A former Minister of Transport and member, Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Ebenezer Babatope, in this interview, speaks on agitations for restructuring of Nigeria, insecurity in the country, among other issues. FELIX NWANERI reports
What is your take on the presidency’s claim that enemies of Nigeria are sponsoring discord in the polity through renewed agitations for restructuring and the Muhammadu Buhari administration would not be intimidated into making any hasty decision on the matter?
I read the statement from Pastor Enoch Adeboye on restructuring and I also read the statement from the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media, Garba Shehu, speaking for President Buhari.
I want to advise the President, not on party partisanship, he is in APC and I’m in PDP but on the basis that I want him to succeed. He is of my generation and he is only one month and two days older than I.
I want him to know that the only way we can save this country and live together for years is to restructure. There is nothing big in restructuring the country because it is a federation. By restructuring, we are talking about reaffirming the federal nature of our country’s existence. Nobody in his right senses will say that Nigeria should break-up now.
So, you think restructuring is the only way out?
I am for restructuring. Simply put, restructuring is redefinition, reaffirming of the federal nature of our country’s existence. We operate a federal system in this country; for goodness sake, we should reaffirm it, redefine it, to ensure it takes precedence over every other matter.
When we restructure, we are aiming at justice. That will give confidence to people that they are in a country, where their rights are respected and where they are given all the opportunities to ensure that we run a proper federalism. Those who are calling for restructuring, they know what they are talking about. Restructuring, simply put is the redefinition of the federal nature of our country’s existence.
We affirm our federation, we affirm our federalism and we ensure that we put power in the hands of those who really want to make something out of it. It is not debatable that it will solve all our problems.
Some have said that President Buhari will not restructure the country because the North is averse to the idea. Do you share that view?
I don’t know about that. I heard the statement of Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, who is a right hand man of Mallam Aminu Kano. He is a very influential voice in the North but I won’t judge what he says. I think the North has nothing to fear about restructuring.
Like I said earlier, restructuring is simply reaffirming the federal nature of our co-existence. That is what restructuring is all about. When we do that, we will put Nigeria on a wider map of political, social and economic existence.
I want President Buhari to think about this. If he succeeds in doing that, then he would have succeeded in writing his name in gold. Also, the President should caution his men and not allow them to issue inciting statements that will set ablaze the country.
A former governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, recently said that ex-Deputy National of the PDP (South), Chief Olabode George, is responsible for the failure of the party to win elections in Lagos. What is your response to that?
I heard him and I’m so sorry about what Ayo Fayose, a young man, who still has many years in front of him attacking Bode George, who is a national figure we can count on in this country today. Bode George has been my friend for a very long time and I don’t think he deserves an insult from Fayose. He once said he doesn’t want to see any of us, who is above 70 years old in the PDP, but he forgot that he will soon clock 70 and those coming behind him will say the same to him. That is life for you. Whether Fayose likes it or not, he is going to pass through our age. If he is not careful, he will be laying a curse upon himself by utter disrespect and disregard for elders.
Insecurity has become a major source of worry for many Nigerians, especially with the festering Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East. What is the way out?
I don’t think the challenge is insurmountable. The insurgents can be crushed using the right approach and strategies, which is what the federal government should have done. What I even expected President Buhari to have done is to seek the counsel of elders, traditional rulers and other stakeholders across the country to proffer solution to the security challenge. No individual has monopoly of knowledge, and seeking counsel or advice of others is not admission of failure. What Nigerians want is peace’ Nigerians are worried about the continued bloodletting; igerians are not happy about the lives being lost almost on a daily basis.
We can’t continue like this or pretend that all is well. There is danger ahead if we continue this way. If this insurgency lingers, and the killings of innocent Nigerians continue unabated, Nigeria may suffer implosion, and this is why Buhari as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and his service chiefs should tackle this insurgency with the urgency it deserves.
It is unfortunate that many innocent Nigerians are being killed. Insecurity has become a big threat to the nation’s democracy. It has become a ticking time bomb, which can explode anytime. That is why I like the new security outfit in the South-West, Operation Amotekun. Such outfit should be replicated in other geo-political zones across the country to complement the work of Police, and other security agencies. We don’t pray to have another Somalia on our hands in Nigeria but if the present ugly trend continues, another Somalia may be looming in Nigeria, but we pray that such will never happen.
The Edo State governorship election has come and gone. What do you think are some of the lessons that Nigerians can take away from its outcome?
I am glad that my party, PDP and our candidate, Governor Godwin Obaseki won convincingly. I heard the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, when he did the broadcast but I know that nobody will listen to him. When the crisis started, I said APC is involving itself in a gamble because Obaseki is a popular young man who is solid on ground.
I know his family very well when I was the Director of Organisation of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). From day one, I knew that Adams Oshiomhole was just wasting his time because he took on the wrong man to fight and he was badly trounced. He is currently in a mess politically but he can get himself out of it looking back at where he made mistakes and make amends. He should mind his utterances.
When he came to Osun State to campaign, he said I lost my polling booth in my area; I just laughed because I know he will make mistakes. Politics is not something you sit down and try to conjure.
By now, he must have found out what politics is all about. I believe that because he lost to Obaseki doesn’t mean his influence has gone down in Edo, but if he is not careful, he may get himself destroyed in the process. I won’t mock Oshiomhole but all I know is that relevance in politics depends on what you do at a particular time.