Prince Tony Momoh, a former Minister of Information and one of the national leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI , speaks on the controversy surrounding power shift, former CJN Walter Onnoghen’s resignation and other issues. Excerpts:
The general impression that the presidency will come to the South after the completion of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure in 2023, but right now some Northern political leaders are threatening to field candidates, saying the South should forget . What is your take on this?
Politics is a talkshop. The armoury in the dictionary of politics is word. The only thing is that communication has rules. For instance, communication in a love letter should be different from communication that is published in national newspapers. I believe that there should be time for everything. We just finished a general election about a month ago and people are already talking about irrelevant things when we ought to be dealing with more pressing issues that will grow the country. Having said that, power is not served a la carte; you struggle to acquire power. There is no way anybody can beg anybody or any region to come and take power. So, it is a struggle and any part of the country can struggle to occupy any position in the country. Wining election is decided by votes, so if some people sit down and think people will say ‘come and take these positions in 2023, then they don’t know what democracy is all about. Politics is like a game of chess and those who are good players win. When PDP zoned positions, a lot of people from the North and South contested. I remembered when the PDP presidency ticket was zoned to the South, some people in the North contested.
Even look at the APC now which has zoned the position of Senate President to the North- East but some people from other regions are protesting, saying that they have a right to occupy the position. So, if anybody thinks that the Presidency will be zoned to the South in 2023 and then the North will just sit down and watch, then they have a lot of shocks coming for them. We can still find another person from another zone who may contest under another political party and win. So, nobody should think that they can just sit down at home, not work hard and then power will just be handed over to them like that.
But don’t you think the rotational policy between the North and South should be strictly adhered to so that there won’t be any political crisis?
Although that is what people think, it will not be that smooth. It has never been that smooth. When they said the PDP presidential ticket should come to the South- West to pacify the people in the region, did other people from other regions not contest? We had people like the late Alex Ekwueme from the South- East and the late Abubakar Rimi from the North who contested against Olusegun Obasanjo. I believe in 2023, a lot of people will come out to contest for Presidency and nobody will stop them. So, people must work hard to get power and the prayer for winning election is answered by votes; the volume of votes you can produce.
Now that he has resigned, should former CJN, Walter Onnoghen be prosecuted?
Prosecution is a political decision. I have said it before that all Onnoghen would have done to save everybody the embarrassment of being suspended by stepping down. Now that he has resigned, what happens next is a political decision.
Are you saying the Federal Government can decide whether to prosecute him or not?
It depends on what the issues are. What are the issues? Did he plead guilty to misconduct? The Attorney-General is very powerful. He can withdraw a case at any time, he can take over a case at any time and he can institute a case at any time. The power to prosecute is there and that is why I said prosecution in any matter of this nature is a political decision.
Given the proliferation of political parties in the country as witnessed in the just concluded elections, some Nigerians are suggesting a return to the two-party system like we had in the 1993 elections. Are your perspective on this?
What happened with the SDP and NRC during the time of IBB was an attempt to reduce the proliferation of parties in our political life and you know that a committee was set up and they had all the entries grouped into ‘a little to the left’ and ‘a little to the right’. So, we had the SDP and the NRC, and when we began preparations for a return to civil rule in 1999, a lot of people said, no, that the SDP and NRC were government parastatals. But the fact is, what people didn’t know is that as at the time Abacha dissolved those parties, they had taken over the ownership of their party because after the annulment of the June 12 elections, meetings were being called and SDP that produced Abiola was deciding to or not to attend meetings because they were already in charge of their party. So, if we had allowed the NRC and SDP to grow with all the structures already in place at the local, state and national levels, they would have grown into institutions that would have stabilised our democracy.
But what happened after 1999 was that we had a situation whereby the power of INEC to register was being questioned, and Obasanjo messed up the whole system by asking INEC to register as many parties as possible, most of which were initiated by the PDP. So, we had this situation where we had so many political parties, and as at the last count, we had 91 in the system, and it is not as if they are tired. More parties would spring up because we must look at what we have made of politics in Nigeria and you are a political association until you are registered as a political party. You cannot do business as a political association.
You can only do business when you are registered as a political party. We have made politics a business and political parties are the vehicles for those businesses while Nigerians are ruthless businessmen. In business, there must be a gain. We are not going to have a reduction in parties; we are going to have more. So, we have a challenge which is to ensure that politics becomes what it should be. In other realms, it is service, not a business. As long as we continue to see it as a business in Nigeria, we are going to handle political parties as we handle selling pepper or sugar or even 419.
We must decongest the political space. If we don’t do that, we will continue to have the outcome of what we have now and even vote buying will increase because again if the National Assembly is, and then you decongest the political space, reduce the power at the centre, move them to the States, then cancel local government elections and reduce it to part-time if you must have them, you will see overnight how we will cure these ills because these are businesses. Nigerians are ruthless businessmen and women, and it will continue to be business as usual.