[National Mirror] Chief Ebenezer Babatope (OFR) is an engaging personality.
Though seen as a radical and leftist, Babatope, popularly known as Ebino Topsy, has found accommodation in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Nigeria’s biggest party, which some feel is conservative in inclination. In this interview with Callistus Oke, Regional Managing Editor (Lagos), Babatope bares his mind on the last PDP National Convention, Boko Haram and other national issues. Excerpts:
Some of the contenders in the March PDP National Convention, including you, dramati-cally withdrew at the last minute to pave way for the emergence of Prince Olagunjoye Oyinlola. You predicated your withdrawal on what you called ‘party interest’. What exactly do you mean by that?
In intra-party politics, the supremacy of the party is incontestable. And in a contest of many contenders, you do not withdraw for individuals, but for party interest under the principle of party supremacy. A party man is a team player and should be able to subsume his political interest under the larger party’s interest, to ensure party cohesion and avoid divisiveness and acrimony. It was as a result of this that I pulled out of the race, so as to avoid cracks in the party.
President Goodluck Jonathan was said to have insisted that his list of party national officers must be adopted by virtue of his position as National Leader of the PDP, which reportedly forced you and the others to withdraw from the race. How correct is this claim?
That is not correct. I want those who are saying that to ask for God’s forgiveness. We do not run an oligarchy or dictatorship with-in the PDP or any sound and decent democratic organisation. However, you cannot close your eyes to pressure groups and political tendencies in a political party. That we withdrew to pave way for the emergence of Oyinlola as a mark of deference to the President is very false.
Popular imagination is that if merit and antecedents were to be the parameters for the choice of who should be the national secretary, either you or Professor Tunde Adeniran is best suited for the position. Why do you think you were not favoured?
That is a very difficult question for me to answer. Outsiders might believe either my-self or Adeniran could have been a better candidate for the job, but that might not be the perception of the top hierarchy of the PDP. Do not forget that there were other emi-nently qualified South-West PDP members for the position. You cannot say Dapo Sarumi is not qualified, you cannot say Femi Pedro, former deputy governor of Lagos State, is not sound enough. In a country like Nigeria where people parade impeccable credentials, you must be very careful how you define your merit. As far as I am concerned, God does many things for a man. Whatever he does for you it is not to harm you; it is in fact to help you to survive in the journey of life.
But I must say that the issue of consensus applies to politics as it applies to other facets of life. In the recently concluded election for the president of the World Bank, there were calls for consensus. Consensus is not a crime. It aids the advancement of democracy.
Assuming you had another opportunity, which other party position would you have aspired for?
For all I know, I have no aspiration for any other position. The party leaders have taken a decision on the issue, I wish them well. Let me make it abundantly clear that I have had my last shot at party elective position. I will never contest for future elective party position.
Is this decision based on your disillusion-ment with the conduct of the last National Convention of your party?
No, no, it is personal. Before we went for the convention, I had lined up some personal assignments. I have two books to write too, one of which encompasses my memoir in public life; the other one is a book which I call, By Awolowo Side. It will be an indepth account of what transpired in the Unity Party of Nigeria led by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, with myself as a member of the effective secretariat of the party. Some of the members have died and I wish to keep their memories alive. Imagine Chief MCK Ajuluchukwu; he was the head of the party secretariat. He made immense contributions that should be kept alive. There were others who have equally died; their contributions should not be forgotten. When I now missed my opportunity in the last convention, it is natural I go back to my initial plan, but with my membership of the PDP very intact.
Now that you have brought up the issue of UPN, it is pertinent to ask: between the par-ties of the Second Republic and those of the present dispensation, which are better run?
You cannot compare the political party sys-tems of the First and Second republics with what is happening now; if you do that, you will be guilty of an offence. In the First and Second republics, we had leaders whose political and social lives influenced their membership. Even if there were political problems during their time, they were symbols of authority, symbols of discipline and symbols of tradi-tions that their members followed.
What we have in Nigeria now are individ-uals with different ideas trying to find their bearing in the available political parties. Do not forget that when General Abdulsalami Abubakar was handing over to the politi-cians, he had the firm belief that the politi-cal parties formed would save the military and nation from shame; as a result, there was no conscious effort to ensure that the parties were ideology-based, like the First and Second republics’. In the First Republic, the NCNC subscribed to pragmatic social-ism, the Action Group also did. No matter the definition given to the ‘isms’, the parties were ideology-based. In the Second Republic, the PRP was a democratic humanist party of the left; the UPN was also a socialist party while the NPN was never pretentious that it was a party of the conservative right. No party in Nigeria today is ideological; there could be semblances of the parties of old in them but definitely, there is no clear-cut ideo-logical clarity in all the parties. We do pray they would metamorphose into one.
In an interview I had with you in 2010 after President Goodluck Jonathan became act-ing President of the country, you said that among all Nigerians aspiring to be the next president, Jonathan was the best person for the job. Two years after you made that statement and about one year into his new Presidency, do you still hold firmly to that conviction?
Very, very firmly. Ebele Jonathan as Presi-dent has done certain things that amaze me. No Nigerian Head of State has faced the kind of political problems this young man has faced in his one year as President of Nigeria, yet he has passed the test of statesmanship. He is never emotional, but calm and calcula-tive. I served under him when he headed the Committee for Ekiti re-run election between Segun Oni and Kayode Fayemi. It was then I marked him out for his outstanding lead-ership quality. I am not saying he is perfect, for nobody is perfect, I am saying Nigerians should give him time to display what he has. His patience, his calmness will pull Nigeria through the current crisis.
The popular imagination is that the heightening controversy over 2015 presidency is a distraction for good governance? Do you think so?
Remember the Greek philosopher, Hera-clitus who said society must be in permanent state of conflict. You cannot get a society in this world, no matter how strong the politi-cal system is, no matter how virile the gov-ernment is, there will still be problems. So 2015 politicking is no distraction. Politicians will not be politicians if they do not start to jaw-jaw on political issues and events. What is important is not to carry the jaw-jaw to an unhealthy situation that would affect the co-hesion and stability of the country.
Some people see Jonathan’s leadership as indecisive, prevaricating and unsure footed. Do you agree?
I am so sorry for those who underestimate and underrate Jonathan. On the Boko Ha-ram issue, do they want him to declare war on the states affected? How do we separate the members of the militant group from the innocent people in these states? If you go ahead and bomb the places, it does not stop the problem because you do not know them. The problem with us is that we do not give our leaders enough time before judging them. Let us give Jonathan time.
What do you think accounted for the total defeat of PDP in the South-West and what plans does the party have to regain control of the region?
We are still in business, though we have lost all the states that used to be under our control. The reason is that we allowed our ranks to be hopelessly divided by internal rancour. The South-West electorate is ar-ticulate, enlightened and vibrant people and surely, they would never allow disorganized groups to rule them. But right now we have diagnosed the problem that made us to lose the region; right now we are putting our house in order. Come next elections, the PDP would take what rightly belongs to it.
How far-reaching would be the effect of Chief Obasanjo’s partial disengagement from PDP affairs are on the fortunes of the party in the South-West?
Chief Obasanjo has not left the party. He only resigned his chairmanship of the party’s Board of Trustees. He has a right to take his personal decisions and that decision must be respected.
Do you see Engineer Segun Oni as strong enough to hold the PDP together in the South-West? And what collaborating role would you play to ensure his success?
People do not know who Segun Oni really is. He will reverse the fortunes of the party in the South-West. He is a man who never takes ‘no’ for an answer unless he is sure the ‘no’ is irrevocable. He is always committed to the cause he believes in. There was a time I wanted to leave the PDP and say bye to parti-san politics. I changed my mind when Segun emerged as the South-West National Vice-Chairman of the party, because I know who he is. He is stubbornly committed to prin-ciples. Chairman Mao Tse Tung once said: “Any compromise about principle is total abandonment of that principle.
Mark my word for it, the ACN is courting political danger in the South-West now that PDP is under the leadership of Segun Oni. I am going to support my own brother to en-sure he succeeds, just like I did when he was governor of Ekiti State. I will play effective role to ensure that PDP takes over the South-West in future. Our new agenda is to drive away the ACN in the South-West and we will accomplish it under Segun Oni.
There have been insinuations that Nigeria could break up before the 2015 presidential election. Do you see the country surviving beyond 2015?
Nigeria will survive beyond 2015. Nigeria survived the civil war, Nigeria will survive the 2015 onslaught. Like I have said before, I was pro-Biafra during the civil war; I was a supporter of Chukwuemeka Ojukwu. I supported him because as undergraduates of the University of Lagos, we were look-ing for a strong personality that embodied the ideal Nigerian spirit. There were people in the feudal North that believed Nigeria must always pander to them. But now, the situation has changed so much that anybody from anywhere in the country can aspire to the nation’s presidency and get it. This new movement has produced Obasanjo and it has produced Goodluck Jonathan.
Forget all you are seeing, the northern politicians are politically sophisticated; even they have seen 2015 ever before you and I started analysing it. They will take decision about their strategic interest within the larg-er interest of the country. They cannot afford to rock the boat. They know that in the final analysis, the federation called Nigeria has come to stay.
We must not under-estimate the North. Only a mad man can underestimate the hav-oc the North could wreak in the country. I can assure that if the North is in contention over anything, they cannot pursue it at the ex-pense of destroying Nigeria. Nigeria is one of the few surviving federations in the world. Therefore, we must ensure we stabilize our democracy to keep the country going.
- Boko Haram: Jonathan Disagrees With Azazi On PDP’s Involvement (transformationwatch.com)
- Jonathan is constitutionally free to re-contest in 2015 – Babatope (transformationwatch.com)
- Nigeria: President Jonathan Visits Bombing Site In Abuja (eurasiareview.com)
- ‘Nigeria’s economy third fastest growing in the world’ (transformationwatch.com)
- Boko Haram: Newspaper Bombed to Hit Back at Critics (voanews.com)