Chief Ebenezer Babatope, 72 came to national limelight as the fiery director of organisation of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN in the Second Republic. Babatope was a shinning light among Nigeria’s progressives. An unrepentant Awosit till date, his ideological bearing, however, became an issue among some during and after his years of service in the General Sani Abacha regime where he held the transport portfolio. Such concern also shadows his prominent standing in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Even when many question his present ideological leanings, however, none has as of date questioned his morals in the midst of the morass that is depicted of his party, where he serves as a member of the Board of Trustees, BoT.
In this interview with Vanguard, Babatope bares his mind on the campaigns so far, chances of President Goodluck Jonathan and the place of PDP in the South West among other issues.
By Henry Umoru
There were complaints that when the PDP and the APC started, the campaigns were not quite issue based. Have we moved from insults to issues now?
The PDP has always ensured that its campaigns are purely issue based. You hardly can see us throwing insults to people or jiving at them. No! We carry out the messages of the party to the people. And it is the other party, the opposition party, the APC that is involving itself in throwing insults upon people and in signing peace treaty which they don’t believe in and in ensuring that they cause confusion.
But we thank God that the PDP has not played the game as they are playing it because if we had played the game as they are playing it, there would have been chaos and catastrophe in the society. We are very interested in ensuring that we mobilize the greatest number of Nigerian people to see the side being presented by the PDP and to be with us at the campaigns and the election victory.
Does that mean that the peace treaty will not work since you are saying that the APC does not believe in that?
When they signed the treaty, honestly I was not into self seeking about it because I know that the APC boys are naturally belligerent, they are naturally repulsive to anything which in fact can move for amity in political relationship. I know they can never be anything supportive of any action of my people to ensure that we don’t have violence. So I didn’t give it a chance.
So when they now decided to throw stones at the president in Katsina, also in Bauchi and also made an attempt at bomb throwing in Gombe, I just felt well, this country is greater than all of us and God Almighty loves Nigeria and will never allow our country to disintegrate. It is the APC that is responsible for the breakdown of the Abuja Peace Accord that was signed, in the presence of Kofi Annan and some other United Nations top officials.
But that notwithstanding, what is important to us now is how to consolidate on the gains we have had in the campaigns and to ensure that we win the elections.
What are the chances of your party in your zone that is the Southwest, considering the fact that you have only Ondo and Ekiti as PDP states?
Let me be firm in telling you that there is no way APC and Buhari will defeat Jonathan and the PDP in the Southwest. I am not talking in terms of governorship contest. No, I am talking about presidential contest.
Despite the noise being made by the APC, there is no way Buhari and the APC will beat the PDP in the Southwest because all we are doing in the Southwest are all rooted in the tradition and culture of our people in Yoruba land.
Awolowo said that before you can be a good Nigerian citizen, you must first and foremost be a good Yoruba man, a good Hausa man, a good Igbo man and the rest of them. So we believe that before we can chest out in the Southwest to say we are good Nigerians, we must be very good and acceptable Yoruba patriots and this is what we are doing.
And when the results come out, it will surprise everyone the votes that Jonathan will score in the Southwest. We beat them the last time; we are going to beat them this time again.
What is your take on the endorsement of President Jonathan by the Afenifere?
It is a very good development. I am not in that Afenifere group. I am Awolowo’s Afenifere. But I have tremendous respect and regard for the leaders of the Afenifere group that declared support for Jonathan because they were my leaders in the Unity Party of Nigeria when I was their director of organisation and I really respect their intelligence and I respect the way they view the future and the way they responded to issues to ensure that the Yorubas are well prepared for the future.
There are things they would have seen because they are a group of elders: Chief Reuben Fasoranti, Chief Adebanjo, Chief Olaniwun Ajayi, all of them in the Afenifere. They are people who are not frivolous, who are never sentimental or emotional about issues, they are people who view matters constructively and objectively.
When they made their pronouncement, I know that the Yoruba people because we don’t joke with maturity, age as expressed in Yoruba land, would have picked something that these elderly people know what they are talking about.
So it is a good thing they have done for the PDP and honestly speaking I am very happy about it and Nigerians are happy about it and the Yoruba people are very delighted about that development because they will add fillip to the growing strength of the PDP for Jonathan’s presidency in the Southwest.
How would you look at the two major presidential candidates, Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari?
Even while sleeping it is obvious. You must forgive me, while sleeping I will pick Jonathan. Any human being that invests heavily in individual freedom is the human being that should be supported to run the democratic experiment that we are having in Nigeria.
The past of Buhari shows that he is not a man that can be described as a democrat. A lot of people perished under his first coming. I was one of his victims. I was in jail for 21 months. I was not in government. I was just a party official, director of organisation of the banned Unity Party of Nigeria led by the great Obafemi Awolowo. I spent some time in Kirikiri prison, from there they took me to Jos prison, from there they took me to Yola prison. So I know what I am talking about. And many innocent people were killed.
Three innocent young men were executed on back dated laws because they said they found them with cocaine. What is cocaine? Cocaine is criminal, but it is attended in civilized countries with imprisonment.
So why you are asking me to pick between Jonathan and Buhari, I will pick Jonathan because since Jonathan came to power in 2011, not one single Nigerian has suffered executive murder in his hands.
No one single Nigerian has gone abroad to Britian, to America, to Paris, to Italy, to Germany to say that he is being witch hunted at home and he is looking for political asylum. If anybody says that he is deceiving himself, not under Jonathan. And Jonathan is a man who allows everybody to air his opinion. So with that it is Jonathan all the way.
Many people left the party after the primaries under Mu’azu, what is your take on this?
Muazu has been trying his best and he is leading us in this battle, for this great electoral war we are fighting and I think that we of the PDP should give him all the support.
I am not telling you that everything about our secretariat is rosy, I won’t tell you that.
But we will first of all finish the elections and win the elections before we come down. But Mu’azu has been doing very well and he is somebody who is in fact very versatile in political matters. He is a person who respects the people and he is a gifted orator.
When he speaks Hausa language or he speaks Fulfude, you will find out that he is a gifted orator.
Mapping out of strategies
So he is going to lead us in the battle and we are going to come out victorious and when we come out victorious, then we will then settle down and map out strategies by which we are going to push our party forward, with total reformation, total reorganization, so that at the end of the day the PDP will stand head and shoulder above all the other competitors.
As campaigns continue and will end in the next couple of days, what do you think your party should be concentrating on now?
We must not relent in our efforts, we must continue to campaign very hard and when the president finishes all the tours he is making to all the 36 states of the country and the FCT, the grass root members of the party must ensure that they sustain the campaigns with the people.
And not only that, we must ensure that our messages are got by the people of Nigeria. We must use the radio stations in all the states. We must use all the media available, we must use the social media to ensure that our messages are sent to the people, within the time frame that we have now.
We will give the opposition no respite. We must continue to sustain what we have gained and what in fact we believe we can still gain by moving to the people. So we are very well set and when we are set and we keep the enthusiasm of our people very well mobilized then we are home and dry and we will be home and dry.
So you see the PDP winning?
Oh, the PDP is going to win. I am not a magician neither am I a soothsayer, but I think that we are going to win the presidential election and when we win presidential election, all other things will follow, but we are going to win. It may not be with such a gap. Don’t forget that they are now having a coalition of parties. But despite that the PDP will still win.
I have done some graphs and I am not going to sketch it out now. There will be a battle in some states. I give the PDP an edge in 15 states; I give the APC an edge in 9 states and I give the two parties tough battle in about 12 states and those 12 states are states that the two parties could conveniently make 25 per cent. So at the end of the day, the PDP will win. But like I said I am not going to disclose our operational strategies which are drawn up or organizational plan which are drawn up, but I will rely on it and work on it until we get to the elections and we have the results of the elections.
We are still battling with insurgency in some parts of the Country. What is the way forward?
We must continue with the appeal that President Jonathan has been making to the Boko Haram people, let them drop the guns, let them embrace peace, let them know that they have a lot to gain with us, the rest of the country in investing in the unity, progress and stability of Nigeria. Nobody will gain anything by all these shootings. Nigeria has been a country that has really witnessed some of these fundamentalist religious groups. I mean we had at one time Matatsine.
I was in prison with some of the Maitatsine people in Yola prison during the Buhari time. And I could remember very well, one day one of the Maitatsine people just used a razor blade to cut off the hands of one of his colleagues and decided to suck the blood. I was there and immediately the military people were called in and they quelled the riot.
Have you forgiven Buhari?
The question of forgiving Buhari or not forgiving Buhari does not come in. It is a difficult thing to say forget. But the question remains, has even Gen. Buhari, has he ever said sorry for what happened during his reign? He has not said sorry. A man has not said sorry to you and you are asking me if I have forgiven him. If the man says I am sorry, it is a simple English term, I am sorry. Do you want me to go and cut off his head? He has not said it and that man that I know very well, will not say so because those who vote for him and who are jumping up now campaigning for him will soon jump down and will feel sorry for themselves and they may be sorry for themselves until their dying days.