By Omoniyi Salaudeen
The recent Ibadan gathering of some political bigwigs in the Southwest has given rise to speculations about the possibility of a new party. In this interview, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ebenezer Babatope maintains that it’s impossible for all the Yoruba to be in one party.
What is your take on the Ibadan meeting of Yoruba leaders, including some members of your political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)?
I can tell you, that is the nucleus of the All Progressives Congress (APC). As far as I am concerned, they can go to anywhere they want. But for those of us who belong to the Bode George Organisation, we will remain in PDP, we will never ever compromise the PDP. However, if in the final analysis, they humiliate us by disgracing us or by bringing Agbaje, we will help them to bury the PDP. So, those who went to Ibadan can go anywhere they like for their meeting. Until they announce that they have joined a new party, we will regard them as PDP members. For us, we don’t want to compromise the PDP.
The only thing is that they have started the mischievous game they played in Port Harcourt whereby they went to bring one boy (Jimi Agbaje) who joined the party not up to three years ago to humiliate elders in the PDP. They are at it again. But we are warning them not to repeat what they did in Port Harcourt, if they want PDP to remain alive as a virile opposition. If they do, we will help them to bury PDP. We will strike at the right moment. We are not trying to jump the gun; we are not trying to help them achieve what they want to do. They are doing things that will create problems for the party.
Some elements within the PDP want to destroy the PDP. If the PDP wants to finish itself, let them do any of the things I have said; we shall help PDP to dig its grave and bury it. You don’t need to talk of a third force or a third party; the third force will emerge naturally. If they call a new convention, they are not going to do what they did in Port Harcourt, whereby some of them turned themselves to tyrants. But if they pursue the truth and they follow the truth, it will save the PDP from going down.
You sound like you don’t believe in the idea of Yoruba belonging to one viable political party. Do you?
No, I don’t believe in that. In any party we are, we must profess the deepest interest of the Yoruba people. But if it comes to the idea of Yoruba belonging to one political party, we will be making a mistake.
There is this feeling in the South-west that Yoruba did not have a fair deal in the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. Even now, another interest group within the region is also complaining of unfair treatment meted out to some individuals who were instrumental to the triumph of President Muhammadu Buhari. Looking at these two scenarios, don’t you feel there is a need for realignment of political forces in a way that would benefit the larger interest of the Yoruba race ahead of the 2019 general elections?
I am not saying that there should be no political realignment. I am only saying that we must not voice out the fact that we want Yoruba to dominate a political party for the Yoruba. We should leave the field as it is. Any party that ill treats Yoruba will destroy itself. Any party that wants to be in power must reckon with the prominence of the Yoruba in Nigeria’s political space. But we must not make the mistake of insisting that all Yoruba must be somewhere. If we say so, we shall be issuing an empty threat. But we know where to go. If the APC does not satisfy the Yoruba people, we know how to deal with them.
The PDP didn’t satisfy the Yoruba people and went the way of usurpers of power. If they are already talking of a new party, they can do whatever they want. But for goodness sake, they must not say they are doing this, because Yoruba haven’t got certain positions from the Buhari government.
Are you holding talks with your party members who are allegedly conspiring against Chief Bode George?
Those who are conspiring against Bode George are in the minority. The last time we were in Port Harcourt, it was some of the governors that queued up with some of these elements to fight Bode George. And it wasn’t Bode George they were fighting; they were fighting those of us who belong to the same age group with Bode George. Like we told them in Port Harcourt, we wish them the best of luck. But as far as we are concerned, the best interest of the PDP is what matters to us.
Who precisely are the people behind the new game plan to throw the chairmanship slot open to the South?
That is one of the reasons we are crying out now. It was conceded to us at the Port Harcourt convention that South-west must produce the chairman of the party. But now they want to change the game plan by throwing it open to the South. What part of the South are they talking about? We have not even executed what we agreed on in Port Harcourt and they want to move it from South-west to the South. That is wrong. When the party took the decision, they said presidency must go to the North. We didn’t say it must go to the North-west or North-east. But on the issue of chairmanship, the party said it must go to the South-west because we have never produced the national chairman of the party.
What you are trying to say is that there are some Yoruba elements in the PDP who are working against the interest of the Yoruba?
We know the particular boy who is playing the intrigues; but I don’t want to mention names now. They are using all divisive forces to divide the Yoruba people. They had a meeting, which they called Southern PDP recently. What they meant we don’t know. But we are waiting for them. If they speak the language of those in Abuja, that is a wrong signal. And we will let them know that we are also human beings.
What’s the way out of the lingering crisis?
The way out is for us to team up and be united, focused and determined to present in 2019 the best of the best as our candidate. But we must stay by our zoning arrangement. While the North produces the president in 2019, South-west produces chairman of the party.
What is this struggle for power between the old and young elements all about?
Their argument will be defeated, if they insist on this division between the old and young. Those of us who are above 70 will cooperate with anybody who wants to run the party. But nobody does it in advanced countries of the world, where people bring up arguments that are fundamental to the existence of the country and the group. Look at America, Trump is 71years old. All we are saying is that if the young elements want to lead, so be it, as long as they do not base their leadership on the interest of their group. There are younger elements who are governors and they have our support. It will be stupid on my part to start to rub shoulders with the younger elements, because no younger element has challenged my right to exist. But having said that, you don’t tell me you want to disregard me or tell me to go and sit down. Let me sit down on my own terms. As long as God has not called me to His bosom, I won’t sit down.