Chief Olabode George, currently a delegate to the National Conference representing the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in this interview with Hassan Haruna Ginsau, shares his thoughts on the on-going conference, past conferences, and the notion that there is a division between delegates from the North and South.
To me I think we are doing well. Of course you cannot expect a congregation of Nigerians from the swamps in the south to the savannah regions and expect that people will not come with certain ideas of how well they should manage this massive country called Nigeria. But I am pleased that even with all the inadequacies and the acrimony we calm down and agree with ourselves and we agree to disagree. You can’t win it all, some you win, some you lose in the interest of the entity called Nigeria, and that is the prize everybody is giving.
You cannot take everything you have planned for, but I have a strong belief that everybody will have something to take home for their people, and that is the spirit. You know I have seen both sides; the military and the civil. The first generation of constitutional conferences were supervised by the British and everybody complained, now the military also supervised some of the conferences too, they cried out that it’s the military, but here I am, I’m both civilian and military.
Right now, we are at the same level, discussing amongst ourselves. Democracy is about discussion, it’s about exchange of ideas, let it be robust, honest and fair, and so the better person will win. And that is the spirit in which we are going on.
When someone mentions that there is a dichotomy between the North and South I say I beg you, do not bring this nonsense here. People have their opinions that look at it as if it’s a divide between North and South. I mean we’ve been together this long, some of us are interrelated all over. My great grandfather was preaching around the Nupe area in the eighteenth century, met a Nupe woman and married her, and you know the Nupes settled in Lagos at Oshodi, they have an area for them up till today. So there is that link, so what is all this about who is this who is that? I’ve been pleading with our people the politicians that look; the concept of rotation has sustained democracy because every zone will have something to take home. That is why this union is getting better by the day.
To me sixteen years of democratic practice uninterrupted is a brilliant thing, we should look at what has sustained it. Yes there will be progress, and I believe that at the end of the day we would have achieved something that is ours, not superimposed according to them by the military or the ‘oyibo’ people. It is we now and we will get to the end of it, I am very positive.
hat is your view concerning the recommendation by the committee on finance and public revenue proposing that revenue accruing from Value added tax (VAT) should be retained in areas where it is earned, not into the distributable pool?
You know when you talk about resource control, or this or that, we quickly reminded them the VAT from Lagos state, and naturally we would shout do not forget it. I mean 80% of the VAT collection is from Lagos, some states have zero input on VAT. Now shouldn’t we take all or what are you going to do to assuage the pain we are having. But the long and short is that people would understand that we will come to a reasonable agreement.
I am not a fixated person to say that if I don’t get this the heavens will fall, the heavens will not fall but there is no reason why you cannot make your point in order for the others to appreciate it and then you take something back home.
Some people perceived it as a sort of pre-conceived notion?
George: No, that’s what I am trying to disabuse in the minds of people. You will come with ideas, when you listen to other suggestions and the pain of others, you live in your area, you don’t know the pains of the other area, so let’s share these ideas. Let’s see how best we can ameliorate the pains of our brothers and sisters. So in the end we are one Nigeria, the old concept of “oh I am this, you are that”, let us talk, it is better to talk than to go to war, it doesn’t make sense.
Look at the innocent lives that are been wasted, so I pleaded with them this morning, lets calm down, ‘cooly cooly temper’ like the labour people will say.
You have cited examples of previous National conferences, and they unfortunately have not been implemented, what make you believe this particular one will not experience the same fate?
irst of all like I said to you, the first few conferences were supervised by the British and manipulated, that’s the concept. I have been in the military myself. I had a non-regimental appointment, I was a military governor. So the military also organised constitutional conferences. Now this one is being organised by not the military or oyibos but by we.
And if you look at composition, those who attended ’54, ’56 constitutional conference, some of them are here, those who served as ministers to the first Prime Minister Alhaji Tafawa Balewa are here, and some of the ministers in the first republic are here. Now those who fought on either side of the war are also here. Those who have worked with military governments are also here. Those who have joined the civilian administrations since 1999 are also here, then the younger generations are also here, so you can see the spread, when can we ever have this kind of opportunity again? No matter how many clothing a young man has, he will never has as many rags as an old man. So we tap from the experience of those people, the old ones, what did they do, where did they go wrong? And modernise it to prepare for the future of the younger generation.
I am almost seventy; I am going to start running to want to be governor or prime minister or whatever? All we can do is give back the experience we have to our country for the benefit, and if I am so pleased the way the chairman is managing the conference; very experienced man, he is doing his utmost when he comes, he listens to us, he asks what we want and so be it lets go. That’s how to really be a proper Nigerian and I’m very positive, I am an optimist when it comes to this. I congratulate the president and my fellow delegates, and I hope at the end we will all hold our hands and dance out of here.