Ebenezer Babatope is one of the foot soldiers of President Goodluck Jonathan working to ensure the victory of PDP in the February 14, presidential election, especially in the Southwest part of the country. In this interview, he warned former President Olusegun Obasanjo to desist from making statements that are capable of discrediting the Jonathan administration.
What do you think President Goodluck Jonathan is coming to do differently from what he has been doing in the last four years of the life of this present administration?
The first question you should ask yourself is this: Is the man qualified to go for a second term? The answer is yes, the man is fully qualified to go for a second term. Nigeria’s constitution guarantees that a president can stay for eight years. So, he is not doing anything that is criminal, he is not doing anything that is illegal. Some people have been claiming that President Goodluck Jonathan signed an agreement not to go for a second term and it amazes me. I keep asking them: With whom did he sign the undertaken and where is the undertaken? When you have a gentleman’s agreement, even in law, you must conclusively prove that that gentleman agreement existed or still existing. Nobody among all these people making noise has been able to come up to say this is the paper signed by Jonathan. Even if he said that, is it legal? Is it constitutional? Absolutely not! So, Jonathan is free to run for his second term and by the grace of God and the grace of the Nigerian people, as a candidate for the second term, he will win the election.
It appears that the issue of making agreement and breaking it has become a regular pastime of PDP.
There is nothing like breaking of agreement by President Jonathan. And the constitution of our party is so clear and subjected to the workability of the Nigerian constitution. How then will the party come around to say that it is accepting such an agreement? There can only be an agreement when that agreement reconciles with constitution of the party and the constitution of the country.
More than ever before, your party feels really challenged with the emergence of Gen Muhammadu Buhari as the Presidential candidate of the APC. Isn’t it?
Some of them who don’t have background history of this country may think so. I have background history of this country. Buhar’s candidature can only affect those who passed through his tyranny. How can his candidature affect the fortune of PDP? The man has done a lot of things to this country when he was head of state to make Nigerians know that if they vote him to power, they are voting tyranny back into power. They are voting back into power a man who doesn’t believe in democracy. Apart from the fact that he sent many of us in the Second Republic to jail when he seized power on December 31, 1983, he came on a vengeance mission. Laws were backdated to punish innocent Nigerians. This was particularly the case of three young men-Batholomew Owo, Barab Ogedegbe and Ojulope, who were arrested at the airport for travelling with cocaine. In order to punish the boys, Buhari’s regime backdated a law to the very day the boys were arrested and got them executed. Even advanced countries of the world don’t execute people on frivolous things like that. Even examination malpractices were made to carry death penalty. Not only that, he pounced on two Guardian journalists, Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson, and sent them to jail on frivolous charges that they were going to publish something in the foreign pages of the Guardian. Many politicians were sent to jail and died there. He sent one of the commissioners under Bola Ige, Alarape Jolaoso, to prison and he became blind when he left the prison. Till today, Jolaoso is a blind man. What about Shagari? Shagari appealed to them to take him to prison, but they locked him up somewhere in Ikoyi. By the time Shagari left detention, he himself wrote that he nearly went blind. Buhari was talking then as if there will never be a return of democracy in Nigeria. Yet, it is this same man that is saying he wants to rule Nigeria. It could have been a different ballgame if APC had picked either Rabiu Kwankwaso or Atiku. Then, we will know we have a challenge. But with Buhari, we are not in any way challenged.
Beyond Buhari, is it also not true that your party is facing a most formidable opposition in recent time?
Formidable because they are able to come together? You mean a formidable party that has appointed a man whose record in office is such that nobody will want to associate with? APC has not lived by the history of this country by bringing a candidate whose past will haunt him until he leaves this world. The right of Nigerians to elect who they want is a right that cannot be trampled upon. So, whether APC is formidable or not will be determined by the Nigerian people. I am experienced enough to know that every political party in the world that wants to win an election is always careful in electing credible people who are going to be their candidates. No matter how tough it is, by the grace of God and the grace of the people, PDP will win the election. APC has made a wrong choice. You will see the verdict of the Nigerian people. Nigerian people will not permit someone of Buhari’s character to rule this country. You know what he did to Chief Awolowo? Three or four days after he became Head of state, he sent soldiers to ransack Baba Awolowo’s house. The soldiers went there, ransacked Baba’s house and then went on to make an announcement from Dodan Baracks where Buhari was presiding that they met Lagos Master Plan in Baba Awolowo’s house. Not only that, he asked Baba Awolowo to report to the police station. When Baba Awolowo got to Ikeja police station, he made a pronouncement and said ‘the omens are still bad.’ I was not in any government, I was just an officer of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) as Director of Publicity, Buhari pounced on me and moved me to three prisons in Nigeria. When my father died, everybody in Nigeria appealed to him to allow me bury my father, he did not. You wait, by the time we have the election, you will see what will happen.
We are already hearing that plans are being made by some people in his party to murder some individuals. Somebody phoned me in Britain about two weeks ago and said my name had been put down for those to be assassinated.
Both APC and PDP have said it time and again that campaign for this election is going to be issue-based. What is PDP as a political party bringing to the table to make Nigerians vote for its candidates?
The past of Buhari is one of the issues. We have written our manifesto. You wait until we release our manifesto. All we know is that Nigeria must remain one Nigeria. Nigeria must not be broken into pieces. Nigerians must ensure that they collectively end the Boko Haram insurgency. Nigerians must be able to afford three square meals per day. When we release our manifesto, Nigerians will be able to see all the issues I have raised.
How much electoral promise President Jonathan made in the last election has he fulfilled? You are to tell me the promises he made that he did not fulfill. He promised stable power, Nigerians have not had stable power. Is that not an issue?
When have we had power problem in Nigeria?
Governance is about problem solving.
(Cuts in)… Was Obasanjo not involved in power project? There is conscious effort on the part of Jonathan to ensure that power problem is solved. Whether we like it or not, by the grace of God, Nigeria will have power.
Could you mention one specific thing Jonathan has done that has impacted positively on the lives of the ordinary Nigerian?
You are talking as a partisan journalist. That is why you are asking that question.
No, I am only presenting you an opportunity to showcase what you have for the Nigerian people.
To answer your question anyway; Ministry of Agriculture where Adesina is the Minister is there. We are now in the process of exporting our agricultural products. Not only that, go to the rail system. I was Minister of Transportation in this country. We now have a new rail running from Kaduna to Abuja. We are moving away from the narrow gauge system to the standard gauge system. This is a regime that has invested massively in individual’s freedom. No Nigerian can name one person who has been murdered through state sponsored assassination since the beginning of this administration. Other regimes from military to the civilians have had their names battered by executive brutality and murder of innocent Nigerians. No Nigerian can mention one individual who has been murdered during Jonathan’s regime. And, of course, investment in human being is the greatest asset to stablise democracy in this country.
How would you react to Obasanjo’s statement on foreign reserve depletion by the Jonathan administration?
Obasanjo is free to talk on any issue. It is true that when Obasanjo was in government, Okonjo Iweala did a lot of things to ensure that our creditors wrote off our debts. Jonathan is using the same person Obasanjo used as Minister for Finance. The fluctuations we have in our foreign reserve has come as a result of the fall in the international market price of oil. What can he do about it? He can’t do anything. America stopped buying our oil and so we have a glut in the international market.
This is why Jonathan is now spending a lot on our agricultural sector to ensure that we have another means by which we can boost the economy. So, Obasanjo has made no point. As I said, he is free to talk on any issue, but it is now becoming clear that Obasanjo has some grouses against President Jonathan.
To that extent, do you still see Obasanjo as a member of PDP?
He keeps saying he is a member of the PDP National Exco. If those agents of the party still agree that he is a member, what can I do? So, he is a member. All I can say is that he should stop making statements that are capable of influencing the people to vote against our party. And I can tell you; this is the last time he will make such a statement. If he makes such statement again, I will take him up.