Chief Ebenezer Babatope is former Minister of Transport, who served as the Director-General of Campaign Organisation of Chief Olabode George for national chairmanship of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the botched convention of the party. He speaks with BOLA BADMUS on his experience and the various factors that were at play, leading to the failed exercise. Excerpts:
Can you relate to us exactly what happened at the aborted national convention?
When we got to Port-Harcourt, we felt we were going for a convention that was to revive PDP. The arena was quite okay. We had discovered that some characters had penetrated the organisation of the convention to the point that by 8:00 p.m., on Tuesday, it was apparent that these dangerous intervening forces had made up their minds to disturb the peace of the PDP and to disturb the forward movement of the party. So, they tampered with the list of delegates in many states. For example, they gave Ogun State four delegates; Oyo PDP three; Osun five delegates, while the Lagos State list was nowhere to be found because they were claiming there was no election in Lagos. They knew that Lagos’ list was heavily dominated by those who wanted Bode George, so they wiped their names out. And it is apparent that if we had had that convention, they would have railroaded a boy, Jimi Agbaje, who had been programmed by some controversial people in the party, into power. Honestly, it was God’s intervention that stopped that diabolical move.
I don’t know who Mr. Jimi Agbaje is. I have nothing against him. By our constitution in the PDP, the young man is not qualified to contest. But some of these elements who are promoting his cause were hell-bent on destroying the progress of this party and ensuring that they destroy our constitution. One of them is a so-called governor of one of the South-West states, Ayo Fayose. He is one of the people destroying the peace of PDP.
Why do you think these people are making these moves?
They came with dangerous propaganda that there must be generational change. What do they mean by generational change? Fayose has been canvassing that all old people in PDP must be pushed aside. Whoever is a good Christian or a good Muslim, who has his senses intact, knows that God will never be involved in any matter that is detrimental to the cause of mankind. God knows what He did by preserving old people and then some people would be young. The blending of young and old makes society to move forward. So, as far as they are concerned, all old people must not have anything to do with governance or administration of PDP.
But beyond that, do you think they have personal agenda by saying they want a particular candidate for the party?
Some people have been saying it, but I don’t want to believe it, that some of them have got vice-presidential ambition. I am a political actor, a political activist trained by one of the greatest leaders in Africa, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. I noted the information, but I don’t want to act on it. But we are going to see how a man who says old men should be wiped out would now want to emerge as vice-president of a country we have served with all our might. I have gone to jail three times in my life and these young men want to create a Republic of young mad men. We would see how they progress in life. God will judge every one of us.
In your view, do these people, as you claimed, think their plan will not be possible with Bode George as chairman?
They don’t want him. They say Bode George was going to disturb their programme. They wanted a nonentity to be chairman, somebody they can dictate to. That is why they brought this boy they called Jimi Agbaje and they want the man called Uche Seondus from the South-South to be the national deputy chairman so that Secondus will be able to now manage their simpleton and robot chairman and push him to anywhere they like. That is what they wanted. They know that Bode George, under no circumstance, will in this world allow injustice to prevail and, therefore, they do not believe in that.
There was nothing they did not say. They were praising everybody at the convention, assuring that there would be freedom, justice, fair-play, that nobody will be debarred and yet they went and produced a register of delegates that destroyed almost all the supporters of Bode George both in the North and in the South, including South-West, even to the ridiculous level that delegates from the southern states were more than delegates in the northern states.
What you are saying now is quite different from what people outside perceive as problem of PDP. It is the opinion of people that Senator Ali Modu Sheriff is the problem, but you are saying it is some young elements in the party.
All of them belong to the Ahmed Makarfi group. But these boys just deviated and threw up this stupid campaign, generational change. Honestly, Nigerians must ask them if it is a crime to be old. On Sheriff, we agreed that the PDP must be left to perform its function as a very effective and mobile force to the APC government. So, Sheriff is out of the way as far as we are concerned.
Are you sure that is real with the conflicting court rulings that are being churned out?
We are sure because eventually PDP will triumph over Sheriff. But we even have a greater problem than Sheriff. What these boys are doing now is a new problem for PDP and which we are going to fight with greater energy. We will not leave the PDP for them. They will leave the PDP for us. But we are going to fight them, it’s a monstrous problem.
If they think with their age, power and money, they have everything, if they think they can triumph over us, they are wasting their time because no matter how great any young man is, he can’t be greater than the older man in experience. No child must toy with experience, status and age; any child that does that will be destroying himself. So, we are waiting for them. We are prepared for war and God Almighty knows that they have already established the very base for war in PDP and we will never allow miscreants, vagabonds to dominate our party and destroy it.
The party has been in the crisis for more than a year now and you have also given the Makarfi Caretaker Committee another one year to manage the affairs of the PDP after which there will be a fresh convention. Do you think the party will have resolved all issues by then?
We are not God who is the only one that knows events of tomorrow. But as of today, we believe Makarfi and his committee will be able to help the party to stabilise. We believe that the committee will learn some lessons never to entrust the destiny of the country in the hands of young men who are only messing around because they have power in their hands. Some of these young men are power-drunk. They have money including Pound Sterling, all kinds of money in their hands. The judgment of majority of PDP members and leaders is that Makarfi is a man who is determined to bring PDP together and we all trust his judgment and wisdom. But like I said, Makarfi must learn sufficient lessons in what is going on now because if he doesn’t learn from what is going on now, we shall all be consumed by the event. We hope that with Makarfi being there for another one year, things are going to stabilise. We will never allow these miscreants who have been misusing power.
To what extent do you see the ruling APC contributing to the crisis rocking the PDP currently as alleged in some quarters?
I will never subscribe to that idea. I will never subscribe to that idea that APC, the ruling party, is contributing to the crisis in the PDP. We, as PDP, as far as the convention is concerned, played into their hands. If the APC wants to divide us, we in the PDP played into their hands. Why did some boys decide to tamper with the delegates’ list? If the police did not intervene by sealing off the convention venue, those mad ambitious young men would have put wrong people in office.
Agbaje came to this party less than two years ago and he wants to be national chairman. When you even take that aside, here is a man who has been in about three political parties beside the PDP. He has been in DPA, AD, and ACN. What an insult?
I do not agree with anybody who says that the APC has anything to do with the crisis. We in the PDP prepared the ground for them to intervene and if they do so, that is their own problem because come 2019, the PDP will have re-organised, we will have refocused our affairs in a way that we will make our comeback to power and rule Nigeria easy.