The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC has been described as a rubber stamp for the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC. Making the declaration in this interview with TUNDE THOMAS, former Minister for Transport and BoT member, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Ebenezer Babatope berated INEC over what he described as the electoral body’s shoddy performance during the recent gubernatorial elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states.
He expressed concerns that even though the Igbo are supposed to produce the next Nigerian president, another northerner may likely succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023. He also spoke on other national issues.
What’s your reaction to the just concluded gubernatorial elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states?
Nothing to write home about. The election was characterized by violence, malpractices, and massive rigging by the All Progressives Congress, APC in collusion with the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. We’ve never had it so bad. However, I’m not shocked or surprised by this development because few weeks before the elections I had predicted that there will be massive rigging by APC working in tandem with the INEC.
INEC has really messed up. INEC didn’t conduct credible elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states. INEC merely awarded the polls to the ruling APC, and this was also the verdicts of both local ,and international poll observers that monitored the elections. From what happened in Kogi, and Bayelsa states only God can save Nigeria’s democracy. We can no longer rely on INEC for free, and fair elections in this country again. INEC has become a rubber stamp for APC.
Although some people are saying that PDP loss in Bayelsa state was as a result of internal crisis within the party but I disagree with that view. Was APC also not embroiled in crisis before the election? The crisis in APC was serious to the extent that the party’s deputy governorship candidate was dragged to court, and the court ruled that he should not be fielded for that election but did INEC obey the court ruling? No. INEC disobeyed that court ruling because the person involved belonged to APC, the ruling party but if the person involved were to be a PDP member, INEC would obey the court. That’s to show the extent to which INEC under Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu has become a willing tool in the hands of APC.
Although there is internal crisis within PDP in Bayelsa state but that was not enough to cause the party’s loss to APC. Bayelsa state has been a PDP state since 1999, and the party is very solid there, and if not for electoral manipulation ,PDP would still have won that gubernatorial election. What internal crisis are they talking about when international poll observers have also confirmed that the election in Bayelsa state was not free, and fair, that it was characterized by massive rigging. INEC did a hatchet job in both Kogi, and Bayelsa states. The INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu is doing the bidding of those who appointed him.
The election in Kogi state was more terrible as APC thugs unleashed violence on PDP supporters killing ,and maiming them. Senator Dino Melaye’s cousin was murdered in cold blood. Also agonizing was the barbaric killing of PDP women leader, Mrs. Salome Abu. Kogi state was turned into killing field where human blood flowed just because APC was desperate to win the election. My own verdict from all these happenings is that democracy in Nigeria is in danger today. Not only that, the present INEC under Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu’s watch has become the worst since Nigeria’s independence. INEC has also become a laughing stock under him.
On the election in Bayelsa state which PDP lost to the APC, some members of PDP Elders Forum have implored the party leadership to sanction former President Goodluck Jonathan for allegedly betraying the party by romancing APC which in a way helped to facilitate APC’s victory, what’s your reaction to that?
I believe we have to tread carefully on that. I don’t want anybody to rush to any conclusion. There should be thorough investigation, and if it is true that he voted against PDP, that will be bad. But like I said earlier we should not jump to any conclusion without proper investigation. Jonathan is a former President of this country, and he should be given all the honour, and respect he deserves but if it is true that he worked against his own party, that will be very unfortunate. But then I believe that we should leave Jonathan to his conscience.
In politics, strange things do happen which often are baffling. I can remember there was a time a top PDP leader in Edo state abandoned his own party to vote for the then APC gubernatorial candidate in the state, Adams Oshiomhole who eventually won the election to become Edo state governor. But Oshiomhole later turned against this PDP chieftain who is late now. I’m not saying that PDP doesn’t have problems but such problems are not such that it will now be making the party to be losing all elections. I will however implore PDP leaders not to give up. We should be preparing for the coming elections in Ondo, and Edo states next year. PDP needs to be more cohesive. We need to put our house in order because for now that cohesion is not in PDP. By the grace of God PDP will bounce back in a big way. Nigeria becoming a one party state with APC in control will never happen.
What these APC leaders who are blatantly rigging elections don’t know is that election riggers don’t end well. Election riggers have never fared well in history. They don’t end well. It’s unfortunate that APC leaders have learnt nothing, and they’ve forgotten nothing. Election riggers always end up being disgraced. Again, I don’t know why INEC has to appoint Professors as Returning Officers for every election.
What is wrong with that?
It looks strange to me, and not only that, some of these Professors are not upright. And again from the way INEC ,and APC are making a mockery of the electoral process, Nigerians should not be shocked that President Muhammadu Buhari may be drafted for a third term.
But President Buhari has publicly declared that he has no such ambition
Cuts in….I know he has done that but anything can happen between now, and 2023. In politics anything can happen. Buhari’s aides may drag him into it. The Senate President, and some members of the National Asembly, and some of his associates may drag him. They will tell Buhari that he is the best President ever in the history of the country. They will tell him what will be sweet to his ears. But I want Buhari to leave honourably after finishing his second term. He is already 77 years old. What else does he want again? God has been so kind to him. He was a former state governor, a former Minister, and also a former military Head of state. Buhari should know that Nigeria is greater than all of us. There is danger in third term for him. I see total danger ahead if he succumbs to any temptation to run for a third term.
Calls for scrapping of zoning in 2023 has been generating a lot of reactions, especially from the South, what’s your view on the issue?
It is an interesting matter but what those APC members from the South that are saying that zoning should not be scrapped, and that it should be the turn of the South in 2023 don’t know is that APC doesn’t have zoning in its constitution. El-Rufai, and others who share his views in APC who are from the North may capitalize on this, and this may lead to a situation whereby it is another Northerner that APC may field as the party’s presidential candidate in 2023. So for those APC members clamouring for the South to have the Presidency in 2023, it may be an illusion.
It is only PDP that have zoning in the party’s constitution, and this is one of the reasons why former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, a Northerner was fielded as the party’s candidate during the 2019 general elections. You will recall that the former President Goodluck Jonathan that was in office until 2015 is from the South. But my own personal opinion is this, I believe that we should consider the South-East for the Presidency in 2023.I believe that the Igbo should have it in 2023.If we are running a balanced federation, the South-East should have it in 2023.But this is my own personal opinion. It is the party that will decide, and as a loyal party man, I will abide by whatever decision the party takes on the issue.
In a recent interview, the President of Aka Ikenga, a body of Igbo professionals, said it is better a Northerner to succeed President Buhari in 2023, what’s your take on that?
Oscar Onwudiwe has a right to his own opinion but I don’t share his views. I strongly personally believe that the South-East should have it in 2023 but I don’t want to join issues with Onwudiwe on that. The Nigerian constitution guarantees freedom of expression. But honestly speaking, I don’t agree with Onwudiwe whatever argument he may proffer for wishing that another Fulani man should succeed Buhari.
The continued detention of the Convener, Revolution Now, Omoyele Sowore by the DSS in defiance of court order granting him bail has become a subject of debate……..
Cuts in……It is a pity that the Federal Government has decided to hold on to not only Sowore but also to Col. Sambo Dasuki, and El-Zakzaky despite repeated court orders that they should be released on bail. Honestly, this is very sad. Disobedience to court orders is a serious offence, and it is unfortunate that government has decided to ignore pleas from the Nigeria Bar Assiociation, NBA, even the ECOWAS court order on Dasuki was ignored. This is not good for the image of the country. Court orders should be obeyed.
It is very embarrassing when the DSS claimed that Sowore, El-Zakzaky, and Dasuki told them that they prefer to remain in their custody. Who will believe that? How can anybody claim that he enjoys life in confinement? I was once in detention ,and I know how it feels. I want to make an appeal to Buhari that he should intervene by asking the DSS to release Sowore, El Zakzaky, and Dasuki following repeated court orders. DSS is not above the law, and it will be a big dent on Buhari’s administration if it continues to disobey court orders on the release of the three men. Court orders are supposed to be sacrosanct. I don’t know what the government stands to gain by holding on to the three men. They should be allowed to go home on bail as ordered by the courts.
Look at how they treated El Zakzaky. The man traveled to India for medical treatment but they still followed him there. They didn’t give him breathing space in India, and the man has to come back to Nigeria again. Honestly I don’t know what is happening. I don’t know why DSS has continued holding on to these men. Buhari should ensure that judicial pronouncements are respected. He should realize that his government has a lot to gain by allowing the three men to go. Buhari’s administration is portraying itself in bad light by holding on to the three. He has a lot to gain if he listens to the voice of reason by obeying court orders on this issue.
How do you view the controversial hate speech bill sponsored at the National Assembly by the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Sabi Abdullahi?
It is a bad bill. The Senator who sponsored the bill should withdraw it. How do you define hate speech? The bill is in bad taste, and that’s why there has been a groundswell of public opposition against it across the country. The controversial bill will give Nigeria a bad name. The bill is ridiculous. The sponsor of the bill should withdraw it.