirit of God kept me going. My wife was solidly behind me. My children and all members of my family stood by me because they knew my trial was a conspiracy. It was absolute conspiracy.
I will like to read a portion of the concluding part of the Supreme Court judgment that set me free alongside others.
I read: “In conclusion, it has been established that the position of the prosecution rest on a shifting ground. The charges preferred against the appellant, that is me in respect of splitting contracts and disobedience of guidelines is unknown to any written law at the material time. They can’t stand as they fall flat. To cap it, the extant charges with intention to defraud, an extra element of the charges which was not proved beyond reasonable doubt. It was a complete mistrial by the lower court. The appeal is allowed. The judgment of the court below is accordingly set aside. The appellant is hereby discharged and acquitted.” Justice John Afolabi Fabiyi delivered the lead judgment by the Supreme Court. I have never met him before. I wasn’t even in the country when the whole thing was going on. That there were still God-fearing people in this country, that there are still Justices who serve as a beacon of hope and justice, because of this I have a strong belief that no matter what, there are still good people in Nigeria.
What I experienced and passed through I don’t call it politics but rather I will call it politricks because these people attempted to drag me down. One thing I’m sure of is that nobody will e s c a p e justice f o r h i s o r her misdeed. There is always nemesis. My enemies will reap the fruits of their evil plans on me.
The young man, who tried me at the lower court, I pray that one day he will reap his own reward. For 18 months I was in the prison, my political enemies who plotted the trial and conviction thought they were putting me in a cage or drowning me for life but the prison experience strengthened my faith.
I met a lot of young people there – some of them were awaiting trial. But God eventually used me to get some of them out of the prison.
Look at the case of one young inmate from Ondo State: I didn’t know him but every Sunday he would come to my cell and start singing and dancing and praising God.
Then after service one Sunday, I called him, why he was always in high spirit while praying, he then told me that he had been on the death row inside the prison for 28 years. I was later told that the young man was framed for the offence for which he was sentenced to death. I then made up my mind to assist him.
Luckily for the young man and others like him, when I was in prison, my political associates, including governors and other eminent citizens, were always visiting me. One day, Ondo State governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko visited me, and I took up the man’s case with him, he then intervened and set the man free.
There were others like this young man who God used me to intervene in their case. Therefore looking at the whole thing, I will not say that my going to the prison was a punishment because if I had not gone there, I might not have come into contact with those characters I met in the prison. Going to the prison has enabled me to see life from another prism.
While there at Kirikiri Maximum Prison, I met a lot of character including the Clifford Orji, the man sent to the prison for allegedly eating human beings.
I have been to the highest mountains and I have also seen the worst of the valleys. But what I have gained from all these is a very strong faith that God Almighty is on His throne. If you continue to praise and worship Him in any situation you find yourself, God will answer you. I am a testimony.
On that day when Justice Oyewole sent us to the prison, one would think that was the end of life. Other NPA board members that were arraigned with me were even crying.
I had to quickly rally round them and told them that since we know that we never committed any offence that God will vindicate us. More so as the judge in his pronouncement didn’t say any money was missing. But I still believe that what evil men do will follow them for the rest of their lives.
Prison was an experience that some would say that was a black hole in a man’s life but for me that was one experience I passed through and came out in flying colours.
C a n y o u recall events that happened on the day of your release?
What I vividly remembered was that on the previous night of the day that we were to be released from prison, the whole security apparatus of Lagos State was there, and these security agents were telling us to leave the prison immediately that night, but I resisted. I said no. I insisted that we will leave the prison the following morning in broad daylight. This security team was led by the state commissioner of police and his area commanders.
Apparently, my political opponents are afraid of my popularity, were jittery and these security men were doing their bidding. But I stood my ground and bluntly told the commissioner of police that I came to the prison in broad daylight and that I will leave the prison in broad daylight.
Major Hamza Al-Mustapha also told me that I should not leave the prison in the night with these security men. The following morning, I was surprised when I saw a mammoth crowd of my supporters and well-wishers who had come to the prison to accompany me home.
The crowd was huge. They were singing, and dancing, rejoicing and celebrating my release. From the prison, we went straight to the church. But you know what, some people were not happy seeing my supporters dancing and celebrating my release.
What do you mean, sir ….?
(Cuts in) A man that I served loyally and I was totally committed to his cause betrayed me. That is former President Olusegun Obasanjo. You know what he had to say about me, he said I was celebrating criminality – this was when I realised that human beings can’t be trusted.
I was shocked to my bone by Obasanjo’s comments. When Obasanjo came out of prison, where did he go to thank God? He went to church. Why must he say that I was celebrating criminality, is it because of the crowd in the church he saw? What Obasanjo did to me was an experience I can’t forget. It was a betrayal. I was very close to him. I was like his viceroy, for him to utter such a statement was very shocking and unbelievable to me. The relationship between us before was like that of father and son, but I doubt it, things can be the same again.
What does your trial tell you about Nigerian politics?
It tells me that we are yet to get to that level of civility. It tells me that maturity is not yet there. We are still playing primitive daily bread politics. Many politicians don’t have a second address, and that is why they take politics as a do-or-die affair. These primitive politicians see you as their enemy if you have another view that is different from their own.
From my own background, whoever is in government is not there by his own making, the Bible tells us to pray for our leaders so that the nation can prosper. We should jettison the pull-him-down syndrome from our politics. Opposition should not be seen as an enemy but as a partner in progress, so our politicians should learn to tolerate opposing views.
With the Supreme Court exonerating you and others, some had expected that you would have sued for damages, why did you refuse to do so?
I thank Almighty God for what He did in my life. Why I didn’t bother about any damages or taking anybody to court was PDP my party was in power, and the Federal Ministry of Justice wrote a letter to me after my release that they had no knowledge of my case, that it was Lagos State Government that was responsible for my trial using criminal laws of Lagos State. But the surprising thing is that I was working for a federal agency and yet it was a state government and not the Federal Government that put me on trial.
Bola Tinubu, who was then Lagos State governor and his then Attorney-General, Yemi Osinbajo, who is now the Vice-President, used the Lagos State Criminal Law which they revised and reworked to put me on trial. They gave the EFCC chairman, Farida Waziri a fiat to prosecute Bode George who was working for a federal agency and not Lagos State government.
I pray for Farida Waziri that during her lifetime that she would meet God before she dies. She and those judges at the lower court, I pray that they will purge themselves so that God can forgive them.
But to me, God says vengeance is His and not ours. I thank God that I have that prison experience because I’m a different person now. Wherever truth is being celebrated now, I will be there but wherever evil is, I will never be there. Why should I be afraid of anybody again at 70? Anything I achieve again now is a bonus and grace from God.
What do you think went wrong with PDP that made the party lose the election?
We are trying to forget the past and now focus on rebuilding the party – I believe that God’s willing, we will stabilize the party. The time to talk about the state of the party is not now. As an elder, if you want peace in your household, you don’t go through the market place to go and start talking ill of your family. There is nothing impossible in life if you trust your God.
PDP will bounce back. We have two major elections ahead of us, that is Bayelsa and Kogi states, we are going to work together as a family because a divided house is a defeated house.
If you have been in power for 16 years and suddenly you find yourself in opposition, initially it will be strange to you, but we are working hard to get back to power.
I want to plead with PDP members that got so angry and left the party to come back home. Honestly, sincerely and committedly, PDP will bounce back.
I, however, want to make one important appeal to President Buhari, he should implement the Constitution Report left behind by the Jonathan administration. It will do Nigeria a lot of good for that confab report to be implemented.
Why has it been difficult for PDP to win Lagos State with people like you as notable members?
During this last election, PDP almost won, what happened was that former President Goodluck Jonathan and our leaders in Abuja were misled by some people in Lagos who gave them the impression that they were the ones who can deliver Lagos. Unfortunately, Jonathan fell for their deception.
One joker in Lagos State told Jonathan that he has Lagos State under his armpit and that he would single-handedly deliver Lagos State to PDP. Unfortunately, Jonathan listened to these liars and manipulators. These elements took advantage of Jonathan’s good nature. He trusted them, but these congenital liars betrayed Jonathan. If our party leaders had listened to us, things would not have turned out that way. These people deceived Jonathan and messed up, hoping they wanted to go back into government as ministers. Their action led to Jimmy Agbaje’s defeat.
But all hope is not yet lost for PDP, just as I’m optimistic that we will bounce back in 2019, and Lagos State will be one of the states to be won by PDP. I’m sure former President Goodluck Jonathan will someday in his memoir write about his experience with those liars, the roles they played in his campaign for re-election during the 2015 presidential election. Many liars took advantage of Jonathan’s good nature.
Politics apart, do you think President Muhammadu Buhari can deliver?
In the military, if you are junior to an officer, you don’t write his confidential report. It is a taboo. Having said that, it is Nigerians that will decide whether Buhari has performed or not. However, let me quickly add this, Buhari has just started the journey and God said that we should pray for our leaders, I pray for him that God will give him wisdom to do the right thing or get it right. All I want and pray for is that let there be peace in this country. I’m also optimistic that PDP will bounce back. We will meet APC in 2019, and the electorate will decide. But I’m very sure that PDP is coming back.
Source : Gist Arena