Posted by News Express | 31 August 2019 | 1,119 times
Chief Ebenezer Babatope, popularly called Ebino Topsy, is a former Minister of Transport and a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview with TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE, he spoke on the Muhammadu Buhari administration, the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal, Babatope. among other issues. Excerpts…
As a former minister, what are your expectations from the newly sworn-in ministers?
Every government that is formed after election must have a cabinet. President Muhammadu Buhari has announced his cabinet even though we, of the Peoples Democratic Part (PDP), are disputing the verdict of that election, because we believe that it was manipulated. That notwithstanding, we must manage what we have. So, he has named the cabinet and they should go ahead and give Nigerians good governance.
They must ensure that they bail Nigeria out of the current economic, political and social mess. Things are very bad in the country. So the cabinet must begin to live to the expectation of a government set up by President Buhari.
We are in the tribunal; we are hoping for the best but what we have now is a cabinet; let them go ahead and make sure that they bail Nigeria out of this quagmire. The hunger is too much. If Buhari is not told the truth, I am saying it as somebody of his own generation because Buhari by what he declared as his date of birth is only one month and nine days older than me; we are both 76 years old. Things are very bad in the country; people are suffering. So, let him and his cabinet team get together to bail us out of this mess. Why do you think Nigerians are suffering that much? I am part of the society.
The hunger is much; the hunger is biting, people are unable to provide three square meals a day for themselves and honestly, it is a very difficult thing. Added to it is the security problem Nigerians now face.
I hope Buhari and his cabinet will also put their heads together and see how they can bail the country out of the great security problem. To what can we ascribe the cause of the hardship in the country today? Poor governance, bad leadership and everything added together have brought us to where we are now. No respect for the people who have legitimacy of enthroning a government. When electorate votes are manipulated, that shows no respect for them and therefore we must bear the consequences of that and that is what we are having now.
Are you implying that Nigerians are bearing the consequences of outcome of the last general elections? Yes. Apart from that, what happened at the last election added to the economic problems we have had.
That is what has brought us to this hardship whereby people are unable to maintain three-square meal a day. I am a privileged Nigerian. I was a minister in this country and apart from that, I was brought up politically by one of the greatest African leaders, the late Papa Obafemi Awolowo. But the suffering is terrible. Added to my problem is that I am not well. I don’t want to blame anybody for the ill health; it is what might happen to me but I know God will bail me out of the ill health.
Things are so bad. Your party, PDP was in power for 16 years before the All Progressives Congress (APC) came in; talking about poor governance and bad leadership, don’t you think PDP contributed to what led Nigeria to the present state of hardship and hunger in the country?
Things were better when we were there. Things were better for Nigeria and Nigerians when my party was in power than what we have now. Honestly what we have now is chaotic, abnormal and just unpredictable. On Wednesday August 28, people told us that we have a worst traffic between Ibadan and Lagos. Some people who were coming to have a meeting with us in Lagos were diverted to take a bush path.
They spent six hours on the road despite that they have not effected the close-up of that road for rehabilitation. It shows lack of planning on the part of government. What is going to happen from Monday when they close part of the road? So, people are going to spend about 12/13 hours on the road between Lagos and Ibadan. It shows lack of planning on the part of the party in power, it shows their mismanagement in the affairs of Nigeria.
But your party was in power for 16 years and they couldn’t fix the Lagos–Ibadan Expressway, don’t you think the PDP government should be blamed for the state of that road?
I am not saying that we should be absolved from some of this blame but you must praise the ingenuity and the vision of former President Goodluck Jonathan when he was the man in charge. It was he who started the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway expansion. We were promised by Buhari that the road would be opened but up till now the road has not been opened. We were promised of railway extension; it only functioned for a few days during the elections to confirm the fact that they were working.
You can’t blame our government; our government of PDP tried its best. I am not saying that everything was perfect when we were there but we tried our best.
APC had accused the PDP on several occasions that some of the problems they are battling with were caused by PDP. Isn’t that true?
When are they going to stop shouting that kind of nonsense? They were there for four years now, why are they still talking about PDP? Government is continuous; there must be a government and there must be problem in government and any party that gets power after election must reconstruct to ensure that it better the lives of the people. We haven’t seen that sign after four years in government and they are now serving their fifth year in government. You said President Buhari-led APC government has not met the expectations of Nigerians.
What are your reasons?
I said so, not because I want to be partisan, I said so because I know that the APC government under the leadership of Buhari has not performed at all. Every day brings us chaos and more chaos and honestly, lives of Nigerian people under this government are a mere tragedy. Things are bad. If things are good, I will say so. I am not saying everything was good with PDP. PDP had been enmeshed in different crisis; some were resolved and some lingers.
How do you intend to solve these challenges?
I belong to the PDP; PDP has problems, which we ourselves know but we are battling to ensure that we solve the problems. We intend to solve the problems by ensuring that we open our gate to democracy and democratic practices. Your party is presently at the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal challenging the victory of President Buhari in the 2019 general elections.
Do you see something positive for PDP in the tribunal?
We pray for the best but with what I am seeing, starting from the replacement of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen with the one we now have and topping it up with the judgment of the Osun State Governorship Election Tribunal, where the Supreme Court announced that they were basing their judgement on technicalities, I am not optimistic about anything. I pray that, if it is possible, we will copy the example of Kenya whereby the Supreme Court there reversed an election. But it is not possible in Nigeria.
I listened to the CJN addressing the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) saying that things are rosy; things are not rosy. Let him go and prove his own mettle that he is a Chief Justice who wants to ensure that there is justice in the land. Aside being a politician, you are a lawyer.
Shouldn’t you repose and profess confidence in the judiciary?
I don’t have confidence at all even though we are optimistic. We politicians are incurable optimists, and you think judgement will come our way? But from the depth of my mind I know that with what we are seeing in Nigeria, starting from the programmed retirement of former CJN, the enthronement of the new one and the outcome of the Osun tribunal, we would be engaging in mere dreams.
Based on your assumptions, if PDP loses at the tribunal, what would be the next line of action? What can we do?
We will prepare for the next election and prepare until God says ‘my children, you have done enough I am the One Who is going to give the Supreme judgement’.
For as long as we have God, nobody can be more powerful than God. So if they extract all the powers of this world to suppress justice, one day God will open the gate and that is what somebody like me hope for.
But I must confess to you, it is sheer hopelessness to express miracle from the tribunal based on those things I have analysed.
Some people are silently hoping that there would be a change of government…
I will never pray for a coup in this country, because I have passed through the gamut of coup d’état and I know that it is senseless to say you want to have coup d’état. I will never pray for coup in Nigeria.
We can’t have a coup in Nigeria. Any soldier that announces it; we have had their examples before. What is he coming to do? He will also continue to perfect the social, judicial and economic and political implications of governance that we have seen in President Buhari’s regime. President Buhari administration is more or else an extension of militarism. So, we have to accept and fight.
That is why we are begging the authority and those in the affairs of PDP to ensure that they open the gate of PDP to proper democracy and not to manipulation. If they do so, they will be assisting the Buhari-APC to move ahead to continue to govern Nigeria.
Some people have been calling for revolution in Nigeria…
Which revolution? Forget about it.
When I was hale and hearty and I could write, I have written a lot of books; all together I have written about six books; all praying for change in Nigeria, political, social and economic change. But revolution, which revolution?
Omoyele Sowore is a young man and if he knows the implication of what he is saying, he won’t say we are going to have revolution. Revolution where? Papa Awolowo served this country with all his might. If Papa had been allowed to govern this country; if he had not been manipulated out, this country would not be what it is today because everything that is happening now had been predicted by Papa Awolowo. Papa said in 1982 or 1983 that if the current democratic experiment should collapse, those of you younger than I may never know democracy again in your life time no matter how long you live.
He said so. Is it not happening now?
Papa said as long as Nigerians remain what they are; nothing good would ever work with them. Is it not happening in Nigeria today? They didn’t allow Papa Awolowo to rule and therefore Nigeria continues to remain in this political, economic and social quagmire. What do you think is the way out? It is to pray to God to change the hearts of those who are in government to allow proper democracy to take its root because our path lies with democracy. Coup is not the solution to problems of Nigeria. From 1966 coup come to the last one we had, I witnessed them all.
The 1966 coup brought Biafra. I was pro-Biafra when I was in the university because I wanted a change. At one time in the history of this country, it was impossible for anybody outside the North to say he wants to rule Nigeria but we have been able to have Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan administrations who were Southerners. But as it is now, APC has continued to delude itself by saying that it’s go ing to produce a southern president in 2023. It is not true. All the southern elements who are jumping up, saying that they are preparing for 2023 are wasting their time; we are back to square one.
What Biafra removed had been brought back through Fulani herdsmen. It is one of the things brought by the North to ensure northern oligarchic rule of Nigeria and that is very sad. That is why the South-West particularly led by Afenifere is saying, restructure this country. When we restructure the country and we spell out proper federalism and guided by federal principles, then we are going to have solutions to our problems. That was what was said during the 2014 National Conference under Goodluck Jonathan which Buhari has refused to implement its report. Let us hope on, pray on and one day will be one day when monkey will go to the market and will not return. But many people don’t believe in restructuring… I wish them the best of luck. Restructuring is the stand of Awolowo’s disciples and I am one of them.
Restructure the federation and let us have proper federalism to guide the nation. When we do that we are helping the nation. I will never pray for instability in Nigeria. Like Papa Awolowo used to say that you can only be a good Nigerian citizen when you are first and foremost a good person from your area of birth, town, state, region and then Nigeria. So, I subscribe to that. I was born a Nigerian and I want to remain in Nigeria. Look at what is happening in sports, whenever we are playing football all of us are always happy whenever Nigeria wins a match.
Some of us were also happy with Nigerians winning gold in the ongoing All African Games in Morocco. Buhari government did something by promising cash to those who win gold. Even though I am one of the hardest critics of the administration, I like what he did. It is not about the money, it is about encouraging them participating in the game. Let the sportsmen and women of Nigeria know that we think about them and we love what they are doing and the fact that they want to make Nigeria great. Let us imbibe that spirit to ensure that we move ahead positively as Nigerians.
Let those of us who are politicians, particularly those in government know that we have to live in the spirit that Nigeria must survive. The next general elections are still about three and half years away but the battles for who will succeed President Buhari has already started with tussles between the North and South over who will produce next president in 2023.
What is your take on that?
I can’t talk about other party but my take about it is that within the PDP, let us have the best material as we did in the last election by presenting a candidate to face APC. I know very well that God will guide us to have a candidate.
But in the PDP, we are not guided by this narrow North, South thing. It is there. If they give it to the South, yes; but then we are guided by the supreme interest of Nigerian people. The candidate that will make sure that we win should win. And we must never allow our doors in the PDP to be opened to internal political war and struggle. Don’t you think it can be negotiated and would only be fair for power to return to the South in 2023 after President Buhari who is from the North would have completed his two terms? I can only talk of my party. I am waiting for the directive of my party.
That is why we are appealing to those who are managing the affairs of PDP now to ensure that we are guided by the best interest. If the best interest includes fielding somebody from the South at that time, they will tell us. But I believe that we should not say that we are closing our eyes to the fact that we in the South must provide leadership. I am saying that we must ensure justice. For example, if it becomes absolutely difficult to present Atiku Abubakar again, let us present a candidate that will win. Even if that candidate comes from the North or South, let us have that candidate that will push APC out of power. The APC government is an aberration.
The APC government is a terrible regime. We must put a stop to it and God Almighty will guide us on how to put a stop to it. Are you suggesting that Atiku should re-contest in 2023? I am not saying that but if it is to re-present Atiku that is the stand of the party, good and fine. And if it is another candidate, good and fine. But I am saying that Atiku was a good candidate in 2019 elections and that mobilised our party to the last election. Anybody to be presented must be a good candidate. But we are not guided by the narrow definition of South and North. Those in the APC who are deluding themselves that power would be given to them in the South and they will present Mr. A or Mr. B are wasting their time.
Those who control the spiritual movement of APC would never allow the South-West or anybody in the South to rule. But again, let me say that I don’t see anything wrong in having anybody from the South-East claiming power. We should allow the South- East also. It is a part of this country. I can even canvass that within my party, PDP. But if all the heads put together say let the South-East wait, let us know that we owe the South- East that chance to vie for leadership.
Last week, an elder statesman and Second Republic member of the National Assembly, Prof. Banji Akintoye, was elected as the new Yoruba leader by many groups in Yoruba land. What is your take on this?
I must say that Afenifere still remains the guiding political movement of South-West no matter your disagreement with them. I am not a member of the Afenifere as defined by them but I accept that that group is the authentic group that can speak for us. But Prof. Banji Akntoye is a great man in his own right.
We served together in the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). I know him very well. He is a fantastic fellow; very innovative, visionary. They said he has turned it down but if tomorrow Prof. Banji Akintoye says I am going to do this, I am going to do that, I will not disapprove of it because I know him to be very nice fellow. You talked about Afenifere being the voice of the Yoruba race but the group is divided into two factions led by Chief Reuben Fasoranti and Senator Ayo Fasanmi.
How can they have one voice?
When we talk, the people of South-West know who to rely upon. There is Senator Ayo Fasanmi who unfortunately by political division and affiliation belongs to the APC.
But I know Senator Ayo Fasanmi will never rock the boat of Yoruba leadership because he himself is a part of it. He is a great man. Senator Fasanmi fought against corruption in Nigeria. The Yoruba people know that the group that can speak for it is the Afenifere group. Some of us are now incapacitated by ill health but we are part of what is going on in the group and we will tell our people who still respect us to tilt toward Afenifere because that was the movement Papa Awolowo founded and that is the movement that can give us the best. (Saturday Telegraph)
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