•Says FG has no economic team
BY Taiwo Amodu ([email protected])
Former Transport Minister and member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP), Chief Ebenezer Babatope, has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to seek the assistance of those well versed in management of distressed economy to assist him in pulling the nation from the abyss it has sunk. Chief Babatope specifically mentioned former Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as one of those that could offer the needed expertise to pull Nigeria out of recession. In this interview, he spoke on various national issues.
The All Progressives Congress (APC)-led administration has consistently blamed the precarious state of the economy on the erstwhile ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). President Buhari recently passed a damning verdict on your party as he dismissed 16 years of PDP as a colossal waste. As a member of its Board of Trustees (BOT), what is your take on that assessment?
You see, I am amazed that President Buhari and the APC keep on accusing the PDP of doing so many terrible things to the Nigerian economy but they have been there now for over one year, going to about 17 or 18 months in office. Nigerians have hoped that all these accusations ought to have stopped. They should create an image for themselves and stop blaming the PDP for everything.
When President Buhari said the PDP didn’t leave any legacy for him, it was a laughing matter, because you have got over 17 months to impress it on Nigerians that you are better managers but they haven’t done that.
The result is that Nigerians are suffering, the suffering is too much.
I live with my people in Ilesa township here and I feel the pinch of what they feel. I can tell you that the suffering of the people is so terrible that as I speak, if President Buhari were to go for popularity test, he would fail woefully, because the time has come for him to stop all this buck-passing, let him face the reality and start running the affairs of Nigerians in a way that will impress our people.
I have thought over it, what could be the solution and I have thought of the solution; there is nothing wrong in President Buhari appointing Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as a Special Adviser to the government on the economy. That lady has shown herself to be a thorough professional, who knows the job. She wasn’t PDP, she was brought by Obasanjo, after he had discovered her talent and I think she should be brought back again to come and help the country. The woman has been a professional, let them appoint her as economic adviser. She was used by the PDP administration, she isn’t a politician and the woman would avail Nigeria and President Buhari of the best methods to arrest the recession Nigeria is facing now.
That recession can only be stopped by people who are professionals and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala can do it. Let them appeal to her; I will join in appealing to her that she should kindly consider working with Buhari and working with Nigeria because this suffering is too much. If it continues for two more months, President Buhari will be very unhappy what is going to be the after effect.
But some Nigerians see the former Minister of Finance as part of the rot of the last administration that the present government is trying to salvage. Don’t you think your suggestion is going to be a hard sell?
Which rot? Look, we have to be very, very circumspect in the way we apportion blames. What rot? This woman wasn’t PDP, she was purely a professional economic adviser and she gave her advice; where the government didn’t take it, she left it off. I have no doubt in my minds that she has all the facts in her brain to arrest the current recession in the country. It is absolutely clear that President Buhari has got no economic managers at all and his Minister for Finance, nice person but she hasn’t got the technical knowhow on how to arrest the type of economic problem we are facing.
But is it practicable for the government to pick an economic team, across the party divides? I don’t agree with that. The APC is in government, it was voted into power by the Nigerian people on the platform of change and now we have seen that change has become something else. In fact, when I went to the North about two months ago, as a part of Bode George’s campaign for national chairman of the PDP, I was surprised when I heard our colleagues in the North telling us that the slogan now in the North is ‘change the changer!’ The North now knows that this changer is a very, very poor and bad manager. So, I think, let it be purely APC affair, but there are some Nigerians who have distinguished themselves as economic managers, who have done very well in their various spheres of influence and one of them is Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Do you think the APC power brokers would want to share positions with those they perceived as outsiders and political rivals, considering the winner-takes-it all mentality of the political class?
It is going to work! I don’t agree with those who have been saying Buhari should change his economic team. I don’t agree with them.
Buhari is the President of the country; he was voted into office and he should know those who are going to help him to achieve his electoral promises. Nigeria needs someone like the former finance minister to use her expertise to turn around the economic fortunes of this country.
Let’s talk about your party, the PDP: One party, two chairmen. Is the crisis externally induced or self-inflicted?
It is a pity that PDP has found itself where it is now but I believe that eventually, we are going to bail ourselves out. We don’t have two chairmen; the chairman we have who is constitutionally backed by the Constitution is Makarfi; that’s the person we support. Modu Sheriff was brought into our party by some governors; they brought him, believing that he would come and perform magic.
I was in Abuja when his name was mentioned, we were in a Board of Trustees meeting when the governors of Ekiti and Rivers states brought him and I said, who is this chairman? I told them Modu Sheriff was a stranger to our party! Who has brought him? To come and do what? And I told them it was an experiment that was going to hit the rock.
I have nothing against Modu Sheriff, but the question is they brought him to serve a party as chairman where he is a stranger; he can never understand the workings of PDP and look at what is happening now. Almost all the High Courts in Nigeria, Lagos and Abuja have taken decisions that can be interpreted in so many manners. We are now in the Appeal Court and we do pray that the Appeal Court will soon start to meet and adjudicate on the High Court matters and give our party a new lease of life.But I must confess to you, those who brought
Modu Sheriff are regretting it now and they are going to regret it till their dying days. It was a grave mistake to bring Modu Sheriff to come and be chairman of our party.
In other words, it will be right to say it was self-inflicted?
Well, you are right, because those who brought him are PDP members. So, it is self-inflicted but we would never concede to him the leadership of our party. He has a right to seek the presidential ticket and announce himself as presidential aspirant, the party will judge him and vote for him accordingly. As for me, I will convince my colleagues to implore Rabiu Kwankwaso to return to PDP and contest election as PDP presidential candidate in 2019. I love Kwankwaso very much; he is a performer and he has all it takes, not only to remodel the PDP but, in fact, to remodel Nigeria and make it a stronger nation than we have now.
You are convinced that the Appeal Court would likely settle the leadership tussle rocking your party. But some are of the opinion that litigation would rather complicate and prolong the impasse. Why not seek a political solution?
But what do we do now? It is litigation galore. Today, you are sitting in your house, then members will rush to your house to tell you that there has been a new judgment; and the judgment is that Makarfi cannot preside over the affairs of the party. Before you start to analyse and rest, another set of people have come to say there is a new judgment, which has accorded recognition to same Makarfi. So, we are confused we don’t know what to do and that’s why we are saying if the Appeal Court starts to sit, I know that it is higher than the High Court; whatever judgment it gives will be very, very reflective on the PDP crisis and, at least, better than the High Court with all kinds of justices giving vehemence to judgment that cannot stand the test of justice. As a lawyer, I know the Appeal Court will give semblance of justice.
Before the Port Harcourt convention was aborted in compliance with judgment of Justice Abang, the young Turks were almost pushing aside the old men in the party. Jimi Agbaje, the candidate of the governors was almost coasting home to victory and would have defeated Chief Bode George.
You are very correct. I backed Bode George, but he was going to be politically liquidated by a gang of young men led by some governors. They wanted to annihilate we the old men; they went all out but we got God’s intervention through Abang to save the older men. We could have been rubbished in Port Harcourt by these young men who were saying that the younger people must take over and I asked a question, when will the young not become old? We aren’t saying we aren’t going to handover to younger people. Of course, we are going whether we like it or not – the biological process of human development will make us to handover to the young men but don’t come and tell us that you will kill us because we are old. We are old because it is part of God’s design that people must get old and vacate the scene. If we don’t want to vacate the scene, certainly we must die and that would be the leveler to make us vacate the scene. But for you to come and tell us that we have no right to partake in the affairs of our party and country when God has allowed us to be breathing, I think it is pathetic and a crime against God. We have left them in the hands of God but those young men nearly destroyed our party but for the intervention of Justice Obong Abang. I don’t like him because the role he has been playing is terrible but it was God-sent that he saved us. When I woke up in Port Harcourt and I was told that policemen had taken over the venue of the convention, I breathed a sigh of relief and I thanked God for giving us that day because for the older people, that could have been our Armageddon; we could have been cleared by a group of renegades, young men.
We still have another chance to see whether we can convince these young men to cooperate with the renegade old men that we represent and, of course, let us have a balance.
But as the party prepares for fresh convention next year, are you reaching out to the young men, represented by the governors?
Yes, we appeal to them, because whether we like it or not, we cannot discard the young men represented by the governors, who represent the new feelings of the party. We are only telling them, they should for goodness sake be rational enough to know that it is better for all the groups in the PDP to come together and build a party and whoever emerges as chairman or member of the National Working Committee should serve the best interest of the party and we should no longer continue to factionalise our party, because Nigerians are waiting for the PDP; they are waiting for the PDP to rebuild itself, to refocus and reshape itself so that they can give the APC a fight and push it out of power.
The APC is the greatest danger to the peace and progress of Nigeria today because their leaders don’t even understand what governing a nation is all about. They don’t understand and that’s the dilemma we are facing.
Are you really convinced Nigerians are waiting for PDP? A former president who used your party platform to run the affairs of this country for eight years and later became chairman, Board of Trustees, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo dismissed PDP as a dead party beyond resuscitation.
What is your reaction?
Well, in Yoruba land, we don’t cast aspersion on old age and we don’t abuse our elders. Otherwise, what I would have said about former president Obasanjo would have been so damnable but I don’t want to say it.
President Obasanjo is my senior in age. In Yoruba land, I would take after him, because he is older and Chief Obasanjo is seen as somebody who has been highly supported by God to accomplish in life. So, I don’t want to be seen as rubbishing what God has done. President Obasanjo’s views, I want to appeal to everyone shouldn’t be taken so highly; it should be taken with a pinch of salt. He should be very, very careful. You were eight years president of Nigeria under the platform of the PDP and whether you like it or not, he has got achievements to his name. He has done his best, but you cannot come here and rubbish a platform that enabled you to be president of Nigeria for eight years! Why are you doing that, for what reasons? In fact, we haven’t been told the nexus between Modu Sheriff and President Obasanjo. All we are left with is to form our guesses. It isn’t right to cocoon the PDP into an avenue of misery, avarice and total failure. He shouldn’t have done that. I want to appeal to him to mend his ways. I also want to appeal to Nigerians to please, kindly take what he is saying with a pinch of salt— they shouldn’t take him seriously.
What is the chance of PDP in the coming Ondo election, against the backdrop of the vow by the APC to dislodge your party?
I wish the APC the very best of luck. That party has been known to take wide gambles in the politics of Nigeria. They are taking another gamble now: they want to take Ondo State, yet they haven’t got a settled party. They want to take the state and Akeredolu who has been duly nominated as the party candidate is being pushed aside, is being rubbished by the very APC that says it wants to take over the state.
Ondo has been ably and well managed by Segun Mimiko as governor. So, how can they take over that kind of state when we have a governor who is progressive, highly focused and know what he is doing. I wish them the best of luck, they are going to fail. Now they have declared Tinubu persona non grata; they are fighting him.
If I were to be in the same party with him, I am not going to fight him, I am going to create avenues so that I can nurse him and his capabilities to ensure that we retain power. Mimiko is going to win Ondo State for the PDP and the people will definitely vote for the PDP and the APC has started its own destruction by what it is doing and we can only leave them and wish them the very best of luck.
What happened to Tinubu in Ondo, do you see it as the beginning of his political liquidation?
How can it be the beginning of his liquidation, politically? Bola Tinubu is of the APC, he doesn’t belong to the same party with me but the APC are the people, pulling down, building again and smashing down. So, everything we hear about Tinubu is of the APC. We can only wish them the best of luck, but you see, Tinubu is a young man who is a great party manager with vision. I don’t belong to the same party with him, but he has vision. If you are fighting Tinubu, you must be very careful, because he puts everything into consideration when he fights politically and if his party decides to destroy him, it is their own luck and that’s why I am wishing them the best of luck. We aren’t going to tell them, stop destroying Tinubu. No, they should continue to demonise him and play into the hands of the PDP and we can consolidate on our victory. They shouldn’t leave Tinubu alone, they should continue to hammer him. At the end of the day, then they can sit down and analyse who takes the blame.