Prince Tony Momoh, served as Minister of Information and Culture during General Ibrahim Babangida’s regime from 1986-1990. He was National Chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressives Change (CPC), one of the four parties that merged to form the All Progressives Congress, (APC). He is presently a member, Board of Trustees, BoT of the APC. In this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, he spoke on crucial issues as it affects the nation and his party. Excerpts:
The Deputy National Publicity Secretary of your party, Timi Frank has been in the media recently saying a lot of negative things about the party hierarchy. The APC leaders in the South-South last week said he should be sanctioned. What is your take on that?
I once told you about freedom of expression. Everybody has his own right to freedom of expression but in expressing yourself, if you belong to a particular group, there is a way you express yourself within that particular group. And if things get out of hand as far as you are concerned, you express yourself outside that group and people outside that group will now begin to read meanings into the way you express yourself. One way is to show dissatisfaction within the group or a breakdown of law and order in the group. But I don’t think that has degenerated into describing it as a crisis. It is true that Alhaji Lai Mohammed was elected the National Publicity Secretary of APC and Timi Frank was elected as the Deputy National Publicity Secretary because the position was zoned to the South- South. Till today, nobody has denied the fact that Timi Frank is the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party. But one thing is whether someone who is assistant or deputising in the absence of the principal can be a member of the National Working Committee (NWC). It is not every elected member of the party that is a member of the NWC although everybody who is elected is a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party. The NEC is the highest body of the party outside the convention, and then the NWC is the committee that will move the party on day-to-day and it is not every member that is a member of the NWC. The NWC is chaired by the National Chairman of the party, who in turn is the Chief Executive Officer of the party according to the constitution. This issue can easily be resolved if the party can clarify whether the Deputy Publicity Secretary can be a member of the NWC when for instance, the incumbent or the person who was elected to that position, like Lai Mohammed who has now left to be the Minister of Information. It is very simple case of administration. So, that is the first question and it does not affect the structure or unity of the party. It is a question of whether someone who is an assistant is a member of the NWC or just remain a member of NEC. This is something they can easily clear but I don’t understand why they have not explained it before the situation gets to this level.
The wife of the president, Aisha Buhari recently granted an interview claiming that her husband’s government has been hijacked by a cabal. What is your take on that?
I don’t know in what capacity she spoke, whether she spoke as the wife of the president or as a member of the political party. If she spoke as a member of the political party, it will be difficult to chide from the fact that she is the First Lady of the land and that whatever she says may be seen as the views of her husband rather than the right of a member of the party, be you man or woman to express yourself. I am one of the people who look at the issue more as a family issue than a party issue. if I were to speak in my capacity as a family man, I will say every member of the party has a right to express themselves. What Mrs Aisha Buhari said is not unique to her. Many people have complained about the same issues. I believe people should look at it from a particular angle. We do not have two presidents, we have only one and that is President Muhammadu Buhari. Once the president is elected, then governance starts and all the people are entitled to getting the attention of that president. The temptation is there to say that all appointments should be political. But that is really not done because even in America that is the number one democracy in the world, Presidents who are Democrats move across to Republicans to recruit people to run office. So, there is a difference between running a position, any office and giving political positions to politicians.
Why do you say that?
It is because politicians will always want attention and they want compensation for what they did. But compensation should not only be appointments. Compensation should be creating the environment for everybody in the polity to be what they can be. How many people will you give appointments to? Are you going to give appointments to 70 million people? So, when you have for instance, the wife of the president making a statement as a politician, then you will be right because she has a right to make such a statement. The only problem is she cannot divorce herself from the position of being the wife of the president whenever she makes such a statement. Of course, she didn’t deny that she is the wife of the president and the president did not deny that is the wife. What the president said that it is the responsibility of my wife to take care of me in the kitchen.
Many Nigerians have also criticised the response of the president to his wife’s outburst , claiming it is derogatory. What is your response on that?
Let’s get things right here. The president said ‘ my wife’. He never said ‘the place of women should be in the kitchen’. For instance, I went into relationship with my wife 47 years ago and there is division of labour in the house. If the president is speaking in that capacity, on the division of labour in his household, then he was right. The only thing is that the statement was made at the wrong forum. The president was absolutely right, he only spoke at the wrong forum. All of have wives. We know who is responsible for cooking the meals, which is done in the kitchen. In every relationship, there are certain things common to husband and wife.
But is it right to say the First Lady’s place is in the kitchen alone considering the role he played campaigning for her husband across the country in the 2015 presidential election?
Yes, that is why I said a politician and a wife. There is a personal relationship between a wife and a husband. Even if you see them in public, there is personal relationship between them. So people will find it difficult to agree that she is speaking only as a politician without also affecting the fact that she is the wife of the number one citizen in the country today.
But what do you make of the claim of the First Lady that the president has filled his cabinets with people he doesn’t know?
As I said, we have only one president. The president has made a whole lot of contacts since he was in school, when he joined the military, when he became governor of six states that are in the North- East today, he must have come across a lot of people and made contacts during this period. Later he became Federal Commissioner of Petroleum building refinery and pipelines. Then, he rose to become Head of State of the country. He later became Chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). So, he will know lots of people. In fact , he (Buhari) told me that when he was Commissioner for Petroleum, he was going flying over Niger Delta region in a helicopter, at least once a month. He lived in Port Harcourt, he lived in Enugu, he lived in Awka, he lived in Markudi, and Jos. He also lived in Lagos, Abeokuta , Kaduna, Sokoto, Bauchi and Kano. In all these years, he made contacts. Now, he contested as president in 2003 and failed. There were lots of people who worked with him. He ran again in 2007 and 2011 and also failed before he succeeded in 2015. There was a team they called The Buhari Organisation. I was a member of that organisation and we started this journey in 2002. There are lots and lots of people who have crossed his path. He will know many of these people and constitutionally, there are people he won’t know before appointing them. The wife is not the president. The president is the president and he doesn’t have to know to appoint there are certain constitutional demands that he has to obeyed. He is expected to appoint Ministers from all the states of the federation. In appointment of ambassadors, there is a lot of zoning. As a president, you are not supposed to know most of these people. All you can do is to ask questions from those who know them. But I am saying that over the years, he must have made lots of contacts and meet a lot of people that even the wife is not supposed to know. Having said this, a lot of people are happy that the wife said this. They are happy. But the fact remains that whether we like it or not, President Buhari is the president and the bulk stops on his table. He takes full responsibility for whatever appointments he makes to work with him.
We are gradually moving to the second year of President Buhari’s administration in office. Do you still believe that he will fulfill all the campaign promises he made to Nigerians?
Why not? The president will fulfill all the promises he has made to Nigerians. He is a man of integrity and his word has always been his bond. For instance, we used to complain about fuel scarcity in this country, but today, do we have fuel queues again? Today, people are talking about hunger. The only way to get out of that is when we grow food. To those complaining about lack of power supply and good roads, my appeal to them is to be patient. I believe all these things will be done very soon.
There are already concerns about 2019. Do you think it is proper for us to start talking about 2019 now when we are still in the later part of 2016?
Why should people not be thinking of 2019? People are already thinking of 2023. So that is politicians; politicians are always planning ahead. Even the struggle in the National Assembly, what do you think it is for? Are you not aware that it is because of people’s ambition for 2019? Usually when elections are over, governance starts; then a year or two to elections, people can express their desire and aspire to offices. But in Nigeria, we are permanently aspiring to offices and that is a failure. But what do you do?
Are you worried about the level of division in Nigeria since the present administration came on board? Many groups are agitating for one thing or the other such as the Niger Delta agitation, restructuring and other issues. What is your take on this?
These things are not new. They have always been there. People will want answers to their problems, and look at the volume of hunger, the volume of unemployment and poverty; all these are pressures that people will provide different answers to depending on where they are looking at and they are all legitimate. Restructuring is a very legitimate answer to ensuring that we manage our resource better. For instance, personally, I don’t see why there should be full time law making. So, that is an answer to restructuring. I don’t see why you should have 54 states or 52 states when 36 are even too many. I don’t see why we should have so many private cars, I don’t see why you should have executive governor position, I don’t see why you shouldn’t have parliamentary and make it rigid parliamentary. I don’t see why all these things should be there. You try to deal with approaches to management. So, anybody who is expressing an opinion will know that in a recession like this, options are there and people who express them are expressing them from their own perspectives and they shouldn’t be beaten up because they are saying so.