The All Progressives Congress, APC leaders have been told to forget the idea of the party retaining power in 2019. While declaring that APC’s days in power are numbered, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Board of Trustees, and former Minister of Transport, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, expresses optimism that the PDP will bounce back to power in the next general election.
In this interview with TUNDE THOMAS, Babatope also speaks on other national issues including his tenure as a minister under late General Sani Abacha, NADECO and M.K.O Abiola, Olu Onagoruwa’s death, 2014 Confab report, among a host of others.
Some Nigerians have expressed the views that PDP can never be the same again, in spite of the Supreme Court’s ruling that finally resolved the leadership crisis, do you agree?
It depends on what whosoever is saying that has in mind. If you are talking of PDP being weakened or decimated by the crisis, I will say no. By the grace of God, PDP will wax stronger after the crisis.
If you are talking of some people leaving PDP or crossing carpet, that is normal in politics. As some are leaving, others are also joining. It is the norm in politics that as some people are leaving, others are also joining. This is peculiar to all political parties.
But talking of PDP today after the Supreme Court judgment, the party has learnt its lessons, and never again will we allow impostors to hijack the party.
The party is currently being coordinated by the Chairman, Caretaker Committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi and he has told the whole world that the door of reconciliation is open to all including those who instigated the crisis led by Senator Ali Modu Sheriff. The reason why those of us in the Makarfi camp went to court was to seek justice against impostors and imposition and thankfully, the apex court in the land, the Supreme Court, has vindicated us.
Although the fragmentation that took place as a result of the crisis has done a lot of harm, we will eventually overcome that in due course. PDP is coming back stronger, and the party is poised to take over power from APC in 2019.
Despite the “No Victor, No Vanquished” slogan proclaimed by Senator Makarfi after the Supreme Court victory, some members of PDP have been arguing that sanctions should have been taken against those who instigated the crisis to prevent a future occurrence, what’s your take on that?
Naturally, as a human being, you talk of vengeance, especially when you perceive that a wrong had been done or that you have suffered injustice, but I shared Senator Makarfi’s position. We should be forward-looking and put the past behind us. I believe those who instigated the crisis have realized their folly, we should allow room for repentance. What is important is for PDP to move forward and put past issues behind us.
Do you agree with those who are saying that Senator Ali Modu Sheriff was sponsored to destabilize or destroy PDP?
I don’t believe Sheriff was sponsored. It was PDP members who invited him to come and lead the party. So the error of bringing Sheriff to PDP lies squarely with our own PDP members. But thank God, those that brought Sheriff to PDP have apologized and we have taken their apologies. But henceforth, we will ensure that steps are taken to prevent a future occurrence.
Are you now saying that Sheriff should be allowed to have his peace, that he and those that followed him should be left alone?
Honestly speaking, the blame for the crisis should not go to Sheriff, the mistake of having Sheriff lording it over the party within that 14 months should go to those powerful elements in PDP who brought him. But those elements have apologized, so we should let bye-gone be bye-gone. Rather than dissipating energy on apportioning blames, PDP is now focused on moving ahead and strategizing on how to defeat APC in 2019.
Some Nigerians have expressed the views that PDP and APC are the same, and that none of the two can take Nigeria out of the woods. They are laying hope in the formation of a mega party for Nigeria to have the desired transformation, do you agree?
I don’t agree with those who are saying that PDP and APC are the same. No, PDP is miles apart from APC. While PDP is a very strong and formidable party, APC is a coalition of different groups of people, who don’t share the same ideals and vision, and that’s why you see APC members not working together as a team. APC is a party of irreconcilable groups. APC is not a party to frighten anybody.
With the way we are repositioning PDP after the crisis, PDP is coming back stronger, and the party is poised to inflict a crushing defeat on APC in 2019 general elections. We are going to take power back from APC. Nigerians have come to realize the difference between APC and PDP now, and they are just waiting until 2019 to vote APC out of power.
Then talking about mega party, what is called mega party? What they are calling mega party in Nigeria is a gathering of unserious elements. It is a gathering of political comedians. Mega party has no place in Nigeria’s political history. Who is even going to form it? Who are those behind its formation? Nigerians can’t put their trust or repose confidence in those types of people. Promoters of mega party or whatever they call it should stop wasting their time, they are going nowhere.
In your own candid assessment, how do you think APC has fared in the last two years?
APC has failed. APC has disappointed Nigerians. Poverty and hunger are on the increase, and Nigerians are hungry and angry. Nigerians have now realized that APC has failed them. This is why many Nigerians are now rooting for a return of PDP to power.
Nigerians now believe that PDP is the answer. APC has failed to the extent that the party has now become a threat to anybody but to itself. The days of APC in office are numbered.
PDP lost power in 2015 because Nigerians expressed the desire for change, and not only that, Nigerians voted for Buhari and not even APC. APC used Buhari’s name to get political power. But now the tide has changed. Two years down the line, APC has failed Nigerians and the songs on the lips of many Nigerians today, most especially in the northern parts of the country, is “change the changer” meaning that time is up for APC. The name of Buhari that worked the magic for APC in 2015 can’t do it again because Nigerians are already fed up with APC.
From the beginning, PDP has been a formidable party, an assemblage of pan-Nigerians, and Nigerians now believe that PDP is the answer. Between 2015 and now, PDP has also learnt its lessons and what Nigerians should expect now is a reorganized and rejuvenated PDP.
APC can no longer use Buhari’s name to get support because Nigerians are determined to vote out APC. Although President Muhammadu Buhari currently has health challenges and I’m one of those people praying for his quick recovery. I’m praying that God should give him good health. But I want APC to realize that even if Buhari decides to run again in 2019 for a second term, APC will be defeated by PDP. PDP is going to field a formidable candidate from the North as its presidential candidate in 2019 and will be so appealing to Nigerians most especially in the North such that Buhari’s name will not work any magic for APC as it did in 2015.
What’s your reaction to the recent bye-election into the Senate which APC lost to PDP in your state, Osun?
That victory by PDP in Osun West senatorial election is a pointer to what APC should expect from Nigerians in 2019. Like I said earlier, time is up for APC. And that PDP’s
victory in Osun State is the beginning of the end of APC not only in Osun State and the South West, but the entire country. APC should just forget it – the party is over for APC. Nigerians are not only disillusioned with APC, they also felt betrayed that the party has not fulfilled its electoral promises to Nigerians.
Restructuring has become a prominent subject of national debate with many eminent Nigerians canvassing different positions on it, what’s your own take on it?
I believe restructuring will help move Nigeria forward. As at today, Nigeria is not practising true federalism and until we revert to a genuine and true practice of federalism, Nigeria will not move forward. Military incursion into our national polity over the years has bastardised Nigeria’s federalism. We are just Federal Republic of Nigeria by pronouncement, but in practice, we are far from being a federation today.
I strongly believe that we should not discard the recommendations from 2014 National Conference. Implementing some of the recommendations in that confab report will help to move Nigeria forward.
Eminent and formidable Nigerians who want the best for this nation took part in that conference. If we discard 2014 confab report, we are digging political grave for Nigeria.
I sincerely appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari not to dump that 2014 confab report; if he listens to those urging him to do so, he will be doing a lot of disservice to this nation. Buhari should write his name in gold, he should not join those who want to dig political grave of Nigeria. Any attempt to dump that confab report will have unpalatable consequences. It will be a big disaster to dump 2014 confab report.
But a group of Northern delegates to that confab led by Senator Ahmadu Ali, Alhaji Bashiru Dalhatu, Senator Ibrahim Mantu had asked President Buhari to dump the confab report, what is your reaction to that?
That is to be expected in a democracy. In a democracy, you have the right to freedom of expression. Dalhatu is my personal friend, and same thing goes for Senator Ahmadu Ali who was a former national chairman of my political party, PDP, but then, these people have only expressed their own personal opinions and their own opinions can’t be binding on all Nigerians.
But honestly speaking, I’m appealing to President Buhari not to bow to pressure from any quarters on the 2014 national confab. He should do the needful on it, otherwise the consequences will be very serious. Implementations of some aspects of that confab report will help to douse tension in the land. It will help to stop agitations here and there. It will help to solve Nigeria’s problems.
How do you see the recent Senate’s rejection of devolution of power to the states?
It’s unfortunate, but I strongly believe that they will still revisit the issue. We should not be in hurry to castigate the Senate. There was even a report that the Senate leadership had declared that it had not foreclosed revisiting the issue. Let’s give the Senate time and see what will happen in the near future.
What’s your recollection of the former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, late Dr Olu Onagoruwa who recently passed away? Both of you served in the cabinet of late General Sani Abacha.
Olu Onagoruwa was a great man. He was courageous, fearless and also a patriot. When we were in the cabinet together under Abacha, Olu Onagoruwa was one of the few ministers that could look Abacha in the face and bare his mind on any issue. He was principled and straightforward.
I visited him at his house at Onikan about one and half years ago. When I saw him, he couldn’t recognize me again. It was when his son, Dapo, told him that it was me greeting him, he then brightened up, but started crying immediately. I was with him for about two hours.
When I was talking to him, it was no longer the vibrant Onagoruwa that I used to know that was responding. It was then that I realized that his time here on earth was coming to an end. But Onagoruwa was a great man, a patriot who served his fatherland diligently.
But some Nigerians criticized him for taking up the Abacha’s appointment …
Those saying that would be offending God. Onagoruwa took up that appointment out of a sincere desire to serve his country. He was already a well -made man before going into Abacha’s cabinet. Onagoruwa joined Abacha’s government out of patriotism like my humble self, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Chief (Mrs) Mobolaji Osomo and some other Yoruba who served in that cabinet.
The irony of it was that those people who asked us to join Abacha’s government, the NADECO leaders later betrayed us. We served Abacha in the interest of Nigeria and out of patriotism and not for pecuniary gains, and I challenge any Nigerian born of woman to come out with any proof that I soiled my hands while serving as a minister under Abacha.
It is even a pity that Onagoruwa paid the supreme sacrifice for serving Nigeria. Onagoruwa started dying the day some people believed to be government security agents killed his son, Toyin, in his presence. He watched helplessly as they took life out of his son and he never recovered from that shock.
You were accusing NADECO leaders of betraying you, Alhaji Lateef Jakande and others …
Yes, we were betrayed. Our decision to serve in Abacha’s government was not our own, it was the same NADECO leaders that turned around to abuse us and called us all sorts of names that asked us to go and serve in Abacha’s government.
But why should that be?
I wouldn’t know. But we saw hell in the hands of those NADECO leaders who betrayed us. The only exception was Pa Alfred Rewane, who was always coming to our defence by constantly reminding his colleagues in NADECO and the outside world that it was NADECO leaders that asked us to go and serve in Abacha’s government.
What was your experience like serving Abacha?
I believe that Abacha did his best for Nigeria. Abacha was a straightforward man who didn’t hide his feelings towards you. He would say his mind. Abacha was a Nigerian leader and we can’t continue to condemn him. No human being is perfect. He had his own shortcomings. Working with Abacha is an experience to cherish. Even when he was about to dissolve the cabinet, Abacha called us, he then expressed his appreciation to us for serving the nation. It was later that he then dissolved the cabinet. I have no regret serving Abacha, neither do I have apology to offer anybody.
On the issue of alleged Abacha’s failure to release late M.K.O Abiola from detention …
That’s another area where some Nigerians have been very unfair to Abacha.
Abacha was ready to release Abiola, but it was these NADECO leaders that told Abiola not to accept the release offer. Those of us that were ministers from the South West including myself, Mrs Mobolaji Osomo, late Dr Olu Onagoruwa and Elder Wole Oyelese, went to plead with Abacha to release Abiola. Even around that time, former President of Ghana, Jerry Rawlings was in Nigeria and he also pleaded for Abiola’s release.
Abacha agreed and everything was being done to facilitate Abiola’s early release. The then Chief of General Staff, Lt-General Oladipo Diya even sent an executive jet to Benin to go and bring the judge, who was to handle the matter. But what eventually happened, NADECO leaders told Abiola not to accept the bail offered him. So, Abacha had no blame over the continued incarceration of Abiola, it was NADECO leaders that should be held responsible.
Like I said earlier, when I was in that cabinet, I did everything in the best interest of Nigeria. I thank God that I had somebody like late Chief Obafemi Awolowo as my political leader and mentor. Awolowo trained me and others who are his followers very well. He told us to always be very careful especially if we are given government political appointment. Papa Awolowo was fond of telling us that any of us that found himself in government service should be careful with civil servants. Awolowo warned us that civil servants could turn to be evil servants at a time. This was the guiding principle that shaped my actions during my stewardship as a minister.