BY ISHOLA BALOGUN
Chief Ebenezer Babatope is the chairman of Inter-Party Relations Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which is one of the committees of the Presidential Campaign Council of President Jonathan/Sambo ambition. The lawyer, who served as Minister of Transport during the General Sani Abacha military regime, in this interview, speaks on the chances of his party in the South-West, stressing that political parties including PDP have no ideological existence. “We have no ideological existence. No ideological party in Nigeria. Anybody who says he is a progressive is only deceiving himself.” Excerpts:
Many had thought you will show interest in the upper chamber of the legislature. Why are you not interested?
I haven’t got the ambition to go to the Senate. I thank God and I thank Pa Obafemi Awolowo who allowed me to utilise my talents to the fullest. This is one thing that I will always give credit to him on, he raised me from political obscurity to national prominence.
I was the director of organisation of the Unity Party of Nigeria in the Second Republic at the age of 35. I was there for five years before the military came in. After that, I served as a minister. So, what again do I want to prove? I have played my part. People may judge me one way or the other, but I have paid my dues.
Therefore, let the younger people do it. At 68, I want to devote myself to writing books. I have two books now which I am writing on Pa Awolowo. When I complete them, I will start my biography. I pray to God that if He spares my life to the age of 73, I would have been able to finish these books and this assignment will yet be going on pari passu with my political life.
Recently, former President Olusegun Obasanjo condemned the reception held in honour of Bode George. What is your take on that?
Well, in Yorubaland, a young man does not comment on what the elder has said. So, I find it extremely difficult to start commenting on that. When we were in UPN, Obasanjo wrote something about my leader. Of course, I went to town with him. When he wrote a book, “Not My Will,” I wrote my own Not His Will. He has the right to say whatever he wants to say but all I know is that those of us who went to welcome Bode George from prison, we know why we did it. Bode has been my friend since 1967. No matter the situation, no matter how ugly the situation, I cannot abandon my friend of 44 years.
If I do that, I would have fundamentally offended the principle of friendship. What is friendship for? Obasanjo came to the church, and he has the right to his comment. If he says he was there in error, he would have to prove why he was there in error. All I know is that he came to the church and we all worshipped.
And, I remember he shook hands with Bode George. He has the constitutional right to change his mind about his coming and say whatever he wants to say. As far as I am concerned and so many of my friends who were there, nobody is perfect except God Almighty. If we did not go there, having known this man for quite a long time, we would have offended the principle of good friendship and, honestly, history will condemn us.
What are the chances of your party in the South-West vis-a-vis the resolve of the opposition to take over power in the states where PDP holds sway?
It is a pity that we are not having election in Ekiti, Osun, and Ondo states. These states have been taken over by the opposition as they were given order to do so by the judiciary. I am a lawyer, I do not want to start commenting on the judiciary because there are certain decisions of theirs that have been very embarrassing even to the judiciary as an institution.
Many brilliant judges in the country at one time in the history of this country, especially when democracy was having very bad interpretation, stood to correct the situation. Don’t forget Justice Dolapo Akinsanya’s judgment over the interim government. She declared it illegal. Those are the brilliant moments of the judiciary.
But what is happening these days, especially when a judge of Justice Salami’s calibre in an interview in one of the national newspapers said he could only trust nine judges out of 72? It raises a lot of questions. Now, we are not going to have election in those states because of the judiciary decisions. Though, as a lawyer, those decisions stand, they are questionable decisions. Having said that, I believe PDP must strive to ensure that it keeps faith with the people of the South-West. I have always said it that the South-West states are politically sophisticated enough that they won’t tolerate indolent or people without ideas to rule them. I can assure you that no matter what happens, Bayo Akala, by the grace of God and by the dint of what he has done, will win Oyo State. I don’t want to let out a secret because I don’t want to help the opposition. But I will tell you that Ibadan is the most populous area in Oyo State, but, tell me, how many candidates are contending for Ibadan votes? This is very important.
The Ibadan people have fielded as many candidates as possible. Political leaders in Ibadan like Victor Olunloyo, Kolapo Ishola, Raji Rasaki and many others are behind Akala, so I can assure you that when the chips are down, when the people of Ibadan have voted, when the results are collated, Bayo Akala will emerge victorious. We have problems in Ogun State, we must confess. This is as a result of judicial pronouncements and I know my party will contend with the problems. We must reconcile as quickly as possible the former President Obasanjo’s group which has my friend, Senator Jubril Martins-Kuye, and the Gbenga Daniel’s group.
We must bring them together and, if PDP fails to do that, it might permit the opposition party to have a free ride in Ogun State and that will be very sad. But I have the confidence that the party’s leadership, especially the president, will intervene and resolve the crisis and PDP will carry the day.
In Lagos, I want to say that Fashola was my student and he is somebody I like. Obviously, he has achieved, but the person challenging him, Fashola, must not under-estimate him.
Dr. Dosunmu is a highly-focused young man, and, if you put records down, if Fashola wins Dosunmu, he will not disgrace Dosunmu. Again, ACN cannot be too sure of what will become of other elections. Lagos is a cosmopolitan city with a politically-enlightened people. So, the way these people will vote in the other elections, ACN cannot be too sure of winning. I don’t want to talk much on that. If I do, I run the risk of unravelling the strategy of my party.
What do you think of the electoral umpire led by Prof. Jega in view of the court orders stopping elections in some states and conducting a free and fair election?
Jega must make up his mind to succeed in spite of all odds. This is not what can be reduced to intellectual rhetorics. I have confidence in him because I have known him for quite some time. He has the integrity to organise a free and fair election, but, again, he must not take things for granted. If he wants to assert that the new electoral regulations that were passed to him by the National Assembly will work, then he should make sure that the people who are going to work with him are people who are going to share his vision of one-man-one-vote. If he does not do that, he will be in Abuja and not in all the places and everything will collapse on his head. As I said, I wish him best of luck. The vote of every Nigerian must count and he should ensure that nobody tampers with the electoral will of the people. It is the people who only have the right to choose who is going to govern them, and when that right is taken away from them because of rigging, the umpire has not only destroyed the very fabric of democracy in Nigeria, he would have destroyed the unity and stability of this country.
What lessons did you learn from Pa Awolowo?
Pa Awolowo was a wonderful person, a highly intelligent and hard working person. He was visionary. People called him a tribalist but where is that now? If you are talking of the person who fought for the rights of the minorities in Nigeria, it was Chief Awolowo.
When you are talking about the Willinks Commission, Awolowo designed it; when they went for the Consitutional Conference in London for the struggle to give Nigeria independence, Papa took minority leaders along with him. That is why when the commission was established, it established the basis for the minorities to have their say in the Nigerian federation. Remember the Calabar-Ogoja- Rivers Movement, it was held by Pa Awolowo. Don’t also forget that he was the first Nigerian to make a prediction that ‘a day will come when a Niger Deltan will emerge the president of Nigeria and he would be backed-up by someone in the North.’ What he said should be seen from the angle of a visionary who saw the emergence of a Niger Deltan as a future president of the country.
In another words, Papa should be credited with the fact that it was he who foretold the coming of President Jonathan. It was between 1979 and 1982, because he went in helicopter campaign in many of the riverine areas in the region. He also said that it will be criminal for Nigerians to neglect the bread basket of the nation. Also, Papa gave those of us with him the principle of being a public officer.
I want our public officers to borrow a leaf from what Papa said. He said: ‘don’t enjoy in government what you cannot provide for yourself in your private life.’ It means, if you know you cannot buy Coca-cola when you leave office, don’t enjoy it while in office.
Because the urge to steal money will set in to buy Coca-cola when you leave office. The second principle was that ‘don’t take gratification of any kind that in the next morning you will not be able to look straight into the eyes of the giver.’ Third, ‘don’t collude with civil servants to defraud government.’ If you do that, you would have debased and desecrated an important position.
All these are coming up in my biography. You see, when Obasanjo became president, he did two things, and this is the first time I will ever say this. First, he established a committee led by the highly-respected Brigadier-General Oluwole Rotimi (rtd), to go round the country to investigate the properties of the Federal Government.
Of course, the target was to destroy the Awoists who served in Abacha’s government: Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Dr. Olu Onagoruwa, and myself. We laughed because we didn’t go to government to enrich ourselves. If we had bought properties and then the committee found out, we would have been destroyed by it.
Secondly, he sent names of public officers who had served Nigeria to security agencies in western Europe to find out the amount of money in the private bank accounts of these public officers. We also laughed because Papa had warned us about it. The only thing people said about me was that “he served Abacha”. I have written two books about that. But nobody born of woman has never come out to say that the Awoists who went to government, whether under Abacha or any government for that matter, went there to steal public funds. I am happy about that. We should all emulate the principle of Awolowo in public service.
Pa Awolowo never wavered in his progressive ideology. Can you be said to be a progressive today?
You see, there is no ideological party in Nigeria today.
Even in the PDP?
We have no ideological existence. No ideological party in Nigeria. Anybody who says he is a progressive is only deceiving himself. Why do I say this? Most of the parties came from the PDP. They were given birth to by the PDP: APP which is now ANPP, AD, all came from the bosom of the PDP. They were protest parties to the PDP. I am not saying their protest against PDP were not genuine, but they came from the PDP. My late uncle Bola Ige was party to the writing of the manifestoes of most of these parties at that time.
We must try to have political parties in Nigeria embracing one kind of ideology or the other. In the first republic, the Action Group was known as the party of democratic socialist, NCNC was known as the Fabian-socialist; even the NPC and their allies in the south were known as the African socialists.
In the second republic, everybody knew that the Awolowo party was a pro-socialist party and Mallam Aminu Kano’s PRP was also a pro-socialist party and the NPN at that time was never pretentious that it was a capitalist conservative reactionary party. We are praying that the political parties we have now will try to embrace ideology so that Nigerians can know them better. It is a pity that Yar’Adua, before his demise, had already moved to ensure that socialism creeps into the PDP. For whatever anybody says, you cannot say the PDP is bereft of the people who were in the progressive party of the second republic.