By Willy Eya
Chief Ebenezar Babatope is a member of the Board of Trustees (BOT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He believes that so many things are wrong with the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview, he spoke on various national issues including the need to address the issue of Biafra. Excerpts:
With the situation of things in the country today, there is no gainsaying that there is tension in the land. What are your reflections on the state of the nation?
The state of the nation is very bad because there is poverty all over the land and that is very unfortunate. Look at electricity! For goodness sake, people are marking the Easter celebration and there was no electricity in Nigeria. I have been in my house for many days and there had not been a single blink of electricity. We were promised change and change before the elections but is this the change we are going to have? This is change to madness. This is change to poverty; I do not know how to describe it. I want to appeal to you journalists to help us tell them that Nigerians are suffering. I hate comparing people or parties. It is true I belong to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and they belong to the All Progressives Congress (APC) but the truth is that we are not having it easy at all. They said they are fighting corruption, what is the level of corruption now? How does it affect the ordinary man in Nigeria? It is a pity with what is happening in Nigeria today. I cannot explain it. I have been inundated with many, many calls from people who are really suffering. I must tell you that the state of the nation today is very bad. The other day, President Muhammadu Buhari was apologizing to Nigerians; apologizing to Nigerians for what? It is a very terrible situation; please help us tell them. We can no longer bear this anymore.
The claim of the APC is that the previous government had ruined the nation and they are just trying to clear the mess by the past PDP government led by former President Goodluck Jonathan. Don’t you think Nigeria should give them more time?
I do not agree with them at all. For how long will they continue to say that the economy of Nigeria had been badly battered by the past administration? I agree with them that there has to be some infrastructural changes all over Nigeria but the question remains, for how long are we going to remain under that excuse? When President Jonathan was there, were things as bad as these? Let us say that things were not as good under Jonathan’s administration but things were not as bad as these. As bad as the PHCN was under Jonathan, it would try and give us light during celebrations. During Jonathan’s time, no matter how bad the situation was, they would try and give Nigerians light. They said Jonathan has battered the economy, who has not battered the economy? They said they have been fighting corruption taking N200 million, N300 million, N400 million and N500 million but where is the money. Where is the money going and what is the effect? I am a member of the PDP and all of us said ok, go ahead with your fight against corruption but where is it leading us? I must tell you that it is a terrible situation. There is so much frustration in the land. They must stop making pretences. They said Jonathan battered the economy; they have been there now for over one year but what has happened? Have they improved the economy at all? They have not. Nigerians are suffering very badly. I am not contesting power with them; I do not want to contest for power any more. At 73, what do I want to contest for again? But I want to face the issues as they affect the Nigerian people. Nigerians have a right to vote for whoever they want to vote for. They voted for the APC who kept shouting change, change, but where is the change. That is the question every Nigerian is now asking.
Since the present administration came on board, Nigeria has witnessed series of inconclusive elections unlike what happened in the past government under President Jonathan. What do you think is wrong and with the development, what is the future of our electoral process?
We have to pray. Like I said, I hate comparing people. Buhari is certainly different from Jonathan, his predecessor. But the question remains that when Jonathan was there, he did not interfere in the electoral process to the point that elections were becoming inconclusive. Under Jonathan, the APC would contest in an election and win but now after elections, the result would not be declared. Look at what happened in Rivers State! They would go to an election and kill people and at the end of the day, the PDP led by 10 local governments to one. The Buhari and the APC should close their eyes to the fact that somebody is in power, let the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have freedom to conduct elections for goodness sake. When they do that, they would be helping democracy in Nigeria. What they are doing in Nigeria now is to destroy democracy and the will of the people in having confidence in INEC which is the electoral body that conducts elections.
There is a school of thought that continues to insist that yes, Buhari has integrity and that he is not corrupt but that he lacks the intellectual content to lead a complex society like Nigeria. Do you share this view?
I tell you that there are many things wrong with the APC. It is not a question of Buhari. After all, he is just an individual. People know that Buhari has integrity; fine. He is not the only one. Many of us who are in the PDP have integrity; we did not steal N200 million and N300 million but the truth remains that the APC did not find time to sit down and plan their electoral victory. That is the issue. It is not Buhari’s matter. The APC as a party did not sit down to plan their victory in a way that will make people know that actually, there had been a change. That is the issue. What we are having now is the noise about N200 million, N300 Million and all that on issues of corruption; fine, it is beautiful on paper but where does it lead us. Does it lead us to three square meals a day? Look at the issue of fuel scarcity. You cannot even see fuel to buy to move from one place to the other. Look at the issue of power. There is no electricity. Honestly, it is annoying to hear the APC say that the PDP has destroyed the economy. They have not destroyed the economy but what has happened? Nigerians are suffering. Tell them that the suffering is too much. We want you media men to help us tell them that that the suffering is too much. They should kindly give us all the avenues of ensuring that we get out of this mess. The suffering is too much and it is getting worse every day.
The PDP is the main opposition party. At the level of your party, what are you doing to relaunch the party to power in 2019?
I pray for our party to come back but we cannot come back until we have elections. We are trying our best to ensure that we clear all the mess within our party. I agree with you that the PDP is full of messy situation. As I am talking to you, there are some young men who believe that all the young men must be buried alive. Within the PDP, there are some young men who believe that anything you say about anybody above 70 should be thrown to the bin. They believe that they are useless. But by the grace of God, we shall get over all these matters and by 2019, Nigerians will vote for the PDP because the best thing that would happen to Nigeria is for the PDP to come back to power. This is because the APC that is in power now lacks focus.
But in your view, what do you think would be a strategy which the PDP would adopt to win the hearts of Nigerians in 2019?
We will organize as we have never organized before as a party. All the young men who are jumping up that the old should die, would soon learn lessons because they lack experience. I know that in the PDP, very soon, we would clean our home because the thinking of Nigerians is different from what they are getting from the APC government.
The tension in the land is such that some are even scared of the future of the nation. From your vantage position, what do you see of the future of Nigeria?
The truth still remains that Nigeria is under a democratic government. I know there is tension but the tension must be contained by every Nigerian to ensure that the people are governed through the electoral process. There is no other alternative to democracy. You cannot use the military regime to solve the problem. You cannot tell the military to come back; to come and do what? We can never tolerate the military again in our society but then we the officials must ensure that we guarantee the people of Nigeria that they can choose and elect people who would represent them in government. That is what democracy is all about. As for the future of Nigeria, it is very bright. The tension that we are having is temporary. Democracy will survive and the country will survive.
Some argue that the present administration has not been able to achieve national reconciliation as some ethnic regions feel alienated from the government. Do you think Buhari has been able to achieve national cohesion?
I agree with you totally. Buhari has not done much about national reconciliation. And I do not like the approach of this government to the issue of Biafra. It is true Biafra has come and gone but we must realize that there were some innocent Nigerians who were killed during the Biafran era and since some people are embittered, the government should try to meet them and try to ameliorate their condition. I do not like the treatment being given to Kanu; it is not right. We should meet them and talk to them. The Igbo people are hard working people and I do not see why they should not agree with the Buhari government. Let the APC government pursue genuine reconciliation on the issue of Biafra so that it would be seen that justice has been done to the people.
Recently, President Buhari made Nigeria to join a group made up of Muslim nations united in the fight against terrorism. Considering that the nation is a secular state, many expected that the president should have sought the consent of the National Assembly before taking such a foreign policy decision. What is your take on that?
I want to tell you this; the president has a right to take certain decisions that he feels should be in the best interest of the people even though I do not agree with what he did. It is not based on religion but my problem is this, even the Arab nations that President Buhari has gone to join, have they been able to solve the problems that they have? ISIS is becoming much more troublesome in its own territories.