2023 presidency: Southeast deserves to be given a chance – Ebenezer Babatope

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Ahead of the alteration of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) by the National Assembly, former Minister of Transport, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, has said that there is need to give serious attention to the restructuring of the polity.

Babatope, a former member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Board of Trustees (BoT) and leader of the opposition party in Osun State, says restructuring is the panacea to the myriad of challenges plaguing the country.

The PDP leader , who spoke in an interview with Sunday Sun, also bared his mind on the zoning of the opposition party’s presidential ticket for the 2023 general elections among other issues. Excerpts:

The National Assembly is set to begin an alteration of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), a school of thought believes this should be an opportunity to address some fundamental issues like the clamour for restructuring and state police, among others. What is your take?

People have been talking about state police for a long time. Until we ensure that we put security in the hands of those who know about it, we will be wasting our time. For example, if we have state police, it doesn’t remove from the national police. But what is important is that the state police will be able to know those who are involved in criminal activities in their areas, and they will be able to ensure that we get to the root of insecurity and injustice in this country. We run a federation in this country. Those who are talking about state police, they know what they are talking about. I am for restructuring. Simply put, restructuring is redefinition, reaffirment of the federal nature of our country’s existence. We run a federalism in this country for goodness sake and we should reaffirm it, redefine it, to ensure it takes precedence over every other matter. When we are restructuring, we are aiming at justice. That will give confidence to people that they are in a country where their rights are being respected. And where they are given all the opportunities to ensure that we run a proper federalism. Those who are are calling for restructuring, they know what they are talking about. Restructuring, pure and simple is the redefinition of the federal nature of our country’s existence. We affirm our federation, ,we affirm our federalism and we ensure that we put power in the hands of those who really want to make something out of it. It is not debatable. It will solve all our problems. These killings will stop.

Those against state police argue that it could be abused by state governos, just like the State Independent Electoral Commissions(SIECs)?

Any governor who wants to abuse it (state police) would be wasting his time. What happened to native authority system of old? When you do that you know that you are destroying yourself. The governors are the people who know their people; who know where the shoe pinches them and who know how to get justices.

The National Assembly has commenced the amendment of the Electoral Act. What do you think should be part of the new electoral law?

What they should consider first and foremost is how to get the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct free and fair elections in Nigeria. Elections that will be seen to be free. Elections that will be seen that the people have been given the right to elect people, who will govern them. That is what the National Assembly should be concerned about. If they don’t do that, then elections will continue to be rigged in Nigerian and that will be to the detriment of this country.

Some stakeholders say the way to go in 2023 is electronic voting. Do you share that sentiment?

Electronic voting? You see, these things are mere technical terms. What is important is to get the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to commit itself to giving Nigerian people the right to elect those, who should govern them. If you put electronic voting, electronic voting can be manipulated too.What is important is let the INEC commit itself and guarantee that it will give the people of Nigeria the freedom to elect those, who will govern them.

How can we get INEC to commit itself to conducting free and fair election. Some have argued that if elections are transmitted electronically from the polling units straight to the collation centres, there will be less interference?

It is a question of getting the INEC to be honour-bound in their pledge to Nigeria through the National Assembly. Honour-bound. The INEC we have had in this country, except very few, has never committed itself to be honour bound to give the people of Nigeria the freedom to elect those who will govern them.

Some have also argued that if election results are transmitted electronically from the polling units to the collation centres, there will be less interference with the results?

I still maintain that if they go electronic, it will still be manipulated. The machines will be manipulated to give Nigerians wrong results. And to give Nigerians wrong people to govern them.

You are former member of the PDP Board of Trustees. Recently one of your party man, former Governor Gabriel Suswan of Benue said the party is going to zone its presidential candidate for the 2023 general elections to the North, how would you react to that?

As far as I am concerned, the PDP has the final say. But left to me, I would have wanted that somebody from the Southeast be nominated, so that it can go round the whole country to satisfy the principle of federalism. But if the party decides to go to the North again, no problem. The party would have taken into consideration, many of the things that we are going to examine in terms of winning the election. And if former Governor Suswan said that, there must be reason for that. But we must know in our mind that Southeast deserves to be given a shot. If we give it to the North again, after the North, it must go to the Southeast.

Has the party at any point discussed the zoning for the 2023 general elections or was Suswan just giving his opinion?

Suswan is near the corridor of power in the PDP. He should know what he is talking about. But the party, as far I am concerned, has never tabled it for discussion and no decision has been passed to anybody as regards that. But like I said, the PDP has the right to decide who will be the candidate based on what is happening now. And I know that nobody hates the Southeast. I want the party to satisfy the principle of federalism, by making sure that we pick somebody from there.

Ahead of the Edo and Ondo governorship elections, there are fears that with the current Electoral Act , there may a repeat of the challenges that characterised the Kogi and Bayelsa polls?

That will be sad, if we have a repeat. But what I know is that the PDP, we are one with our leadership in affirming and endorsing Obaseki as our candidate in Edo and Eyitayo Jegede in Ondo State, we are going to back him too. We want to ensure that the people of Nigeria are allowed to choose the people who should govern them. We are not going to involve thugs. What is important is the votes. And we are sure that the people will cast their votes for the PDP.

Are you confident that INEC will conduct free and fair elections in Edo and Ondo states?

I am not sure. I am not sure. Unless the National Assembly quickly carries out its plans to reorganize electoral law in the country and to ensure that INEC will keep its obligations to the Nigerian people. But as it is now, I am not sure.

The Southwest PDP wants to regain power in the zone in 2023. But across the Southwest virtually every state chapter of the party is in crisis…

We will resolve all those issues. All that is important is that we should have trusted people, who’.are members. And don’t forget that we have a good person who is leading the party right now. That is Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State. He is level headed. He is an achiever. We are going to resolve the issues and march forward, because it is not just by words of mouth that we are saying that we want to win the Southwest. We are determined to ensure that we have victory in the Southwest. And we are going to have it.

Prior to the last national convention of the PDP, the Southwest wanted to produce the National Chairman of the party, but it eventually went to the South-south, should the party retain its zoning formular, would the Southwest be taking another shot at the national chairmanship?

I cannot talk for the Southwest. We have assemblies organised in the Southwest that can do that. I cannot be talking for the Southwest. All I know is that whatever the party decides to be in the best interest of the party, and in the best interest of the people of the Southwest and in the best interest of the people of Nigeria, that is what we will do.

How would you assess the President Buhari administration, five years after?

It will be very unfair for me to do that. Buhari is of the APC and I am of the PDP. It is left for the Nigerian people to judge. That is why we should have a clear minded and independent INEC to ensure that the people of Nigeria produce their verdict.

The House of Representatives working on a bill to grant immunity from prosecution to the CJN and other categories of judges, as well as leaders of the legislature…

Immunity from what? If they seek immunity from prosecution, it means that they have done something which is criminal. And which is wrong. I don’t subscribe to that. I believe that we should respect their positions. The justices of the Supreme Court must be respected. But we should not carry it to the ridiculous extent of saying to say that we are trying to seek immunity for them. No. That is not right. That is not nice.

The proponents of the proposed legislations argue that since there are three arms of government and the heads of the executive enjoy immunity, the same privilege should be extended to the judiciary and legislature?

Anybody who is making this argument is making a lame argument. I don’t think anybody will go out of the way to say that we should ridicule the Chief Justice of Nigeria. They should allow sleeping dogs to lie.