Prince Tony Momoh, a former minister of information, is one of the close associates of President Muhammadu Buhari. In this interview, he declared that 2019 presidential contest would be an easy walkover for the president, if he chooses to go for the race again.
Why has Nigeria remained divided 57 years after independence?
It takes a lot of doings to lead a group. Human beings think of themselves before any other. And it has to do with giving up yourself before you can lead a society. In other words, concessions are inevitable, if you want peace in society. We came together as one country in 1914. In 2014, we were 100 years as integrated space but we have never succeeded in integrating the people. The people are so different, vast and heterogeneous that we have not learnt how people in that type of relationship can be integrated. That is why a person like Awolowo was talking about what makes a federation inevitable. He identified fifty nations in Nigeria. At the last count, there were 215 nationality groups in Nigeria. But you and I know that we run this country as a unity system because of what we inherited from the military. When the military came, there was even an attempt to unify the whole country and unify the whole civil service. That was, however, reversed in July 1966 when there was a counter coup. But even then, we have been used to high military command structure. Now, we have one central government, 36 state governments, 774 local governments. All of these areas look towards the centre. And yet we are different groups. Apart from the three major groups-Yoruba, Igbo and Haus/Fulani, we have other smaller groups. But we all behave as if there is only one group.
What makes it difficult for Nigeria to transit from the unitary system introduced by the military to a federal structure as suggested by the late Obafemi Awolowo?
We transited from federal system to unitary system. At independence, we had three regions under a federal system. Now, the amalgamated country that was one in 1914 have become 36 and we even want more because of the greed of politicians. The people who feel deprived think that their deprivation can be overcome when you give them their own little hectare to control. We in Edo North, for instance, wanted our own state from Edo State-Afemai State. These groupings will always be there as long as there is perception of injustice and dissent. So, all separatist agitators are expressing their reactions to what they perceive as injustice.
But don’t you think that restructuring or what some people describe as power devolution will help to curtail these agitations?
You are correct. But you are looking at the political dimension. What of economic dimension? There must be as much giving as you want to take. People say devolution of power. Yes, but how far will you go. I can assure you that everybody will be satisfied only when everybody is in charge of his own affairs.
So, you have 180 million countries. I have said it in a little book I wrote in 2002 that what we need to do is to devolve power to the geo-political zones. The powers at the centre are too many. It is too top heavy. There are 93 areas on which the National Assembly makes law. We must reduce them to 18 and devolve power to the regions. Let’s make geo-political zones the regions. Each of them can feed the whole of Nigeria because they have resources to do so. That way, we will decongest the political space. When we decongest the political space, each region will work at its own pace and earn its own revenue and contribute to the centre. That was what happened in the First Republic. Why can’t we do that now? It is because everybody is looking at the oil in the Niger Delta. Oil in the 21st century is a dinosaur resource. It is a gift of the last century. Oil has brought us so many gains and many losses. A new power source is coming. It could be solar because it is nature that gives these things. I am telling you in the next 20, 30 years, anybody who digs the soil for oil will be sent to jail for pollution because the new source of power would have been downloaded into the minds of people by the creator. That is what happens.
Look at your television set; you think there is a mind that focuses on television set? You think there is a mind that focuses on the engine of a car? All these things are prototype in the beyond downloaded to those who are open to them. Those people you call inventors know how the things come to them. They just sit down and the thing drops in their minds.
But why is downloading an exclusive preserve of the western world. Why is Nigeria not involved in the process?
The fact is: do people even believe that downloading is possible? The things we think of are things that are possible.
Why is APC as a ruling party not thinking along that line of your suggestion on power devolution?
I am an individual, I am not APC. APC had just organized discussions at different levels for people to give an idea of what they want for Nigeria. And it was very well attended across the country. I gave them my own views. But my own view is only a person’s view.
But your view is in tandem with those agitating for restructuring.
People say restructuring, but if you tell them to define restructuring, you will be surprised. When you decongest the political space, economic deregulation is automatic. People talk of fiscal federalism. How will it happen when the National Assembly makes law in 93 areas? Who executes law? President! How can one president, a human being, execute law in 93 areas and will not fall sick, especially if he is a meticulous person as the president we have now? If National Assembly makes law in 18 or 22 areas, you have lessened the burden. It will make it easier for the president to execute law in those areas. It will make it easier for the president to think out of the box. But as we are now, the president cannot even have time to think. It is too top heavy. The thing is: why is lawmaking full time? Have you ever thought that we spend more than 80 per cent of our resources on recurrent? Is there any where in the world where you grow democracy at the expense of growing the polity? Everywhere in the world, democracy is the luxury of development. When you have developed education, economy, environmental, foreign policy and cultural wherewithal and all those areas of empowerment for the people, then you look for that quantum of freedom you need to drive growth. You think it is in Congress they decide what to do in America? They only implement what they have discussed in golf clubs and breakfast.
So, democracy is the luxury of development. The more developed you are, the more free the people are. When you decongest the political, you will discover you don’t need two chambers of the National Assembly. And I recommend Senate for equal representation. Since the House of Representatives is based on population, the lawmakers can go to their regions to constitute the regional house. Then, all other powers should be moved to the zones. You will discover that the regional assembly will be very busy making laws for the regions. The state assemblies will also be there because no state will want to be collapsed. So, you leave the state, but cancel executive governor’s position and make provision for only one governor in the region.
By so doing, you have automatically solved the problem of competition at the centre. There will be six governors wanting to head their regions. And that is where the power is. You also make lawmaking part-time. So, no one will want to kill anybody to get to the house. At the end of the day, the cost of governance will be less than 25 per cent. Anywhere you spend more 25 per cent on recurrent, you go back to the drawing board. Now, we spend more than 80 per cent. Do you know how much a senator earns per month? They will never tell you. For me, restructuring involves decongesting the political space.
If the top is that heavy as you did say, why is this government not considering a restructuring people are clamouring for?
It is very easy to reorganize the structure. But we don’t have the political will. When we are challenged with all these separatist agitations going on all over the place, we will do the needful.
Why not do it now?
Because we are not challenged enough. The noise for restructuring is increasing. It will get to a deafening level that we will rush to do what is needful. Nigeria should continue agitating and see where it leads. If it is just the normal talk, it will fizzle away. But I can assure you, as long as there are people who believe there are injustices in our polity, there will continue to be agitations. If the agitation continues and is loud enough, we will do the needful. But one thing is: Nigeria will not break.
But the president’s body language is like he wants the status quo to remain.
(Cuts in)… The president will follow the constitution.
Why has he not initiated the process?
Is he the one to initiate it? The people can initiate it. If the people want it, it must be carried out.
Looking at the way the president dealt with the IPOB’s agitation for breakup, would you say he has fairly addressed the issues that agitate their minds?
How did he deal with the agitation?
At least, he must have given order for the recent military invasion of the home of the leader of the group, Nnamdi Kanu.
I believe in what any group does as a response to its perception of what is considered as injustice. But when you go to the extent Kanu went, it becomes another thing. He went and initiated what he called Biafra secret service and hosting Biafra flag all over the place. Not only that, they went to the point of searching vehicles and bringing down people from other parts of the country. Do you know if there is any person who must fight to keep Nigeria one, it’s Igbo. The Igbo are the commercial engine of Nigeria whether you like it or not. There is no place in Nigeria the Igbo are not in charge of commerce. If anybody is to fight for the unity of Nigeria, it’s Igbo. I have most of my friends in Igbo land because I went to the University of Nsukka.
And I am saying it without fear of contradiction that Igbo are more at home in Nigeria generally than their home states because there are no two communities in Igbo land where they are no quarrels over land. So, if you have more than 15 million Igbo wanting to leave Nigeria to go to the East, where will they stay? The Igbo are ruling Nigeria commercially. And Nigerians know the worth of the Igbo. The Northerners are feeding Nigeria. More than 75 per cent of the protein need of Nigeria comes from the North. The Yoruba are the corporate leaders in Nigeria. All these things are division of labour. Most of the accountants in federal service come from the South-west. The money is handled by the South-west. The commerce is handled by the South-east. The growing of food is handled by the North generally.
Do you know what would have happened, if the action taken against IPOB was not taken? Do you know the agitation that was in the North? Do you know what happened in Jos? I am the pro chancellor of the University of Jos. A Marcopollo Bus was coming and because of what they heard was happening to the Northerners in the East, they wanted to pounce on the bus. The bus ran into the University of Jos and everybody came out and ran for their lives. One of my students died, many were injured.
People were reacting to what they said IPOB was doing in the South-east. If it had spread to other parts of the country, do you know what it could have meant? More than 50 per cent of houses in Abuja here belong to Igbo. In Kaduna, major investments belong to Igbo. There was no responsible Igbo man who supported what IPOB was doing. I understand their agitation. But the enthusiasms may run riot when you think you have a point and nobody is responsible enough to check you. What happened with IPOB was a saving grace for Nigeria. And I praise the president for that. If reaction had taken place, by now, Nigeria would have collapsed because of mass movement of people from one part of the country to the other.
People are flying kite about the president’s second term. And you are a very close person to him. Will Mr. President run for second term or not?
The president was ill and we thank God he is well now and remains strong. When there was primary, there was no meeting where he said he will do one term. In 2019, there will also be opportunity for anybody who wants to be candidate to contest. If he says he wants to contest, and others also say they want to contest, and then they go to the field and he wins, he will get the flag. If he loses, whoever wins will take the flag. He (Buhari) is entitled to two terms.
How about the issue of his health challenge?
Are you saying because he is 70-something-year-old, a young man of 30 or 40 should be stronger? It is not a function of age; it is a function of qualification.
But it also has to do with the state of health of the occupant of the office.
(Cuts in)…It is not a function of state of health. But you can be removed if you cannot perform the functions of office because of your state of health. And that can only be initiated by the Senate President. We should be thankful to God Almighty that we have a Buhari now who understands Nigeria more than any other Nigerian leader apart from Nnamdi Azikwe. His presence in government is not an accident. We give impression that someone who has been sick cannot work. I believe his sickness was exacerbated by what he discovered was on the ground. I was at the caucus meeting some couple of days ago, I was surprised to see him looking healthier than most of us. He is back fully at work.
One thing I can assure you is that if President Muhammadu Buhari is strong enough and he knows he can do the job, he will contest and win. In fact, he cannot lose any election in Nigeria. One thing is when he secures a terrain you can’t take it from him. Those who are going to vote are not the people on the social media, it is the ordinary people. His support base is the ordinary man. And he won’t take up a job he cannot do. Nigeria has to be re-grounded. We have in our hand a very solid, highly focused but predictable person. You can always predict Buhari because he will not do anything to satisfy anybody. And he has no friends. He has no friends when it comes to issues of principle and integrity of office.
By Omoniyi Salaudeen