Prince Tony Momoh, a journalist and lawyer is a former Minister of Information and Culture. In this interview with TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE, the former National Chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) speaks on the arms procurement scandal, anti-corruption war and the forthcoming Edo State governorship election, among other issues
President Muhammadu Buhari has been steering the ship of the Nigerian state in the last eight months, how would you assess his administration?
Buhari is the only Nigerian who came into politics because he wanted to be president. Other people who were in politics and later became president did not prepare to be president. Tafawa Balewa, who was Prime Minister from 1960 to 1966 wanted to be a broadcaster but became prime minister.
Shehu Shagari wanted to be a senator, he became president. Before Olusegun Obasanjo became president in 1999, he was praying to leave prison alive. Umar Yar’Adua became president when he was planning to rest and take care of his health after being governor for eight years.
Goodluck Jonathan was taken away from Bayelsa where he was governor and brought to Abuja to be made vice president. He later became acting president and president. Buhari came into politics in 2002 and said he want to be president. He had a document he called ‘Project Nigeria’ which addressed every aspect of development in Nigeria.
First of all, secure Nigeria; then stabilise Nigeria and prosperity will emerge. That was the simple equation. He tried to win elections in 2003, 2007 and 2011 but succeeded in 2015. So, if you want to know what Buhari is going to do, look at his attitude to security in the country. He will secure the country. He will stabilise this country through infrastructural development and Nigeria will prosper under his reign.
But the only visible thing to some Nigerians about the present administration is the anti-corruption war…
The fact is, how can you grow a country with corruption? How can you secure a country with corruption? Corruption is the law of taking and unless you establish the law of giving, you cannot grow a country. Let people take what is their due and concede to others what is theirs.
Corruption is about taking; and anybody who wants to grow this country must ensure that there is good behaviour and discipline in the area of control and distribution of resources. Look at the way people took the money meant for procurement of arms to secure the country, sat down and shared it. In other jurisdiction, they would be subjected to firing squad. Even in our country, we have treasonable felony and all those who took part in the sharing of the arms fund ought to be charged to court for treasonable felony, not just corruption.
The consequence of looting from the treasury is that the roads, hospitals, schools or other infrastructural development in chapter two of the constitution; social, economy, education, environmental, foreign policies and all those areas that ought to have been improved with the money that we have, were deprived of growth because some people shared public funds. Today, if people have headache, they go to Dubai, India and Egypt while the health and education sectors at home suffer.
Some of the countries that looked forward to Nigeria at independence have taken off but we are still sitting down. And people who were in control and who are supposed to serve the people don’t feel guilty stealing. In other climes, they would have faced firing squad.
The tragedy is that people are even defending corruption by saying: ‘Is he the only one; what about the other people?’ Was the opposition in government? Were they part of the sharing? One thing I can assure you is that Buhari looked at the rules and applied them irrespective of whose ox is gored. When he says I have nothing against anybody but everybody should bear the consequences of their acts; that is telling us strictly, what drives his action.
But some people believe that Buhari’s anti-corruption war is selective on account that no chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is among those being prosecuted. Was there any enquiry set up with a High Court judge or Court of Appeal judge to probe anybody?
No. What President Buhari said is: ‘I will draw the line and move forward and I cannot question what the previous governments that have power to do things did. But the fact is where you have agencies that investigate any wrong doing; I will not stop them from doing so.’
Is there anybody who has been found wanting because of a particular board of enquiry that Buhari set up? No. The police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other bodies are doing their work and anybody who says he is not guilty should present his case in the court.
Are you suprised with the involvement of some politicians in the sharing of the arms deal fund?
What befall all those who are involved and found guilty should befall politicians as well. They didn’t get involved in the arms deal because they are politicians; they did so because they are businessmen or human beings. We can’t say because they are politicians, they should not be dealt with or they should be dealt with because they are politicians. This is the time everybody should answer their father’s name.
But some of them believe they have no case to answer since they didn’t have direct contact with the former National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki…
That is a defence, so they should go and proffer that defence in court when they get to court. If they said they collected money, let them explain what they collected the money for. If their explanation is satisfactory, then they are free. But I don’t know how someone can collect over N4 billion to provide prayer warriors. I can’t defend how money that was supposed to be used for procurement of arms to fight a war is being shared by some people.
But some of them have justified the money they received. Some claimed that it was for political activities.
The money was meant to buy arms to fight a war but they didn’t buy the arms. Even those who were supposed to be fighting the war were not equipped and when they ran away from superior forces of Boko Haram, we brought them back, tried them and sentenced them to death.
How can people be so cruel? Let everybody answer their father’s name. Whatever the money went for, let them explain because if it is discovered that all those people who were involved knew that the money was for arms, they should be charged for treason.
But if they know that the money was not from funds meant for procurement of arms, they can be charged for other offences. But nobody can go free for taking money that he has no right to take.
Would you support the views of some Nigerians calling on ex-President Jonathan to speak on the matter since he was in charge then?
Do not try to bring Jonathan to the public to embarrass or blackmail him. Why should we bring Jonathan to come and stand in public or in court to attest to certain things? We should respect our leaders. The EFCC should not invite Jonathan; they should go to him and ask questions if there are questions to be asked? But don’t forget that what took place was an enquiry and some people mentioned Jonathan, Tony Anenih and some other people’s names during the enquiry.
They should package all the allegations and send it appropriately to the former president to respond and he should respond. He is a law abiding citizen and if he is find culpable, he should face the law because the law is no respecter of person.
The court on many occasions has granted bail to Dasuki but yet the Department of State Security (DSS) has refused to release him.
Have you ever heard of anywhere where people who diverted money meant for fighting war for personal use, which is even treasonable, get bail? Even armed robbers and kidnappers don’t get bail. I don’t know how Nigerians want to be ruled.
People, who diverted money meant to secure the country for personal use are being tried and some people are saying government is not following rule of law in trying them. Which rule of law are people talking about? What is more rule of law than detaining those who have undermined the state?
What type of rule of law do people want? I am a lawyer but if for instance someone had bail in regard of a particular offence and still have cases to answer in other courts, he may not be granted bail because one court cannot give bail to someone who has cases in three courts. I don’t know where people read there law from.
So, you believe government is following due process in its anti-corruption war?
Due process is being followed. If due process is not being followed, there are procedures in court. You can approach a court and if you don’t get justice you can move to another until you get to the Supreme Court.
How would you react to the insinuation in some quarters that there is no difference between Buhari as a military head of state and a civilian president?
The Buhari of 1984 is not Buhari of now. In 1984, he was a head of state but now a civilian president. If he was a military president, a lot of things that are happening now obviously would not be accommodated. He is not breaking any law against Nigeria.
He is not trespassing any law passed by the National Assembly. He took the budget to the National Assembly. He didn’t just sit down spending money. He didn’t appoint ministers the way he wanted; he sent them to the National Assembly for clearance.
In 1984, lots of things were done according to the dictate of the Supreme Military Council, which was the ruling body then. But now, he is doing things according to the dictates of the constitution. The constitution has provided what he needs to do and he swore to an oath to abide by the provision of the constitution and nobody has said that he has undermined the constitution.
Many people are of the view that Nigerians are yet to witness the change the APC promised…
Those people saying so should thank their God that they have no skeleton in their cupboards. Anybody who has anything to hide now is jittery. If you go to the port and you want to give bribe, they will tell you to go and pay for your documents. Anywhere you go to in government today, people are following due process.
Those are changes of mindset. If you go to England, Dubai and other world markets, where Nigerians are known to be throwing around dollars, you won’t see them anymore. Many of them are changing. New order and discipline is coming to the system and Nigerians who are involved know it. I can assure you that very soon, Nigerians will earn the respect of the world.
What is your view on the controversies over alleged doctoring of the 2016 Budget?
There is nothing like doctoring of the budget. Why are people unbalanced in their thinking? Budget is a law; what is given to the National Assembly is a proposal and it can be amended anytime through supplementary budget. Even if it is one naira that you want to change, you will send it to the National Assembly and follow due process of amending it.
The National Assembly recently inaugurated a constitution amendment committee headed by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu. What is your view on the proposed amendment?
The Eighth Assembly has the power to initiate amendment to the constitution but before an amendment becomes effective, all the commitments must be attended to. So, the Eight Assembly will not be the first and the last to initiate amendment, as long as due process of amendment is followed.
Are you not worried about the resurgence of militancy in the North Delta, especially with recent bursting of pipelines?
I am worried when there is indiscipline anywhere but the first duty of government is to attend to indiscipline and find out the cause of indiscipline. But I think it is indiscipline on the path of those who felt injustice to be undisciplined by not following due process. If for instance, Niger Delta militants have any issue, they should raise it through appropriate channels like Niger Delta Ministry, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and even the Amnesty office that have addressed Niger Delta problems in the past.
They know what to do and they should do it. That is my appeal. But if for one reason or the other, people take law into their hands and start blowing up pipelines, it is going to lead to another era of war, where some people would die unnecessarily.
I don’t suggest people in Niger Delta to get involved in confrontation. Every issue that emerges, either blowing of pipeline, kidnapping, assassination for money, armed robbery, insurgency in North-East geo-political zone and struggle by Indigenous People of Biafra are manifestations of people who feel undermined and reactions to what people think is injustice.
And my plea is that there is a procedure for attending to what people regard as injustice and when things are attended to through peaceful means, order can be restored. But when people take to up arms, then you cannot blame those who have the constitutional right to maintain order and peace like the police and army.
Are you not worried over pocket of crises in different parts of the country based on agitation by some ethnic and religious groups?
The unity of the country is not negotiable; nobody can negotiate that. If you do so, you will be confronted; whoever you are. So, if people have a problem, they should table it for us to approach it constitutionally but if you take laws into your hands, someone will tell you that there is a limit.
In fact, the law says your freedom ends where mine begins. You cannot shut down a street and say people should not pass and think you are making a point whether you are a religious body, ethnic body or a political group.
So you believe that no group can hold Nigeria to ransom?
Nobody has the right to hold Nigeria to ransom. We are one people, one country, one nation; we should try to settle our problem internally. If anybody wants to divide this country, the government in power will be failing not to confront that challenge.
Do you believe that Boko Haram has been largely defeated as claimed by President Buhari and the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed?
Why are you asking me that question? Am I in the war front? But I think the issue of Boko Haram is not as serious as it was before. There was a time that many local governments in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states were occupied by Boko Haram. It is not so now. So, we should really help the military.
If the $2.1 billion arms money has been used for the purpose it was meant for, Boko Haram would have been a thing of the past but the government in power sat down and organised its sharing to retain office but it failed.
Since the victory of APC in the last general elections, many chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have defected to the ruling party. Are you not worried by the trend?
I was a foundation member of the PDP and I am in APC today. So, what is the big deal? Many political parties have waiver in their constitution. We also have waiver but we held a convention and say no waiver; we don’t need waiver for anybody. If you come to APC today, you enjoy all the rights and privileges of an APC person.
So, that is why someone can come to APC today and want to become a governor or a senator. You are not going to be guided by the rules and regulations of the party you were before but the rules and regulation of the party you are now. APC has a manifesto and by coming to APC, you agreed to be bound by the party’s constitution and manifesto.
Don’t you foresee an implosion in APC before the 2019 general elections over several forces fighting for the control of the party?
When you come to APC, you are embracing the mission and vision of the party as reflected in its manifesto. So, if you want to go tomorrow, you can leave. Don’t you see many people leaving the PDP and handing over their membership cards to their ward chairmen?
So, if anybody wants to leave APC, he can leave and go and form a new party or leave for another party. So, we welcome anybody coming to APC but you must register in your own polling unit and collect the constitution and manifesto of the party.
What is your take on the forthcoming Edo State governorship election?
I think those who are interested will express their interest. There would be a primary election and whoever wins will fly the flag of our party. Some people have been accusing the governor of trying to impose someone. The governor is not imposing anybody. The governor is not in a position to impose anybody.
The governor is a human being; he can have someone he is supporting but that is not imposition.Imposition means when someone has emerged as a party’s candidate; then someone goes and pick another person as candidate. It is not an imposition for a governor to prefer someone to succeed him.
If the governor likes someone and says he want Mr. B to be governor; he has a right to say so, but he has no right to force people to vote for the person. If he (governor) uses his money to support someone, that is not imposition.
What about the issue of power shift and zoning which some people are clamouring for?
As a citizen and son of Edo State, I believe that the next governor should not come from Edo North. The zone has had it for eight years, so the governorship should go to either Edo South or Edo Central.
The PDP is determined to take over Edo State from APC. Do you see the opposition as a threat to the ruling party?
What is wrong in being a threat? The president said that he was messed up in 2003, 2007 and 2011 but was elected in 2015. He does not want the compromise that denied him ways to be introduced during his time. So, he has read the riot act to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct elections and be responsible to nobody.
As you can see, the elections in Kogi and Bayelsa were free and fair. INEC has a right and responsibility to conduct free, fair and transparent elections and nobody is going to interfere with that. INEC must ensure that it follows the guidelines in the Electoral Act.