By NBF News
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That Nigeria is gradually stabilizing since Goodluck Jonathan was made Acting President via a resolution by the National Assembly is not contestable. For many, the stability the country is enjoying was further confirmed by the invitation of the former governor of Bayelsa State to the recent Energy summit in the United States.

Against the unfolding development, former publicity secretary of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), chief Ebenezer Babatope recommends that based on the reality on ground, Goodluck Jonathan should be confirmed the substantive president. In this interview with Sunday Sun, he bares his mind on a wide range of issues. Excerpts…

How do you feel about the state of the nation considering that nobody has come out categorically with facts on the health condition of Yar'Adua?

I think everybody in Nigeria today has cause to thank God. The visit of the Acting President to the United States has proved that America has acknowledged that Nigeria is becoming politically stable. Goodluck Jonathan was given a first class treatment. I was very happy about it and if you looked at the array of Heads of states at that energy conference in America, you find that Jonathan was conspicuously shown.

He was virtually, if not the only black face that appeared in that conference. It shows that America has recognized that we are stable but having said that, I think we in Nigeria now should proceed further from the Acting President status of Jonathan to confirming him as the full President. I quite appreciate that our President Umaru Yar'Adua is sick and anybody can be sick. We are all praying for him because no matter what anybody says, President Yar'Adua is a complete gentleman, highly focused and ideological but we have got to a stage in the history of our country we just can no longer continue with the issue of Acting President and having the picture of a sick President being put in Aso Rock.

I am appealing to Yar'Adua and I know he would have done what I am going to say now. I am appealing to him and those who can get him to do the simple function of resigning. He should resign but the nation must take care of him not only today but at all times because he has served this nation very well. When he resigns, let Jonathan become the full President with the complement of choosing his vice and having a normal government that would continue to administer the affairs of this country. In the event of the President not being in a position to resign, we should find out other decent constitutional methods to get him to vacate office.

When that happens, the Acting President will have at least 13 months to govern Nigeria as full president so that the country would move forward. I say this because we now have instances according to news reports when some mischievous persons have been cashing in on the illness of the President to cause confusion. Today, they say the President would be in the Mosque and it is not true. Now they would come back that some religious leaders have gone to visit the President with so many conflicting reports. Speaking as a responsible Nigerian citizen, we cannot continue in this way. Jonathan has a cabinet now and they should run Nigeria well to ensure that democracy not only has firm roots in Nigeria but survives all our political situations.

But looking at the caliber of people in the new cabinet constituted by Jonathan, what is your impression?

Honestly speaking, I think we have a very good team. We must give people a chance to prove their mettle. I have had arguments with people who tell me some of the cabinet members are known. Somebody must start from somewhere. The new cabinet is a mixture of young and not too old people and when you have that kind of combination, you should hope that it would produce results for the country.

The younger elements who, are Ministers are dynamic enough to know what to do for the country. I think the oldest of the Ministers is probably Jibril Martins-Kuye but he is an experienced and highly tested hand. When he was the Minister of state under the first term of Olusegun Obasanjo, he acted most of the time as the full Minister of finance because Adamu Ciroma who was then his boss had an accident. Martins-Kuye within the period he acted for the Minister of finance, was a great achiever. So, Nigerians should cooperate with them. We have been told by the Acting President that if there is any one that is not measuring up, he should be relieved of his seat.

In his Easter message, the Acting President urged Nigerians to make more sacrifice to move the country forward.

When would the call for sacrifice stop especially in view of the fact that Nigerians have been weighed down for too long by the failure of leadership in the country?

I agree that Nigerians should make sacrifice. Yes, it is quite a good thing to say but I also agree that the government must show very sound proofs that it wants to really improve the lives of Nigerians. We are a politically volatile people and that is one of the strengths of our country. That is why a dictator can never survive here for long because for Nigerians to accept the yes you say, you must concretely prove to them that the yes is yes. So, Nigerians are there to sacrifice but the government should give concrete proof that it is committed to improving their lives. That is why the statement by Jonathan that the country must pursue the issues of power, electoral reform and anti-corruption war to a logical conclusion is good. Any person who has interfered with the country's money must be prosecuted and haunted even to his grave.

Do you think the Acting President would be able to carry out a holistic electoral reform before the next election?

We are going to have an electoral reform and the National Assembly knows that. I am very happy with the way they are going. The National Assembly has saved Nigeria once this year by passing a resolution making Jonathan as the Acting President. If they did not do what they did, we would have been probably under a military regime by now and that would have been very disastrous for the country. Nobody would have probably been able to hold the country together. So, the National Assembly knows that it has to carry out the electoral reform.

Two is that the Acting President told his American audience that he was committed to ensuring that the electoral reform is carried out in Nigeria before the next election. I know that he will do everything in his power to achieve that. Then thirdly, one thing I don't agree with many of the people who have been talking about the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which is the umpire for elections is that the problem is with Prof Maurice Iwu. The campaign has been on, that Iwu must go and I am fed up with it and I do not subscribe to such a view. I subscribe to the view that INEC must be reorganized but we must not target particular persons.

To say that Iwu is at the head of the electoral mess Nigeria has witnessed is wrong. The problem is with the politicians and they should be held accountable for the electoral mess we have witnessed in Nigeria. For example, Iwu has conducted election in Anambra State and he has conducted another one in Abuja local governments and even in Etsako in Edo State and nobody would say that he did not do well in those places. Let us not aim our bullets and arrows against individuals. Let us examine what is wrong with our politicians and I am one of them. We have brought problems to this country.

I want to appeal to Jonathan, let Iwu stay there for some time and learn on the job. When Abel Goubadia was there, this country hurriedly removed him but I know him very well. When I was a student leader at the University of Lagos in the civil war years, he and Dr Ojikutu were the senior staff members appointed to overlook what we were doing as students' union leaders and believe me, Goubadia was a great achiever. He is highly principled and objective. The man did his best but before we could say Jack Robinson, he had been removed. We have a culture that we need to correct in this country.

That is the culture of not allowing people to grow on their job. I am appealing to all those who are crying for Iwu's removal to soft-pedal. If you remove Iwu today and you bring in the person you call Mr Clean, he will have the same problem Iwu had as long as politicians remain what they are. They are unpredictable, lack principles and go in search of power in a ruthless and stupid manner. I have never met Iwu in my life but I want to appeal with increased vehemence that he should be allowed to learn on the job. Comparing him with others before him, Iwu has scored very well. I also disagree with so many of my compatriots who are saying the President of the country should not appoint the INEC chairman, it is ridiculous because we run a presidential system in Nigeria.

You cannot reduce your President into a toothless bulldog by saying he cannot appoint a man to head the electoral commission. Even the judicial committee that they are now saying that the chairman of the commission should be referred to the NJC, are you saying that the decision of the judiciary that everybody embraces what they say? So, the NJC even becomes a subject of debate. There are those who believe in their judgment and there are those who do not. The Nigerian judiciary is doing well but you cannot say that the NJC should appoint the chairman of INEC. It is not the appointment by the President that is wrong, it is the people that you put there. Finally, is the opposition doing well? The civil society groups are doing well and mobilising.

What about the opposition parties.
They are not operating. In the Second Republic, we served under Pa Awolowo's Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and you would agree with me that the party provided a viable opposition in this country. The UPN was a very serious political party. Everything that the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) did, we had our alternatives to it. We canvassed it and of course, our leader Awolowo would come out and say whatever he wanted to say. But these days, our opposition parties are not only lazy but divisive in their socio-political approach to issues. They told us they were forming a mega party and now we are hearing many parties arising from that mega party. Does that show seriousness?

Does the statement by the Libyan leader, Muammar Ghadafi that Nigeria should be split along ethnic and religious lines mean anything to you? Can it be taken seriously?

I am not one of those who would dismiss Ghadafi's statement with the wave of the hand. I do not agree with him that the country should be split into two on the basis of Christian and Moslem religions. That is not our problem here. Even though we have Moslems and Christians, it is not the problem. In the South East, people who are Moslems are very few just like in the South South. In the South West, you have a mixture of Christians and Moslems.

In the South West, it is only a mad man that would say he wants to die because of religion. I am the son of a Methodist clergyman. My father, the late Reverend Babatope was trained at the Methodist Missionary college in Abia State. His daughter, who is my sister, is married to a Moslem, an Alhaji. Are you saying that we are going to have a war in which I should now advocate that my inlaw should be killed? It is impossible in the South West. We celebrate both Christian and Moslem festivities together and we can never have religious war in the South West. But we must not dismiss what Ghadafi has said because we have not been able to properly define the federal nature of our country's existence. That was the basis of which we fought the civil war. I say today categorically and I have never been shy that I was militantly, as a students' leader, pro-Biafra. This was because, at that time, we were saying, what federation are we operating.

It was a federation of inequalities. There were some people in the feudal north who, then believed that Nigeria was merely an extension of their family compounds. That was the truth of the situation but nowadays, we thank God that young people and Nigerians have been able to correct that impression during the June 12, 1993 elections. People voted for Abiola massively in the north. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo contested and they voted for him massively in the north. We now have a new Nigeria but we must consolidate that to ensure that we have every Nigerian believing that one time or the other, his area where he comes from would be able to produce the president for Nigeria.

At a time in this country particularly when you fought the civil war, that was not possible.

So, if Ghadafi is now talking of breaking Nigeria into pieces on the basis of tribes or religion, we must not dismiss him. We should work strenuously to ensure that we do not allow tribe or religion to divide the country. But I say with emphasis that we must redefine the federal nature of our existence. Federations are governed by consensus, compromise and coalition of interests. Whether you like it or not, we are different people that make up the federation of Nigeria. Pa Awolowo before he died, said that before you can become a good Nigerian citizen, you must first of all be a good person from your area of origin. So, we must accept that we must have tribal, cultural, religious and other differences and that we must marry all the differences together to redefine the federal nature of our existence. Nigeria is one of the few cases in history now where federations are succeeding.

And I say it again, if the military had intervened in the affairs of Nigeria over the sickness of President Yar'Adua, it could have meant the beginning of the end and that is why I praise our young men and women who are officers in our armed forces that they did not listen to those who were urging them to go and do unconstitutional acts. Why do I say this? We now have in Nigeria, militant groups who have arms and they are fighting what they believe to be a genuine cause and they do not even mind if they die in the process. If you are talking of the militants in the Niger Delta, say what you like-we have some brigands among them who try to export oil and do whatever they want to do but majority of them are fighting a cause to liberate their people.

I was in Niger Delta and I know that the people there are suffering. They have corrected the practice in the past where their leaders aligned with reactionary elements in the country. You also have the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC). Say what you like, the OPC is a militant group. We have the Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) which is highly militant and the members have done things to show that in fact, they are prepared to die for their cause. We have the Egbesu boys in the Niger Delta also. We have the Yandaba in the north even though we have not heard much about them but they also exist. You are going to add all these to the fact that there are so many jobless graduates who are prepared to die to ensure that they have a country that would make sure they have employment. They would confront the military and how many fronts can the military deploy its troops to counter their forces? The end of it is that we have to decide the future of Nigeria.

What is the future of your party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the next general election? In answering this question, you should take cognizance of the giant strides of Governor Babatunde Fashola of the Action Congress (AC) in Lagos and his colleague, Olusegun Mimiko of the Labour Party (LP) in Ondo State.

The truth is that we politicians are incurable optimists. I accept that the opposition parties are optimistic in the South West but having said that, we of the PDP accept that they could be a major threat and we are not sleeping. We are doing everything to ensure that we keep our states and to get Ondo State from the hands of the Labour Party. We are going to have free and fair election by the grace of God and we are going to assert the strength of the PDP through the electorate.

You have mentioned Fashola, yes, he is doing very well in Lagos and I quite accept that. But within his party, the AC, there are those who do not want him to succeed. There are those who want to remove him as governor of Lagos State and they do not want him to serve a second term. Already, many names of people to take over from Fashola are being bandied about from his own party. Mentioning Fashola, you are just trying to increase the problem of the young man. Fashola is a boy I like and I think he was one of the students I taught at the High school. He is doing well in Lagos. But he is a ridiculous example to make because he is now being destroyed by his party men.

I can assure you that in the next general election, the PDP would perform much better than we had ever done before on the basis of destructive programme that the AC has for Fashola who we know has done well. We of the PDP in the South West know that we have problems and we are doing everything in our power to ensure that we surmount them. For example, the PDP about nine months ago constituted a Peace and Reconciliation Committee (PRC) headed by Ike Nwachukwu. I am a member of that committee and we have been going round the country to make sure there is peace and by the grace of God, we would achieve a lot before the next election. What we have done in the South West PDP, the opposition cannot beat us because they have broken into pieces. We are serious and working hard because we know that the South West people are capable of removing us and bringing other parties if we are not doing well.