Chief Ebenezer Babatope, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) wants that ‘if the PDP fails to resolve the divisions and the crises in Osun, Oyo and Ogun, there is a possibility for opposition parties, particularly the ACN to sweep the polls next year/
The Interview was first published by the Nigerian Compass
Do you think the incumbent President can sail to victory next year considering the controversy surrounding zoning which has been the major issue in Nigerian politics now for several weeks?
That question will not arise now because the President will still have to go through the party primaries. So, let us see the outcome of the party primaries. If he scales the party primaries, then the question of what happens to him and the party in next year’s election would then arise. But we have not had a party primaries and so, it will not be right for one to comment on the fact he is now seen, particularly by the media, as the candidate of the PDP for the election. Let’s settle the party primaries and then affirm that he is the President. Some other persons may come up or another person may come to the camp of the PDP.
But we have some governors in the North Central, South South and South West who had endorsed the candidature of President Goodluck Jonathan. These governors are very influential and they are going to dictate where the pendulum of vote will swing.
Those are political talks. Those are political promises that represent nothing. When a man says I will vote for you, let him cast the vote first. I may tell you yes. I am going to vote for Jonathan and when I get to the place, I don’t vote for Jonathan. So, that is the problem. All these governors you are talking about, they are human beings and so you cannot predict what is going to happen in terms of political and electoral behaviour,vis-a -vis the primaries. So, let’s wait for the outcome of the primaries. When the primaries are out, then we know who would be the candidate of the PDP. Even the PDP national itself, we must do a lot of fence mending.That is the truth. I have always said it, time without number-if the opposition parties in Nigeria are not lazy people, if they can get their acts together, this is the time to offer our party, the PDP effective challenge even at the centre. But unfortunately, the opposition parties that we have, until they proved some of us wrong, until they get out of their laziness and their lackadaisical approach to party organisation, they won’t be able to provide credible opposition to the PDP. But this is the time because whether we like it or not,unless we, the PDP manage our own affairs, there is an ongoing implosion within the PDP which can be seized upon by opposition parties. But again, we in the PDP are lucky that opposition parties, like I said, are not organised. They are confused and they are lazy.
But they are coming back now with what is happening on the political scene?
Don’t judge it with what happened in Ekiti. That is a different matter. But when you judged it in terms of national politics, you are talking in terms how serious they are at the centre. Ekiti doesn’t make up the nation, neither does Mimiko’s Ondo State make up the nation. So,we are talking of the opposition parties, what their post will be towards elections in terms of organising themselves together. They may talk today that we are going to go to the elections with all the opposition parties united and by the the time you get there next week, the parties are not only factionalised. They are in different political zones managing their own affairs. So, what is the seriousness in that?There is no seriousness. It is a result of laziness and lack of vision. But if they are able to unite their forces together, I tell you, this is the time for them to move and challenge very seriously we of the PDP in the National Assembly next year. But I am so sorry that they can’t do it. But I hope they will be able to prove me wrong.
There is a controversy going on that if a court decide that a governor is not elected but rigged election to come into power and if he is removed by a court, the person should not be addressed as ex-governor. What is your view on this?
You see, I am amused when I hear such things. First of all, the court can interpret elections and give their verdicts. But the courts have not said, it is wrong for them to say that. They have not used the word rigged. No judge has ever pronounced rigging. Then, number two, I have heard some comments saying that Oni was never a governor by the verdict of the tribunal. But they have forgotten that the first judgment by the tribunal that sat in Ilorin said elections would have to be held in 60 wards in Ekiti and left some wards and said the result were to be maintained. Nature does not permit vacuum. Even on the basis of the election that were left, it meant Oni has been presiding over those wards that were left and then the wards that were contentious were the ones the court said they should go and contest. So,what then do you do when you didn’t have the whole judgment? You had no split of the judges but split of the content of the decision. So, the man is governor. You cannot have a vacuum in politics. The man was governor for over three years and why do you say he should not have been called governor? What is the meaning of that? He presided, he signed bills, the state was going on and payments were made to people. Are you going to say that all the payments made and to those who collected them, that they had collected illegal payments and they should return them? So, let us be historically correct. History must pronounce its own verdict and the verdict is, there can be no vacuum in nature. And therefore, Oni has been a governor. I want my brother, Kayode Fayemi to direct his attentions to positive matters of state. He is a young man. He is showing signs that he can succeed and, like I said, his inaugural speech was excellent, the mention of Awolowo, I was impressed and even the wearing of Awolowo cap by him, though he has been wearing it for a long time. I was impressed. But let him not waste his time on trivialities and things that don’t make up anything in government. The Ekiti people are very, very intellectual people. They are very educated; they want to see him perform. Let him sit down and then do a reasonable job. Let him not waste his time about whether somebody was governor or not governor because that will be mere triviality. And as far as I am concerned, Oni was governor of Ekiti State. He is now being removed by judicial decisions and,therefore, anybody must recognise him as being governor and Fayemi is de facto and de jure. Let him proceed with his job.
Let us talk about the issue of the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) now. Recently, the Chairman of INEC, Professor Atthahiru Jega, raised a fear that the National Assembly was foot-dragging in the amending the Electoral Act that may hinder him from conducting a free and fair elections next year. What do you say to this?
Well, I do not doubt the competence of Jega but I find his argument that the National Assembly is dragging its foot very, very faulty. He was a person who came out to say elections in Nigeria will start in January. He was the person after meeting somewhere with his INEC staff, now said we cannot proceed in January, change it. You cannot expect National Assembly to now be rushing like madmen, passing electoral amendment. It’s got to take their time. And apart from that, I don’t think Jega has told the whole truth and he is a highly responsible Nigerian citizen. I know Jega very well. He should tell the truth. Has he got the finances to run the elections?
But he has been given N87b to conduct the elections
He has not been given 87 billion. That is my finding and I am telling you I don’t think that Jega has been given 87 billion naira. Let him have the courage for which he is known to say it out. If he has been given 87, I know Jega very well, he would move ahead and conduct the elections. The truth of the matter is that he has not got the money. I don’t think he has received up to half of that money from the government. Let him say so. We are in government, the PDP are in government but we should speak the truth. It is not a fault of Jonathan, we have to look at the purse of the nation before we do all these things. If Jega wants to do a reasonable job, whatever constraints he has, please, for goodness sake, let him say so. National Assembly is not part of his problems,the National Assembly will definitely pass the Electoral Acts to allow him to do elections in April but let him also announce other constraints that he has so that at the end of the day the nation will know where to pass the buck. I know Jega, he is a transparently honest man, I know him too well. In fact, when I went into government as minister, the first television appearance I had, I had it with Jega. So, I know Jega very well.
Do you see him conducting free and fair elections next year?
I hope and pray that Jega, with all these obstacles and odds that I have enumerated, will be able to conduct free and fair elections. In fact, I pray that, our government, the PDP government and President Jonathan will able to release all the money to him so that he can be able to run the operations of the elections. But if the man cannot get the total amount of money he needs, I still believe that possibly, the April elections might be a questionable affair. I won’t say more than that for now.
Sir, four months to the next election, some cases, like the Osun State governorship election tussle, are still pending in court. How do we curb this long extension of court cases that run for years?
The matter is not only ridiculous, it is absurd and it is an insult to the judiciary in this country. And I hope that the Chief Justice of Nigeria will address his mind to this. It is very bad. You can imagine, elections are to be held next year and yet four or five months to that elections, elections are being annulled and new government are being pronounced. I am happy that the National Assembly now says that all court cases arising from petitions on the elections should be held within 60 days and it must end at the Supreme Court. I agree with them entirely. We must stop this nonsense. It makes a mockery of our judiciary. It makes a mockery of our political experience and it makes a mockery of democracy of which, in fact, all of us are saying we are operating. It is ridiculous. We in Osun State now, we don’t know what our verdict will be. We don’t know whether we are going to have our government confirmed. We don’t know whether we are going to be asked to go for new elections. We don’t know whether an ACN government will now be ordered on the state at a time when we should be preparing for the next elections next year,few months to the elections. I believe that this is absurd, ridiculous. In fact, I don’t want to use the word silly and stupid. Our nation must correct this because it is a major anomaly.
Still on election matters. Some people are going to court believing that if they go there, they will get justice instead of going through another election, which they believe that the party in power will rig. They base their argument that there is no where in Nigeria where election was held and the party in power did not win an election. What do you say to this?
The new law of the National Assembly, they have 60 days to prove all those. If they can do that within 60 days, very good. But again, let me raise a vital point and that gives me fear about this question of free and fair election we talk about. I am amused when I see people, particularly the opposition politicians, saying, “Every vote must, every vote must count.” Very fine talk indeed but we have had byelections held in Oshiomhole’s Edo State; we have held byelections in my brother, Mimiko’s Ondo State, yet it is the ruling party in Ondo State, Oshiomhole’s ACN party that have won all the byelections amidst protests. I once asked myself where then is every vote must count, where is it if all bye- elections held under these new ruling regimes in these states have been won by the regimes. Where is the every vote must count? And if, as it is been said,that when the PDP was there, votes did not count and another person won the elections. So, where are we going from here. Well, I wish Jega very well. I wish Jega the very best of luck but I want Nigerians to know that this question of every vote must count depends on the attitude of Nigerians in co-operating with Jega to have every vote must count. If people get to government and manipulate the process, every vote will not count. So, the mere talk or the mere refrain of every vote must count must be stopped in national interest and let see in fact what Jega and his guys in INEC will do.
The Court of Appeal sitting in Ilorin recently declared Dr Kayode Fayemi the duly elected governor of Ekiti State. What is your view on this?
As a lawyer and a responsible Nigerian citizen, one is bound to respect the rule of law. So, the Court of Appeal sitting in Ilorin has removed the PDP government of Ekiti State and has replaced it with the government of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) headed by Dr Kayode Fayemi. That is the judgment of the court and there is nothing anybody can do about it than to accept it. But I have some reservations which I want to put to myself. About two weeks to the pronouncements of the Court of Appeal in Ilorin, the ACN went to town alleging that the PDP led Federal Government was planning to arrest the judgment in Ilorin. And what that means is that the possibility was there that the men of the ACN had seen or had had wind of what was going to come out from Ilorin and they were afraid that, possibly, the PDP might act. Therefore, in logic, if P implies Q and Q implies R, P of necessity must imply R. So, apparently, the judgment somehow must have leaked. But whether the judgment leaked or not, the fact of the matter is that the court made a pronouncement and that pronouncement must be respected. It is a great pity indeed and I am very sad that the PDP government was removed from Ekiti State. But then, as I said, that was what the court has pronounced and that is what everybody must accept.
What does that defeat portend for your party in the state and in the other South West states?
It is a very dangerous thing in the sense that through noisemaking, political agitations and all other things that will be appreciated with political rabble rousing, the ACN has succeeded in taking Ekiti away from the PDP. But I praise the propaganda machinery of the ACN. I mean Alhaji Lai Mohammed. I have said it several times all over that he is one of the most effective political mobilisers this country has ever produced. I say this because I was in charge of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in those days and I am now happy that he has not only followed the tradition that we followed in UPN days but, in fact ,he has virtually out witted what we did. Everyday, he is on the pages of newspaper. Mind you, ACN has not stopped any party from doing the same thing. But to sum up, the thing I am saying is that the ACN has been able to use all these propaganda methods and machineries to convince everyone that the PDP is a minority party in Ekiti State. But I say this with clear conscience that the PDP is the majority party in Ekiti State. I know Ekiti State very well. I was born there. My primary and secondary school education was done there. My first daughter in this world was born for me by an Ifaki princess. My daughter is 42 years now. I know that the ACN is very, very strong in Ado Ekiti and Ikere Ekiti. I know ACN is strong in Isan Ekiti, which is the home town of Kayode Fayemi. I know ACN has some follwership in Ilawe and possibly in Igede. Remove all these places, Oke-Imesi, Ijero, Ipoti, Ikoro, Oye, Ido-Osi, Iloro, Itapa, Ikole, Omuo, the Ekiti bordering the Igbomina in Kwara, the PDP is predominant there. And, in fact, the PDP has never lost any election in Ido-Osi since 1999.They should go and check the records. This Ido-Osi which has now become the centre for which the election of Mr Segun Oni was questioned by the ACN, PDP has never lost an election there since 1999. But all I am saying is now medicine after death. The Court of Appeal in Ilorin has made a judicial pronouncement and so be it and Kayode Fayemi is governor. And I must say this that I have my personal feelings against Kayode Fayemi which he himself knows very well and which I am going to settle with him one time or the other.
What is the matter?
No ,I am not going to say it now. I am going to say it to him when I see him. His inaugural speech, I listened to it, from the beginning to the end. Apart from the small, small things which he referred to, it was a very good speech. He made mention of Papa Awolowo about five times and came out with a very good programme. But having said that, I believe that politically, Segun Oni did his best in that state. Politically, Segun Oni excelled in that state. So, I want to advise Fayemi not to waste his bloody time saying he is going to probe him.
Why did you say that?
You see, probes are more of a useless exercise. Probes in Nigerian history have been mere useless exercises. They don’t achieve any results. Even though I know that Oni has not done any thing criminal, I know that because any person in any part of Ekiti who is in government, except he is of demented brain and except he is just an outcast, you won’t find any Ekiti person going into government to go and destroy his people. I was born there. I schooled there and I know what I am talking about. So, to expect Oni would dip his hands into public funds, forget it. And to expect that any Ekiti man who is sane and who is in tune with culture and tradition of the Ekiti people would now go into government and mess himself up. If any Ekiti man does that, like I said,he is demented; he is insane and he is an outcast.
You said earlier on that PDP is the dominant party in Ekiti State. How come the ACN and PDP are sharing the same number of seats in the state House of Assembly?
You see the 13, 13 you have in that assembly arose from miscalculations by the PDP during the 2007 state assembly elections. The PDP fielded some unpopular candidates that the people of Ekiti rejected. Even if tomorrow, the ACN that is now in government there fields unpopular candidates, the Ekiti people would reject them. So, the PDP candidates were rejected and so the result was 13, 13 in the House. But let me say this. Before the 2007 elections, the ACN was the majority party in the state. But after they finished their primaries, where 13 of their candidates moved out of the party, in protest against how Fayemi was nominated, they now joined the PDP and swelled the number of the PDP and the PDP now became the dominant majority party in the state. But before that 2007 elections, the Action Congress( AC) which now calls itself ACN, had moved to the elections with all the 13 people which included Senator Ayo Arise. If they had maintained them, they would have beaten the PDP. But after the 13 moved out, the AC became the depleted and they became the minority party in the state.
There are pockets of internal crises in your party in Oyo and Ogun States. How do you intend to settle all these crises ahead of next year elections? I asked this question because these are some of the vital states that are now left in the South West.
You have raised a very important and intelligent question. It is a question that is agitating the minds of objective minded PDP members. And I want to say this; if the PDP fails to resolve the divisions and the crises in Osun, Oyo and Ogun, there is a possibility for opposition parties, particularly the ACN to sweep the polls next year. I don’t deceive myself about that. The Yoruba people have a saying that if you deceive yourself, then you destroy yourself. If the whole world is deceiving you, don’t deceive yourself. The cleavages within the PDP in Oyo, Osun and Ogun are so sharp,that if we cannot find solutions to these cleavages, we are in trouble. And the Western electorate, the Yoruba electorate, is an electorate that is intelligent, that is intellectual and that is fair and objective. You cannot fool the electorate of Yoruba states. If we go into the elections with these cleavages, I tell you, we would be wiped out very clean and neatly by opposition parties particularly the ACN. That is the truth .
What is your advice to Nigerians ahead of the next year elections?
I want to appeal to them that there is no need for them to waste innocent lives because people who are killed in all these elections brouhaha are all innocent people who in fact, have not committed any crimes at all. I want to appeal to Nigerians to, in fact, co-operate with Jega. At least, for once in the history of this country, we have a man that we all believe is transparently honest and will do good elections. Let us co-operate with him. Jega will not be everywhere in Nigeria. That is my fear. And don’t forget in 1985, Papa Awolowo was asked by one political committee headed by Professor Cookey to comment on what could make Nigeria a happy place,what could stop election rigging. And Papa said and I quote him: “For as long as Nigerians remain what they are, nothing good will ever succeed with them.” So, apply what Papa said at that time to Professor Cookey, I want to say this that if Nigerians remain what they are, selfish, I am talking about Nigerian elite, the politicians, inordinately ambitious, aggressively ambitious, then nothing good will succeed with them. Jega will just discover that he has been wasting his time. He would not be able to achieve what, in fact, he has set his mind to do given Nigeria a hitch free election. So, it is left for the political elite to support him because in doing so. They will be helping Nigeria to stabilise democracy. And I want to appeal to Nigerian politicians to be very careful because if we are not careful,we might inadvertently be waking up the military in going to our national radio again to say, “ Good morning, fellow Nigerians.”And that may be very dangerous for us. We don’t pray for it. We want stabilisation of democracy but Nigerian politicians must leave what they are now. What they are now does not really give Nigeria any hope that we have a bright future democratically.