Prince Tony Momoh, a national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC ) and former Minister of Information in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI speaks on restructuring, the 2019 general elections and other crucial issues. Excerpts:
Few weeks to elections, there has been upsurge in the attacks by insurgents on our military. Are you not worried that we may have returned to the pre-2015 era where the elections were postponed by six weeks owing to raging insecurity especially in the North- East?
How can we return to pre-2015 era in terms of insecurity? Before 2015, Boko Haram was controlling more than 20 Local Government Areas with their flags flying in those places and they were also collecting taxes from the residents. According to the information we have now, there is no part of Nigerian soil today where Boko Haram has the audacity to fly a flag or start collecting taxes from citizens of Nigeria. So, we are definitely not in pre-2015 era. But one thing nobody can deny is that it is impossible to predict the flow of unconventional warfare. These insurgents watch your movements and attack when you least expect. Look at ISIS West Africa now. It is not only Nigeria that is suffering the war against insurgency, it is happening in most of Africa and other parts of the world. But that is no reason why there shouldn’t be peace in Nigeria. We should bear responsibility for the state of security in Nigeria. Security is not only the duty of the Federal Government or the military; it is the responsibility of everyone. So, while one accepts that in recent times, there have been unfortunate killings of our soldiers by insurgents, we cannot say because of that, the security situations is unmanageable or compare it to how it was before this government came in.
Some Nigerians are calling for the sack of the Service Chiefs by the President. Are you in support of this?
Those saying so are entitled to their personal opinions. But security matter is not a marketplace issue for discussion. Whoever is in charge of assessing the security situation will know what lapses exist and how to address them. The last option available may be changing the guards but if it is not necessary to do that, then they won’t be changed. Nobody should be rushed into taking decisions that will not be advised by the situation we have on ground.
The 2019 campaign has started. Do you think APC crisis which arose as a result of its primaries especially in Imo and Ogun will affect your party’s chances?
Every issue arising from disagreement has their positive or negative effects. One thing running through is that there is no state that has issues with President Buhari. All issues are internal but starting from the issue of the presidential campaign, there is no area where Buhari is going to lose as a result of the issues which are basically local. That is my assessment of the situation. I still believe that Buhari has done enough to win massively in the 2019 elections.
Do you see Atiku as a threat to President Buhari in 2019?
No! The fact is that Atiku is entitled to contest just like other presidential candidates. All the other presidential candidates believe they will win the election. I have seen people who ordinarily believe they cannot win their wards saying they want to be President. But I think that the critical challenge will be the PDP because it is a national party and it’s been on ground. Also, Atiku is a very experienced politician and he has been around since the 90s. He was Vice- President for 8 years and this is the second time he will be contesting for presidency at the national level, the first time being 2007 under Action Congress (AC). So, he has enough materials to be judged on and of course, I saw his Policy Documentation and I think his plans are good enough. I believe the election will be based on issues, not on individuals or name calling. One thing I was not excited about was when Atiku was presenting his documentation on NTA was when one of the coordinators said that since 2015, Buhari has done nothing. I think that is an area that a lot of people will question because those who are gaining from the school feeding programme from the farmers to the cooks cannot say Buhari has done nothing. If the chairman of the Rice Farmers Association said there were 5 million rice farmers in 2017 but now, they are 13 million which means 8 million additional farmers have been created, is that not a positive development?. So, how can anyone say Buhari has done nothing? The truth is that in the last three and half years, APC has done enough to grow Nigeria, stabilise the economy and diversify our sources of earnings. If all these things are true and somebody now says nothing has been done, then you have weakened your case. So, I believe candidates should base the elections on issues. Don’t be preoccupied with what others failed to do. Just tell us what you want to do and how to improve the situation on ground.
Do you think Buhari still enjoys goodwill with which he came to office in 2015?
There is hunger in the land but if you pray to be fed, the answer to that prayer is food. You either grow it or buy it. Look at what we are growing and how much we have saved fighting importation of food and growing food. We have also saved a lot with the school feeding programme through people in the area growing the food and women in the area cooking the food. All these are areas of meeting the hunger problem.
You admitted that Nigerians are hungry; do you think President Buhari’s economic policies are responsible for this?
No! I told you that the answer to the prayer to be fed is food. Yes, there is hunger in the land but do you know how much we spend in importing rice everyday and how much we save trying to grow the rice? You cannot say because you are hungry and today, you want to plant food today and then harvest it and eat it today. In nature, there is no accident. There is no shortcut in nature. I interviewed Fidel Castro when I was Minister and I also spoke to Jerry Rawlings, those two leaders mobilised their people for productivity. You know the sacrifices their countries had to make and the tough choices they had to make to be able to feed themselves. Then you will know that when there is hunger in the land, you do not go to the church or mosque to pray for food to come without growing it. You need to have money to buy the food or you have to grow the food to eat. Nobody can say that the Buhari administration has not faced agriculture frontally and that the harvest has not been commendable.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan said corruption has worsened under the Buhari administration compared to how it was three years ago. He said this is because EFCC has recovered more money under Buhari’s government than it recovered while he was President. What is your take on this?
Is it not money that you have hidden away that can be recovered? What about those who dug holes in their parlours and put money there? What about the ones they put in soakaways or graves? Is it not through investigations that EFCC can recover these monies? How much money was recovered in the time of Jonathan and how much has been recovered now is not the issue. The issue is, if I come to your office and I want to discuss business, do you tell me this is how much I will pay and I put my hands in my pocket or go and source for the money and pay you? When you talk of corruption now, you see people looking behind to check if EFCC is watching them. The awareness that corruption is evil is a great achievement by the Buhari administration. Nobody is bold enough now to sit down to discuss corruption. How many Nigerian leaders can boldly say ‘ I have integrity and I have never been involved in corrupt practices? They are very few. If the whole body of a nation is rotten, there is no way we can save that nation. But if the head is not rotten, there is hope that the body may be cured. Nobody has associated Buhari with corruption both here and in the international community and that is a very good plus for this country.
The presidency is saying Igbos should support Buhari and get the Presidency in 2019 while others are saying it is the turn of the South- West. What do you think is responsible for this confusion?
I shoot from the hip. Democracy has to do with votes. One thing is certain; in 2023 the presidency will move from the North to the South. So, it can go to the South-West, South-South or South- East but you earn it by providing the votes. If you don’t vote, who is coming to beg you? Nobody is coming to beg you to take freedom. I said it before in the South East, you have APGA, PDP and APC. In the South-West, you have PDP, APC mainly. In the South- South, you have PDP and APC mainly. Since the presidency will go to the South-South, South East and South- West, it is the zone that produce the bulk of the votes that will make the difference that will have it. It is the zone in the South that produce the bulk of the votes in 2019 who should be considered on the basis of what it has contributed. Nobody is being begged, nobody should be begged and nobody is going to be begged to take the presidency in 2023. You are to earn it. I have said it that it is better for the South-East to align with APC now and provide the volume of votes to qualify them for consideration in 2023.
With Atiku picking Peter Obi, don’t see that as an advantage to the PDP in the 2019 elections as regards votes in the South- East?
Precedent does not prove it that picking a running mate from the South East will guarantee you votes from the region. In 2003, Buhari picked the late Chuba Okadigbo, the Igbos did not give him votes. In 2007, he picked Ume-Ezeoke, still they didn’t give us votes on the basis of picking one of their sons as running mate. So, I don’t see anything changing now that Atiku has picked his running mate from there”.I have always said that the Igbos are more sophisticated than you think. They will always put their votes where their mouth is. For instance, if they believe in APGA, they will vote for APGA. If they believe in PDP, they vote for PDP, same for if they believe in APC. So, picking Obi is not a guarantee that Atiku will get votes in the South East. Actually, Obi is a great guy and his qualifications cannot be questioned. But the last governorship election in Anambra cannot make the incumbent governor, Peter Obiano work for him. If Obiano is going to work for anybody, he will prefer to work for APC or APGA than work for PDP. If he has the option to choose between APC and PDP, he will choose APC because he cannot be friends with Obi. Another thing is that Obiano is not an enemy of Buhari. Buhari has not quarrel with any governor in Nigeria irrespective of their parties.
Atiku has promised to restructure Nigeria within six months if elected President. Do you think this is feasible?
Nobody can restructure Nigeria in six months because no two zones in Nigeria define restructuring the same way. Anybody talking of restructuring Nigeria is just playing politics. I have addressed the issue of restructuring in my little book titled ‘To Save Nigeria, Let Us Talk’ since 2002. Restructuring is part of the reason why we went to Aburi before the civil war. The South-South are asking for restructuring. Resource control is an area for the call for restructuring. The Yoruba agenda which was taken to the Constitutional conference of 2005 under President Olusegun Obasanjo is part of restructuring. There is no part of Nigeria that is not talking of restructuring but there is no part of Nigeria where there is agreement on the definition of restructuring.
So, if someone wants to do any restructuring with what we have now, in 774 local governments, 36 states of the federation and one federal government, it involves the review of the constitution by the national assembly. So, how can someone achieve that within six months? Anyone promising restructuring within six months is a blatant liar from the pit of hell. There is no way anyone can restructure Nigeria within six months. Such a person is just politicking. Even if it is a military government, they can’t do it in six months. As a democrat, he will have to consult every part of the country, align all the different opinions, he will have to make all the consultations, he will have to package what he wants for the country which the people will accept and send it to the national assembly. The national assembly will have to look at it and then take a decision before you have the necessary constitutional provision. Anybody who say he will do it in six months is either playing politics or just ignorant.
Why didn’t APC consider the 2014 Confab report since it addressed in a great deal the issue of Nigeria’s restructuring?
Even former president Goodluck Jonathan who convene the 2014 national confab doesn’t believe in it. Don’t forget that Jonathan had problems and to resolve it, he went into the conference knowing that there is nothing he could do about the outcome of the confab. I even predicted that time that there is nothing PDP could do about it because it was election year. How could he have done all those things about restructuring and other things that were recommended at the conference? Don’t forget, we in APC already rejected the conference and called it a diversion. I think the question we should ask is ‘ why didn’t Atiku who is talking about restructuring take the 2014 conference as his policy document if indeed he is serious about restructuring Nigeria? So, if you blame APC for not using the report, then you should also blame Atiku, a PDP member for not using it.
What is your take about democracy in Nigeria?
We are not matured for a lot of things we are doing. For instance, Nigeria is the only country I am aware of in the world where there is democracy before development. All over the world, people have used most of their power to grow the country, and then taking that quantum of freedom they need to do so. Democracy is a way to run a country just like autocracy and other forms government. We spend more than 80 percent of our resources on democracy and if you spend more than 25 percent, you have to go back to the drawing board. How can senators be earning N13m a month like Senator Shehu Sani said when their entitlement is less than N1m? What are we doing with two chambers of national assembly when we are a country that is underdeveloped? Why can’t we have the House of Reps alone since it is based on population? We have six geo-political zones. Now, let them go to their regions to become the Regional assemblies in their regions. In the 36 states where we have 36 governors, we make them parliamentary systems. By so doing, you will save 80 percent of what we spend on the states now. Anybody talking of restructuring should be talking about political decongestion. We need to decongest the political space and economic deregulation is automatic
There is this debate as to the identity of President Muhammadu Buhari with some people believing he was cloned and he is now one Jubril from Sudan. What is your perspective on that?
How many people have you heard that have been cloned? Do you know what cloning means? Cloning means total reproduction of the original person. There is nobody who can be cloned. The cloth the person will use is the only one that can be cloned. But the soul itself is a personality and that is why the identity of someone is the same originating from God Almighty. Nobody can reproduce you or me. On a lighter side, if President Buhari is Jubril from Sudan, then that Jubril must have good memory and capacity to remember everything that Buhari knows. Those claiming Buhari is cloned are just ignorant. You cannot clone a soul or spirit can create. No human contraption can reproduce Tony Momoh or Muhammadu Buhari. So, those who say Buhari is slow and weak, is Jubril strong? I think all the talk about cloning is a joke.