Former Minister of Transport Chief Ebenezer Babatope, in this interview with EMMANUEL OLADESU and Musa Odoshimokhe, explains how the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) can match the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the battle for the 2019 presidency.
As an Awoist, are you satisfied with the state of the nation?
Nobody can be satisfied with the state of the nation because the poverty level is very high. We do hope and pray that people, particularly politicians, will allow President Muhammadu Buhari to do his work. I am not in the same party with him, but we are of the same generation. If the ages we have put down on papers are correct, Buhari is only one month and seven days older than me. I know that he lives such an austere life that nobody can accuse him of corruption. It is not even corruption that is bringing problem; it is discipline. It has contributed a lot to what is happening. And if you are unable to solve the poverty problem, then, we are postponing the evil days. So, I want us to cooperate with the government because this is not the time to talk of party. I am from the PDP while Buhari belongs to the All Progressives Congress (APC). but, let us come together and solve the problem of the ordinary people in Nigeria.
How do you react to the budget controversy?
I don’t like the way the APC is dilly-dallying with the budget issue. They should sign the budget and allow it to operate. This will control poverty in the country. but, the way they are going it; that the president must sign, he must not sign, underscores the lack of seriousness.
What economic direction would you propose for the government?
I will just advise that they get their priorities correct. They must not put too much emphasis on the question of fighting corruption. People have stolen money. they should go and pay for it and if they are to be jailed, let them be jailed. Don’t over dramatize it; you are weakening the moral of moral and spirit of the ordinary Nigerians. Go ahead to get your act right. if you want to tackle farming do that; if you want to tackle infrastructure problem, go ahead. Imagine now, you don’t have electricity. it is so terrible. Let the government face what it want to do and de-emphasize blowing certain issues to the roof top. They should face things that can bring economic changes. I want to advise them that the time they are spending on the fight against corruption is too much, let them work of the thing that will improve the lives of the common man.
What lesson can the PDP learn from last year’s election?
We lost the last election because of arrogance, pride and because of the fact that we do not know what we are doing, so we lost. When it was coming I was one of those who believe that the APC cannot defeat us. When it became obvious that the APC will defeat us, we failed to address the danger. It is a lesson that never again the PDP is arrogant with power. We were arrogant with power and we were destroyed.
Has PDP played effective opposition role since it lost power?
In view of the internal friction we have, we have not. But, eventually, we are getting over it now. When we get over the internal friction of who becomes the party chairman, then, we will be okay. Again, I know Ali Modu-Sheriff very well, he has not done anything against me, but he cannot come from nowhere and say he want to be the chairman of the party. If he forced himself on the party, some of us will be on our way out of PDP.
How can the crisis be solved?
It is for him to accept not to re-contest again as the national chairman. That he came to fill the post of the northeast vacated by Mu’azu is understandable, immediately after the convention let him go. We could have a kind of mid-term election. He is a stranger in our midst. But, we cannot have a northern chairman and a northern Presidential candidate almost at the same time. It must be that we should have a chairman in place that would midwife the emergence of the Presidential candidate. The Southwest deserves the chairmanship of PDP.
But, the Southwest is also divided on this issue…
The southwest leaders are united in what we want. It is not a do or die affairs that we are given the chairman of the party, but for goodness sake let us have a formidable party that will give the APC a formidable fight. Buhari is a difficult person to contend with because what would you say he has done wrong? And that is why we must get prepared for have a candidate to face Buhari, who definitely is presentable. the APC is lucky, we shall be lucky in the PDP, if the APC dumps Buhari. We are praying for that, if it does not happen, then, we must present a formidable northern person to face Buhari.
Why are you canvassing for Southwest chairmanship of the party?
We are not canvassing for the chairmanship, but about applying the principle of democracy to all the things that we are doing in the PDP. The chairman does not have to come to Southwest, but to have Sheriff, who came from nowhere to become chairman of the party is not right. We have said he must vacate office as soon as possible. Let have another person from the north, but by next year, when we call for the mid-term election, the northern chairman will vacate office another chairman that will come from anywhere in the country. So, what is important to us is that a northerner must be the Presidential candidate of the PDP.
A powerful bloc in your party is backing Sheriff…
Well, we wish them the best of luck. They have power, money but they will soon realize that nothing can beat experience. I have passed through Papa Awolowo as the Director of organisation and I know the inner workings of party politics in this country. But, when those governors or whoever is supporting that Sheriff should be chairman, they would be electorally annihilated.
What is the position of your Southwest governors on the matter?
Governor Olusegun Mimiko is with us. We cannot predict what Governor Ayodele Fayose will come out and say, but, he is not against the party. We are waiting, as for Mimiko, I can tell you he will support the cause of democracy. I think Fayose too is in support of this, you know he is not afraid of anybody. But, I believe eventually, somehow we will know his position.
What is the prospect of PDP in the South West?
There is a big prospect because the APC will soon face implosion. The implosion will separate them and scatter them. Except they are deceiving themselves, there are many groups in the Southwest APC now and the PDP will take advantage of this.