Babalola: We Have Been Unfair to Niger Delta for Far Too Long


The need for the restructuring of Nigeria has again moved to the front burner of public discourse especially now that the nation is battling to avoid sliding into recession occasioned by dwindling revenue from oil and crisis in the Niger Delta region. Femi Babalola, a governorship aspirant of the Peoples Democratic Party in Oyo state in 2015 election, spoke with Ademola Babalola on why PDP performed below expectations in Oyo in the last election, the current state of the party, the controversy over Governor Ajimobi’s education policy and the state of the nation. Excerpts:

The word restructuring is now on the front burner of national discourse. How do you think restructuring can take care of myriads of problems confronting the nation today?
The meaning and import of the word restructuring goes beyond what some people are reading about it. It is only those that do not really understand the term restructuring, they just look at the English meaning and hold on to it. No, restructuring far outweighs such thinking and belief. It is more of let me grow at my pace, let me use what God had endowed me with to develop my people, my area and let me now contribute to the centre a certain percentage of the revenue accruing from such ventures to the centre for the development of my dear nation.

That to me is what restructuring is all about. It is an idea that is capable of addressing various misgivings, perceived injustices, social and infrastructural inequalities and so on. I put it to you has Nigeria as a nation been fair to the Niger Delta people? The answer is no. If you say oil is a Nigerian endowment and so the federal government should be in charge of it. I think Nigeria is been unfair to them because when you look at this part of the country, we have rocks which we cut into granite and sell to the construction companies and we make money out of it and yet you will say the oil deposit in the Niger Delta region is a national asset which must be under the control of the federal government and must be used to take care of all Nigerians irrespective of your geographical spread or location.

We use granite and other things in this part of the country for road purposes and without it, you cannot successfully build good roads. We are making money out of it. How about the man selling a plot of land for one billion in Lagos. Did he build the land? Why is the Government not taking money out of it. Restructuring will pay all of us. There is no state that does not have what it can contribute to the centre. It is either you have land mass, population, intelligence, knowledgeable people,etc., the Niger Delta has been cheated for far too long and that has to be corrected. That is my position, if the truth must be told.

Yorubas today are alleging marginalization and the same goes for the entire south in the scheme of appointments under the President Buhari-led Federal Government.Whatt is your view on this?
This is another reason why we need to restructure this nation. North had three geopolitical zones comprising North West, North east and North Central ditto South with South west, South south and South east. Take for instance there are six appointments to be made now, north will surely have three and the south too will be given three in tandem with the spirit and letters of true federal character but let me tell you, if all these three position for the south were given to the South west people alone there will be crisis because the other two will feel marginalised whereas, except of recent, if the same three slots is given to any of the zones in the north, you may not hear anything because Hausas have always seen themselves as one but in the south it is a different ball game altogether.

You now see where the need for restructuring becomes inevitable. Back to the recent alarm raised by the eminent leaders in the Yoruba Unity Forum that so far, of all the 59 appointments so far made by President Buhari, 41 are from the North while only 18 are given to the entire south, I think in the good spirit of the federal character commission, that is unfair and there should be checks and balances in line with what the constitution preach and in the spirit of federal character. Unfortunately, those who should be talking are not talking; those saddled with the monitoring of the federal character issues and other related matters connected thereto in the act of the parliament are not talking. A body set up to checkmate such should speak up now otherwise people will continue to agitate; feel shortchanged and marginalized.

The place of Public Private Partnership, PPP, in road construction going by recent experience between the Dangote group and the Federal Government, appear to be good for a developing nation like ours, as a leading and successful Construction Engineer in the country, do you think it will address a number of deplorable roads in the country if others can key into it?

Not even on roads alone; even for all areas of the economy, As long as there is sincerity in it. An MOU can never be perfect but it gives confidence to the investors. There is nothing bad in PPP and as a matter of fact it is the way to go now globally. If I spend money and you have to give me tax holiday or that you ask me to put toll on it and if there is sincerity in it, there is nothing bad in it. I recommend it to a number of other sectors in the country for the nation to be a key global player in the area of PPP.

Your remarks above lead us to the ongoing altercations in Oyo state regarding the government’s move to engage PPP in running some of our public secondary schools…
There are lots of misunderstanding on this issue of schools in the state. I have listened to the governor, the labour leaders, students, parents and other stakeholders and I must confess I see sincerity in what everybody is saying. But as Femi Babalola, who has lived all his life in the state including my educational career from my primary, secondary and university education in this state, maybe I wouldn’t have been educated if education was not free then.

So, I have a moral burden on that and if you now talk of Femi Babalola being a businessman also, I know that global economy today is now a challenge to everybody. Why I said I have a moral burden in the first instance again is that maybe if education was not free, I wouldn’t have achieved much of what I have achieved so far today which education, ofcourse, has assisted me to be and that is why I say I have a moral burden. And on the other hand, I also have moral burden too because if I put money in people’s pocket, will they be able to pay for the education levy and that is why I support what the governor said that let us all come together to talk, maybe through such forum, we will be able to juxtapose some things and say ok, let us go this way.

Let us rub minds. Let’s see if as a missionary, you want your school back, let’s see if you have a genuine and convincing reason to get it. It is important that we all come together and dialogue in a way that we can arrive at a particular idea and direction to move our education forward. It is important we do so and it becomes more compelling now than ever before to save the future of our public education.

Somebody even said, the programme is right but the timing is wrong especially that Lagos state has done it successfully but Lagos state is not like Oyo state, it is not what the governor can singlehandedly sit within the comfort of his office and say this is what I want and we must embrace it hook line and sinker. No, It is a complex issue and I agree with him that everybody; the labour leaders, teachers, parents, students, and other stakeholders must come together and talk on it for the greater good of the state and for the benefit of the present generation and generations yet unborn. We will be deceiving ourselves if we say the type of education in vogue today is what we got when we were growing up, no the quality has gone and there is the need to salvage the system to bring back the good old days.

When I was schooling in the University of Ibadan here, we had a number of foreign students who were with us and the quality was good that people come across the globe in search of quality university education here in Nigeria. But what do we have today? What if about the international examinations then that involved us and some other students abroad where we beat them on several occasions. When I was in the university, I had a classmate that came from Ireland and the parents were not here, they sent him to come and acquire knowledge from here.

The corruption fight under Buhari is seen by people of your party, the PDP, as lopsided especially that those been tried so far are majorly opposition party chiefs. And this lead us to your case with the EFCC concerning professional fees you charged the government under Governor Akala which was said not to have been budgeted for and so on…

First and foremost I agree there is too much of media trial in Nigeria and unfortunately too, a lot of people do pepper soup and club analysis on cases concerning corruption and trial. I want to see more cases taking into seriousness and they should be devoid of over sensationalisation. There should be due process in corruption fight. And the anti-corruption agencies should do more of investigation before arresting the suspects and not the present case of picking up a suspect and now begin to coerce the person to say what he knows about missing fund or money. Investigations should be concluded before putting people in the custody.

By and large, we have all agreed that corruption kills a nation and we need to support the fight but it must not be turned to a political tool or vendetta, we need to build strong institutions around corruption fight to be successful in the long run. And so for my case, my lawyers have told me that since the case is still in Court I have no right to discuss it in the media. It is illegal, contemptuous and presumptuous. Let’s leave it there.

The leadership crisis in your party, what hope for its future?
I know the future of the party is very bright. We have strong presence all over the country. It is a party that is very entrenched all over the party. We also have a strong constitution which had envisaged and addressed all these issues. I joined the party in 1998, there is nothing wrong with our constitution, I have read it many times over, it is the people running it and not the party. Our party still commands respect and has cult-like following in many parts of the country till date. People going to court have no right to institute any case against the party, they were just being misled. The case of Senator Sheriff for instance shouldn’t have been in court, if he had gone through the constitution or consult his lawyers properly and they are sincere with him, he would know all his grievances can be addressed within just one hour with the constitution of the party as a guide. I commend all our PDP governors and members in the National Assembly for their efforts so far in salvaging PDP from further ruins and we can still get our power back and 2019 presents a formidable year for us to win back the presidency of this nation. And it is not a difficult thing to achieve if we are ready and sincere with ourselves.

So you joined PDP since inception and you have never jumped ship to another party till date?
Yes, never, honestly the PDP is a good party and I have no reason whatsoever to leave the party for another one. And as a matter of fact I am a professional who joined the party with the sole aim of contributing my quota to serve the people. It is for the service that I joined that time and that concept is what is keeping me going till date. I am not in politics to grab power, make money or what to eat, no I have my businesses here and there to the glory of God. Many people join party to get appointments and what they can grab.

And with some of you who have been consistent, one expects that you ought to be in control of this state?
Yes. You are right. But you see in the last election, we had this issue of wrong candidate. It has never happened anywhere in nigeria. The last election, for the first time, was our worst outing in the history of participating in any election not only in Oyo state but Nigeria as a whole. Oyo state case was the worst scenario. Check the records, it is either the PDP comes first in any local government election anywhere in the country or we trail behind in the second position. But in the last election, we came fourth! And we have apologised to the people for fielding a wrong candidate. It was a reason that was beyond us as a party in the state which Senator Ike Ekweramadu report has addressed. Senator David Mark himself had realized and said it and I am happy it came out of his mouth too.