At 67, Chief Ebenezer Babatope remains one of the political actors in the country with a radical disposition . This erudite persona who has traversed the corridors of studentsâ€™ activism, academic administration, law and public service holds nothingÂ back in discussing any aspect of Nigeriaâ€™s chequered national life as reflected in this interview with our Deputy Political Editor, Hugo Odiogor. Excerpts.
What do you make of the ill health of President Yarâ€™ Adua and the potentials of political instability in the country?
I was giving an interview to a national newspaper four weeks ago, and I said that President Umar Musa Yar Adua should be his own best adviser. Immediately he knows that he can no longer function in office, let him for goodness sake transmit power.
I want to say that IÂ know Yar Adua very well.When we had an All Nigerian Socialist Conference at the Ahamadu Bello University, Zaria, in 1978, he was one of the youngsters and one of the radical young men who served the Conference.Â IÂ know that Yar Adua is patriotic and ideological enough to know what to do. Donâ€™t forget that he was a member of Malam Aminu Kanoâ€™s Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and had NEPU commitment in him.
I know that he will not on his own want to risk the future of Nigeria because of his selfish aim. I have a belief that some persons around him are playing politics with his ill-health.Yar Adua is a thorough bred Nigerian. That is why I did not buy the logic ofÂ General Obasanjo.Â I know that if Yar Adua was to have control of his sensibilities, he will know what is right. He loves Nigeria, I can attest to that and there are many Nigerians who can attest to it.Â I believe that there may be other things that are not known to you that have mitigated against this transfer of power.
What do you make of the fears of the North about Dr. Jonathanâ€™sActing Presidency?
If there is fear among politicians from the North with respect to power shifting to the South, I guess they have a right to say that if we should allow Dr. Jonathan to take over, it means that the North has been short changed, because as you know, PDP runs a zoning system in the presidency.General Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba man has just finished an eight year tenure.
Whether we like it or not, it is the turn of the North, but here ,we have an unforeseen situation ofÂ the president being away for about three months.Â I know that in the PDP that I belong, we should sit down and discuss the matter, to make sure that the zoning system that puts power in the hand of the North is not disrupted by Dr. Jonathanâ€™s Acting Presidency.Â I know that Dr. Jonathan has not exhibited the characteristics of an over ambitious politician.He is somebody that can be trusted.Therefore, within the party arrangement, the person that will run in 2011 should come from the North.Â In doing this, we can save Nigeria this agony.
Why would the political class bring itself to this situation?
Well you know, there are many things that have created what we are seeing and we are praying to God Almighty to help us resolve them and they are all embedded in the singular fact that we have not been able to define properly the federal nature of our countryâ€™s existence. And until we do that, I donâ€™t subscribe to the idea of a national conference we can doÂ through any other means. Let us know properly that we are a federation and federations are governed by compromises, consensus and coalitions.
And for goodness sake, we must have respect for the fact thatÂ different people made up Nigeria. We must respect the diversity in our religion; we must also respect the diversity in our culture. And when we do all these, then we will be able to know that we have a truly defined federal Nigeria. What is happening now is by far better than what happened years ago.
Before now, it was impossible to have a southerner wanting to be the president of Nigeria, but now, Obasanjo was president for eight years. The whole of Nigeria had voted for Abiola which didnâ€™t materialize. We therefore have moved but we still have not gotten to the very basis of defining the federal nature of our corporate existence, and this is why we are in this mess, coupled with the fact that a lot of economic impoverishment that affected the masses is still there.
As a PDP chieftain, your party in Lagos has not recovered from its defeat in 2007, to the extent that it exploits the internal crisis brewing in Action Congress, to wrestle power from the ruling party in the state?
I am a PDP man to the core. In my state Osun State, I will always work hard with others for the victory of the party.Â In Lagos, I can say that Fashola is doing very well.IfÂ he can solve the mystery surrounding Oshodi, that is a commendable feat to say the least. If I am to vote in 2011, I will close my eyes and vote for Fashola. Unfortunately, that is what is causing his problems, just because of parochial considerations.
I believe it is an intra party squabble that will die away very soon, but if AC cannot resolve it, PDP will take over in Lagos.Â It is an internal party squabble and I am not bordered by it but whether you like it or not, one thing is clear, Fashola is a performing governor.Â AÂ PDPÂ member saying that Fashola is a performing governor scores a bullsâ€™ eye for the governor.Â If the AC wants to destroy itself, I will clap for them, because that will bring unity within PDP and propel us to victory in 2011.
How would you rate the performance of your party in the Anambra governorship election and the victory of Mr. Peter Obi?
First, I must say that we as a party went into that election with a divided house. Our party members defected to other parties to contest in the same election where PDP had a candidate. The result is there for every one to see.Â The internal squabble left us in disarray.Â When I read the publication ofÂ what Mr. Peter Obi accomplished, the projects and so on, I told myself that on the basis of what he published as his accomplishments, he deserves to win that election.
IsÂ the Niger republic political experience notÂ sendingÂ a dangerous signal to the political class in Nigeria?
You see, the Armed Forces in Nigeria is made up of men and women who are very intelligent and articulate.Â I can tell you that they are wiser now. When I leftÂ detention in 1985, I took time off to study the structure of the Nigerian Army and I came out with the findings that there are graduates of various disciplines, who are in various ranks, either as Sergeants, Warrant Officers, Colonels, etc.Â What you find, in essence, is that the Armed Forces is actually composed of highly intelligent and articulate men and women who understand what is happening in their environment.
I therefore appeal to them not to be dragged into the political fray.Â They should allow the political class to sort themselves out of the political mess that they have created, leave them to roast in their own folly and stupidity.Â When you look at the history of Nigerian military in politics, you will discover that their intervention in politics has neither helped the political process, nor the military establishment.First,we have a situation where you cannot find officers in the age bracket of 60 years old.
An average age of a senior military officer in Nigeria is probably 52, whereas in America you can have generals who are in their 70s, here we are talking about experience. In Nigeria, we no longer have military men with experience, because majority of them have been retired pre-maturely, because of their involvement in politics. Secondly, majority of them have lost their lives in coups and counter coups.
This is in addition to those that were killed during the civil war, which arose from political squabbles.Â I therefore want to appeal to the military class to steer clear ofÂ the on going political squabbles in the county.Â But, I agree with you that we are in a deep political mess and may God help us all.
What do say to the allegations that you wrote the position paper that led to the government take over of the Daily Times?
Thank you very much for this question. Let me use this opportunity to state clearly that I did not write any position paper for the take over of the Daily Times of Nigeria. The truth is that I was a member of the Speaker Society at the University of Lagos during the time of the Murtala/Obasanjo regime, 1975-1979.Â I was the link man between the Speaker Society and the regime which drew a lot of inspiration from the ideological verve of some radical intellectuals in the country at that time.
I was one of those that felt that the action of government was necessary in a country that was going through a process of radical transformation. I argued that the process of dissemination of public information should not be in the hand and control of private individuals, or the private sector.
In this case, I supported the move, but it brought trouble in the Speaker Society because other members notably, Prof. Akin Oyebode, who teaches law at the University of Lagos, was among those that opposed it.I remember on one occasion, I met Prince Tony Momoh who writes a column for your paper, we met at late Chief Gani Faweheinmiâ€™s place at that time.
He was at University ofÂ Lagos. We were together with Dr. Olu Onagoruwa.They called me aside and said Ebino, you people have destroyed the very basis of radicalism in Nigeria by supporting the take-over ofÂ the Daily Times.Â IÂ argued with them, but eventually they were right.
It turned out that after the death of General Murtala Mohammed, the Obasanjo regime that took over was a reactionary one.Â It went after members of Speakerâ€™s Society and the leadership was decimated. Dr. Osunde Lasisi, the first president of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), was sacked. I lost my job at University of Lagos. I was hounded out of my job by the same forces that took over Daily Times.
Majority of our members in Speakerâ€™s Society faced death threats.At first, we saw the take over from a populist point of view, but when the reactionary, right wing elements that were not comfortable with our views came on board, we found that the measure was wrong.
I took time to apologize to late Alhaji Babatunde Jose.I begged for forgiveness and I am happy to say authoritatively that one day, late Babatunde Jose phoned me and when he could not reach me, he left a message with my wife.Â He said to her, tell you husband that I have forgiven him.I regretted ever supporting the action. I did not write any position paper on that policy. My joy is that Alhaji Jose forgave me before he passed on.