opinionBy Folu Olamiti
Chief Ebenezer Babatope, any day stands out in a crowd. Avuncular by disposition, Ebino Topsy as he is fondly called by close friends and associates is cerebral while his oratorial prowess commands instant attention. He is open hearted, always warm, down to earth and ever focused. For me, the story of progressive politics in Nigeria can never be properly narrated without a fair reference to the roles played by this very ebullient and egregious politician, both in the past and in the present dispensation.
Who would not remember the vibrant days of Babatope in the politics of Nigeria's Second Republic? He was the chief spokesperson for Africa's best organised political party; the Unity Party of Nigeria. With the power of pen and shrilling voice as the UPN's curator, Babatope, brazed by the spirit of the progressives was a main torment for then ruling defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN). In those days, Babatope crowed like a cock, bleated like a sheep and often times roared like a lion against perceived misdemeanours of the ruling party.
Babatope was simply a huge toast in the camp of the progressives in the Second Republic. His reputation soared beyond the coast of the south-west where he operated, whirled through the south-east, the home of late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Middle Belt where Chief Solomon Lar was contending, the cultural city of Kano where Mallam Aminu Kano held sway and then the Borno Empire which produced the only Nigerian politician who played politics without bitterness, Alhaji Ibrahim Waziri. He spoke in political terms and officially too for the great men who laid the basis for growth of democracy in Nigeria. Babatope! Oh what a man, what a speaker, what a politician, what a bundle of wit. To say that Babatope taught Nigerians the art of speaking for the political parties is like stating the obvious. He laid the standard for office of National Publicity Secretary of parties as we come to know today. His own voyage into politics and the manner of his rise is a good study on how a politician should be baked
Babatope did not join politics because he wanted to raise a fortune. He was a worker and a philosopher at the University of Lagos, so immersed in the propagation of progressive ideals rooted in the Carl Max doctrines before he got located. He was a columnist too. Unknown to him, the Tsar of Progressive Politics in Nigeria, Papa Chief Obafemi Awolowo secretly held him in high esteem. That was when Awo was pioneering a political group known as Committee of Friends, preparatory to the lifting of ban on politics in 1978 by the then military government. Awo's political team was complete long before full stream politics took off to establish the Second Republic in 1979. He specifically sent for Babatope to join the team which eventually metamorphosed into the great UPN. It was a party that gave Nigeria a robust visage on what politics should be
Babatope has helped Nigeria in many ways. At a critical point in the post Second Republic Nigeria, he was part of the strong men who engaged in the brinksmanship that steered the ship of state from hitting the rock. He helped the Military government of General Sani Abacha to obviate the political crisis which pushed Nigeria to the edge of a clifhanger. He is a leader of leaders in his home state, Osun and an elderstatesman in his country Nigeria. A man like Babatope, so genuine and highly spirited in the struggle for Nigeria's survival deserves 70 applauses as he celebrates his 70th birthday today. This is because he remains in the class of Nigeria's last of the titans, given the experiences he carries as a politician and a leader
I have had a long standing close relationship with the celebrant who I call Egbon. His candour and quick wits endeared him to me. He is unassuming and full of surprises for anyone so close to him. I enjoyed part of his attitude to make surprises a year ago, specifically on 6 January, 2012, the day I committed my mum to mother earth at Alade Idanre.
The week of burial was very turbulent for me as I made preparations for visitors to my home town. It was a week Nigerian's went to war with their government in protest against the plan to remove subsidy on petroleum products. There was no fuel anywhere, just as chaos in the land looked stout enough to rubbish all arrangements we had made for the burial. I was demoralised and helpless. But then, people like Babatope surprised me with their morale lifting presence. I could not hold my shock when he suddenly turned up in the company of one of my uncles, Chief Akanni Aluko.
Today, I am paying homage to this great man who loves his country and the people so dearly. It is the reason I found this tribute to Babatope very compelling. My close relationship with egbon Ebino is spanning four decades now. His younger brother Segun Babatope has always been my buddy. We hit it together as bosom friends with the former Governor of Ekiti State Segun Oni in the early 70s. During our days of friendship one thing led to the other and I grew to know Egbon Ebino. Segun and I were always toying with familiar pranks as bachelors. Then, Egbon Ebino though responsibly rascally used to warn and remind us that our fathers were servants of God. Today, Segun and I owe the Almighty God much gratitude for making us to accept Jesus Christ just after we got married in 1980. I joined the Tribune stable as a reporter and got the rare opportunity to become Papa Obafemi favourite reporter covering his political activities and that made me get closer to Egbon Ebino.
As the functional Director of Publicity and Propaganda for the UPN, Egbon became so dear to Papa Awolowo because he found in Papa Awo, a dependable and adorable leader. To say the least, he became one of Papa Awo's adopted children.
Awo loved Babatope so much that he bare his tuition fees for law degree programme in the United Kingdom. For that reason, Egbon Ebino would forever remain a die-hard disciple of Awo dynasty. If you are looking for a pure undiluted Awoist, you don't need to look elsewhere, he is Egbon Ebino. He sleeps, dreams Awo! He drinks, eats thinking of Awo. He has kept the faith and his numerous writings have been educating the young ones who are itching to read informative materials of the sage Awo.
Egbon Ebino is an elder with full milk of human kindness. He is always willingly to offer assistance to anyone that comes his way. But nature is powerful and so Babatope will not remain the vibrant youth he has always been. He is now 70! Now, what can I now say on a day like this that Egbon is 70 than to say I thank God for knowing you. I am grateful for your brotherly support to me during my moment of ups and downs in the Tribune. Your words of wisdom and encouragement saw me through my 32 year sojourn at Imalefalafia.
I cherish Egbon Ebino for free display of open mind. It is good to know that Babatope hates dishonesty and will not hesitate to rake with vibrating and thunder like voice against anyone who erred around him. There is simply no pretence in this great man that loves Nigeria
Olamiti wrote this piece from ICPC, Abuja