CHIEF Ebenezer Babatope will be 80 years old tomorrow, January 26, 2023. He is a former Minister of Transport and Aviation, an outstanding journalist, legal icon and core Awoist. ADEOLU ADEYEMO engaged the political titan, thinker and author on his humble beginning, adulthood, political life, among others. Excerpts:
By the special grace of God, on January 26, 2023, you will 80 years old. How do you feel?
I never knew I would be 80. My mother died at the age of 53 but she showered my father with all the attraction he needed. He used to call my mother, “Mama Yard” and she loved it very well and gave my father all the support he needed such that my father succeeded as a clergyman. My father died at the age of 74 and I was in detention at that time. The then Head of State, Major General MuhammaduBuhari and the late Major General Tunde Idiagbon did not allow me to bury my father but people rose, including Uncle Wole Soyinka and my friends, who all gave my father a befitting burial. In fact, I am prepared to join my creator any moment from now. He has been so good to me and when He is ready to take my soul, I am ready to follow but will not relent in praising, worshipping and admiring His wonderful name. He is a life giver, a dependable and reliable father of all fathers in all circumstances. I will forever be in his vineyard and will not depart from his tent of praises. I will forever enter his gate with praises and his court with thanksgiving for he is Worthy to be praised always.
How was your childhood?
I had a very excellent childhood. I spent most of my childhood in Ifaki-Ekiti because my father was a Methodist clergyman and was in Ifaki for many years. It was the policy of my father that, his children must spend at least half of their holiday in Ijesa land, where we were born, so, I got my childhood friends from Ilesa and Ifaki. Due to the fact that my father was a clergyman, religion had tremendous impact on me. Every morning and evening, it’s compulsory, we attend church programmes. Though, my rascality as a young man took the better of me, I will dress the bed up in a manner that they will think that somebody was sleeping there yet, I›ve gone out with my friends. But, we were tied down to family prayers. Even, if I miss any of the evening prayers, I must not miss any of the morning prayers. Infact, when I was in prison, I read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and it has a tremendous impact on my life.
I thank God for His mercy over me in the prison yard, those of us there had religious connection with our creator. Everybody must move close to God because he›s our creator and maker of mankind. While in prison, I used 24 hours in prison to serve my God and when I was released, it has become part and parcel of me.
What has been your relationship with God?
It has been very cordial. God has been very kind to me. I live by His grace. He has never disappointed me. During my years of travails, he was with me. He sent Pa Awolowo to me; he made Baba to discover me. If not for God, I would have been dead. I am 80 years old and I say thank you to God Almighty for being there all through for me.
Can we know your educational background?
I started my primary school at Wesley School, Iperu Remo where I spent only one year, then my father moved to Ifaki- Ekiti where I continued with my education at Ifaki Methodist school and then went to Ifaki grammar school for my secondary school education. I later moved to Lagos when my father was transferred to Ago-Ijaye Methodist Church in Ebutte-meta, Lagos.
When I moved there, I worked at the Lagos city council after my secondary school for one year, I later moved to Igbobi College, Yaba for my higher school certification but, I didn›t finish my higher school certificate because I was lucky to pass my A’level examination. after one year in HSC, I moved to the university of Lagos where I read history and philosophy. I later went to study Law.Baba Awolowo and his friend, Gbadebo, a scholar who based in America, supported me financially.
My childhood days played a lot of impact on my rascality and also influence my political career later because I later became politically influenced by radical actions of people like Baba Awolowo. I’m socially inclined and luckily, clergymen are not rich people so they brought us up in a humble manner I grew up to love the masses and when I got into contact with great men like Baba Awolowo I had to take the line of loving the people. When I was in secondary school at Ifaki grammar school I was the radio monitor of the school and luckily for me whenever i tune the radio I will tune the radio to radio Ghana, which was a radical radio station then.
How would you describe your relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari?
I and Buhari do not belong to the same party, I’m of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); he’s of the All Progressives Congress (APC). I don›t want my generation to be called a failure, so I always pray to my God to grant him success. Though he put me in prison, I have no bitterness against him at all and I›ve always wished him well. The only thing I don›t like is this insecurity which is booming all over the country, I pray that Buhari will do something even before he leaves, I wish him well and I wish him to leave office and enjoy his life.
And your party?
I belong to the PDP and by the grace of God and Osun people the PDP forms the government here in Osun state. Senator Ademola Adeleke is a highly respected person because he comes from a very good family I made mention that his father did well when he was a Senator; his father was not only a true Awoist, his father was very devoted to that call of the masses. The man was fantastic, he›s from a humble background I have tremendous confidence in him because his family is known for the cause of the masses. Go and check the record, I believe that Adeleke will succeed by the grace of God because he is a man that has everything to refer to his family background or historical background.
What has been your political philosophy for years now?
To the glory of God, my attachment to the late sage, Awolowo has never changed. Awoism has been my political foundation and I can never derail from it. Awolowo taught me a lot of ideals as an administrator, teacher and politician. You can imagine that Baba Awolowo died in 1987 and his name is still relevant. This is because he believed that politics was service to humanity with all sincerity. He was a great mobilizer who believed in serving the people. His government was people centred and oriented. He would not take bribe and he would not take what never belonged to him. He loved the people and lived entirely for them. We always acted on his advice. I learnt two things from Awolowo. One is that, always strutinize whatever you are signing because civil servants can implicate you. He once told me also not to collect gratification from anyone because next time when you see that person, you would not be able to look at him in the face. That was the second thing I learnt from him.
What are the legacies of Awolowo you hold in high esteem?
A lot. Let me start by saying I remain a true son of Awolowo to the glory of God because he was not only my mentor but he made me. One of the legacies of Awolowo I still hold in high esteem is that he owe told me: “Don’t enjoy in government what you cannot enjoy in your private life.” Baba was against corruption in its totality.
Another legacy is commitment to the plight of the people. “Without the masses, there would not be us,” Awolowo was fond of saying that. He believed in a nation where the masses must benefit from the ingredients of democracy. Another thing is that Baba Awolowo was a leader who stood out among his peers. He never compromised and he was firm. He was firm, thorough, honest, non-corrupt strict and politically meticulous; he had a lot of enemies who made sure he did not become the President because of the fear of the unknown.
How would you compare the government of those days with the one we have now?
During the time of Awolowo, governance was absolutely and obviously fantastic. People served with sincerity. The love of the masses remained paramount. Corruption was not the order of the day. Awolowo had lieutenants who upheld his ideals and ideas. These were faithful men with conscience to serve humanity. They were politically focused and their integrity mattered. Their hands were not soiled. They were administrators who laid the foundation for a better tomorrow. I am proud to say that during Awolowo’s time, corruption was frowned at. It was never a norm. But, today, you can see for yourself that the reverse is the case. Even a blind man knows that the country is in a total mess. There are no honest leaders again. The masses are made to suffer and bear the brunt. We now have leaders without conscience. The country is turned upside down.
The legacies of Awolowo are upheld by only a few who have conscience. He was a great mobilizer, a philosopher, a thinker, a true democrat with visions for his people. Today ,ideals and ideals have collapsed. People fund themselves in corridors of power without any purpose of being there. The falcon cannot hear the falconer again. Our country is in total shambles. Every structure has virtually broken down. We have lost governance focus. Our leaders now have betrayed us. They have taken us into the land of slavery. It is laughable that we got it right during the days of Awo but now, we have gotten it wrong. Comparing the governance we had then and now is just poles apart. The difference is crystal clear. It is indeed sad that now we have injustice but, then, it was clear justice that was prevalent. That is not what we can contest. Security has collapsed.
How would you compare the Awoists then and now?
First, my Bible tells me not to judge anyone. Judgment belongs to God. The only thing is that we should go back to our conscience. Anybody who calls himself an Awoist should ask himself these questions: one, do I believe in the supreme love for the common man? Two, do I know that I should not receive bribes and gratifications as a leader? Three, do I know that I should not be corrupt in any manner? Four, do I know that the mandate given to me is that I should be the servant leader? Five, do I know that I should not romance or take public fund? Six, do I know that I should forever not derail from the ideals of Awo? Seven, do I know that I should leave public office better than I met it? Eight, do I know that my integrity matters while I also believe in the dignity of man? Once any politician does these eight principles and put them into practice, then he is a committed Awoist.
What are your views on the legislature?
Personally, the structure has totally broken down. People become lawmakers today out of sheer ignorance. There is no clear-cut vision. What we hear these days are nothing to write home about. There is obviously no cohesion among the lawmakers. They have cocooned themselves such that they could not separate realities from allusions. Our lawmakers should not be figure-heads to the executives. They should try to cease being rubber stamps. They should rise to the occasion by doing exactly what the people sent them there to do. There should be separation of powers. We should see a clear-cut case of checks and balances. Legislatures should avoid compromise. Let us make laws that will be beneficial to the people. We don’t need retrogressive laws. We need laws which can heal our land move the nation forward. Politics is service to the people. I recall the late Adeleke when he was a UPN Senator. His legacies are there and we can see how he produced two governors who are his sons. One is the late Senator IsiakaAdeleke and another one is the incumbent Governor of Osun State, Senator Ademola Adeleke.
There is sustained ethnic agitation for autonomy in parts of the country, including Yoruba land. What are your views on this?
I won’t start with whether we need a Yoruba nation or not. I would start by asking that what has made the agitators to be clamouring for a Yoruba nation? I believe there are a lot of fundamental issues involved. These are – is there security in the land? Do people have freedom? Do we practise the principles of fundamental human rights? Are some tribes not marginalized? Do we have balanced appointments? Does a tribe not think Nigeria is its property? Does a tribe not think governance is their birth right? Do we have justice in the land? Are leaders alive to their responsibilities?Is the economy people- centred? Do we have prevalence of justice? I believe these are some of the issues we need to address, and that is why people are clamouring for nationhood because the centre has failed in its overall responsibilities. Look at Sunday Igboho. Look at NnamdiKanu. Why are they being treated as criminals? Why is Igboho not allowed to operate in Nigeria? Igboho should not be ostracised all because he is fighting for what he believes is injustice.
Kanu should be allowed to go home since the courts have said so. Let me appeal to President Buhari to allow him go back home. Still putting him in gaol means, there is no respect for court order. Restricting Igboho to Benin Republic is also an act of absolute injustice. Nigerians should have rights to speak up and make demands. It is the government who should check what they are doing.
You were once a teacher, a school administrator and journalist before becoming a politician. How did you do traverse all these plains?
For your information, I moved from journalism to teaching, and not vice-versa. I taught at Thomas Birch Freeman High School Surulere and then University of Lagos. And later Papa Awolowo got me employed as Director of publicity when Obasanjo sacked me based on the recommendation of the panel set up to investigate the Ali-must go crisis headed by Justice Mohammed. I could remember what Pa Awolowo told me when I was relieved of my job. He said: “Put the event behind you. It has become your past. Look forward and move on”. You see, Baba Awolowo was a born motivator. During the Ali must go crisis, I was dismissed and given no entitlements. I was the students’ Affairs Officer of the University of Lagos and I was a staunch supporter of, the students. The students’ leader then was Late SegunOkeowo who was a good friend of mine. Later my dismissal was converted to compulsory retirement. Late Colonel S.K. Omojokun ensured I was not paid any retirement benefits. The NPN Govt. then sustained such a decision. It was Baba Awolowo who came to my rescue and took me up. He made me what I am and I will forever be grateful to him.
What are your views on vote-buying?
To me vote buying is very outrageous, dangerous and outrightly condemnable. Politicians should desist from vote buying. It is dangerous for our political system. I think vote buying is possible because of poverty. If our people are not poor, they will not be easily bought over. We should stop buying votes. It defeats the principle of democracy. I condemn vote buying in its totality.
What advice do you have for Buhari as the president?
One, President Buhari should obey the rule of law. He should allow justice to prevail. During Biafra, I was Pro-Biafra. Let Kanu be set free Buahri should respect freedom and rights of the people. Kanu should be released. He needs to encourage true Federalism. He should see himself as the father of all. I want him to ensure that peace reigns throughout the country. He needs to be more proactive and embrace all tribes.
What are your exciting moments?
My most exciting moment was when I served at the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) headquarters.
Your saddest experience.
My saddest moment was when I was imprisoned by Buhari in 1984 because of my closeness with Awolowo. I was in Kirikiri, Jos and Yola prisons.
ALSO READ FROM NIGERIAN TRIBUNE