Prince Tony Momoh, a national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Minister of Information, in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI in Abuja, spoke on the forthcoming national convention of the party, June 12, and other issues. Excerpts:
With just few days to your party’s national convention, it has been reported that President Muhammadu Buhari has ruled out meeting with aggrieved Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) bloc, otherwise known as New PDP (nPDP). Don’t you think this will further worsen the situation in the party?
One problem I have with Nigerians is that they will read headlines and jump into conclusion. The president did not say he is not interested in meeting with NPDP members. What he said was that there is a party structure and the issue at hand is a party matter. Let the nPDP members meet the party leadership and of course, they have been meeting with Vice- President, Yemi Osinbajo and the president said that can continue.
Let me tell you what happened when I was national chairman of the Congress for Progressives Change (CPC). The Leader of the party then was Buhari and he was also the chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) as well as our presidential candidate. Lots of people always prefer to go to him to tell him their grievances and so on. But he did not agree to attend to any of them. He will say ‘yes, I am the national leader of the party, I am the presidential candidate but I am a member of the party and my chairman is Tony Momoh. He is the national chairman of the party so go and meet him.
In 9 cases out of 10, everybody who came to me had earlier gone to meet Buhari who told them there is a structure in the party. It is just like Court structure. We have the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. If you have a case, you cannot jump to the Supreme Court. There is a structure in our party. Why are they trying to undermine the national chairman of the party? We have a national chairman, who is Chief John Odigie- Oyegun and he will remain until the convention when another chairman will be elected. Even if a new chairman is elected, he will take off where Oyegun ended.
There is none among the nPDP leaders who does not have direct access to Mr. President and they have met but when it comes to a group that has some concerns in the party wanting to meet the president, they have to follow the procedure. It is a party grievance and there should be people they can meet in the party. If they go and meet the president and they don’t reach an agreement, then what happens? Will they say they are leaving the party? In any community where you have concerns, those concerns are discussed at the table and if after the discussion, you are not satisfied, then people can go their way. War doesn’t just happen, something causes war and at the end of the day, peace comes. That is how the world is structured. There are three things you must do when there is a problem -communicate, communicate and communicate. There is no substitute for communication. The president not seeing them is only referring to the procedure. The president is a due process man and he doesn’t compromise on that.
So, what is your advice especially with the convention just few days away?
My advice is let us not overdo these things. Our brothers and sisters who came from PDP are APC members as we speak now. They are not PDP. Three legacy parties merged to form APC. They are ACN, CPC and ANPP. There is no party registered with INEC called NewPDP that merged with other parties to form APC. There is nothing like newPDP in APC. Those in PDP that defected to APC joined as individuals. So, to call them new PDP is just playing politics. Even my colleague, Abubakar Kawu Baraje said we are APC members. So, it is a question of time. If they say they are no longer APC members, they won’t have a personality called new PDP. They will have to belong to another party or form another party. But I don’t want them to leave. If there is anybody I don’t want to leave APC with his followers, it is one man I love more than any other average man and that is Rabiu Kwankwaso.
Why don’t you want him to leave?
Because I was the one that conducted his governorship primary with Ganduje in 1998 under PDP. They were so close between 1998 to 2003. Wherever Kwankwaso went, Ganduje went with him. They were like brothers and sisters; Siamese twins. Even when they lost the governorship election in 2003, Kwankwaso went to federal level as Minister of Defence and Ganduje was still with him as Special Adviser. When he came back to contest in 2011, he also chose Ganduje as his deputy and after the expiration of his tenure in 2015, he handed over to Ganduje as his successor. Honestly, I still can’t fathom what came in between them. They seem to have very fundamental reasons why they don’t want to work together. Some people claim it is as a result of juju but only two of them know what is wrong but I am shocked that they are this divided.
Still on the New PDP, don’t you they have reasons to be aggrieved based on what they have said?
I have said they have every reason to be aggrieved and they should be attended to. One newspaper even reported that I said they can go but didn’t report what I said. I said they should table their grievances and the party must look at it and attend to them. The fact is, if at the end of the day, they cannot resolve the grievances, the people who want to go, can go because there is freedom of movement and freedom of association. There is no provision in the constitution that says you must force people to remain in your party. The constitution is our roadmap and it says you can associate as you like.
There is controversy over an alleged unity list to be used at the convention. What is your perspective?
In 1999, when we had a convention in Abuja here, I was a member of the PDP. I was the media director to the late Chief Alex Ekwueme. There was a unity list. It was propounded by the Anenih group and it elected Barnabas Gemade as national chairman. Sunday Awoniyi did not have a unity list. His own campaign was based on Ghana-must-go- Politics. In the end, Gemade won in spite of all predictions and PDP almost collapsed.
There is always unity list. People want to work together. So, what is wrong with unity list? For instance, if there were three chairmanship candidates, each one will go round to know who he wants to work with. Then when they go there, whichever one emerges is the one that he will be working with those he wants to work with. That is what politics is all about.
Some have also alleged that APC governors are scheming to hijack the convention. Are you not worried about this?
For those saying the governors want to take over the convention, a fat man and a thin man wanted to enter a room and both are trying to see who gets in first. How you get there is a matter of strategy. So, if the governors wanted to take over and they have the muscle to do it, it is something you must accommodate. In other words, someone is going to fund it. Tony Momoh cannot fund a national convention. People are there who may want to fund it and if they want to fund it, it will be stupid of someone who is going to gain from the funding to say he doesn’t want. Why are we unrealistic? Those who are complaining that governors wanted to take over the party, if they feel it is wrong, they should resist them so we know who emerges in the control game.
The president as the party’s National Leader has endorsed Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as national chairman. Don’t you think this is unfair to other aspirants for the same position?
The president said Oshiomhole; the president is an individual, so he is entitled to his choice. He didn’t instruct delegates to vote for Oshiomhole at the convention. The delegates are free to choose who they like to lead the party.
On your part, who are you supporting?
Three different people came to me here and said I should come and contest for the position of national chairman. I said ‘Look, I have paid my dues. Do you really want me to contest? They said yes. I said ‘Then do what I say. Go and campaign for Oshiomhole because he is my candidate. And I am repeating it here again, Oshiomhole is my candidate. Oshiomhole was the one who without being disrespectful tamed Tony Anenih, Mr. Fix It. I knew Oshiomhole when we were going to NIPSS those days to give lecture and Major-Gen. Joseph Garba came as Foreign Minister during that time. Oshiomhole, a short little man came and started dressing down Major-Gen. Garba. I said ‘who is this?’ and I discover he is from my place. Ah! That was the time I took to him. Oshiomhole is a very bold person, he is also a mobiliser. His background is Labour, negotiation and reconciliation. He has done it in Labour, the Trade Union in Kaduna, later he came into politics where he served eight years as governor. He is a political leader we respect in APC and Edo state. He is a great manager. Some said he is a dictator and so on but the fact is, he is a negotiator and a very dependable personality. Oshiomhole has the clout, the charisma and the drive to lead our party. He is an orator. We always joke that what he lacks in height, he makes up for with his oratory prowess. He is my man.
President Buhari recently honoured the late MKO Abiola and also apologised on behalf of the military for the annulment of June 12 elections. Some Nigerians have said why didn’t he speak out in favour of Abiola while he was in detention under Abacha?
What obligation does he have to mention it? He has no obligation to mention it. If you are in a position to do something, that is the time you can be associated with doing it or not. What obligation had he? When he was Head of State in 1983/84, had Abiola contested election then? Was it the time he was toppled in 1985 and he was detained till 1989? Is that the time he would have mentioned that Abiola be released and by that time had the event happened? The election took place in 1993 and by then Buhari was not the Head of State. Later, he was in Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF)? Is it when he was in PTF that he would have campaigned for the release of Abiola in detention? Why will he do it? Abacha was the person in a position to do it. Do you know that Abacha and Abiola agreed that Abacha will only stay in power for six months and then hand over to Abiola. Abiola was against Ernest Shonekan so he was supporting Abacha. He said Abacha was a gentleman. That was why people like Jakande, Babatope and the late Olu Onagoruwa agreed to serve in Abacha’s government because it was agreed that they should cooperate and that was what happened. Later, they said there was a meeting attended by many of them with Abacha and they told him that ‘but you made a promise to handover in six months’, Abacha replied that he has changed his mind. So, he was not going to leave. Abiola then started fighting the battle on his own that later led to his declaring himself as president, his arrest and then dying there. Since that time, we had this challenge. NADECO and lots of people started fighting for the actualization of June 12. At the end of the day, to pacify the South- West, it was agreed that something had to be done. That was why IBB handed over to Shonekan but that didn’t work. IBB championed that so one cannot really say that IBB who annulled it did not try to make amends. It was because of making that amends that Obasanjo was brought out of prison. They worked for him to win, he won. I think it is a question of opinion that what Obasanjo would have done is to say ‘Since it is because of this my kinsman that I became president, I was in prison, perhaps I would have died there, let me thank God by immortalising him. But he didn’t. In fact, the National Stadium in Abuja, when he built it , a lot people said he should name it MKO Abiola Stadium, but he didn’t do it. So, apparently, he didn’t want to hear anything about Abiola during his presidency.
Now, Buhari is the one who did it. Buhari is not forced to do anything. Some said the decision to make June 12 Democracy day is political. What decision is not political? Do you know that to prosecute anybody for criminal offence is a political decision? So, every decision you take, exercise of your free will is a decision which is political. It is only later that you can say maybe it was towards economic end or social end. Do people contest election for fun? Anything you want to do that can win election for you, why not do it? People have been president for eight years, people have been president for six years but they did nothing about June 12. Even a person like the late Umaru Yar’Adua tried; it was just that it wasn’t acceptable to the family. What I am saying is that at a particular time a decision is to be taken is taken. If you read any meaning to it, it is your expression of opinion.
Afenifere said honouring Abiola is not enough and that the President must restructure Nigeria to get their support in 2019. Do you agree with this?
Afenifere has been a leading light in the South West and in this area. I accused them in one of those years when they were celebrating June 12 in 2005. I said that they are a disgrace. I said there was a programmed on restructuring which they called The Yoruba Agenda. In 2005, they went to the Constitutional Conference convened by Obasanjo. In that year, I wrote ‘To Save Nigeria, Let’s Talk’. I sent 400 copies to the conference. Do you know that when Afenifere leaders got there, Obasanjo as president then told the governors of the South West who were mainly PDP to forgo the Yoruba Agenda and they abandoned it. So, during the June 12 commemoration, Fasehun faction and Gani Adams faction usually organised events for June 12. I always attended the one of Gani Adams because it was more revolutionary and Gani Adams is my very good friend. So, I went there and I took along one Dr. Kurfi from Katsina along. He was President Buhari’s right hand man and he spoke about June 12 1993 election and how in the North, they organised for Abiola to defeat Bashir Tofa even in his polling unit. He told the story and everybody was excited.
On my part, I said Yoruba leaders are a disgrace. Tunji Otegbeye was there and lots of other leaders. I said ‘you are a disgrace to those who believed in you. You who promoted True Federalism, they opportunity to execute it came and you went to the Conference and abandoned it. Otegbeye said they will send a message to me. The following day or two, three people from Afenifere came to my office in Lagos and brought me that publication, Yoruba Agenda. They said those who did what they did in Abuja by abandoning the agenda were not promoting the interest of the Yoruba. I read it and discover that it was the perfect document that will really restructure Nigeria. The agenda is the geo-political zones should develop at their own pace and then contribute 50 percent of their earnings to the Centre. That is all. It is not a big thing that we cannot do. To restructure Nigeria is still possible. But it will be difficult to restructure the country when we have all these diverse problems facing us. You structure when you have peace. I believe it is because of the problems we have that we have not restructured the country. But I can assure you that Nigeria will be structured.