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Quote me, Adesanya, other Awoists supported Abacha govt — Babatope

Posted by By WILLY EYA on 2008/05/18 | Views: 826 |

Quote me, Adesanya, other Awoists supported Abacha govt — Babatope

Veteran politician and one of the members of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s political movement, Chief Ebenezar Babatope, aka Ebenotopsy, has dismissed insinuations about a vacuum in the leadership of the Yoruba nation.

Veteran politician and one of the members of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s political movement, Chief Ebenezar Babatope, aka Ebenotopsy, has dismissed insinuations about a vacuum in the leadership of the Yoruba nation.

Babatope who was also the Minister of Transport and Aviation under late Head of state, Gen. Sani Abacha said that the Yoruba leader who will eventually emerge must not pander to the narrow definition of Afenifere.

Among others, he stated that Abacha’s government held sway because 95 per cent of the nation’s political class supported it.
The radical politician bared his mind in this exclusive interview with Sunday Sun in Lagos. Excerpts.

With the death of Senator Abraham Adesanya, there seems to be a void in the leadership of the Yoruba nation. How will the next leader emerge?
Well, you see, I do not think that people are saying that there is a vacuum in the Yoruba leadership since Pa Adesanya died. Anybody who says that, is not right. We have not even buried the old man and people are already talking of a new leader. When we bury the old man, you can be sure that we are going to have somebody who will step into his shoes. When Pa Awolowo died, Pa Ajasin emerged as the Yoruba leader. The process was on, and nobody contested it with the man, because Pa Ajasin was quite adequate for leadership.

The process took some time but eventually when he assumed the mantle of leadership of the Yoruba people, he did it very well and everybody enjoyed him. Ditto when Pa Ajasin died, the process was also a bit long until Pa Adesanya emerged. So, I have no doubt in my mind that the authentic leader of the Yoruba people or leader of the Yoruba would also emerge after Adesanya. It is clear that people know that a Yoruba leader must possess certain qualities. Such a leader must be progressive, intellectual and must not engage himself in acrimonious and controversial leadership. He must be able to lead the people collectively, not only in wisdom, but in terms of moving the Yoruba people forward, within the federal republic of Nigeria. This is because, the Yorubas since the time of Awolowo have invested a lot in democratic federalism that Nigeria is experiencing now.

We have no problem at all and I believe that somebody who will behave like Adesanya or even better will emerge. Am talking about a leader who would not divide the Yoruba people and who will ensure that everybody is brought to the fold. The leader must also subscribe to the unity of Nigeria, that is very crucial indeed.

But some have the opinion that, even, before the death of Adesanya, that his likely successor would have been known.
Let me tell you, Yoruba people have tremendous respect and regard for age, maturity and experience. I can assure you that the person that would succeed Pa Adesanya would be somebody that belongs to the category that I mentioned. He must be an elderly fellow and there are many of them. I can mention some of them to you now. You have Senator Ayo Fasanmi. He has being in the political Movement of Awolowo and in the Yoruba leadership for a long time. What about Chief Fasonranti based in Akure, he is also an experienced person. In fact, I think he is the oldest person now. You have the Ajayi, you have chief Adebanjo, you have Chief Adegbomire who is about 71 or 72 now. But he has been very intellectual and brilliant.

He is among those I have categorized. Some people may ask why have I not mentioned people like Chief Richard Akinjide or those who are outside the Awolowo political movement. Am not writing Chief Akinjide or all of them off. But everybody agrees today that no matter the disagreement, the Awolowo movement represents the greater percentage of people in Yoruba land. That is the truth. Chief Akinjide himself even though he belonged to the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPN) and the NNDP of old, parties that were diametrically opposed to the party led by chief Awolowo, yet he was not hostile to Pa Awolowo and his interests. When Awolowo died in 1987, I remembered that Chief Akinjide sent a letter which to me and which contained a kind of eulogy of what Awolowo represented in Nigerian politics. But as at today, leadership would always come from the group of those who were in the Awolowo political movement and dynasty. If you now go to the cultural level, you have the Yoruba Council of Elders now ably led by Gen. Adebayo. He has also got the qualities of a leader and nobody would contest the cultural movement with him.

The Yoruba leadership which you are talking about is heavily political and heavily Awo. So, why you cannot close your eyes to people like Gen. Adebayo, and Chief Akinjide, you must concentrate your attention on the elders who belong to the Awo political family. That is where the leader of the Yorubas will emerge, but it does not mean that we have nothing to do with the elders I have mentioned. But one of the five persons I have mentioned from the Awo political movement will emerge naturally as the leader of the Yorubas. What the Yorubas are saying is that whether inside or outside the Awolowo political family, the leader must not be such that would promote acrimony or disunity in Yoruba land.

Any leader that subscribes to the narrow definition of what Afenifere is by saying that it is AD or DPA and so on would fail completely. Many of us are not in any of the parties mentioned. Many of those who are of the Awolowo political movement are in PDP, AC and other parties but if you have a leader that behaves like Pa Adesanya, who used to say that all of them are my children, the person would succeed. You would not believe it that Gbenga Daniel was always with Adesanya and ditto for all other South West governors. Pa Adesanya would not have called me to do anything and I would reject it. So, if they make it an open affair like Pa Adesanya and Ajasin did, of course, whoever emerges among them would be embraced by us and all Yoruba people.

As a core Awoist, what is the difference between the days of UPN and now?
Let me be frank with you. There is no party in Nigeria today that has the character of progressiveness. All of them will be telling you today, we are the offshoot of this and that. If the AD for instance were to be the offshoot of the UPN led by Awolowo, it would not have got caught in the midst of contradictions it found itself and which eventually destroyed it. The military under Gen Abdusalam Abubakar, with due respect to him because he did a lot of job was trying to ensure that it was not disgraced out of power. As a result, it did not give itself time to have a programme where political parties would be formed on ideological basis. So, as a result of the highness in the programme of the military, it was difficult for people of like minds to sit down together and form parties. All the political parties that came in 1999 were formed without any ideological character.

A party can be a party of the right but it will be able to say so, but none of the parties you have now was formed on any ideological position. So, to answer your question, none of the parties today can claim to be an offshoot of Awolowo’s Action Group or the UPN. We are just now separating the wheat from the grain. But I pray that by the grace of God, we will have political situations developing in Nigeria that would make the parties go ideological.

For example, the PDP is lucky now that we have a president who is a socialist. He is an Aminu Kano supporter. I have no doubt in my mind that, by the grace of God that by the time Umaru Yar’Adua spends eight years in government, he would have been able to influence the PDP to have a kind of progressive character. This is because his policies and programmes are going to be pro-the people of Nigeria. When that happens, you will find that everybody will adjust. Even the wealthy people in the ruling party will have to adjust because of the leadership pattern of Yar’Adua who is obviously a socialist. Majority of the people who are in the AC today were in the SDP. The AD and the DPA, I must admit, have the larger number of people in the Awolowo political family, but they too will be going ideological. So far, the only one you can mention that has an ideological character is the National Conscience Party (NCP). But you even have to mention that carefully and consciously. But if you define that party too, you will find out that there is a limit to its ideological character.

But even at that, not many people expected you to join the PDP which is perceived as highly conservative.
The PDP is a conservative party. I agree with you but like I said, no party in Nigeria since 1999 has a true character of a progressive party. But having said that, I wanted to join the AD in 1999, the younger element of the AD wanted me to join the party. But some people opposed my membership. So, I refused to join any party within the period. I only joined the PDP on September 22nd, 1999 having been invited by my friends who also were Awolowo’s political children. Am talking about people like Senator Martins Kuye, Senator Yinka Omilani, Dr Olu Alabi, Farounbi, Ambassador Tunde Adeniran, Muyiwa Oladimeji and many of them who were in the PDP. So, I had to go and join them. That is why I stayed in the PDP and I have remained there now for nine years. But like I said, tomorrow, a situation might arise where parties would now have to go ideological. If that happens and there is a right frame of mind and approach by progressive people in the country, we will come together.
But as we are going ahead like I told you, circumstances of our existence, politically might compel all the parties to now go ideological. Some will say we are extreme right, some will say, we are left of center or right of center. But I have never regretted being a member of the PDP.

Do you think that if the June 12 election in which the late MKO Abiola was presumed to have won was not cancelled, that things could have been different in Nigeria today?
Well, all these now are matters of conjecture. Chief Abiola has died but today, he remains a hero of Nigeria’s struggle for democracy. Whether he could have succeeded or not as president, one thing that could have been established was that a democracy was installed to replace the military oligarchy. That in itself, would have been many steps ahead. Secondly, in Abiola’s election, Nigerian people came together to vote for him. They include the Igbos, Hausas, Fulanis, the Yorubas, Tivs, Efik people and all of them came out to vote for him. The majority voted for Abiola and it was significant and it was the first time in Nigeria that the whole country will throw away tribal, regional and religious feelings to vote for a man. Don’t forget that Abiola and his running mate Kingibe were both Moslems but people did not mind. So, no matter how you look at it, whether Abiola would have been able to rule as president or not, if he was allowed to rule, at least, democracy would have been the Victor and military oligarchy would have been the loser.

Do you agree with those who argue that working in Abacha’s government affected your political career?
Let me tell you, there are many things that have not yet been said about the government of Abacha. No doubt, mistakes were made. For example, you cannot condone the repressions that took place at that time, but the truth remains that the political class of which I am one, acquiesced to Abacha coming to power. At the time, the political class was looking for an end to the Interim National Government (ING) headed then by Chief Ernest Shonekan. So, when Abacha annulled his regime, I am telling you authoritatively that 90 per cent of the political class supported the regime. I have said it so many time before, even in the book I have written that a meeting took place in Abiola’s house in Ikeja shortly after the Abacha coup. It was at that meeting that a ministerial list was sent to Abacha for consideration for appointment as ministers of his government. Those of us who were not on that list, came from other sources like Gen Aliu Muhammed Gusau and Gen Oladipo Diya who are personal friends of mine.

And I wouldn’t say for the first time that when they approached me, I got a ploy to escape but I said no. They thought that uncle Bola Ige was from Oyo State and I was from Osun. When they told me, I said you had better go and meet uncle Bola Ige, because he was from the same state with me. And in anything in this world, I would deffer to him because he was my leader. Apart from being my leader, I was so close to him. So, that delayed the process until there was a meeting of the Awolowo political family in the residence of Pa Alfred Rewane. There, a decision was taken that a list should be forwarded to Diya, saying that the Awolowo political family supported the candidature of Jakande, myself and Olu Onagoruwa as ministers.

The list was taken by the late Pa Abraham Adesanya to Gen. Diya. So, that was how we came into government. Chief (Mrs) Osomo had traveled abroad shortly after the burial of her husband and her name was sent by Pa Adekunle Ajasin to Diya for appointment as minister. For quite sometime, we were holding meetings in Papa Rewane’s house but unfortunately, the decision of the military to appoint people as chairmen and members of the local council created a wedge. The political class was expecting a situation whereby politically active individuals would go into it. But, the military boys were appointing their friends. So, that brought a big dichotomy and then followed by the Ajene declaration of Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola for his mandate. That was what severed the relationship among the political class and some of us were there. The truth of the matter is that the first cabinet of Abacha was made up of 95 percent politicians. The non-politicians among us were probably about one or two.

So, if you say that my working under Abacha has dented my political career and character, well, it is a matter of judgment. I cannot judge myself but am happy today that there is no place I go to that my case has not been well understood because I put my case to the Nigerian people. What created the problem was the Ibadan meeting where the Yoruba leadership said ministers should go and resign, commissioners should go and resign and whatever. The Ibadan meeting surprisingly was created by us who were in the government. Abiola was in jail and we the ministers, three of us from that Yoruba tribe had met Abacha pleading that Abiola should be released. We were led by Dr Olu Onagoruwa. I was a member of the delegation and so was Chief (Mrs) Osomo.

Then, we now said that our leaders should meet and send a delegation to Abacha that Abiola must be released. So, we traveled to Owo to go and meet Pa Ajasin and some of our leaders. That was how Ibadan meeting was created. But when they got there, a group of young rascals took over the meeting. They said what delegation are you sending when Abiola is in jail. Let all Yorubas resign and of course, let me tell you today, am experienced enough to know that if the Yoruba ministers had resigned as demanded by that meeting, you would not be talking to me today but would be referring to me in your paper as late Ebenezar Babatope. I should have been in my grave now because the military boys would have definitely declared us enemies of the government and you knew the implication then.

They could have detained us or even killed us. The thing was so much weighing on my mind that I had to seek audience with Prof. Wole Soyinka that I have always considered my hero. I told him and the man said don’t ever say or write anything that would be derogatory of the Yoruba leadership, but systematically plan your way out of the Abacha government. Myself and Alex Ibru did that.

By December 31, I did not have a pin in my office as Minister of Transport and Aviation. I went on leave and came back on the February 1, 1995 and the cabinet was dissolved on February 8 and it was so interesting that when it was being dissolved, from the discussion that took place in that meeting, myself and Alex Ibru, it appeared that two of us had learnt of the dissolution because our discussion veered towards that. When we were asked to go, of course, from the airport, I immediately went over to my private residence.

But having said that, that was a period in the history of this country. Am not saying that am all perfect because am a human being and a mortal prone to mistakes but then I can assure you that when the Yoruba people actually understood what happened, their attitude to me changed. I give lectures, appear on televisions, on radio, newspapers, campaigns and their attitude to me has been very warm. In my home town Ijesha, nobody treats me as a pariah, so, I don’t know what anybody is talking about. I have been in a party that has been winning elections and I tell you by the grace of God, we will continue to win elections.

Based on your experience in politics, do you have any regrets?
Why must I have regrets. Let me take you through some of my experience. I know that eventually even the doubting Thomases who still believe in what my political opponents were dishing out that time, would still recognize the fact that I have made some contributions and with due respect to Nigerians. During the civil war, I was pro-Biafra as a university under graduate. I was a violent pro-Biafra and you should ask me why I was pro-Biafra. It was because I believe that we must define the federal nature of our country’s existence.
By the time that we had the coups, the counter coups, the pogrom and the civil war, our federalism was not defined.

Some people then believed that Nigeria was a mere extension of their private compounds. Some of them believed that they had been ordained by God to rule Nigeria in perpetuity. Some of us said no. I was the secretary of the Biafran movement in the university of Lagos. It may surprise you to know that I was sent the Ahiara declaration when it came out. I joined the radical movement and of course, I was an Awolowo man from my secondary school days. In fact, I joined the Tribune Newspapers as the Lagos editor in 1969. It gave me a wide platform to move ahead with what I believed in. I was detained with Bimbola Awofeso who is a nephew to Pa Awolowo. We were detained in Dodan Barracks and made to jump up several times in an air conditioned office by a man called Colonel Anyaru and that time, we answered many charges through many security agencies at that time. I was also detained by Gowon in 1974 because of the fact that the speakers society of which I was a member in University of Lagos wrote to challenge Gowon for extending military rule to 1976.

I was detained and that cost me a lot. I tell you, when I was detained, security men were hounding my wife who was pregnant. Today, I have a 35 year old daughter who is paraplegic and who is, in fact, deformed. As a matter of fact, my wife according to the doctors suffered shock because they were going to my house everyday. And then to crown it all, in 1978 when we had the Ali Must go, I was one of the University people that were forcibly ejected from the service. As am talking to you, I have no pension, gratuity and nothing. But I do admit that people are right to question the fact that why should Ebino, a socialist for many years decide to go and join the military. It is an albatross I have been carrying on my head, but I know that I did not just join the military because I was willing. No, it was a question of when my political family said go and serve, they can then tell you when we asked you to go why did you not go. I could not have gone at that time, because I knew from my ideological training and intellectual level of development that if I had done so, I would have been in my grave now for almost 14 years.

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