Former Minister of Transport and member of the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Ebenezer Babatope, in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI speaks on the conduct of the general election, agenda for the president-elect, and the way forward for his party. Excerpts…
You once said Buhari cannot become President in Nigeria again. What do you make of his victory in the just concluded election, can you say you have been proven wrong?
I was surprised that he won the election. Honestly, I was very surprised. But my verdict is that that is how God wanted it to be. Nothing can happen without God’s knowledge. Igbo have a saying that nobody knows the event of tomorrow except God. So, God has decided to give power to Buhari and there is nothing any man can do about that. I wish him and his party the best of luck
Some have argued that President Jonathan failed to do certain things which led to his defeat. Do you agree with that?
What would he have done? Jonathan has done very well for this country and believe me, if he had reacted negatively to the use of underage voters, there will be trouble in this country. One thing this country will forever be grateful to Jonathan for is the fact that he conceded victory to stop bloodshed. I was moved by that act. Each time I think about what he did, I am always moved to tears because the young man has done very well to cast aside his own personal aspirations. He has repeatedly said that his own ambition is not worth the blood of innocent people. So what he did for this country by conceding defeat in order to avert bloodshed, this country will wake up one day, not only to remember him for it, but to honour him. And he performed creditably well. Those who are criticizing and accusing him, I wish them the best of luck. They are going into government now. Let them perform the magic they want to perform. But they will never say that Jonathan has not performed. He has tried his best.
What is your Agenda for Buhari?
I have no agenda than to prepare to be an effective opposition. We are not going to oppose with the aim of bringing him down. No, we will oppose because we want to strengthen the hands of democracy. He has promised so many things during his campaign. We will watch to see how he progresses. I hope he is able to match the yearnings and aspirations of his supporters who kept on shouting ‘Sai Baba’ and ‘Change’. But as far as we in the PDP are concerned, we will offer him effective opposition.
The Yoruba complained of marginalization by President Jonathan. Do you see that repeating itself with Buhari in the saddle?
That is not correct. Yoruba were not marginalized during Jonathan’s time. We have always explained it. The problem started with the rejection of Mulikat Akande- Adeola as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. It was a conspiracy masterminded by the APC and that disrupted the political equilibrium created by the PDP for its members. Yoruba people are to provide the Speaker of the House which is the number four position in the country, the APC went there and scuttled it. So, where is the marginalization? And since that time, Jonathan has very well appointed Yoruba into very high offices. I can’t speak on what Buhari will do for the Yoruba. He can do whatever he likes because it is his government, but I am saying it, with all emphasis, that Jonathan did not marginalize the Yoruba.
Some have argued that Tinubu has surpassed Awolowo’s achievement in Yoruba and have bestowed on him the leader of Yoruba title. What is your take on that?
Tinubu himself will not tell you that he has done what Awolowo cannot do. But as a politician, Tinubu has tried his best. I have always said that he is intelligent to know that it is very difficult for anyone to say he wants to govern the Yoruba. Tinubu has led his party to win in the election, especially in Yorubaland and that should be commended. We have our elders in Yorubaland. They may carry no political clout because they are old, but they still remain our elders. Talking objectively now, I can say Tinubu has done well for his party but talking about the Yoruba, that is a different story entirely. The Yoruba people respect age, maturity, and experience and whenever we are talking of solution to national problems, our elders are there to guide us through.
President Jonathan said he and his ministers will be persecuted. Do you see that happening to PDP chieftains like you too?
I was not one of Jonathan’s ministers. I was a member of the Board of Trustees of the PDP. I am one of those who are completely loyal to Goodluck Jonathan. He is a great leader that I love so much. Talking about persecution, people should forget all that. Who will persecute who? And for what reason? If Buhari wants to set up all the tribunal of this world, let him go ahead. He is the president. Let him bring the result out. Nigerians are going to be there. But as far as I am concerned, no minister should feel afraid that he or she will be persecuted by Buhari when he assumes office. Yoruba have a saying that ‘it is the hand that sinneth that the king will order to be cut’. Jonathan on his part has done his best. Those among his ministers who will be probed for one thing or another will be there to defend themselves.
APC boycotted the 2014 National conference convened by President Jonathan. Do you think Buhari will implement it?
APC participated in the national conference through other guises. Nobody can force Buhari to accept the conference or not, but if I were him, I will see what I can do to ensure that the resolutions of that historic conference are not destroyed. He should study the report. And if he wants to convene his own, he should go ahead. Buhari is an experienced person, he has been there before and I believe that he will know what to do at every particular stage.
Don’t you see former President Obasanjo lording it over Buhari in the days ahead, given Obasanjo’s role in APC’s victory?
Buhari is intelligent to draw a line between all these things that are being done by Obasanjo and his group. So, he will deal with the situation. Buhari has a mien that baffles me. I am one of his opponents. I don’t like him. He doesn’t talk much and that is a major weapon in his hand, because it is very difficult to tackle such a person. I have no doubt in my mind that even his club mates in the party will find it extremely difficult to tackle him on that.
Do you think the PDP has what it takes to form a credible opposition to APC, having been in power for sixteen years?
We will form a very strong opposition against the APC because we want our power back in 2019. Circumstances of Nigeria’s political history will force s to come together and offer APC a very effective opposition. All of us are still suffering from the trauma of the election loss. In a few days’ time, we will be out of power. The defeat was not only sudden, but when you look at the mystery, the conspiracy and the general behavior of people that got us out of power, you just cannot but suffer the trauma. But I can assure you that the PDP will bounce back
What do you make of the resignation of the National Chairman of your party, Adamu Muazu? About a year ago, he was labeled the ‘Game Changer’ and now he has been forced out of the party?
Muazu has done the right thing and he deserves commendation for towing the path of honour. As far as we are concerned, it is going to be the process of how PDP is restructured. Not only Muazu, even those of us in the Board of Trustees should be brought to book and if we erred, we should be penalized. I also read something in the dailies that Muazu is preparing for 2019 and I laughed. Only God knows who will be around in 2019, but I know Muazu himself will not dream of that. But our concern now is that we in the PDP want to build a very formidable opposition to the APC and secondly, we want to ensure that all the achievements of President Jonathan will stand for many years to come.
What do you make of the situation in Lagos PDP where some members attempted to remove the state chairman, Tunji Shelle, from office?
Tunji Shelle has done very well. It is not because he was my student at Bartholomew High School, because I taught him while in secondary school, but I have always known him to be a highly calculated person. He will never in his lifetime embark on measures that will cast aspersions on his integrity. He is a very sound young man. So, when some people said they have sacked him, I just laughed at them. They are just deceiving themselves. I am sure Gani Taofik who is the PRO will not be part of that plot. Many of the leaders are on the side of Shelle, including Olabode George who has given him maximum support. Shelle has posted the best result for the PDP in all the 16 years of the party’s rule in this election. We have never had it so good in the House of Representatives and the House of Assembly. Whether those who plotted the coup were being sponsored or not, they are wasting their time. It is a revolution that can never stand. Shelle will overcome them.
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