Prince Tony Momoh, veteran journalist, lawyer, columnist, politician, elder statesman and former Minister of Information, is currently the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council of the University of Jos, Plateau State. He was the National Chairman of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) on which platform President Muhammadu Buhari contested the presidency in 2011 and until its merger with other parties in July 2013.
The merger had led to the emergence of the All Progressives Congress (APC) which defeated then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 general elections. In this interview, Momoh tells why Nigerians should appreciate that Buhari has actually brought the ‘Change’ that he, his party and Nigerians want to see in the areas of security, anti-corruption and economy.
Lets start from what qualifies a political party to canvass for votes using Nigeria as case study.
First and foremost, a political party is registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) after the political association seeking registration might have submitted its Constitution and manifesto among other requirements to the electoral body. Then the party can go to the public and ask for votes. No political association can ask for votes unless it has written to INEC and has therefore been registered as a political party. In the Constitution, you say how you will run the party at the ward, local government, state and national levels.
The manifesto records what you promise to do for your people and what the people themselves have asked for. It records what you want to use the political platform to do and this is stated in Chapter Two of the Constitution of the Federal Republic; you will state your social, political, educational, economic, cultural, environmental and foreign policy objectives. All these are stated in the Nigerian Constitution for those Nigerians who want to take part in ruling Nigeria. The people are the owners of sovereignty and they are the ones who now say to government exercising the power on their behalf that ‘this is what we want’.
So, you, as a political association, will spell out what you want to do in the areas of education, culture, economy, security, and all that, and INEC will read through and say ‘okay, you are endorsed’.
Your party, the APC, apparently had a manifesto with which it canvassed for votes. How has it been two years into a four – year – tenure?
When we were asking for votes at the federal level, we said what we would do in the area of security, what we would do in the area of fighting corruption because corruption had eaten deep into the Nigerian fabric, and also what we would do in the area of the economy. And these, in the last two years or so, are the areas you have to look at when you look at what the government said it would do. In the area of security, the APC government inherited a Nigeria where, for the first time, a foreign flag was hoisted on the Nigerian territory in the North – East by Boko Haram.
The terror group had captured 14 Local Government Areas and were threatening Abuja and other parts of the country. And what did we discover? We discovered that the money that was voted for the purchase of arms was freely shared by PDP members to fight election. Not only that, in other areas where government was supposed to perform – schools, infrastructural development, etc – the money voted for them was collected and shared. That was the height of the deep -seated indiscipline that we inherited. The President had thought that only the elites were corrupt.
But when he came in, he discovered that corruption cut across all the strata of the society; it was pervasive at the top, in the middle and at the bottom. So where do we start to fight corruption? Then we didn’t bargain for the economy going into recession. Under the PDP administration that we succeeded, oil was selling for more than $100 per barrel and the nation had billions of dollars to spend. But by the time the Buhari administration came in, the oil, which is our main source of income, had crashed to less than $40 per barrel. So, for the government, it was like starting afresh to rebuild Nigeria.
And in two years, we have ensured that Nigeria is secured. Boko Haram has been stopped and is no longer in the position to fight any war. They can embarrass with their suicide bombing and the more they detonate their bomb in public places the more you see that their rank and file is depleted. If it happened before that they took over areas, hoisted their flag their, that isn’t going to happen again under the Buhari – led APC government. And fortunately many of the Chibok girls that were taken away are being brought back. So, we have secured the land by and large. We are well aware that there are still security challenges in the areas of kidnapping, hostage – taking and so on and so forth. But all the areas are being addressed. So, nobody can say that we have failed in the area of security.
In the area of corruption, like I said, we discovered that corruption was pervasive and was an issue at all strata of the society contrary to the thinking that it was an elite problem, but it is being fought to a standstill. It is impossible to eliminate corruption, but today anybody who has skeleton in his cupboard feels jittery hearing any knock on his door because he thinks it is EFCC. So, Nigeria has become some kind of a guilt fighter, someone fighting the guilty. And anybody who has anything to hide is on the run, is agitated and that is a very good sign that corruption is no longer going to be accepted and encouraged (on our soil).
On the economy?
The economy was in recession but the good news now is that we are taking measures so that our economy no longer depends 100 percent on oil. Agriculture is reviving and other areas of economic activities are coming on. Is it unemployment? Everything is being addressed. There seems to be more discipline now so much that the nation is being reordered and the economy is recovering at a pace faster than we anticipated.
So, are you confident that President Buhari has delivered at least to some extent based on your campaign promises?
We said we would restore order in Nigeria; we would fight corruption and that we would restore the economy. In all the areas, I would give the APC government a pass mark.
Let us look at the situation where Nigerians who entrusted President Muhammadu Buhari with power no longer believe what he tells them about his government and the state of his health. Are you not bothered that this is happening to a people who lined up and slept in the rain and sunshine to vote him in as President?
No. The fact here is that the Constitution is very clear. Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria and it is from the Constitution that government derives its power and authority That is clear. And the power is shared among the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. And, according to Chapter Two of the Constitution, the assignment of monitoring the performance of government is given to the media . So, the media is constitutionally the Fourth Estate of the Realm.
And the press is the only organ that has the power, the right and the responsibility to carry out oversight function on the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. So, those organs are there to perform their duties and you must look for those duties to be performed in the Constitution. As the head of the executive, the President has the power to oversee the implementation of all the laws that are passed by the legislature and he can appoint people to help him do so.
So the President is the President of Nigeria, he is the Vice President of Nigeria, he is the Minister of Nigeria, he is the Chief Executive of all agencies and anybody who does anything concerning the executive branch of government does so because he assigns it to him. As long as you have the Vice President, Ministers, heads of agencies, permanent secretaries, all of them are working for the President because the buck stops on his desk. And he can delegate according to law. So, there is no problem. The fact is that our President has health problem now.
But as long as he is there and can do his work, he remains the President. And let me tell you this, the Vice President is the President in acting capacity. So there is no vacuum. If the President comes back today, he writes to the Senate ‘I’m back,’ and then he resumes and so there is no vacuum. And that is the beauty of the Constitution because everything you do is located in the Constitution.
Unlike when the President went on vacation, you would not see the Vice President assuming office as Acting President. Or did you hear Atiku Abubakar ever assuming office as Acting President under President Obasanjo? Even when President Umar Musa Yar’Adua was sick, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan didn’t even know the health status of Yar’Adua.
But this President (Buhari) sent a letter to the Senate, ‘I’m going abroad and the Vice President will perform the functions of my office.’ Have you ever had any cause for concern particularly on his second trip, and since he left, have you ever heard about anything critical? No, it is because the procedure is very clear. The kind of power which made some people to take power without allowing the Constitution to work is not on because Muhammadu Buhari does not compete with his subordinates.
He gives you power and allows you to exercise it. And the talk about Buhari’s absence meaning that he is not in charge does not arise. Buhari is in charge. We have Acting President today and this Acting President has full power to act but that does not mean that he does not relate with his boss. No. So, all these concerns about ‘doing this and not doing that’ does not arise.
It is the President who was elected. If the President does not have capacity to work, of course, he will resign. If the President dies and nobody will live forever, of course the Constitution is there.
But let us not start wishing the President dead because all those, who wished Zik dead, died before Zik. Obasanjo himself, for more than a dozen times, they wished him dead. You see, people are so evil but what they wish for others comes to them.
The only thing which is your own is what you do. What you do is your investment. It will bear fruits for you to reap. So all those who wish others dead have wished themselves dead and they will die. So there is no vacuum. President Muhammadu Buhari was elected and he is the one in charge.
We know you to be a very close ally of President Buhari. Now that he is in London, when last did you get in touch with him?
Why should I get in touch with him? And if I get in touch with him, why should I say so? He is a citizen of Nigeria, he is London and there is no vacuum. So, talking to him becomes personal.
How do you feel regarding people tipping you for the position of Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF)?
Don’t mind them (laughs). Another thing is that the position is not usually advertised and it is not who wants to be there that gets it because the President will appoint whosoever he wants. And people have been speculating because the President congratulated me when I turned 78. So, they started mistaking it for that. There is no such thing. Don’t mind them (a long laughter). However, don’t forget that I am the new Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council of the University of Jos.
Published 28th May, 2017 on Vanguardngr.com