Ebenezer Babatope says there is great hope.He believes whatever is happening in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, today would be resolved one way or the other. He says this is important because there may be an implosion in PDP and its consequences would be disastrous.
But, Babatope makes a very startling disclosure about why the Yoruba leader, Papa Obafemi Awolowo, chose a fellow southerner as his running- mate in a country divided usually along North and South lines. Babatope should know.
At the age of 35, he became the Director of Organisation of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN.
Babatope asks: “Did you know that Papa Awolowo contacted some of his trusted friends in the North, requesting that one of them should come and be his running-mate but they turned him down? They rejected, especially those from the Hausa-Fulani clan.
One of them who was Papa’s good friend, Papa Yahaya Gusau, he told Awolowo that it would be meaningless for him to come and be a running-mate because people are not going to vote for us. Papa also contacted the late Ibrahim Tahir and Tahir said it was going to be difficult for him to team up with Papa. Papa then moved to the Middle-Belt states.
He said he would love to pick one Chia Suma. But our UPN colleagues in the Middle-Belt states then advised Papa that if you pick Chia Suma, you would only be appealing to the Tiv people and for every 30 or so miles in the Middle-Belt region, you meet a completely new tribe with different tongues so that choice was never going to achieve anything.
Papa then had to settle for the late Chief Philip Umeadi from Anambra State and said ‘if you guys won’t team up with me, then I can pick any other person from the South’ and when he picked Umeadi, people came up again to say he made a mistake by picking an Ibo man but the reality was that that was what the circumstances demanded.”
He also explains why he “could not just resign from the Abacha administration.”
Let’s come from the rear: People still wonder what the hell could an Ebenezer Babatope be looking for in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP?
Very good! First of all, I am convinced that the political party system in Nigeria is devoid of any ideological leaning or orientation. No party can claim to be reactionary or progressive.
All the parties have the same character, but I do believe that PDP has the tendency to be seen as a party which is of the right because of the preponderance of the conservatives who are there but I agree that the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, and Democratic Peoples Alliance, DPA and Alliance for Democracy, AD, are political parties that appear to be wearing the cap of Papa Awolowo.
But, that does not really mean that these parties are also of the same progressive character of the Action Group, AG, or the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN. There are some elements in PDP that influenced my joining the party during the Babangida transition. There are still those with whom we were together in the Social Democratic Party, SDP, that are in the PDP – Solomon Lar, Yemi Farounbi, Tunde Adeniran and others.
But, having said all that, I must restate that I was driven by circumstances to join PDP.
Which circumstances? Who drove you? I hope you would not be repeating the same thing about the Afenifere leaders?
I agree that my natural place should have been either AD or any party of that character but at the time AD came, many of the leaders of AD were so vicious with the attacks on my person that it became impossible for me to join that party.
For whatever it was, I was the Director of Organisation of UPN in the Second Republic.
I just thought the best thing for me to do was to wait for one year, between 1998 and 1999, before joining my friends in PDP on September 22, 1999.
People may want to reason with you based on what you have said, but it remains incongruous with what they know of you and what they see PDP as representing – without prejudice to what you said about all the parties being the same?
The only thing they can say of PDP is that it has many of the old National Party of Nigeria, NPN, members but you can also count old members of the old UPN, Peoples’ Redemption Party, PRP and the others in this same PDP.
But having said that, I must say this clearly with the best of intentions, for many of them who say I should have been in AD, they are correct but they must examine the background I have given. In any case, all the manifestoes and constitutions of all the three major parties that emerged in 1999 were written by Uncle Bola Ige. But PDP is now fashioning out a new manifesto.
Okay, they drove you away from AD! But some people would say why join PDP? Must you be in any party to contribute to national development?
You see, any politician who does not join a party to me is a politician who is not worth the name. You must show affinity, you must show affiliation.
For instance, it is not everything that happens in PDP that I agree with.
Give an instance of what happens in PDP that you do not agree with?
Let me tell you, when everybody was jumping up and singing that PDP is taking the South-West into the mainstream I questioned it and attacked it because I do not believe in it. What, for instance, is the meaning of mainstream?
May be because UPN or its precursor, AG, could not win at the federal level?
UPN did not just want to stay back in the South-West alone. It was because there were points to prove.
Prove how? I was a boy when Papa Awolowo chose Umeadi as his running-mate. Umeadi, from the South-East; Awolowo, from the South-West; so, what happened to a possible choice from the North?
Good question! Did you know that Papa Awolowo contacted some of his trusted friends in the North, requesting that one of them should come and be his running-mate but they turned him down? They rejected, especially those from the Hausa-Fulani clan.
One of them who was Papa’s good friend, Papa Yahaya Gusau, he told Awolowo that it would be meaningless for him to come and be a running-mate because people are not going to vote for us.
Papa also contacted the late Ibrahim Tahir and Tahir said it was going to be difficult for him to team up with Papa.
Papa then moved to the Middle-Belt states. He said he would love to pick one Chia Suma. But our UPN colleagues in the Middle-Belt states then advised Papa that if you pick Chia Suma, you would only be appealing to the Tiv people and for every 30 or so miles in the Middle-Belt region, you meet a completely new tribe with different tongues so that choice was never going to achieve anything.
Papa then had to settle for the late Chief Philip Umeadi from Anambra State and said ‘if you guys won’t team up with me, then I can pick any other person from the South’ and when he picked Umeadi, people came up again to say he made a mistake by picking an Ibo man but the reality was that that was what the circumstances demanded.
Having said that, you have been part of the system for a while now, when politicians turn down the offer of being a running-mate to another person not because he is not offering a good platform or a good agenda for progress and change but because there is the feeling that he is not of the establishment, what does that say of our nation and its politics?
It’s a very terrible thing, very dangerous and I tell you we have been fighting against it. Awolowo used his position in AG and UPN to prove a point. There was a time in this country that some tendencies were very pervasive and those tendencies appear to be creeping back today.
There was a time in this country when a group of people in the North, a cabal, believed that Nigeria was merely an extension of their private family compound and if you did not belong to them then you cannot make progress.
There was also a time in this country that being in the Army and not being able to speak the Hausa language was a waste of time, the same thing goes for promotion. There was a time in this country that to register a company and do business, you needed to put the name of a northerner as your chairman or a strong member of the board because they believed that the South could always be used. That is not wiped off yet, but we are now seeing semblances of the ugly past.
I have always believed that the zoning principle of PDP can offer solutions to every part of this country to achieve that sense of belonging because particular groups that had always felt alienated from power have the chance to lead. South-West had been president; it went back to the North-West and so it continues in such a way that every part of the country would have a sense of belonging but formerly this was not so and that was the basis of our civil war.
The civil war was fought purely on the ground that many of ‘my people’ have been killed and they have been killed by the Igbo people.
It was not until the coup against Ibrahim Babangida by Gideon Okar, that announced that it was going to sever some states from Nigeria and these states were Hausa-Fulani states and Nigerians rose up to say NO to that coup, that was when the corporate existence of Nigeria was beginning to change. And, that was how an Abiola, a southerner was voted for; an Abiola and Kingibe who were both Muslims were voted for and Obasanjo became President on the basis that he was a South-Westerner.
What I’m saying is that all these things are re-surfacing and they are dangerous for Nigeria’s politics now.
Still on Papa Awolowo, were he to be alive and be dropped into the present political arrangement as it were, would he still be bent on his principles or he would be more pragmatic?
Papa would never have deviated from the principles he believed in. Papa believed very much that first of all, federalism was and is it. He believed that federalism could throw up anybody who had the capabilities to lead the country and not just on ‘it is our turn’ syndrome and were Papa to be alive today, he would have been a hero.
Because all Papa had been saying appears to have been correct because those who are talking about zoning would have now seen that Papa was right. During the Second Republic, some people felt that UPN had been cocooned in the South-West but people have forgotten that in the old Gongola State, now Adamawa, UPN produced the Speaker of the House of Assembly, UPN had two senators – Gius Gelama and Luka Zing; we also won a seat in Imo and we won some seats in other parts of the country but what Papa was advocating was that Nigerians should be able to vote on principles and on ideology.
Nigerians would have seen virtues in what Papa had been saying.
But some people accuse the leaders of Afenifere as being too rigid and that that was why AD could not go far?
I wouldn’t see it that way. Yes, it is true that the leaders of AD were those who had been Papa Awolowo’s associates before and, therefore, you could say yes, these people are very rigid on principles because they’ve seen it all – they’ve seen Nigeria toyed with at some point by a cabal of reactionary elements and feudalists and their belief remain that for Nigeria to progress, there must be progressivism which, in fact, was tried by Awolowo, Aminu Kano, Azikiwe and co.
But you turned out to be a victim but you didn’t like it?
My problem with them at that time was that they sent us to the Abacha government – Lateef Jakande, Mrs. Osomo, Olu Onagoruwa and I, they sent and while we were in government, we were meeting with them until there was a cleavage which came with the local government elections and they felt that the military boys were wrong in hand-picking people of their choice to fill the councils.
That was the point of departure. They wanted to participate from the grassroots but the military guys did not want that. Even some of us in the Abacha government complained, too, explaining that if it was possible to carry our leaders along on the local government matter and if it was democratised, things could change.
That was where the problem started. We are mortals and mistakes may have been made but the viciousness with which they attacked my person was wrong. There were other progressives in that government. It was that same viciousness that they carried into AD but the younger ones among the babas, Segun Osoba, Bisi Akande, Lam Adeshina and a few others felt isolated because they couldn’t understand some of the ideas of the old men and then they picked on Bola Ige, for what reason?
Why? That was what really killed AD.
The position of the babas was simple: ‘We sent you there and we now say, come out of that government’ but you people appeared to be getting more comfortable, so you refused to leave.
Nobody ever said they were wrong in saying that Abacha had deviated from the principles which led us to participate in that government but where they were wrong was that they had forgotten that we were dealing with soldiers. And, therefore, any abrupt termination of our participation in that government could have meant the death of some of us.
A worthy death, for Nigeria’s sake; and wouldn’t you have been said to have died fighting for democracy in your country?
For Nigeria’s sake, you want me to go and die?
You are wasting your time when in fact you have a country where people do not understand the issues for me to resign and then the boys shoot their guns at me?
Let me say this for the first time, by October 1994, it had become apparent that we were going to leave that government. Alex Ibru and I were prepared to leave that administration just as there were other people too, who were prepared to leave at that time but the strategy was that we would leave in a way that the military boys would not see us as obeying their antagonists.
I went on leave by January 1, 1995, and by the time I came back, I had thought that the cabinet would have been dissolved, but it was not as at February, so, I went to my friend, Oladipo Diya, who played a prominent role in getting me into that government to say I may be leaving the administration soon, but Diya said I should hold on.
The widow we saw was the resignation of Malam Adamu Ciroma, who suddenly tendered his resignation letter – I think there was a disagreement between him as Agriculture Minister and the administration over a policy on fertiliser.
But security reports also showed that many more civilian politicians were likely to resign so, Abacha felt that it would be easy for him to just dissolve the cabinet so we went for a meeting one day and he just thanked everybody for assisting his administration and dissolved the cabinet. At that time, if any of us had attempted any precipitous resignation, we would have paid dearly with our lives. Look at what happened to Alex Ibru!
Each time I talk about Ibru, I am always moved to tears.
Alex believed so much in what he was saying to the cabinet that time and he sacrificed a lot to ensure that he succeeded. All he was saying was that the administration needed to give a hearing to what the opposition was saying and that that was the best way to proceed.
There was a day Alex and I were walking inside Aso Rock and Abacha was a bit ahead of us and Abacha turned suddenly and said to me, ‘Comrade, this is NADECO’s ambassador in my government.”
Alex told him that ‘No! You sent me to go and talk to them and I have been talking with them and feeding you back, but that does not in anyway make me a NADECO ambassador.’ What I want to bring out was that shortly after we left, The Guardian was burnt and shut; later, there was an attempt on Alex’s life. I, too, didn’t feel at ease with what was going on.
Something very manifest in what you’ve said now reminds me of what Professor Bolaji Akinyemi said last week and it was to the effect that a section of Nigeria’s leadership does not believe that Nigeria would survive for long and, therefore, there is no commitment to nationhood, so, everybody carries on trying to make the quickest best out of any situation.
I ask that in a cynical manner because you had said you were not prepared to die for Nigeria…
No! No!! No!!! That is not what I mean.
Look, if you die a silly death, a death which is not understood, then it is a silly, stupid, foolish death because if you die and people do not understand what the issues are then you have died for nothing and it amounts to foolishness.
If you’re talking about sacrifices in Nigeria and this is with due respects to other Nigerians who have also sacrificed, I have a 34-year-old daughter who today is handicapped, who, today is at the handicapped school in Ibadan.
This happened when a publication I was involved in attacked the decision of Yakubu Gowon not to handover again. My wife was pregnant and I had fled while the military mounted a siege on my residence for two weeks – they stayed with my wife. The trauma for a pregnant woman was so devastating that by the time she delivered, the baby had become what they call paraplegic, which was said to have been due to a shock.
I was sent out of my work and as I speak to you today, I have not collected any gratuity. The military administration of Obasanjo made that possible and till today, there is nothing to show for my service to my country as a worker. So, when people talk about sacrifices, I have sacrificed. That does not in any way mean that there are no Nigerians alive or dead who have also sacrificed even in worse manner.
But, if I were to die on the basis of the NADECO people who were saying we should just resign, my death would not have been very clear to Nigerians and it would have been nothing but a foolish, miserable, wretched, silly death.
Some people believe that the problem of Nigeria is PDP. Do you agree?
I don’t agree that the problem of Nigeria is PDP.
I do agree that PDP has got lots and lots of contradictions within it.
I also agree that PDP has got a preponderance of conservative elements in there, just as other parties too.
The only thing is that because PDP has been in power for so long it has generated a revenge mentality and, therefore, PDP must now ensure that it allows for broader participation of the masses of people within the party in its activities and that is why I am very much in love with Jonathan’s proclamation that every vote must count but all the other political parties, too, must sign on.
The opposition parties are largely unorganised and they, too, do not have unity too. Look at Lai Mohammed of ACN, he talks about the issues.
So, what stops PDP from doing that or having somebody like that? What is stopping the PDP from doing that?
Are you asking me?
No, I’m just thinking aloud.
But, that does not in anyway mean that what ACN is doing is correct.
I’m happy you used the word, proclamation of Jonathan but some people have their doubts about his intentions to deliver free and fair elections. And, I’m sure you would agree with me that internal democracy would be the bedrock of that free and fair election next year?
Yes, you’re correct about that.
But, what some people are seeing is that there seem to be this hand-in-hand relationship between President Jonathan and the leadership of PDP and this appears to be sending the wrong signals.
It’s a wrong feeling.
But, would you blame the people who are thinking like that?
Let me tell you. For instance, now, we are having contradictions regarding the issue of zoning because you have a segment of the Northern sector insisting that zoning has not been adhered to and that sector is a very important sector because in the history of this country you cannot just wish away that sector. Adamu Ciroma, Lawal Kaita are names involved in political developments in this country that has remodeled it.
Second, the South-South – and that is why PDP is saying that we agree that zoning is there but we cannot stop an incumbent President who also has constitutional rights from seeking the office of the President.
We have got to contend with that matter but fortunately, there are plans in PDP to bring everybody together and failure to do that would signal disaster for our party and everybody is conscious to have peace.
If we are not careful, we may likely end up having a Muhammadu Buhari, with his Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, becoming President by default. That would not be good for this country because we know how he just put everybody in detention when he took over. We do not want those tyrannical hands again.
Your party is the problem. In a situation where you have over 72 per cent of the federal legislature, of the state legislature, state executives as well as the Federal Government yet, people are saying that Nigeria does not appear to have achieved or met that irreducible minimum per development since 1999…
You cannot just blame PDP because the power base of the country is in its hands. You must look at the other side too. The opposition parties are not serious.
Why would they be serious when PDP continues to infiltrate their ranks?
I’ve always maintained that there can be an implosion in PDP and, therefore, the opposition parties must show seriousness.
By the time we go for elections, you would discover that it is only the PDP that would have sufficiently mobilised for the elections. The opposition will never come together and they have their own conception of how power should be won.
ACN is emphasising on the South- West and the judiciary is continuing to give it to them. Why can’t they come together? Before Yar’Adua’s death, he set the machinery for free and fair election in motion and President Jonathan has continued.
But a situation where it is perceived that PDP does not want every vote to count how do we handle that?
Let me tell you something: I am worried about this slogan of every votes must count because in all the states controlled by the opposition, all the elections that have been organised since the other parties took over have been won by the government in power, so this slogan of every votes must count frightens me some times and yet the opposition parties continue to shout every votes must count.
It is because every vote counted that was why they were able to win…
Ah! Don’t say that because I have been in this game for some time now. We know what is happening. I am begging the politicians to allow every vote to count.
The slogan must radiate throughout the country.