36 States Too Many For Nigeria – Tony Momoh

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Prince Tony Momoh, a former Minister of Information is the Pro-chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council of the University of Jos (UNIJOS). As one of the national leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), he speaks in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI on latest developments in the party, Abdulrasheed Maina scandal and other issues of national interests. Excerpts:

Earlier this month, precisely October 1st, Nigeria celebrated 57 years of nationhood. If I may ask you, how have we fared?

To say the least, we have remained in one piece despite all challenges to dismember Nigeria – once during the civil war and now with the Boko Haram threat in the North East . The noises are louder now than ever before, so much that we need to re-visit our way of governance. Power is concentrated at the centre and we must re-visit the sharing formula.
Since the year 2002, I have preached that to save Nigeria we must talk. This can only happen through decongesting the political space. This single act will lead to automatic economic deregulation, so the challenge of the 57th year of independence is that all stakeholders must forget our collective greed and lay a foundation for a Nigeria, which in the next few years will play a leadership role in world affairs.
We have the raw materials for this – a youthful population; six ecological zones in the country, even with temperate conditions; a large internal market and minerals.

Recently, there have been various talks about the present condition of the ruling APC with some even saying the party is crumbling. Is the APC in tatters?

How can it be in tatters? The party has a constitution, it also has a manifesto and the party is made up of individuals; millions of people. Do you expect these millions of people in the party to start singing one song? That is not possible. When people talk of divergent views in the party and therefore take that to mean that the party is in crisis or trouble, then they don’t know what democracy is all about. Every member in a political party has their own opinion on every issue but the fact is, it is the collation of opinions in the political, economic, social, educational, environmental, foreign policy and cultural areas that sum up to form the manifesto of the party. Like I said, every member has their views on any issue but the group of people; the political association that came together and express certain views in respect to the demands in Chapter 2 of the constitution which says you must state what you want to do as a political association in a political, social, economic, environmental and other areas of our own dream. Then, if that is acceptable to INEC you are registered as a political party.

That does not mean that all of you as members of a political party do not have your different views but the summary of your objective, what you want to do for the people is what makes INEC register you as a political association that has now become a political party to ask for votes. So, there are thousands as many views on education or any other areas in the constitution in the manifesto and there are people there. So, all these are summarized in a document you call a manifesto. That manifesto is what you look at. The divergent views or quarrels cannot lead to the party being in tatters.

It is only a party of robots you will have no divergent views and everybody’s thoughts and programmes will follow one line. That cannot happen in a truly democratic system or a vibrant and robust political party like APC. As long as each member has their own ambition, they will look for a political party where they can express that ambition and that is democracy for you. Democracy is what gives you a role where you do a lot of talking and you spend a lot of energy talking. Democracy is not dictatorship where it is only one voice you hear. Democracy is a collection of people that will express their desire or dream, collated in one document as a political association which INEC registers and calls a political party. So, when I hear people say a political party is in tatters, it means there are lots of divergent views in that political party, that has reduced themselves to political association and are quarrelling such that anybody can talk anywhere.

So, it is expected in APC and any other political party in the whole world. Don’t also forget 2019 is coming and you will be surprised at many aspirants that will come out. For the presidency, we will have only one candidate. We will have lots of people who want to be governors in the states, but we will have only one candidate. We will also have lots of people who want to be chairmen in each local government areas but we will have only one candidate. We will also have lots of people who want to be councilors in the wards, but we will have only one candidate. When you are fighting, there are lots of voices but at the end of the day, one person will represent the party and fly the party’s flag at the ward, local, state and national levels.

There is this report that some governors boycotted a meeting with the
party’s leadership. Don’t you think that is an indication that all is not well?

There is nothing strange about governors not attending a particular meeting called by the party. The governors perform the role of a trade union or an interest group in the party. They are not an organ of the party. I do not doubt that they are a very strong group of members of the party whose financial muscle the party needs to maintain its operation. Their place in the party can therefore not be denied or under estimated but that is as far as it goes.

Are you comfortable with the John Odigie- Oyegun leadership of the party?

John Odigie-Oyegun is the elected national chairman of our party. What I think of him is personal and so it doesn’t affect the conditions of his tenure as chairman. I respect him and relate to him where I believe things are not moving as fast or smoothly as should be expected, but more importantly is the fact that the chairman leads all interest groups in the party and should not be expected to satisfy their various and unending demands.

There is this disquiet in your party that many who worked for the party’s victory in 2015 are not compensated. Some faction of CPC even protested the appointment given to you as Pro- Chancellor of UNIJOS saying it belittles you. What is your take?

People expect reward for the work they do. In regard to political parties and with the nature of politicians, everyone wants empowerment which I believe should be of greater advantage to majority of the people. How is it then possible to empower individually all those who were active in the election of the president? The best option should be that an environment is created where the dreams of stakeholders and the polity in general can be fulfilled. In other words, jobs are limited and the funds are not there to meet the commitment of empowering and supporting political supporters.

As to my appointment as pro-chancellor of the University of Jos, I wonder what other job those who aired their opinions wanted for me. I have been a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and I have been chairman Board of Nigerian Airways. I have also been national chairman of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
I am happy at the role I played with my other two colleagues; Dr Ogbonnaya Onu of the ANPP and Chief Bisi Akande of the ACN, together with other stakeholders to midwife APC, which is a political party and not an alliance of political parties.
Many people want me to occupy a certain position where they believe I can empower them, not positions where I can provide leadership for growing Nigerians who I believe do not have only a future but a mission.

What is your perspective on the circumstances surrounding the reinstatement of Mr Abdulrasheed Maina into the civil service?

Whatever happened must be in accordance with due process. It is a good thing that the presidency and the national assembly are looking into the matter. I am not enamoured by the current practice of people commenting on issues which they are not thoroughly aware of.

Do you see the comeback of PDP as threat to your party’s chances in 2019?

We are in a democracy and in a free and fair election; the party with the majority will emerge. PDP was there for 16 years and they presided over the ruthless sharing of our national cake, which they refused to be part of the baking process. I do not, speaking as an analyst, see how PDP can return to power at the centre when they have not paid for the damage they did in every aspect of our lives during the period of their sojourn.

You are an insider in this government, what do you think the present administration is doing that would give the people hope for a better future?

Like I said earlier, the fact is that every party has its own manifesto and the manifesto addresses what you want to achieve; it could be educational, political, economic, cultural, environmental and foreign policy. They are all documented. We said we would fight insurgency, in other words, we would secure the terrain. We said we would fight corruption; we said we would address the economy. You would agree with me that the government is on course. You know how many local governments the Boko Haram sect was controlling before. Although you still have activities of Boko Haram, but there is no place in the North East where you have the flag of Boko Haram. Also, the economy is being attended to and corruption is being fought so forcefully that corruption is now fighting back.

So, the government is attending to the promises they made to the people of this country. But what is worrying a lot of people is the hate speeches and some people threatening to leave this country and that is their own reaction to what they consider to be injustice. But there is no part of this country that people are not complaining. And the fact is that Nigeria is the only country with a federation among all the federations established in the first quarter of the last century that is still standing. It is for a purpose. Spiritually, there is national anointing for Nigeria. God has a purpose for Nigeria and I can assure you that we can quarrel and quarrel but Nigeria would not break up.

Nigeria would continue to live together. But what people are asking for is to make governance more effective. I have a book that talks about ‘To Save Nigeria, Let’s Talk’ since 2002 and I sent 400 copies of that booklet to the Obasanjo Constitutional Reform Conference in 2005 and I sent 600 copies to the Jonathan National Conference in 2014. I believe that all we need to do is to rearrange what we have now. I do not see why we should not have a part time legislature. We had a part time legislature in the First Republic and what we did then was more profound than what they are doing now. I do not see why the geo-political areas should not be regions. The 36 states are too many; and not that anybody would want the state to be dissolved but if you have the states built into regions, they can work together within the regions and know what they want to do with the power that is decongested at the centre.

The powers at the centre are too many. Give them to the region and let people move at their own pace. And they now contribute to running the centre. It happened before; we can do it again. There is no geo-political zone in Nigeria that cannot feed the country. It is only that some people, because of the oil from the Niger Delta are depending on Abuja to go and collect their allocation every month. There is no geopolitical zone that cannot feed the whole country without petroleum resources. And in any case, there is nowhere in the country where you cannot find mineral resources. The derivation people are looking for, once you have the mineral, you have 13 per cent derivation. I do not see why we should have two chambers of the legislature. We should have one; so it is very easy to decongest the political space because there is nowhere in the world where you have democracy before development. It is only in Nigeria. Here we have democracy and we are not growing because 80 per cent of our budget is on recurrent whereas we should not spend more than 20 to 25 per cent on recurrent.

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