Those opposed to restructuring Nigeria do not mean well for the country – Babatope
Ebenezer Babatope is a former minister of Transport and chieftain of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP). In this exclusive interview with INIOBONG IWOK, he expressed optimism that despite the internal wrangling threatening the stability of the PDP, the party would come out stronger and win the 2023 general election. He urged the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to stem the ugly tide of naira’s free fall; also spoke on the agitations for power shift, among other issues. Excerpts:
Ahead of your party’s national convention, the PDP has zoned national offices across regions in the country. What is your take?
Zoning is done in the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians. I am of the opinion that it would lead to more cohesion in PDP; it is for the interest of all party members. Every section of the country is given opportunity; it is not a bad thing at all.
It’s just like what is happening in the country now, where some sections of the country are complaining that they have been left out. The decision to zone has been part of PDP since inception of the party; it is not new. It is good the tradition is maintained and sustained among the present crop of leaders.
But some Nigerians have also said competence should be encouraged not zoning. Do you agree?
Well, I have been hearing people talk, but I think what is most important is the ability to deliver the dividend of democracy to Nigerians so that Nigerians would not suffer again. We have material in the PDP to occupy the positions, knowing that the general interest of Nigerians matters. For me, it is service and delivery of democratic dividends. Zoning is not bad as long as it is not in detriment of the Nigeria nation. Anything that would be done to assuage the fillings of all parts of the country should be done.
The Igbos say the Presidency should be zoned to the region in 2023, if it is coming to the South. What is your take?
Igbos are Nigerians; they are entitled to occupy that position; I mean I don’t believe all these assumptions. In the PDP, we would set that position, but I think all parts of Nigerians have the ability to rule the country. For example, in the South West we have materials like Olabode George who is ready to rule and put the country forward, in the North, we have Ali Muhammad Gwarzo. What is important is that the interest of collective Nigerian people is put above individual interest.
Would you support Tinubu’s presidential bid in 2023?
Well, I cannot comment on Tinubu’s presidential ambition because I am not in the same party with him. He is not in the PDP either, only those with the same party with him can speak on such issues. Whatever may be good for his party may not be good for me.
What is your take on the running of the economy and free fall of the naira?
Everything that should be done to arrest the growing free fall of the naira should be arrested now by the Central Bank of Nigeria. I think this administration has that responsibility on Nigerians. I don’t want to castigate anybody on the state of the economy, but all necessary things within the equation should be done to reposition the naira.
What is your take on the VAT controversy?
It is a bad government that would close its eyes and watch that VAT is being collected in the manner that it would put an injury in the mind of Nigerians. VAT is a contentious affair and we must handle the issue very well and act within the law. Those who have gone to Court have gone to seek justice and it should be given to them. Nigeria is a federal state, all this controversy was because of the way the military abused the system in their favour.
Nyesom Wike has made his point in that matter; I am of the opinion that things should be done in a way that would reflect the feeling of the people who stay in the area. The Rivers people deserve to be treated and given what is due to them like other Nigerians. It is clear and I am happy they are at the Supreme Court.
What is your take on the worsening spate of insecurity in Nigeria?
Buhari should take the advice of Nigerians, the elders on this issue. Looking across the country you can see how innocent people are being killed; I don’t want to believe the government is helpless, but they are not doing enough. President Buhari should consult far and wide. He should talk to emirs, pastors, leaders; he cannot do it alone, rather than continue to waste the lives of Nigerians because of competency.
The Buhari administration has moved to deal with secessionist agitations. What is your view about the agitations?
Democracy permits free discussion of ideas, if some people are demonstrating in the UN, it is within their individual democratic right, it is wrong for us to gauge them and stop them. Let them express their views; let the people of Nigeria express their views. Let all have their say, but the majority would have the way.
There is no problem there, we are not operating autocracy or dictatorship, and even under dictators some people still protest. So, I don’t think individuals have the capacity to overthrow the government. It is impossible for an individual to go to the ridiculous level of wanting to overthrow the government. It would not happen.
The PDP leadership crisis is escalating; Nigerians are afraid it could affect the party’s chances in 2023. Do you entertain any fear on that?
The PDP is determined to take back power for the APC in 2023 and we stand by that plan. We should ignore all these issues, it is normal in a political party. We should allow the party to move up.
The defection would not affect our chances, it may challenge us to do better; don’t worry, the PDP is resolute and would do better. We are poised to ensure we win the election in 2023 and we would not allow anything to distract and hold us back from that goal.
You have been an advocate of restructuring, how vital is that now towards resolving Nigeria’s numerous problems?
We have said restructuring is just a redefining of the federal nature of our country. It is just simple like that. We should have restructuring and stamp our commitment to the federal system that is what I think.
Those who are opposed to the idea of restructuring Nigeria do not know what they are talking about and do not mean well for this country.