Chief Ebenezer Babatope, a former Minister of Transport and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI shares his thoughts on latest happenings in the polity, especially on the resolution of Southern Governors on 2023 presidency. Excerpts:
How did you receive the resolution by the Southern Governors that the South should produce the President in 2023 based on the principles of fairness and equity?
It is a very good decision and I am a very happy that the governors of the two parties are acting in concert. It is one of the things that will make our democracy to function well. The action by the Southern governors will greatly help in strengthening democracy in Nigeria because it shows that the monopoly that is often associated with party politics in Nigeria is fading away. Before now, the APC will say it must be North and PDP will say it is the turn of the South. But today, they are acting in agreement in order to defend the best interests of Nigerian people under democracy. The position of the Southern governors as regards the zoning of the 2023 presidency is a welcome development because the North has been there for eight years, so by 2023, they should yield the ground for a Southern president.
Do you think your party the PDP will abide by this, especially given recent reports that it is planning to throw the presidential ticket open?
I believe they should. If the PDP does not abide by that decision, then it is left to them. When the presidential election comes, the Nigerian people will judge accurately by voting for the political party they feel has done the right thing. I strongly believe that the PDP will respect that decision.
Some Nigerians are saying if the Southern governors are advocating that the South should produce the president in 2023, then it should go to the South-East. Do you agree with that?
If the South-East is agitating for the slot, they are right because it is the only zone that has not produced the president of Nigeria. But having said that, I know our party leaders in the PDP would ensure that those who will come out to say they want to contest on the platform of the party are those who are prepared to ensure that justice and fairness reign supreme in the party and they would not put the interest of anybody above the interest of Nigeria, no.
Governor Yahaya Bello in his reaction to the Southern Governors position has said zoning of presidency is not compulsory since it is not recognised in the country’s constitution. What is your take on that?
The Kogi governor is a young boy who is guided by what I called ‘immaturity in politics’. You cannot have a situation whereby only one zone dominates the whole country under democratic principles. It is very bad and cannot help our democracy in any way. By the end of this term, President Buhari would have spent eight years. He is from the North, so the next president must emerge from the South. But again, if a party feels that it can field a northern candidate in 2023, goodluck to that party. The Southern governors are not jokers. They are realist and are very objective in their resolutions.
Based on that, what is your view on the North/South dichotomy ahead of 2023 polls?
All I would say is that we must ensure that, as I said before, the principles of federalism must be held, to govern our lives. Those who are thinking that they want to hold Nigeria to ransom are making mistakes. Nigeria can no longer be ruled according to whims and caprice of those who feel they have to be in power for life. Let’s give federalism a chance, let us ensure that we run a country that will take care of the interest of the Nigerian people. I am pained seeing kidnapping here and there, killing here and there. l am praying to God, I am sure many people are also praying to God and God is going to change what we are having now, for us to have Nigeria as a country that gives respect to democratic wishes.
Femi Adesina, President Buhari’s spokesman on Thursday said with the gale of defections rocking the PDP, the party may soon become an empty shell before 2023. Do you also nurse that fear?
I don’t agree with Femi Adesina. I believe that the PDP will become stronger. All the people who are defecting are governors who have skeletons in their cupboard and that is why the APC has been intimidating them to join. So, the PDP is not worried about them. There is a governor in the South-South who joined the APC but he cannot carry people along with him. They all refused to leave the PDP and join him in the APC. The same thing is happening to the governor of Zamfara state. He couldn’t carry anyone along with him. It will soon dawn on them that they have made a big mistake. The APC is waging carrots before them that if you join us, you will be protected and all your sins will be forgiven. So, it is only those whose hands are soiled, who want their sins to be forgiven that are joining the APC. The PDP is strong and we shall continue to remain a stronger party. We shall continue to abide by what the people of Nigeria want. We are confident that Nigerians, having seen the difference between the two parties will make their decision in 2023. Then, we will all know the stronger and weaker party between the PDP and APC.
The federal government has declared Sunday Igboho wanted after the Department of State Services (DSS) attacked his residence, killing two of his aides. As a Yoruba elder, what is your reaction to that?
It is very bad and uncalled-for. Many southern politicians have been interviewed on this matter and they have condemned it in the strongest terms. I said Sunday Igboho is talking for his people. He is talking under extreme provocation. Why then should you go and attack his house, damage his properties and kill his aides? There are democratic laws in the country which I expect everybody to follow, including the federal government. The attack on Igboho’s residence is a terrible beginning for Nigeria. Nobody should commend the Nigerian government for this at all. How can the DSS descend on an individual in such a single manner without any court order calling for his arrest? Igboho is free to speak out for his people. It is one of the beauties of democracy. We want peace in Nigeria and I want to use this medium to implore the federal government to take actions that can engender peace and stability of the country.
What is your assessment of President Buhari’s government in the last six years?
I don’t know what I can use to rate Buhari’s administration. He is a lucky man; he is in power and I always concede to him. I don’t have anything to gain by saying that he has failed. He is of my own generation. He is one month and some days older than I. He is of my own generation, and I want to see him succeed but unfortunately he cannot succeed well because the people have it as their right to be protected and to survive under democracy.