Prince Tony Momoh was the National Chairman of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), one of the legacy parties that formed the ruling party. In this interview, he reviews Nigeria’s democratic journey so far, as well as the activities of President Muhammadu Buhari in the last one year, among other issues. Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA and KOLAWOLE DANIEL, present the excerpts:
WHEN we started democracy in 1999, people were talking about the learning process; but right now, it appears that we are back to 1999 with the change in government. There are problems with the budget; the legislature is having problems settling down. Would you really say that we are moving forward?
We are moving forward, because you cannot face backwards and start moving your back. Every step we take is an opportunity to learn. But the outcome with media analysis is whether we have really learned or retrogressed. I think because of the cost of running our democracy and the gain many derive from it, there does not seem to be any serious attempt to obey the rules. There are breaches than obedience of the rules we have settled to run our democracy. I think what happened to bring this government to office was that the voting pattern was more organised, rather than allowing for people to write results and announce them. That has been the case after 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011; there were hardly any elections. The last elections (of 2015) changed the face of Nigeria, because it was freer and fairer, although there was a siege in the South-South and the South-East. That’s the only difference one can say has occurred since 1999, maybe because of the card readers. But then, the need is there for INEC to work harder. I hear that in 2019, they want to even go electronic.
But we ought to have been more serious with the restructuring of the system to make what we packaged for ourselves less expensive. Imagine full time councilor, full time House of Assembly person, full time National Assembly people, House of Representatives and then Senate full time. So, we ought to restructure these things to be cheaper. The democracy we have chosen, to me is very, very expensive.
What you will now recommend? Today, we are running presidential system. Is it about the system we are running or about the actors?
Presidential system is okay. We wanted a strong person at the centre. But the fact is must lawmakers be fulltime? Lawmakers shouldn’t be fulltime. While the president is nationally elected, the fact is where you have in the House of Representatives and then the Senate, you have about 93 areas of lawmaking, that’s the exclusive list and concurrent list, it means that if they make laws in 93 areas, the president must execute laws in 93 areas. There is no human being who can cope with that type of arrangement, especially when you call it a democracy.
Now the states, the governors, why would you have 36 States that have the powers of the three regions we had before? You know we had three regions – West, East and North; later we had four – Mid West. Only those were constitutionally created. All others were by fiat. So, we have 36 States now and all of them exercise the powers of the regions. Do you know that from Midwest region, they created Delta and Edo. When it was Bendel, there were 18 Permanent Secretaries; then they created Edo and Delta; arithmetic it will only show us that Edo should have nine Permanent Secretaries. But you know how many they have in Edo? 32. So, the thing is too expensive.
There was something beautiful that was brought in 2005 during the constitutional political conference of Obasanjo and that was called the Yoruba agenda. That programme was the best I think we would have used to help restructure and grow Nigeria. But when they came to the Conference, I think Obasanjo told the governors from the South-West to ignore it.
Then during the dialogue organised by (President Goodluck) Jonathan, those who even created the document were asked to come to the dialogue and they themselves threw away the document and associated themselves with creating 52 states to be federating units. I think we should be serious if we want this country to grow, to have six regions as we have now because there is none of the zones that cannot come together to grow together and pursue one economic agenda and then lead Nigeria to faster prosperity than we can get through 36 states.
As a key participant in the process that threw up hthis current government, can give us a view of how the government has fared?
In 2005 or so, America said Nigeria will be a failed state by 2015 and I wrote and analyzed it and said from what Americans are saying that Nigeria will be a failed state, they are looking at it from the material aspect. But the fact is that there is a spiritual dimension to life. America is a country and Americans are creatures. Nigeria is a country and Nigerians are creatures created by the Almighty God. I’ve always said that Nigeria has a mission and Nigeria has an anointing. Nigerians will help grow the world in the next, 20, 25 years and there is nothing anybody can do about it. It’s an anointing by God Almighty. With that in view, how can Nigeria be a failed state? That twenty-something years is beyond 2015 and I believe that would not have come to pass if there had not been change in the election in 2015. You saw what Orubebe did, wanting to force a particular situation, which we thank God Almighty that it didn’t come to pass.
So, Buhari being there has come at a time of unprecedented depression in our economy. Oil prices have fallen below 40 dollars. Then the Niger Delta that is laying the golden egg, you know what is happening. Instead of 2.2 million barrels a day, we have less than 1.2 million barrels a day. We are earning 1 billion dollars a month and spending $4 billion a month. It’s not done. The subsidy they said we were paying for fuel, obviously, it was all paper money and people just sat down collecting money. If you see what has happened, what Buhari said he will do, he will fight corruption, he will create jobs, he will face agriculture and, of course, he will fight insurgency. Buhari is a very predictable person. He will secure this country. He will do anything to secure this country. In other words, he will fight insurgency, he will fight hostage taking, he will fight armed robbery; he will fight anybody who wants to undermine Nigeria’s economy. He will even fight those cattle rustlers and other people who are undermining other communities by destroying their hosts. He will fight them. So, there will be security in this country. It’s only after you have secured the country that you will start developing it, stabilising it through infrastructural development. So, security, plus stability will give us prosperity. There is no magic about it and that is what Buhari has been doing.
When he started, about 14 local government areas were in the hands of Boko Haram. Now, the Boko Haram is not in control of any local government area. I don’t know whether people know that Sambisa Forest is bigger than the South West. Sambisa Forest is a massive area. It’s not like a 100 kilometers area. It’s a huge area, stretching to Cameroun and that’s where they are holed up and where the army is fighting them now.
Secondly, you will see how much is being given to capital expenditure. I don’t know if we ever gave that much to capital expenditure in our recent history. Then you will see the war on corruption. I think the latest you can look at is this fuel subsidy. You know that it’s a cartel that has been routinely sharing our patrimony through diverting the little we have to buying fuel, bringing it and people just sharing it. I think he’s successful in his war against corruption. He’s successful in the war against insurgency.
The area of capital development, that’s stabilising the system, is also going to be celebrated within one year. Look at the roads that will be built; even the money he put on the second Niger bridge in the South-East and lots of other areas that will be empowered.
People have described the anti-corruption war as being selective and as being targeted at political opponents of the president. Are you not worried by that?
I was the chairman of CPC. I was not in government. Ogbonnaya Onu was the chairman of ANPP; he was not in government. Bisi Akande was the chairman of ACN; he was not in government. All those that came together to effect change, they are just coming. When Jonathan invited all of us in 2011 to join the unity government, CPC didn’t go. But it collapsed. So, if there had been unity government and you have elements of those who formed government now in that unity government, you can’t say they had access to money and they are being left unattended to. Buhari has never sat down to say to security agencies go and hunt or to discuss who and who the security agencies should prosecute. He has never done it. All that has happened is that he has allowed the security agencies and other agencies to do their work. Apart the change of EFCC chairman, all others are there. The fact is Buhari says he has nothing against you. But you must go and answer your name. In those days in PDP, if you were accused of anything and you went to PDP, they stopped you. But Buhari is not going to stop anybody who is joining APC because he is being asked to answer his father’s name in the area he managed the affairs under his care when he was there. All you have to do as the media is to point to any person who has been accused of corruption that the anti-corruption agencies did not attend to.
What is your take on the recent deregulation of the petroleum sector, which led to hike in fuel pump price, especially given the fact that the opposition blocked the implementation of that policy in 2012 but, as the ruling party now, you are celebrating the same policy. Don’t you see a bit of inconsistency here?
The opposition party was against the management of oil. They increased fuel price and it was known that time that the landing cost of oil was less than N40. The landing cost of processed fuel was less than N40 and we were buying it for N65. Then we believed that Nigerians were subsidising the government. How come you say that the landing cost was N141 and that was the cost of fuel at international market in respect of a country that does not have crude and then does not have refineries. But what did Jonathan do? Jonathan accepted that there was a cabal, but he could not control the cabal. And what he did was threw the thing at this market and said go and buy your fuel at N97. He could not control the cabal and then said you people go and pay to the marketers. The only gain he was getting was this NNPC mega stations. The money that was being paid to the marketers was going to the pockets of the marketers, not to government. So, it was acceptance of defeat in management. We were earning $140 dollars or thereabout that time per barrel. Now, we are earning less than $40 per barrel and also, the depression in world economy. So, if we earn $1 billion a month and we have to spend $4 billion a month, will you not prioritise. Are you going to borrow to fund toothpicks? We are talking of two scenarios. In one scenario, you had a lot of money and also in that scenario, everybody knew that people will bring three ships empty and then record that they brought fuel. The volume of fuel that they were supposed to be bringing was more than enough for the whole of West Africa; but the fact is government was paying subsidy as a result of documentation of the so-called subsidy and that’s why people were opposed to it. But Buhari said he did not believe there was subsidy. But if he comes to government and he discovered there was subsidy, he will pay it. All the so-called subsidy that government has been paying is the subsidy they carried over. In this government, there is nothing like subsidy. So, I don’t know where there has been any departure from the position of government.
But how do you now reconcile that with the policies that seem to allow prices to skyrocket in the markets. You have the subsidy removal; you have the forex policy; so far now, rice has gone to almost 100 per cent increase in the last one year?
I’m not celebrating rise in prices. But what do you do? You have to cooperate with the inevitable. When you want change, you do not say I want change and refuse to be changed. When we were growing up, we were eating rice twice a year– during Easter and Christmas. Rice is now eaten every day. We are saying that we will be efficient in that area in 2019. If we emphasise agriculture, then, of course, food will be available and will be cheaper. When I was Minister of Information, we encouraged growing of rice all over the country. Bauchi had 10,000 tons of rice to sell. All the marketers in Nigeria refused to sell the rice. They said they preferred Uncle Benz’s rice because in our Nigerian rice, there was stone. Can there be any better description of indiscipline and indulgence? This sacrifice is going to be short term. You can see there are no longer queues. People will bring their fuel and be competitive. Some people are not selling fuel at N145. Some are selling fuel at N143; some are N140. At the end of the day, people will be competitive.
How would you react to the democratic credential of this government, when you look at its obedience to court orders and respect for the rule of law. There was this discussion recently when the Government went to National Industrial Court to obtain the injunction stopping NLC from going on strike. Some said the same government that did not obey court orders is going to get injunction from the same courts. How democratic will you say your government is?
That’s not evidence of democracy or lack of it. If you feel in anyway shortchanged in anything, you go to court. Look at PDP now; two of them went to court – one in Port Harcourt and one in Lagos. Don’t forget that these things about obeying court injunction and not obeying court injunction is administrative. Someone may say that the injunction was not served on him and it may be true. You don’t serve injunction on the pages of newspapers. I agree that some security agencies may dodge service. I’m saying so as a public analyst. But the fact is that until it gets to where you were serving, you were not serving. But this government, I can assure you, the president told everybody that the constitution is our guide. For instance, in the National Assembly elections, he did not encourage any intervention. He said they are autonomous. Let them sort themselves out.
In all the elections since he took over, he has told the INEC people, you are on your own. If you think you want to please us by compromising elections, you are on your own; you will be prosecuted. Anybody who compromises election will be prosecuted. You have seen since he came all the elections, there is none of them that has been declared faulty because of rigging.
But the President should be worried that even the same INEC has gone into what we did not see previously, by bringing inconclusiveness into almost all the elections it has conducted?
It’s the law. If you look at the law, they are making pronouncements on the basis of the law. They are in their own way, interpreting what is happening because they are independent. The government has never queried INEC and they cannot query INEC. INEC is a constitutional creation and it’s there that INEC will not take any instruction from anybody. So, it’s independent and it’s there in the constitution. So, if they say election is inconclusive, they explain it in the law and there is nobody who can take them on because they are independent. They have even shown a proof of non-interference.
The president has said repeatedly that he feels the pains of Nigerians, but so far he has been unable to their pains. Looking forward, what do you think the government will give to Nigerians?
In a year or two, Nigerians will celebrate Buhari because all the things he’s doing are things to ease the pain that you must go through because of change. Many decisions that are being taken are decisions that cabals opposed. Imagine level 12 to 16 officers own estates in Abuja. How did they make the money? Padding of the budget did not start today. So, every step taken is denying someone the access to unearned income. So, it’s not business as usual when you want change.
Are you not worried as regards the report we are having about shrinking economy, GDP dropping and all that. How long will this last?
There is nobody who will not be worried and it’s a world phenomenon, you know that. Even Saudi Arabia increased fuel prices. All OPEC countries have increased fuel prices. All OPEC countries are running at deficit. So, what is confronting Nigeria is a world situation. It’s not only Nigeria. And Nigeria itself has been lascivious in expenditure, just eating the future in the present. Obasanjo left volumes of money; Yar’Adua left volumes of money. Jonathan spent it all and even dragged us into debts. There had never been as much recklessness in governance as what we experienced in the last few years under Jonathan. Yes, Jonathan is a very good man. But we were not looking for good men in government. Goodness is not a qualification for being in government, where, for instance, you just ignore everything.
But you should be worried by what the people are saying that if elections were to be called today, in view of the deprivation in the polity that APC might fare badly?
I agree with you. Nobody likes to suffer.
You don’t think that could be a threat to your party even in 2019?
That’s why I said within a year or two, you will celebrate us. In fact by 2019, they will be begging us to continue in power. If by 2019, we have thousands of people who are empowered because of the economic programme we have, you think those who are empowered will not vote for us? That’s why I’m saying we have to attend to certain things. They are painful. But we plead for patience. Within a year or two, Nigerians will be celebrating Buhari.
Published in Nigerian Tribune, May 29th, 2016