Chief Bode George, former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party – South
and convicted chairman of Nigeria Port Authority, tells GBENRO ADEOYE why he will keep on fighting until he shakes off the ex-convict tag
Are you a thief?
I can refer you to the judgment because it’s already in the public view. At least, the judge was honest enough to say ‘no kobo was missing’. It was the greatest convoluted conspiracy that I have ever seen in my life. But you know, as a Christian, if you have belief in God and your faith is very strong, you don’t get shaken.
First of all, if we split contract, it would be for whose benefit? I’m not a contractor; the company did not belong to anybody on the board, so in whose interest? Two, nobody brought a contractor, whether they executed the job, whether they were paid the money, we just finished and the rest was left to the management. Whether they even awarded the contract, I didn’t know. I’ve been keeping quiet but the public must know this and those that have been writing ex-convict think they are abusing me, but they are raining curses on themselves and their families and it will happen. In the name Jesus, all who are convolutedly involved, it will happen to them.
People think that Bode George stole money; whoever is putting it down is raining curses on himself, anytime he writes that. Let him go and find out exactly what happened.
The debt portfolio of Lagos is unimaginable. God will not forgive these people. While Lagos is getting broke, Bola Tinubu is getting richer. I went to his village in Iragbiji where he hailed from, he said he went to Children’s Home School and Government College Ibadan, I asked my junior friends who went to GCI, Ibadan, none of them knew him. What’s his real name? Is his name Bola? What is his family name? The chief of staff to (Rauf) Aregbesola is his blood brother. He also has an older brother who retired from the Federal Ministry of Foreign affairs.
When his real mother died, he didn’t go to Osun. I went to the Oba of Iragbiji, I said we were going to ship him back home. That was at the peak of the campaign. They told me the primary school he attended, no secondary school, no-nothing. Suddenly he came back and said he had a CPA, that’s the equivalent of ACCA. He didn’t even have an APC, he’s a jiver.
Is your state pardon justifiable?
I haven’t been given any pardon, we served the term and we’re still in court. I’m still an ex-convict, but we will fight it. My family has decided we will fight it. Justice Salami was involved when we thought we would get justice. We went to the Court of Appeal in Lagos, they presented the case. During the course of discussion, Keyamo was saying we should have raised the issue of fiat before and they gave a ruling during that trial that you can raise the fiat issue even at the Supreme court. But when it got to the final judgment, they reversed themselves.
How do you feel when people refer to you as an ex-convict?
Laughable, when God gives somebody talents and you exhibit that talent with humility in the belief that you’re doing His work- not your work- no matter all the firing from sidewalks, it won’t affect you.
Why are you still in politics despite the stain on your reputation in the public eye?
There is no law that forbids me from exercising my voice and my rights, and vox populi, vox dei- the voice of the people is the voice of God. Throughout the 18 months I was in Kirikiri (prison), the whole place turned into a Mecca because the people knew that it was a convoluted conspiracy. Everywhere I went in the South West, people would say, ‘oga come and do this, come and do that.’ Should I fold my hands? I believe in the awesomeness of the Almighty God, He never told us that we would not have problems and failures but when you crumble and don’t stand up, then you have failed. Any man who has achieved greatness in life and says that his way was a freeway all the way, is a liar.
I was reading the latest book of Mandela- ‘Conversations with Myself.’ The opening paragraph states that the prison cell is the best place for you to discover yourself, because there, no distractions. You will see yourself in true perspective, what you have done, what you haven’t done, where you have been fair, where you were not, where you have deceived yourself, you will see yourself in totality, and then the choice is yours. Even if you committed an offence and beg for forgiveness, he’s always there.
And the day I left, that can never be wiped away from my memory. The night before, all the security agencies in Lagos- Director of SSS, Commissioner of Police came and said they wanted me. Mustapha was there and he said ‘oga, don’t follow them, remember this was how they bundled me one night here’, because the whole place was dark.
They came to my room and said I could go home, I said ‘in this night, so that they would say Bode was escaping and I would be shot in the back.’ It was around 9 in the night; I said ‘no’, I would wait till tomorrow morning. And at the cathedral, the provost had to stop the service for some time because people kept coming in. We thought it would be a one hour service but it went on for about four hours.
Who arranged for the church service?
I asked for it from the prison, I was going straight to the church.
Why was that?
If you remember those who served prison terms that were political, many of them didn’t come out. I never went for any medical treatment throughout the period; I never went outside that gate. The day they let me out was the first day I set my foot outside the prison gate since I got in. You say I shouldn’t be thankful to God. My wife was shot. They shot at her car while I was in the prison. She didn’t do anything throughout that period. Every blessed day, including Saturday and Sunday, she was there. And my friends, they were there everyday, the bullet went through the door and got stuck because the person was on a motorcycle, so he couldn’t aim well. The car is still there.
For you to survive the place, having been at the level which you came and survived, where else would you go, to go and socialise? What are you socialising? My church was coming to give me communion in the prison. You must have God on your side to survive it, because before you know it, the devil will swing your mind and you would set yourself into depression. As a general, you just work out your programme quickly and adapt.
How did you feel when the pastor said ‘go and sin no more’?
That young boy that said it, he had leanings with the opposition. He was in Form Four when I was Governor of Ondo State. I was livid but I was in church. This young man would not derail my thanksgiving to God Almighty; the crowd was unprecedented. Sin against who? I went the following morning to challenge the provost; they said ‘no, that’s not what he meant.’ I said ‘you don’t know this boy, he is an apologist to Bola Tinubu and co.’ another bishop came to church and said he was shocked when he watched it. He said that man should go on the altar and ask for forgiveness from God because he does not know who Bode George was. When I came, they invited me into the vestry, and asked ‘why did you decide to come to church?’ I said where else do you think I would go? Go to Okija shrine? I was healthy, even those who saw me thought I didn’t go to prison.’ So when this young man was talking garbage there, you know, you can’t respond there. I went to the provost; this was an anomaly, a misnomer, absolute rubbish, I didn’t come here for this boy, of course, nemesis caught up with him too. They’ve taken him out to a smaller church, that’s where he deserves and the bishop that came said he watched the programme on the TV and was very angry.
Was he transferred because of what he said or for something else he did?
I don’t know but it must not be unconnected. Aje ke lana, omo ku leni tani o mo pe aje to ke lana lo pa omo to ku leni? (The witch cried yesterday and the child dies today, who does not know that the witch that cried yesterday killed the child today). Let me just stop it there. It wasn’t our archbishop but another that came and said you don’t know who Chief Bode George is, for you to say what you said.
Did you have a hand in his demotion?
No, one thing I don’t do is get involved in church politics. The one we do outside is already there. Why would I be? Everybody saw it live when he was talking the garbage.
Do you think that the fanfare that greeted your release from prison was worth it?
It was spontaneous. Who could have asked those people to come, who could have organised it? I was shell-shocked myself. From 5am, people came from all over this country. Even deputy governors were struggling with the people outside there. If I had organised all that from inside prison, then I must be so popular. I remember when former President Olusegun Obasanjo himself came; he couldn’t even get to the church with his car. He got out of his car and trekked to the church. My aged mother came because my sister said I was going to come back. From where? She didn’t know.
You said you were not guilty, so how did you take the comment by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, when he described the fanfare as a celebration of criminality?
That’s true, Baba (Obasanjo) said that we were celebrating criminality and I was shocked. I was really very shocked. How could I have organised rally from prison to the church, to gain what? I was the director-general of the national campaign that brought late President Yar’Adua and Jonathan on board, would I now say that I wanted to test my popularity? The popularity started from the very day we were convicted. From the first day, people were trooping in there. So on that final day, people came to rejoice, to say thank God, you’re alive, you haven’t lost your memory, you haven’t had a stroke.
Some people said you bought the aso ebi that your supporters wore to court during proceedings?
One, they brought Bode George to the enemy’s court, it’s like grabbing an Arab and taking him to an Israeli court – he’s dead on arrival. That was what they did but they forgot that this is my state. They created the political scenario. My wife too is a politician and there are some other women who would come. They had their natural dresses. If they claimed people wore ankara, so what? I would now go and organise it?
When the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo appeared in court, on the day of judgment, as young people, we trooped there. We wanted to see our Baba. It has been and it would always be. Didn’t you see Mandela trial? Would they ever be watching a political trial and believe that everybody would just stay home? So what was their headache? If the women were wearing ankara, did the ankara disturb the court proceedings? Is solidarity support now an offence? I don’t see the relationship.
Did you enjoy special privileges in prison?
What privileges? There are different blocks and I still feel sorry for those boys, the overcrowding. Those who are awaiting trial are more than the inmates. If they are able to hasten all these court processes, that will help all the boys. I commend the current Chief Judge of Lagos , the first thing she did when she was appointed was to decongest the prison because it’s inhuman. Where you should not have more than 30 persons, you have about 500. So, what are the privileges? Of course, the food there is very bad, they allow your family to bring food for you, but whoever brings the food will taste it. So what privileges?
What about prison uniform, did you wear one?
Prison uniform? Who wears them these days? At least there was code of ethics; you are not going to wear your Sunday dress there.
They have to clear all those cases awaiting trial; they are more- like 70 per cent. The prisons are filled with persons awaiting trial. Why? What is the gain? There is capacity for everything. If you’re overcrowded, there is problem, you start living like rats. Rather than a deliberate punishment, they can reform them. That is what prisons are supposed to be.
How did you explain your troubles to your family while it lasted?
My fear first of all was my mum and my sister did a marvellous job. Thank God my father is late; I don’t know how he would have taken it. But my mother is pretty old, about 90 years. I was always travelling so they told her that I had travelled, until the day before I was released, when they told her that I was coming back. Until she got to church and saw me; that was when my sister now told her. And you see, it’s not new in the family, she came from the Herbert Macaulay stock, and Papa Macaulay went to jail several times fighting for Nigeria. So she knew that once you’re in politics, these were the fallouts and so she understood. Then, she heard on the radio one day and the people were now quoting Baba (Obasanjo) to say we were celebrating criminality. And you know, when they translate that in Yoruba, it could be weightier. She called me and asked, is it true he said you’re a criminal? But I said no, Mummy, it’s not true. I asked her, am I a criminal? I heard that one journalist asked Baba about the fallout between me and him, they said Baba just lost his anger on him.
Whatever it is, I am here and I am home. And I pray that God will give me more good health and I’m going to put all my thoughts in my memoirs. This is for one major reason, that the up and coming Nigerians would read them and learn from the experience of the old people. I’m going to be 70 in another one and a half years. My mission now, having had this experience, having seen our people, is to mould them together, to forget about personal ambition. Let our nation be united for the cause of our people.
All this pettiness, in-fighting are absolutely unnecessary. If there had been no struggle or fight between Baba Awolowo and (Ladoke) Akintola, the South West would have gone far ahead today economically. That fight tore us to the ground. The petty fighting is gradually raging now in the South West PDP. The general one is not a problem.
Are you friends with Obasanjo now?
How can you say I and somebody older than me are friends? Baba will always be my Baba. Of course, I was angry and I’d tell you. I worked with him like a soldier should work with his boss; your loyalty should be more than 100 in minimum. I never asked for anything, never. That is the soldier in me, let it come from your boss, Baba is still alive, you can ask him. Just do your work.
And on the day when the zoning thing had been concluded and that it was going to the South East, we thought the zoning for the chairmanship of the party would come to the South West. When Baba said Bode was not going, that the chairmanship of the party was going to the South East, so be it, I said ‘as your lord pleases sir.’ I still went ahead and fought for Baba, defended him when people were going against him. When we were having the Board of Trustees Chairmanship thing, I was still the deputy national chairman, I stood my ground there that day, I said ‘no’, so what was it? But rumours, but I didn’t believe any rumours. Yes, we disagreed on certain things but it was not a fundamental thing. I knew Baba because Stella (his late wife) and I grew up together in Lagos , we were age group. My first wife, Feyi, at that time, we were very friendly with Baba. It was a reporter that came and said that Baba said this. We were planning to have a thank-you visit with 20 local government chairmen from Oni of Ife’s palace, greeting people and ending up in Baba’s house. When I heard it, I said, no, it’s not true. The reporter said he was waiting for my reaction. He brought a press statement. It hit me like a bullet. I turned my chair around, but I said you know, I don’t believe that Baba said it and if he said it, I’ve left him to God and his conscience. That was all I said. It wasn’t a fundamental thing, it was like, from my experience and age, I was abandoned. That’s how I felt, because I did not commit any crime.
So how is your relationship with Obasanjo now?
No problem. Like I said, in the interest of this nation, in the larger interest of the Yoruba people and in the interest of our party, I have swallowed my anger and my pride. Who am I? Yes you can be annoyed but no matter the annoyance, it must not last more than 24 hours. So I thought what was I angry for? Here I am; they pulled me up in spite of the efforts of those who wanted to sink me. The more gold spends time in the heat, the better the experience. All I know is, I will not steal government money because no matter how long, nemesis will catch up. If it doesn’t catch up now, it will catch up with your children. God will revisit it. I’m not a poor man and I’m not a rich man. I’m not a contractor and I don’t have the patience to go and sit in front of someone’s office waiting for contract. Amassing wealth, building mansions, go round Ikoyi here, all those tall buildings, nobody is inside. If they had set up businesses to employ or give scholarships to people to encourage them, those generations will continue to bless them.
How do you hope to rebuild your reputation?
I don’t believe I lost anything. The convoluted conspirators played their role but they didn’t hit me one second. From my background and my family background, it didn’t make a damn difference to me, I must tell you that. If you fall, get up and go and God said you will have obstacles. These jokers cannot pull me down.
I told you, when I came out, what they wanted to do was bury me alive. But the people said ‘no.’ They say ex-convict, fine, they say that. Anywhere you will invite men to come and talk, I will say my own and that they can’t take away from me. Even that is an added value because as a person who has gone to prison and come back, out there, you are on a higher pedestal. I see life better. The one who has seen the top of the mountain and been to the bottom of the valley is wiser. People seek you for support because they see you as a leader.
Would you compare Obasanjo’s government with that of President Jonathan?
Well, I didn’t serve in government, I was in the party and I can talk on both. At the time Baba came, the international community was getting tired of military administration, so Baba was a midwife to see this country is back on democratic tenets. We should be able to do this and achieve that and he was able to do that. They wrote for the forgiveness of our debt, that’s why we had enough money to do so many things. Nobody, no individual can finish every job. No nation finishes the job. The roads were bad, education, health, everywhere was bad, etc, where were we? Obasanjo came up and said look, we have to get back. By the end of 2002 to 2003 for the second term, this same crisis started. Because Baba said he would face the management of the polity and the international communities to bring it up because of his international connection and that Atiku should face the politicians, then 22 governors came up and looked Baba in the eye and said, baba you’re not marketable. I’m not joking, I was there. I looked at them and thought, what,this is an insult. That was the beginning of the crisis. That was worse than this. Time that should have been spent to make the system work was spent on the struggle.
He tried his best, particularly in telecommunications. He did all he could. Of course, eight years was more than enough by law, he should go and he left. We tried to stabilise the PDP. Then, Umaru Yar’Adua came, very intelligent and committed. I worked closely with him but because he wasn’t feeling too good, some hawks went into him and took charge and almost derailed all the things he wanted to do. President Goodluck Jonathan came, a selfless man. His humility is beyond my comprehension and people are taking that for granted. His government has done so much. For the first time, the Federal Government bond is being listed on the New York Stock Exchange and we say we are not moving. I’m not saying we are there but it’s a positive beginning.
An average man on the street still complains of suffering everyday?
When will people never suffer? It’s not Jonathan who is responsible; this is the crux of the matter. I am ready for this debate with anybody from any other party. Every 30 days, the Federal Government distributes money from the treasury for state and local government allocation, and no local government gets less than N100m a month. Now, what’s their input? The closest government to the people is the local government but what are they doing? What have they brought to the people? It’s a three-tier government, what is the local government man doing? They have their role by constitution.
Did PDP have a hand in Bola Ige’s death?
PDP? Why would PDP want to kill Bola Ige? He was working for us in our government. He thought that the Afenifere people would automatically give him a ticket as presidential candidate for AD, he was disappointed. Baba pulled him back and said ‘come and work for this country’, and he accepted. He wasn’t a threat to PDP. I was the vice chairman of the South West then, they had the Yoruba Council of Elders and I related with them. I went to his house for advice many times in Ibadan . And the Osun crisis, I wasn’t part of any Osun thing. I was there the day we went to Oni’s palace, I was there live.
We were there, some boys just came and the security fired some rounds to scare the boys away and one of them had grabbed Chief Bola Ige’s cap. We looked for him, but first of all, what we did was to secure him and get him inside. Then one fellow was killed thereafter in Ife . I called Baba up and he said he was coming by the weekend. By the time he came, they had killed Bola Ige. It was more of an Osun crisis. The same thing happened here, Funsho Williams was murdered. The police bungled the investigation. They even arrested the boy who had Funsho’s cell phone, but what happened? But his blood is still raging. I saw his body in his house, why? They think it’s over, why? What did he do to them?
What do you think about the PDP crisis?
For the umpteenth time, big man, big problem in the local parlance.
PDP is the only party from the swampy forest of the south to the savannah region in the north. I’ve campaigned snaking through this country and there is no hamlet you don’t find PDP. When it was established, conservatives, liberals came together as individuals and not as tribes. It was Chief Bola Ige who wrote our constitution and also designed our flag. He sat and worked with Ekwueme, Ciroma and others at the time, progressives working together that established PDP.
I see Nigeria in our meetings, we will have this kind of crisis, they are not fundamental crises, because it is when they become fundamental that they are irretrievable. Politics is the management of the resources of a nation for the betterment of the people. Politricks is the management of the resources for the individual pockets. It’s normal and natural to be ambitious but the corporate interest of Nigeria is more important than anyone.
How do you feel losing election intermittently in your ward since 1999?
I don’t know where you got that from but I wasn’t the one campaigning, I don’t live there. Only on election, I just go back to help the people who are campaigning. Even if they win or lose,that is not a measure of your political worth. The kind of politics I have played, I’m not the one actually contesting. If I was the one contesting, it would have been a different thing.