New security initiatives by regions will assist police job, says Babatope
• Supreme Court Should Bother About Legal Principles In Electoral Disputes, Not Technicalities
Chief Ebenezer Babatope is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Board of Trustees (BoT) and erstwhile Minister of Transportation under the late Gen. Sani Abacha’s military regime. He spoke with SEYE OLUMIDE on the need for Nigeria to be restructured, and why Operation Amotekun is necessary.
Recently, some elder statesmen concurred that none of the existing political parties in the country has what it takes to take Nigeria out of the woods. Do you agree with them?
It is a pity that we found ourselves where we are now, because democracy is what enables a set of people to be governed by those they feel can govern them. And any party, whether the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) or Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or whatever under a normal democracy should be prepared to run government affairs to benefit the people. Unfortunately, what we have today is the criminal manipulation of elections by the APC, and with the fact that PDP that I belong to is not doing well, one can say our democracy will, or is running into problem. But I have no doubt in my mind that things are going to be better, because if we have normal elections in the country, where the people are allowed to elect those that will govern them, I think any party can successfully run Nigeria’s affairs.
But is it possible for free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria, when the appropriate laws are not in place?
That is the problem, and I am alarmed about President Buhari’s attitude towards governance and normal elections in Nigeria. He ought to have signed the last electoral bill for goodness sake. The Bill has got nothing to do with him, and if he allows normal democratic processes to take place, then Nigeria will not be where we are today.
What are your fears, if the present situation in the country remains?
I am very afraid I must confess. I am very afraid because those governing this nation are getting old. But aside this, the climate to allow a normal democracy to thrive is not there again. Buhari wants to leave power by 2023, but which of the parties is well organised to take over from him?
For instance, APC is not a party without Buhari. As President, he has been able to manipulate things, because he has been using his military connections to move things forward, but he will not be in power for life. And the PDP, which is striving to be in power, has not been able to manage its affairs in such a way that Nigerians can have confidence that if it is allowed to get power, it will introduce normal democracy and the expected developments.
I say this because ordinary national chairmanship election under the PDP was mismanaged. I am a PDP member and will remain so until I die, but that is what is happening. However, I believe there is hope now that the young men presently running PDP have affirmed to Nigerians that they are going to ensure that normalcy is brought back to the party before the next general election.
What are the areas you think PDP should really amend to put it on the right track before 2023?
It is just the chairmanship election. We didn’t do well, when we were trying to organise the chairmanship election. But the incumbent National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus is doing his best. I am one of his supporters, but the way the National Working Committee (NWC) under him is getting rid of some state party executives doesn’t make me happy.
Take Lagos State, for instance. What is happening in Lagos is very interesting, because Lagos is a state PDP should have made concerted effort to take from APC. We can achieve this, but the NWC is not permitting democracy to have its root in Lagos.
I am not saying this because I am a personal friend of Chief Olabode George, who is APC leader in Lagos. I am saying it because if the NWC should put its full weight behind George’s efforts in Lagos, honestly, we will beat the ruling party. I must say this again, not because I want to deride my party. No, I want PDP to win, even though we are getting old. The way PDP deals with its experienced people is so alarming. APC does not deal with its old and experienced people that way. I can’t join APC. Never, but I need to emphasise that the ruling party doesn’t mess up its leaders like our party does.
For example, sometime last year, PDP just picked up the gauntlet and said, ‘let’s get rid of some old members of the Board of Trustees (BoT). Many of us were removed as BoT men. I am not fighting with them because anybody can be chosen to the board, but for goodness sake there is the need to show some respect. Any political organisation that is not governed by maturity and experience will die off. The Southwest executive of the party just went there and said lets get rid of these people and the NWC concurred.
You can imagine what is happening in Edo State. The APC has appointed Chief Bisi AKande to reconcile Governor Godwin Obaseki and the National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, but in PDP, we discard that experience. We trample on experience and maturity, as if they mean nothing to political governance and democracy. One person, who has done so well, I must confess, is former governor of Bayelsa State Seriake Dickson. He shows total respect for elders.
After the 2018 PDP chairmanship election, the party set up the Seriake Dickson Committee to reconcile those aggrieved over the election.
We also had a good experience, when former President Goodluck Jonathan was in power. He did a lot to unite party elders, as well as ensure that maturity and age worked in the party’s interest, which is lacking now. I hope PDP will return to the old platform, where it allowed maturity, age and experience to govern its political operations.
What are your views on the establishment of separate security initiatives by the geopolitical zones?
I have to praise the Southwest governors, who came up with the idea of Amotekun. I also commend the Inspector General of Police’s (IGP) attitude to the formation of theses groups. The Police boss has seen that, rather than castigate the formation of these security initiatives all over the nation, they should be encouraged, because they add value to the work of Police.
Nobody is saying the police should not do its job, but these new initiatives will add value to the job the police is doing. Amotekun, founded by the Southwest, will assist the police in ensuring that we do not allow brigands, thugs and hooligans to dominate our affairs in the country. The way things are going in Nigeria makes one to be very afraid. We have a frightening situation whereby you cannot move.
I was just telling some boys that when President Buhari locked us up after the 1983 coup, I served in Kirikiri and from there to Jos and to Yola Prisons. The Ibrahim Babangida government later released me from Yola Prison in 1985, and I travelled all the way from Yola in Adamawa State through Jos to come and board a plane to Lagos. Nothing like what we now witness was on the roads then. I picked a car that was organised for me by the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) people in Adamawa State that took me all the way from Yola to Jos Airport. Taday, nobody can do that because I am told that the road from Yola to Jos has been taken over by brigands.
If it is not Boko Haram, it will be something else— shooting and killing of innocent people. We should not castigate the formation of these local guards set up by the various governors. The Police should also be encouraged and supported with finances and all the necessary logistics to help this country stem the tide of crimes. The Southwest is one. We are not talking of political affiliations, but we are talking in terms of what will really keep our country safe, because the people’s security is the number one duty of any government.
But former governor Balarabe Musa said Amotekun is just a ploy by Southwest to declare Oduduwa Republic…
That’s false! Which Oduduwa Republic? I don’t want to comment on Balarabe Musa because I least expected such statement from a man like him. Which Republic of Oduduwa, and who told him that the Yoruba are planning such a thing? The Yoruba people are too intelligent for that kind of nonsense. We are Nigerians and our leader, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who did a lot to establish Nigeria together with his colleagues; like Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe and others, ensured they facilitated a country like this.
The Yoruba people believe in Nigeria, but all we are saying is that things should be done properly. So, when we talk of restructuring, it is not the question of asking for Oduduwa Republic, but a question of restructuring or redefining the federal nature of our country’s existence, to make sure we have a solid country and by so doing, we can tackle all the challenges facing the country and move it forward. The whole world is moving forward, and Nigeria should not be left behind in the scheme of things.
Are you saying the consequences of not restructuring Nigeria are the rising spate of insurgencies across the country?
If we restructure the country, like our elder, Chief Ayo Adebanjo has been saying, honestly, there would have been a lot of room to solve all the national problems that are now constituting a terrible menace.
We have an undefined federation. I don’t even know the kind of federation we are running now. And this is why the Southwest governors are working together to ensure that there is peace and security for their people. We don’t joke with the Yoruba people; otherwise you pay dearly for it. The Yoruba are Nigerians, and we are committed to Nigeria, but we are also committed to ensuring peace and harmonious living of our people to make sure the country moves forward.
Would you say Nigeria has learned anything 50 years after the end of the Civil war?
I don’t think so, and it is a pity. During the war, I was an undergraduate in the University of Lagos. I was pro-Biafra and I have said this many times, even in books, because what was happening then was the quest by a particular ethnic group in the country to lord it over the other tribes. We had the January 1966 military coup, which people said murdered leaders from a particular section of the country. It was a very unfortunate and sad situation that nobody condoned.
But when the civil war was fought, some people believed Nigeria must remain a permanent extension of their private family compound. That was the issue that caused the civil war, and then after the war, Gen. Yakubu Gowon launched the three Rs to pull the country together, but again, all these things faded away.
I must confess that one of the results of the war is the fact that we were able to produce an Olusegun Obasanjo from Yoruba land as president of Nigeria. Before 1966, nobody would have thought about that. We were also able to produce Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as president of Nigeria from the South-South area. In fact, I was there with the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, when we had a rally in Bonny in 1983 for the presidential elections, and he predicted that one day, one of you from the minority groups of Nigeria would emerge as president of this country. The late Awolowo told the gathering to mark his word and when Jonathan eventually emerged president, I recalled what Awolowo said. Awolowo was far ahead of his time because he saw it coming and he said so. Having said that, however, let us restructure the country. Let us redefine the federal nature of our existence, and let use all those things as basis for moving Nigeria forward.
What is your own vision of how Nigeria should be restructured? Should it be through a sovereign national conference and referendum or the piecemeal amendments of the 1999 Constitution?
There is no problem, unless we are creating problems for ourselves. The 2014 National Conference constituted by Jonathan tackled this issue. I know that a powerful group from the North said, ‘No, we don’t agree.’ But many of them are now softened up and are calling for restructuring. Let us take the report of the Jonathan Conference and pass the papers to the National Assembly to bring out its own ideas for the proper restructuring of the federation.
But skeptics argue that the current National Assembly is skewed population wise in favour of the North that is against restructuring?
I think the climate has changed now. We now have more people in the National Assembly, who feel that with what is happening in the country, we just have to redefine our federalism. We also have to restructure, that’s my belief. I still prefer that the 2014 Conference reports be passed to the legislative arm for deliberation than calling for a sovereign national conference.
Every part of Africa, where SNC has been held always ended in either permanent shootings or disintegration. Sometime last year, APC organised what we call a Committee on restructuring, headed by Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai. The tide has changed. What is happening in Nigeria, whereby shooting of innocent people has become a daily occurrence must be permanently tackled.
The APC must also review its Constitution to ensure it reflects the true nature of the country’s federal existence. We are a federation for goodness sake and we must accept that. But as long as we don’t accept these things, we are just wasting our time.
What have you to say about the recent rift between the National Security Adviser and the Chief of Staff to the President on the issue of security?
Look, anything can happen in APC. It is an APC, Buhari problem; so, let them sit down and resolve their issue. Some things are happening that one finds baffling. For instance, how could one have imagined that a party in government would pick up Omoyele Sowore and said he must be jailed at all cost? These are strange things and democracy would be meaningless, if we don’t strive to give it a proper meaning in this country. We are having these issues because Buhari sees himself as somebody who should be untouchable electorally or otherwise.
I am using this opportunity to urge Buhari to call on all leaders and elders in this country. This idea was first mooted by Chief Olabode George, and it is a good idea. Buhari is in a good position to call a meeting of elders in the country, which will include traditional rulers, political gurus, trade union movements, university dons and others. Let them all meet and put heads together and evolve solutions to the problems we are having in the country, especially concerning security.
They will definitely produce answers and assist Buhari. The Southwest is already doing it. The traditional rulers in Yoruba land are meeting with political leaders in the region, whether in APC or PDP and they are moving forward. Let Buhari call a meeting of elders and this is going to help the country find solutions to the national challenges. Security is our greatest problem, and it must not be toyed with in terms of practical solution.
How do you react to the Supreme Court’s involvement in determining election results?
I have never seen a thing like this in my life, where politicians are tasking the Supreme Court to review itself. When it started in Osun State, I raised the alarm that the apex court had deviated from what should be its main assignment.
When the apex court based its judgment in Osun on the fact that a judge in the tribunal did not come for a meeting, and used that as a basis to throw away our election, I warned and said it was dangerous because the apex court is allowing technicalities that have no relevance to our national ways of life to govern itself. That a member of election tribunal did not present himself for a particular session and therefore the court said all PDP efforts to have justice within the electoral system were thrown to the wind and yet the PDP produced one of the best candidates this country ever produced in the person of Senator Ademola Adeleke. We did our best to ensure he won, but the apex court went ahead and threw away our case.
The apex court should not use technicalities to solve issue, it is wrong. Rather, it should bother about legal principles involved in electoral contest and not technicalities. Injustice was done to us in Osun and nobody is saying they are going to review our case in Osun.
I want to appeal to Nigerians to please let’s tread very carefully on this issue. We should not because of the silly mistakes made here and there by the apex court want to destroy and decimate our judicial principle that subsists on the fact that the Supreme Court is the last court of the land. We must not humiliate the apex court at all.
And the thing was started by Buhari, when he decided to remove the Chief Justice of the Federation, Walter Onnoghen, in a cavalier manner, and then started constituting the apex court this way and that way. They knew they were throwing sanity overboard and tampering with our judicial harmony.
I want to appeal to Nigerians to please let us rally round our apex court and ensure that all those who have become victims of what happened in the Supreme Court did not suffer for nothing. I don’t agree with the incessant calls for review of cases. The Supreme Court has pronounced results and we should abide by them and ensure that the apex court is not constituted in the way Buhari has started, by removing the CJN in such a degrading manner. For goodness sake, let’s pull ourselves together and ensure we do not allow the apex court to degenerate. We should not present our nation as one that does not want to be governed by regulations and procedure.
If the Supreme Court starts reviewing cases from the criminal injustice given to us in Osun State, where will it end? Osun PDP is planning for the next election, in anticipation that we will have it. When we had Osun and were robbed, everybody was sleeping, except a few who saw the danger in the apex court’s decision to base its judgment on the fact that a judge did not attend a tribunal and so, his absence should invalidate the bigger processes. What is happening will destroy this country, if we are not careful.
If we decide to review Imo, Bayelsa, Zamfara and others, it will have serious implications on the nation. For goodness sake, the Supreme Court is the apex court, and there are provisions whereby it can review itself, but it is not the same thing we are witnessing now. People are compelling the court to review cases. I think this is dangerous.