Chief Ebenezer Babatope, a chieftain of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was the private Secretary of the late Pa Obafemi Awolowo and director of organisation of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the second republic. He was also the minister of transport during the late Gen Sani Abacha’s military regime. He x-rays the processes leading to the presidential election and concludes that there is a plot to rig. He however concludes that election riggers hardly end well in life. He speaks on other electoral and political issues.
If you do a review of the political trends in the country ahead of the presidential election, what are your deepest fears?
Well, I think we should ask INEC whether it is prepared to give us a free and fair election. It is only INEC that can answer that question. I am very, very suspicious of INEC; this very INEC. INEC is full of deceit and fraud. If they go ahead with the way they are going, then Nigerians should be prepared to harvest whatever they dish out in the name of elections.
Apart from your being suspicious of INEC, what and what points do you have that is making you to lose confidence in the organisation?
INEC is deceiving the nation. Everything they have done so far, pretending to be serious is mere deceit. In fact, it has gotten to a stage where they are no longer pretending about what they intend to do. It is that bad and a disservice to the nation. Let me tell you about this issue of PVC. INEC is merely playing to the gallery with it and deceiving the people. When they say people should come and collect their PVC, they are just playing with the people as we are aware that many people cannot locate or collect their PVC, and it is a deliberate ploy by INEC. Many people have applied to INEC indicating that they have been transferred from where they registered, but their PVC cannot be found. They have not collected their PVC, to standardise it in line with their new area, and that means they cannot vote. These things are strange and do not depict INEC as an organisation that is poised to give Nigeria the best in spite of what they say. All the people who have reported to INEC that they have lost their cards and need replacement to vote have been denied the opportunity or allowance. Those who are transferred to new voting areas cannot be sorted out by INEC. This is a grand design to arrive at a particular destination. INEC knows that those who lost their cards are those who are hell bent to boot out Buhari and his APC. The issue is a very simple thing, but this Mahmoud Yakubu is playing games with the people and he believes he is smart. He is playing games with the PVC and I feel bad that this is playing out now at a time some of us thought that our democracy had been deepened by the processes and outcome of the 2015 elections. There is no readiness to give the nation a free, fair, transparent, and credible election. If they can prove me wrong on this I will clap for them and be in the forefront of those that will be supporting them. But they are not giving me that.
If you have this loss of confidence on INEC, based on the issues you have enumerated, will you still tell your supporters to go out and vote?
Let them go out and vote. Papa Awo , my leader, my mentor said that on no occasion should you allow your grudge goad you into boycott. If you don’t vote, they will vote for you and vote more for themselves. It is a no-no. It will give your opponents the leverage to take power. Do as the Romans do. Let them go out and vote. Let them be there and stay with them and we will make sure that we comply with what INEC has directed us to do.
Some people including you and others in opposition feel uneasy about this election, feeling that nothing good will come out of it, yet they still want to go out to vote. Do you not think it may end up in chaos since they may end up being confrontational?
No! What can we do? If you don’t do it they will do it for you. Why should we fold our arms and say we are not going to vote? No! Our supporters; we will be there to stay with them at every point in time and ensure that they do things as our elders have directed us. Election riggers will never end well. Quote me. No where have they ended well. We will be there with them. We will drive our supporters to go out and vote and be there. If they adamantly want to rig themselves back to power, history and God will judge them. There is always a divine God lurking in the corner and waiting for those that will rig. I wrote a book some years ago on election riggers and there I said they never end well. How can they end well when they have ruined the political lives of some people? How can they end well when they have sold their conscience to the devil? How can they end well when they stir unrest and in the process some people die? The tragedy of our situation is that people do not learn from history. When you talk about morals in politics, people think it farfetched, or something alien to us. But politics should be morally bound. Those in charge of our electoral system should of necessity have scruples; otherwise, we will just be running around in cycles and even cause pain and deaths unwittingly. It is an area people take casually, often times, believing they are smart and enjoying the goodness of God. I repeat that history will judge them and history will punish them.
Is there nothing you and your supporters are thinking of doing to frustrate the perceived threat to rig the election, since you already have it at the back of your mind that you are not going in for a fair contest?
I have given you a clue about the PVC. Let INEC tell us that we are wrong. We are keenly watching them and their maneuvers. We know their game plan. Yes, we know it. We are not fools. We know where they are going. Let this INEC go and do what Attahiru Jega did. Let them hold a free, fair and credible election that will be acceptable to all. Let them build confidence in the people through their actions and not on the lips only. We want this democracy to survive. As a big nation in Africa, each time we come to the crossroads, I feel ashamed because less endowed nations like Ghana, and Cote d’ivoire have since put their acts together and are marching on. Most African nations that should look up to us for inspiration are disappointed because we have failed in showing the way in democracy. Most of the western democracies are deploying more observers than ever to monitor our elections because of the bad signals they are getting. This is not good for us, given the high hopes heaped on the nation, and the respect we ought to get from them. When they do what is right, whoever loses will easily surrender to the winner and the nation will count its blessings.
Some people argue, and forcefully too, that former INEC chairman Maurice Iwu who was said to be a PDP sympathiser rigged the elections for PDP in 2007 and therefore Yakubu, who they allege is an APC sympathiser should do same for APC without much ado. What do you have to say to that?
Well, I did not see where Maurice Iwu did anything that was very, very strange or terrible to democratic election. Iwu served under Obasanjo and what you can hold about Obasanjo is the issue of third term. Obasanjo has made it clear that he never planned for third term. It is a different kettle of fish compared with what is going on now which is not even concealed. If they said Obasanjo was going for third term and therefore undermined our democracy, then it becomes a different issue. Even Buhari that is the president now was on the ballot of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) that time. Whatever it was, history is there to judge. At that time, there was no credible or formidable opposition, unlike what we have now where there is a strong opposition. I believe that when there is a strong opposition like we had in 2015, the umpire and other election management agencies should be careful.
The Chief Judge of Nigeria (CJN) has been suspended under very disturbing circumstances. There are fears that the plot has been hatched, as it were, to ensure that when elections are rigged, the apex court will not upturn it. What do you think?
I won’t underrate the Judiciary. The Judiciary will never abdicate its constitutional role as the voice of the helpless. The Judiciary will keep the tenets of the law and uphold our constitution at all times. If they do otherwise, then the nation is doomed.
But the NJC has ordered the retirement of Onnoghen and confirmed the appointment of his successor, Tanko Abubakar?
I leave the NJC to God almighty and history. That is my comment. God will judge them. If they have decided to ruin their integrity, bow to the whims and caprices of the government of the day and embarrass us like this, I leave all of them to God Almighty.
With that done, don’t you believe the contest has been smoothened and the president is returning? And do you see him doing more things in his second term than his first term which his critics have dubbed a colossal failure?
Buhari cannot improve under any situation. I know him very well. There is nothing about him that shows that he can do better than he has done now or even during his stint as military head of state. No. He has reached his limit and does not mean well for this country despite his grandstanding. He put me in jail for years for doing nothing and threatened to end my dear life. He cannot do much. It is only those who do not know him that will be full of expectations if he wins. If Buhari succumbs to the diverse interest of Boko Haram, good luck to him and his supporters. Nigeria will definitely bow down to the supreme will of God, and that is what is going to happen. I have no fear about the presence of God in the affairs of men, so let no one be deceived.
Do you want to do an epitaph for our democracy?
I can’t do it now. Let us still wait and see what is going to happen at the end of the day. I know the situation is ugly, but let’s still wait and keep our fingers crossed. I am somebody who has dedicated his life to the struggle for justice and democracy. Evil will not always thrive in our country. I am positive about it.
Do you see resistance if the elections are rigged?
Of course those who are cheated will feel bad and may resist. But I believe God is the final arbiter. I always trust in God to decide for those who are cheated. Nigeria is a great country. Nigeria is bigger than all of us.