Former Minister for Transportation, Ebenezer Babatope, has said that unless the security situation in the country is tackled with urgency, other sectors of the economy will not experience any progress. In this interview, he says the efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari in tackling insecurity has been insufficient and that the demands by governors and local government chairmen for an increase in revenue allocation be put on hold until the issue of insecurity is resolved.
The Revenue Allocation, Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission (RAMFAC), will soon begin its review of the federal allocation sharing formula and the local governments are already demanding 35 percent instead of the 20.60 percent that they are currently getting. The state governors want the local governments to get 23 instead, but are demanding 42 percent for themselves instead of the 26.72 percent that they are currently getting. Is it a fair deal for states and local government allocation to be increased while that of the Federal Government is reduced?
I believe that we have just been chasing shadows in this country about what is actually needed to be done to rescue Nigeria from this dire situation of insecurity. I do not know what functions the governors want to give the local governments; it is only when I know the functions that they want to give to them that I would be able to advise on what to do.
What is important now for Nigeria is to pursue an agenda to ensure that we secure our country from the hands of bandits and those who want to destroy our unity. The insecurity in this country is frightening and I would say that the Federal Government needs more money than the states for the purpose of security. President Buhari has been saying that he would contain the erratic activities of herdsmen and bandits but we are yet to see any positive results. So as far as I am concerned, no amount of revenue sharing formula will do the country any good if there is high insecurity. As long as we do not immediately proffer solutions to the insecurity in the country, we are wasting our time.
What makes you say the issue of sharing formula is irrelevant? Are funds not also needed for security?
That is why all the component units of the country must agree on what is needed in terms of operations to end the chaotic security situation in the country. The Federal Government is in charge of the country’s security agencies and if the Federal Government needs money, it should be provided for them. The system we are running now lays the responsibility of securing the nation at the doorsteps of the Federal Government, so I don’t know what local governments want to do with increased allocation since it is not their responsibility to secure their communities. I also do not know what the governors need more allocation for, unless they want to complement the security efforts of the Federal Government. Each tier of government should be given money that is commensurate with their efforts and this can be achieved through dialogue. But what is the most important now is how we would secure the country from insurgents, killer herdsmen and bandits who want to destroy us. In Enugu State recently, a woman went to her farm to work on it and she was brutally killed. With such recurring incidences, if we do not address it first, we are just wasting our time.
Many have proposed different steps to tackle insecurity. Some have said we should pay more attention to our borders as many bandits actually come in through there, while others have proposed the creation of state police. What in your view is the best way to tackle insecurity?
Nigeria has many security experts that can advise us on what to do. Something happened recently in Oyo State few days ago; a woman was driving to Lagos and her car broke down. To everyone’s surprise, some Fulani people came out from the bush and helped her to stablise her car and she drove away. So, if the government knows that it is aliens who are parading themselves as Fulani, let the government deal with them. Buhari has been shouting that he will fight insecurity but no one is seeing the results of the fight.
The traditional rulers of Yoruba land like the Ooni of Ife and the Alaafin of Oyo came out to tell Vice President Yemi Osinbajo that these are real issues confronting his people. They told him after he went to the US and said that the issue of kidnapping was exaggerated, even though he recanted it. I appreciate that Buhari is also shouting about the insecurity but we want him to do more than just mere talk. It is only when we have a secure nation that we can be talking about changing the revenue allocation sharing formula.
Professor Wole Soyinka proposed that emergency should be declared on security in the South West but there are other Yoruba leaders who do not agree with him. Do you agree with Soyinka?
Soyinka knows what he is talking about but emergency on security should not just be declared on the South West alone, it should be declared all over the country. I gave you an example of what is happening in Enugu State. Imagine how the daughter of Chief Fasoranti was killed; this is a man who has spent many years of his life, fighting for the betterment of Nigeria.
How is the security situation in your hometown in Osun State?
I just left Osun State and the security situation there has improved a little. We were having it rough before, but things seem to be better because the Ooni of Ife has been speaking the minds of the Yoruba people. Let the government have a conference of security experts that can proffer solutions to this problem because if this issue of insecurity is not handled, we are just wasting our time.
Are you still an active member of the PDP?
I will remain a member of the PDP as long as God keeps me alive. I am an old man now and I can’t move up and down the way I used to anymore but I will continue to give my party all the support I can.
It seems the PDP in the South West is not as strong as it used to be few years ago except in Oyo State where there is a PDP governor. There doesn’t seem to be younger politicians in your fold working to reform the party. Why is this so?
The South West PDP is still as strong as ever, even though the APC continues to manipulate elections but that is a different issue. We are also encouraging all our youths to step forward and lead the struggle. I joined politics when I was very young and Chief Obafemi Awolowo trained many of us and we have continued till this day. But we are encouraging more young people to step forward and take over the baton like Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State who is a shining light in the South West. In Lagos, the PDP has been having issues but I urge all the stakeholders to join hands with Chief Bode George in his effort to restore peace to the state chapter of the party. PDP can take Lagos State if they work in unity and Bode George is very resolute about that but the members must make up their minds.
The presidential candidate of your party in the last election, Atiku Abubakar is in court challenging the election of President Buhari and as court cases go, the judgment might swing to any direction. If the judgment doesn’t favour Atiku, do you think it will affect the morale of your party members?
We would fight on. We are going to enlighten our people, especially in the South West about the dangers of continuing to manipulate power in this country. If they continue to do so, they will destroy democracy and end up destroying the country. However, I am not one of those who believe that the tribunal will rule in our favour; which tribunal?
The South East and the South South have been the stronghold of the PDP for a while, but with the ministerial appointment, pundits believe that the appointment of the likes of former Governors Godwill Akpabio and Timipre Sylva is a strategy by the APC to take over the South South in 2023. Do you foresee this scenario?
I know that the South East has remained a very strong base for the PDP and we all appreciate that and that is why many of us are agitating that the 2023 presidency be zoned to the South East. When I was a student in the University of Lagos, I was pro Biafra and I have never regretted that decision. I am still confident that the people of the South East will produce the president.
I don’t see any takeover of the South South and the South East. For instance, the likes of Governor Dickson of Bayelsa will soon hand over and PDP should not allow the man to be wasted. He is one of the brightest talents in the country and the party should ensure that they do not lose him.