Chief Ebenezer Babatope, a former Minister of Transport and member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI and CHIAMAKA OSUAGWU speaks on the recently concluded Osun governorship election, Atiku Abubakar’s emergence as the presidential candidate of his party and other issues. Excerpts:
What is your perspective on the outcome of the Osun governorship election which was eventually won by the APC after INEC, the electoral umpire declared the election inconclusive and a rerun was ordered?
I am a lawyer, and as a result, I know that we have challenged that election in the Tribunal. By the grace of God, the judges at the Tribunal will rule on the matter. I am not going to comment further since it is already in court, but I just want to say that we leave everything for the Tribunal, and we know we are going to get justice from the Tribunal. There was a time Daily Independent assisted us in publishing a story when a group of stakeholders met in my house in Ilesha and said INEC should please transfer the REC, Mr. Segun Agbaje but INEC refused to listen to us and they connived with APC to manipulate the election. Like I said, it is not for me to decide the case, because the matter is legal, and there are very good judges of repute who are in that Tribunal. PDP won the election, and that is why APC could not jubilate when they were proclaimed to have won. Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gunpowder with the Osun election because we have made up our minds that never again are we going to subdue our lives to that of misery, tribulation, and slavery. The PDP has made up their mind to defend the people to the last. I pray and I am confident that by the grace of God, the Tribunal will give us justice.
With the APC as the party at the centre, and with their intention to win Osun state in the 2019 presidential election, are you sure that you are going to get justice?
We are very confident that the tribunal will give us justice because I as a lawyer have gone through list of the judges that make up the tribunal, and I think they are honourable men, and honestly, I believe that we are going to get justice. Having said that, the APC should be very careful the way they deal with Nigeria because if they think they can manipulate the legal process the way they are shamelessly manipulating it all over Nigeria, then they may rig Nigeria out of existence. It won’t happen overnight, it will be a process, and in the end, there will be no more Nigeria. We are Nigerians and we love this country but if the APC continue to run the country shamelessly the way they are doing, then they are inviting trouble which they will not be able to handle.
The PDP had its elective national convention during the weekend where it elected its presidential candidate. Were you surprised at the emergence of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the presidential candidate of your party?
I must confess to you that we all knew about three weeks back that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar will win because the PDP delegates all over the states, seemed to have made up their minds that they were going for the APC jugular. All the aspirants that came out were good candidates. I was a member of the PDP Screening Panel that screened all the candidates, and I saw that any of the 12 people that we recommended could have ruled Nigeria very well, but three weeks back, we knew that Atiku was going to win because we have all made up our minds that we will ensure the victory of the PDP in 2019 election by fielding a candidate that can match the APC for anything that they want to bring out. We are very happy when Atiku emerged and we are also happy that the convention went peacefully. There was no implosion as many naysayers predicted.
Few weeks ago, you said that whoever emerges as the presidential candidate of the PDP will beat President Buhari hands down. Are you still standing by that word with Atiku’s emergence?
Yes! I am standing on the word that whoever and we have chosen Atiku Abubakar – or any of the 12 that I was a member of the screening panel headed by the former vice president, Namadi Sambo, and we did a good job. I was very happy, and I came back to my hometown in Osun state feeling so happy that we have such a calibre of men saying that they want to be the president of Nigeria as PDP candidate. Any of them would beat President Buhari. If President Buhari manipulates the 2019 election in a way that will destroy the hopes and aspirations of Nigerians, he should forget it.
People are already talking about the Obasanjo factor. Obasanjo once said over his dead body will Atiku become the president. Do you see Atiku making any headway with Obasanjo against him?
They don’t know Obasanjo but I know Obasanjo very well. I used to be a very good friend of Obasanjo. In fact, he took me to Angola when I was at the age of 33, and eventually he sacked me from my job. What I want to assure you is that when it comes to Nigeria, Obasanjo will stay with Nigeria. Whoever thinks that because Atiku has emerged, Obasanjo will be against him is making a mistake. Obasanjo will not go against Atiku because I believe and I think Obasanjo having led the coalition, and is still leading the coalition to ensure the removal of Buhari from power, will never discriminate against Atiku Abubakar; whatever happened between them happened when Obasanjo was President. Obasanjo has shown that on some occasions, he goes beyond trivialities, he is very objective. I have no doubt in my heart that eventually, Obasanjo will endorse Atiku. It will surprise Nigerians, because he loves Nigeria, I can assure that. When he took me to Angola, he said something that it has been his wish to fight for African liberation in South Africa. I must confess that I don’t agree with him, but nobody can fault Obasanjo’s nationalistic feelings for Nigeria, and I believe that Obasanjo will definitely allow those nationalistic feelings to come to play.
Let us talk about the voting pattern in 2019. We know South-South and South-East are predominantly for PDP, but in the last three years, President Buhari seems to have made some in-road into these places. Do you see the Igbo voting for him?
He has not made any in-road. You will see what will happen. Atiku Abubakar’s nomination by the PDP will change and destroy that equation. I can assure you that the South-East and the South-South, alongside the South-West, will vote Atiku. Atiku is very strong in the North. He comes from Adamawa state, but he is very strong in other states. What are you going to accuse him of? They said he cannot go to the United States, but it is a lie. I can assure you that America will not base her judgement on mundane issues. Has anyone accused him of taking cocaine to America? Or has he been accused of doing anything as against the interest of America? America will go with the man that will ensure that her interests are protected. America will protect her interest all everywhere in the world, and America know that Atiku Abubakar is the choice of the Nigerian people, and when that is manifested in the 2019 election, America will want Atiku Abubakar. We are an ant when it comes to America, and America will not use a sledge hammer to kill an ant. America will understand our politics, and they will do everything in their power to assist us in our development to ensure that we put off slavery.
Where do you think the choice of the running mate should come from?
I don’t see the reason why the running mate should not come from the South-East.
South-East? Why not South-West?
Prof. Yemi Osinbajo has been the running mate for four years.
Don’t you think the PDP should balance that equation too by bringing the running mate from the South West?
What is important to the South-West now, is the issue of the person who will lead Nigeria into proper redefinition of the federal nature of our country’s existence. It is very crucial to the South- West and whoever will assure us that, is the person we will vote for. I want to assure you that the Atiku Abubakar victory in Port Harcourt was also determined by the votes of South western delegates, so I know very well that the South-west will not make themselves part and parcel of the slavish government that Buhari has imposed on Nigeria since 2015.
So you are of the strong opinion that the South-East should produce a running mate?
I think the South-East should produce a running mate. Not because I was pro-Biafra during the civil war, but I just know that the South-East is fit to provide the vice president. But if they want to give us in the South-West, we will be very happy. We have men who can do it, but I think it should be the South-East.
The anti-corruption war of president Buhari, he said he wants to continue it if he wins reelection. Don’t you think Nigerians should allow him consolidate on what he has started?
He has not done anything called anti-corruption. Anti-corruption has been a political propaganda by Buhari to ensure that he use to get members to his party. A man is adjudged to be corrupt, then the next day, he runs to the APC, and he is covered and his sins are forgiven. Forget the nonsense called anti-corruption. What anti-corruption is he fighting? He is just wasting his time.
What are your hopes for 2019, do you see INEC conducting a free, fair and credible election in 2019?
INEC people will destroy themselves if they don’t give us credible elections. In Osun, we are going to fight with the last pint of our blood to ensure our victory. INEC should give the people of Nigeria a good and credible election. PDP has shown from the Port-Harcourt convention that we are bent on free and fair elections. We gave all our candidates free platform and a level playing field and the delegates chose Atiku. If INEC wants to destroy itself, and wants to destroy Nigeria, then let them go and rig the election.
You have spent most of your time in Lagos. What is your perspective on the rejection of Governor Ambode for second term?
I have not been interested in matters relating to APC, so Governor Ambode can do whatever he wants. The APC is built on a foundation of political fraud and political jobbery. I have never enjoyed myself, and that is why I had to move from Lagos to my hometown to stay, in order to ensure that PDP emerges in Osun state.
Having been rejected by APC, people were saying that he should come over to PDP. Will you ask him to join your party?
If he wants to come, we will be very happy to have him. He is not a bad person. I passed Epe very much, he has done very well in Epe. If he wants to come to PDP, we will welcome him, but we don’t want to welcome him in a manner that will heighten the conspiratorial gang-up that the APC is known in Lagos. (The Authority)