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2023: South West owes Atiku – Babalola

Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Chieftain Engineer Femi Babalola popularly known as Jogor, in this interview with BAYO AGBOOLA, bares his mind on this year’s general elections, the G5 governors, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, among others issues.

The G5-Governors are insisting that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is a Northerner, President Muhammadu Buhari now finishing his tenure is also a Northerner, and that Dr Iyiocha Ayu, the PDP National Chairman as a Northerner must resign, don’t you think this argument holds water and may  affect the chances of Atiku in Oyo state? 

I can assure you that it will not affect the fortunes of Abubakar Atiku in Oyo State. This was displayed a few days back when people came out en masse, party members came out, and they were chanting Atiku, Atiku, saying that is what they wanted. So, there is no problem with that. Members know their own, no matter what. Basically, they have a common stand. And one of it is that a Northerner, should not take over from a Northerner. And the other one is that Ayu should resign, from his post. And to me, I look at those two points, of a Northerner taking over from a Northerner, and Ayu resigning, and my response is, if you have such a law, against it or an understanding as they say, what do they have to say about the situation in Oyo state where Seyi Makinde, as present governor, benefitted from such arrangement. 

(Cuts in) Benefitted from such arrangement, how?

And he is still contesting in the next election, Makinde took over from Late Governor Abiola Ajimobi after eight years, Late Ajimobi was from Ibadan, Makinde, who took over is from Ibadan but Seyi did not see anything wrong in contesting and taking over from Ajimobi. 

He didn’t say oh, an Ibadan man, has done eight years, it should be unfair for another Ibadan man to contest and continue. We have other zones in Oyo state, We have people from Ogbomosho, Ibarapa and Oke-Ogun. So, why should it be an Ibadan man, replacing another Ibadan man? He didn’t see anything wrong there then. So, what I am saying is that he who comes to equity must come with clean hands. If he had kept a principled stand then, me, Femi Babalola, will support him, that yes, this is what this guy stood for in 2019, so we are ready to support him. And on the issue of chairmanship, I don’t know why they are bothered about somebody being the Chairman or coming from any section, for now, because we are just at the threshold of an election, all candidates for elections have emerged. So, what will the Chairman do? What role is he going to play? Except people are up to mischief except people are up to some motives, which I don’t know of. What will the Chairman do at this time? The candidates have emerged.

I think the arguments of the G-5 governors is that two topmost party slots of presidency and Chairman in PDP have gone to the North. What’s your take? 

No, the truth of the matter is that, It is when you want to kill a dog that you give it a bad name. To those of us that have travelled far and wide, in this country. Yes, you can say North. It is like saying South under South. There is South-South, South-West, South-East. In the North, North-Central is different from North-East. We have 6 regions, so, the people that sat down in their wisdom, to come with division of posts, knew what they said. They said okay, we have six regions in the country, so we have to move round the regions in our division of posts. At some point, some people said let’s narrow it to North and South. If its North and South fine. But the issue is, it is the President, not the presidential candidate, they are two different things. And what the Chairman said was that this man Atiku, by Gods grace will emerge as President, the day he becomes the President, I will resign. There are two different things the presidential candidate is different from the President. What we recognise is that the President and the Chairman, should not come from the same place.What we are saying is, leave this man (Ayu) alone, what do we need him for? The Chairman practically has no role to play, until this election is over, so why are they insisting on his removal. Unless some people just want to be mischief makers, that lets be in control of the position of the Chairman and cause problems. That is the way I see it. Honestly.

Why is your party divided in Oyo state, particularly, on the issue of support for the PDP presidential candidate? 

Well, I can tell you that even the party members that feel that because of the positions they are holding, they can’t talk, I quite understand their plight. They don’t want to openly go against whatever the governor wants. But we know their views privately. I can tell you that 99% of PDP members are routing for the candidate of the PDP and that is Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.

Do you think Governor Makinde and his group are for Atiku, as the PDP presidential candidate?

I don’t actually know the feeling of the governor. What the governor said is that he would not support him. That is what he said. 

How come the party couldn’t use party machinery to resolve this issue between the governor and Atiku? 

You see, the party tried, but there is a fundamental problem with the structure of political parties in Nigeria. There is a structure but the structure comes from the national, which is wrong.That is the problem. So, no matter how you feel about whatever that is happening in the party and you’re feeling that it is not right, the decision comes from the national. And I can assure you that it is usually the governor that will have the say by getting the support of the national. But if politics is left to be local, which is the way it should be, everything about the party should be within the state, so that whatever decision you make you throw up. Those are the problems. So, no matter what you say that is right or wrong, by the time the national comes in, the national will support the governors. And that happened. There were so many committees that were set up to reconcile members here. There was a Saraki Committee, Gov. Wike himself came here, Olagunsoye Oyinlola was here. Nnamani was here. So many people came here. So, if those people with all their wisdom and efforts could still not put things together, you can see what we are going through. They resolved all lingering problems at every time they came. They did their best. But of course, the other group felt no, we are not going along that direction. Like I said earlier on, some people feel like, in life, there is a benchmark I can’t go below. So, it is not likely that if I see obvious things that are wrong, that I will like to pretend to say it is not wrong. It is not likely.

But with the elections just around the corner, will all these not affect the chances of the PDP? 

I can assure you that it will not affect the fortunes of Abubakar Atiku in Oyo state. That was displayed some weeks ago. People came out en masse, party members came out and they chanted Atiku! Atiku! Atiku! And they said that is what they wanted. 

There is no problem with that. Atiku will win. The members know their own, no matter what.

As a core PDP member campaigning for Atiku, why do you think he is capable of leading the country?

One, someone once told me that Nigeria is in trenches. I said No.

I corrected the person, that where Nigeria is now even below the trenches, that we cannot even locate Nigeria. It is like Nigeria is lost, somewhere in the moon. When you say something is in the trenches, you know where it is. The state at which we are now is that we don’t know where the country is.

As far as I am concerned, we need Atiku, who has done this before. Of all of those contesting, he is the one who has done it before. He has been the Vice-President for eight years. He has seen it all. That is the kind of person we need now. We don’t need a learner. We don’t need someone that will come in and learn on the job. We don’t need someone who will say give me the first two years to settle down, I want to take my time and see what is going on the villa. No. State politics and regional politics are different from national politics. National governance is different from state or regional governance. I stand by Atiku. He is qualified. He is competent. He has done it before. If you look at it again, he is one man that identifies talents. Atiku brought 90% of all the people that worked with Obasanjo during his tenure. He is just a very humble person who doesn’t  talk. He probably doesn’t fly his achievements around. He was the man behind so many of the people that helped Obasanjo as President to achieve results. Don’t forget that at some point, the governors had to go and beg him to take over from Obasanjo. If he wanted to, he had the structure in his hands. He didn’t. I believe that the Yorubas owe Atiku in 2023. If he was a greedy man, if he was an over ambitious man, he would have been the President in 2003. So Yoruba owe him. Also in 1991, I was there in Jos. He was one of the persons that was asked to step down for Abiola. So, we owe him. Yorubas owe him. If he had contested with Abiola maybe something else would have happened. So, I believe we owe him from the South-West.

Back to the general elections, do you think a divided party can deliver victory for Atiku at the centre and for Governor Makinde at the state level? 

Oh yes, I know him I know Gov Makinde very well. He is a politician. Once Atiku wins the presidential election, which he will win resoundingly, I know what Makinde will do. He will quickly adjust. We all want the PDP to win at the national level and state level. Everybody wants his party in government, even if you are not benefitting. There is pride in oh, my party rules that state. Remember, we formed this party from the onset. And I will love to continuously see my party in power, even when I am not benefitting.

 What is the situation like politically in Oyo state PDP with the party divided between the Governor Seyi Makinde, on one side and many party chieftains on the other side?

It is a bit turbulent and that is expected to be so because elections are around the corner.;So, everybody is fighting to get the endorsement of the people and everybody is fighting to make sure that his candidate wins, and everybody is fighting to make sure that his party wins. That is why I said it’s turbulent. Now, everybody is criss-crossing the state, as it were.

Talking about the PDP, which you belongs to, do you believe everything looks a bit unclear?

It is not unclear really. It is just unfortunate that in this dispensation, we have a government that is being run outside the party structure.

The party owns the government. If a government comes into power, it must have come on the platform of the party,  that means the party is supreme. When you have a situation where the governor feels he is so independent of the party and of the party members, it gets to a stage, and it really got to that stage in our case, where the party members that knew what they were doing, that knew what party supremacy stands for, decided to leave government out of the party. The government, which is being headed by the Governor and a PDP man is being run in isolation of the party inputs. That is the way I can put it.

How come all of that was not resolved at the early stages, maybe months back?

Yes. Troubles or problems do come up, usually, there is always a mechanisms to resolve them. Even if not within the party, within the Yoruba nation, there is always a Yoruba mechanism to resolve crisis, particularly, the administrative ones. Efforts were made but it takes two to tango. If one of the sides shows that this should be settled and the other side feels that no, I have my reasons for doing what I am doing, it can’t be resolved. Atimes, people have pride. Some people have benchmarks to it. They feel that no matter what, they cannot go below it. If the other side feels you should go below this level and the other side says, no, we can’t go below this level, we would rather leave the government for you.

So, how many sides do we have now in the ongoing crisis?

There are no sides actually. What is happening is that the government is being run by the governor, and he has some people he chose to call party members, but those are not the real party men. The real party men are running the party now but outside the executives. They are the owners of the party. Don’t forget that the governor came to join us when it was about 18 months to the election. And he was welcomed because he had before now been a member of the party, before he left. In life, you never knew the intentions of men. There is a pseudo party arrangement being headed by a nominee of the governor, but we have the real party members on the other side, who are working. This is the soul of PDP. We have been together for long, we should not allow little things to tear us apart. We should not allow the fabric of the party to be torn apart.

Who is the head of the group who see themselves as real party members?

We don’t have a head, we don’t have a group, all we know is that we are the PDP. When decisions are to be taken, we look at the best that will be good for us. Like the Atiku campaign issue, we all came together. We don’t have anybody who we can say is the pointman. We just know that this should be done because it is in the interest of the party. And we have been doing that.



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