Babalola: Atiku Has Enough Experience to Rule Nigeria

A chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Oyo State, Femi Babalola, in this interview with Kemi Olaitan, speaks on the chances of Atiku Abubakar, the party’s presidential candidate and other issues including the crisis rocking the party at both the state and  national level. Excerpts:

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 but I said no. I corrected the person that where Nigeria is now is 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 even 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 and 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 in the Villa. 

No. State politics and regional politics is different from national politics. National governance is different from state or regional governance. I stand by Atiku. He is qualified and competent as he has done it before. 

If you look at it again, he is one man that identifies talents. Atiku brought 90 per cent of all the people that worked with the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo. He is just a very humble person who doesn’t  talk and probably doesn’t fly his achievements around. He was the man behind so many of the people that helped Chief 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 and if he wanted to he had the structure in his hands. 

I believe that the Yorubas owe Atiku in 2023 as if he was a greedy man and 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.

Do you agree with the view that the position of the G5-Governors not to be part of the presidential campaign of Atiku Abubakar will affect his chances in Oyo State? 

I can assure you that it will not affect the fortunes of  Atiku in Oyo State. This was displayed recently during the flag-off of the re-election of Governor Seyi Makinde, when party members came out in their thousands and chanting Atiku, Atiku, saying that is what they wanted. So, there is no problem with that. Members know their own, no matter what.

Basically, the G5-Governors 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 the National Chairman, Senator Iyorchia Ayu should resign from his postion. 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 or an understanding as they say, what do we have to say about the situation in Oyo State where Governor Seyi Makinde, as present governor, benefitted from such arrangement. 

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

He did not 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 did not 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, somebody like 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 when we have all the candidates in place.

But what of the argument of the G-5 Governors that the two top most party slots of presidential  candidate and National Chairman should not go to the North? 

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 you can say North but which part of the North. It is like saying South under South. There is South-South, South-West and South-East. In the North, North-Central is different from North-East likewise North West. We have six regions so the people that sat down in their wisdom to come up with the division of major posts know what they are doing. They said okay, we have six regions in the country so we have to move round the regions in the division of posts.

At some point, some people said let us 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 National Chairman said was that this man Atiku, by God’s grace will emerge as President and 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.

So what we are saying is leave this man (Ayu) alone. 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 let us be in control of the position of the National Chairman and cause problems. Honestly that is the way I see it.

Do you think a divided party can deliver victory for Atiku at the centre and Governor Makinde at the state level?

I know Governor Makinde very well and 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 if 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.

Don’t you think the party could have used its machinery to resolve the crisis with the governors? 

The party really 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 and that is the problem. So no matter how you feel about whatever that is happening in the party the decisions must always come 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 then the crisis may be minimal. Those are the problems. So no matter what you say that is right or wrong by the time the national leadership comes in it will always support the governors.

In the case of Oyo State, there were so many committees that were set up to reconcile members here. There was a Saraki Committee, Governor Nyesom Wike himself came here, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola was here, like Senator Nnamani was here too.

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 and 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.

How many sides do we have to the ongoing PDP crisis in Oyo State?

There are no sides actually. What is happening is that the government is being run by the governor and he has some people he chooses 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 elections. And he was welcomed because he had before been a member of the party before he left and 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 and not allow the fabric of the party to be torn apart.

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

We don’t have a head and we don’t have a group all we know is that we are the real PDP members. 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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