Chief Ebenezer Babatope, a former Minister of Transport and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in this interview, speaks on the state of insecurity in the country, developments in his party and other issues. TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI brings the excerpts:
There is an ongoing debate on whether President Buhari should replace the Service Chiefs over the worsening insecurity in the country. What is your position on this?
Honestly, I am not very forceful in demanding for the removal of the Service Chiefs. Even though I believe that President Buhari and his government must adhere strictly to the provision of the constitution that guides the appointment and functions of the Service Chiefs. I think the question we should ask now is ‘How do we ensure that the security of the country is tight enough to ensure that Nigerians are able to live peacefully in their country?’ The reality is that the security of the country is very bad and I am alarmed. People are dying front, back, right, left and centre. If Buhari believes that retaining the Service Chiefs will assist him in consolidating on the efforts of his government on security, then let him go ahead. The reality is that mere change of personnel may not be what we need; what we need is determination on the part of the rulers, especially President Buhari to ensure that Nigerians are secure in their own country. I don’t believe in wasting so much time in saying ‘Replace Service Chiefs’. Recently, I watched the interview of Senator Ali Ndume, the Chairman Senate Committee on Army who is from Borno state. He said that the Nigerian Army is not very well equipped to combat the Boko Haram menace. That is a very crucial point. Let us equip our army and ensure that we have a security force that is fit to deal with insurgency. If we can have that, then the Service Chiefs will be able to render something of value to the country; but mere changing them will not solve the problem.
The federal government has been saying Boko Haram has been technically defeated and they are only attacking soft targets. Do you believe that?
I don’t believe in it. What do they mean by technically defeated? We are not fighting a conventional warfare. Boko Haram is engaging Nigeria in guerilla warfare and this is a war that is very difficult to win. In guerilla warfare, some people will disguise as civilians, spy on the soldiers and prepare an onslaught against their targets and flee. So, anybody who says Boko Haram has been technically defeated is wasting his time. They can strike anywhere and anytime they like because they are not engaging Nigeria in conventional warfare. It is about very crafty, difficult young Nigerians organising themselves into a guerilla movement to fight the military.
Do you think the President should seek foreign support ?
Yes, he should do it. Anybody that can assist us, President Buhari must contact them because these killings are getting too much.
How do you see the opposition from some quarters against Amotekun?
It is arrant nonsense. Why must they be opposed to Amotekun? Amotekun is a device of the South- West to ensure that they guarantee the peace and security of our people in the zone and it must be extended to other parts of the country, so that we can have peace and security in other parts of the country too.
The Senate Committee on review of 1999 constitution has said it will consider recommendations of 2014 constitutional conference. What is your take on that?
Let them do so and very fast too. That confab was very important and vital issues were discussed there. I believe that one of the things Nigerians will remember former President Goodluck Jonathan for was putting together that conference. He organised it successfully and it dealt on many issues. They can remove the controversial ones, but those issues that relate to security of Nigerians should be implemented. The earlier we do so, the better for us.
There has been controversy over some judgments recently given by the Supreme Court. Are you also worried by that too?
I have told the Supreme Court long ago when they decided the case of Osun state that it is not in the character of Nigeria’s Supreme Court to based their judgment on technicalities. It is a very dangerous thing. For example, in the Osun case, they said one of the members of the Tribunal did not come to work and therefore, the whole process has to be pushed aside. That was very wrong. In the case of Imo, the Supreme Court, they decided to add figures together.
It is not the duty of the Supreme Court to be going into that triviality. The Supreme Court of Nigeria has always dealt with issues and the moment it veers into technicalities, then they have put problems in their hands. Having said that, as Nigerians, we must put hands together to ensure that we do not allow the highest court in the land to be humiliated.
In the case of Bayelsa state, the deputy governorship candidate of the APC was found to be fraudulent, so we can’t blame the Supreme Court for that judgment. They decided that case very well and if we follow the judgments of Justice Mary Odili, she has always given very sound judgments that cannot be faulted. I want to advice the Supreme Court to drop off the issue of technicalities. For instance, the Imo case result of 388 polling units, those results were brought in by a policeman. Is that not laughable? If they had said INEC, that will be fine because it is the body saddled with elections; but a policeman bringing results and then the Supreme Court now added the figures together and said the APC candidate has won. That to me is very wrong.
As one of the founding members of the PDP, do you think there is hope for the party to reclaim back its position as Nigeria’s ruling party soon?
I am a member of the PDP but I will be deceiving Nigerians if I say the PDP is seriously set to capture its lost glory. The PDP needs to reclaim its lost glory but we cannot because we are badly disorganised. The issue of national chairmanship of the party which was messed up for us by the PDP in Abuja is still haunting the party till tomorrow. It could have been better for the PDP if they had allowed the voice of the people to prevail on having Chief Olabode George as national chairman. When they did what they did, I was in Abuja and I cried. I saw the way dollars was flying in the air to rob a person who could have bring credibility into the party. To me, I believe it is not too late to right the wrongs. If God preserves my life, I will continue to fight that the PDP returns to power in this country. Look at Goodluck Jonathan for example. He did his best for this country but look at how he was messed up. Even when people were telling him not to give up power, he refused and said since they said he has been defeated, he will handover. I was one of those who told him not to handover to Buhari but he refused, saying that his ambition is not worth the blood of innocent Nigerians.
Why did you ask him not to handover then?
I did so because it was apparent and clear that the APC wanted power at all costs and having known Buhari very well when he came into power as a military head of state, his regime killed so many of my colleagues who went to prison and never returned. Even those who managed to return eventually died.
For example, he paraded me around the country for no just cause. I was in Kiri-Kiri prison, Jos prison and Yola prison before he released me. What was my offence? Nothing! My only offence was serving as the Director of Organisation of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). He did the same to many Nigerians such as Solomon Lar, Abubakar Rimi, Olabisi Onabanjo, Ambrose Alli, Adamu Ciroma and many decent Nigerians died under Buhari’s rule as military head of state.
That was why I advised Jonathan to hold onto power but he said his ambition doesn’t warrant innocent Nigerians losing their lives. But despite handing over peacefully to them, look at what they are doing to him. It is sad. Even before the elections, I wrote about 10 articles warning Nigerians not to allow Buhari to come back. I also granted series of interviews on why people shouldn’t vote for the APC because I know Buhari very well. He is a hard fighting human machine and I knew he will not give up easily. But I will never question whatever God has decided. God knows why he allowed him to come back. But having said that, I think having experienced him and the APC, Nigerians will know how to protect their freedom and liberty in future.
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