Former Minister of Information and Culture in the Babangida regime, Prince Tony Momoh, in this explosive encounter with AYO-LAWAL GBENOBA, digs into the issues of June 12, corruption, National Confab and other sundry topics.
What is your assessment of the present democratic dispensation?
One thing about democracy is that it is said to be the best system of government designed by man. It is true on the face, but there is in reality nothing “designed” by man. It is downloaded by man, because it is a recognition of the need for every human being to participate in governance. So, the more people who participate in governance, the better for the system.
But that participation in governance should be less in pursuit of rights to be enjoyed than in performance of duties assigned. Take the family I come from as an example. There were some people who would wash my father’s clothes; those who would sweep; those who would cook; those who would go to the stream to fetch water; those who were in charge of sharing food to the women in the seven compounds into which my father’s household was arranged. That is division of labour and it is the same thing with democracy.
Democracy should be broadened enough because the wider the circle of participation, the more democracy becomes government by the people. And that participation has to do with working, not with sharing. The democracy we have is a democracy of sharing and that is why you are now talking about rotation of positions of rulership.
Who’s going to be president? Who’s going to be governor? Who is going to be senator? Who’s going to be chairman of council? Agitations all over the place that these things should be rotated is a wrong approach to the practice of democracy because people are saying, whose turn is it to chop? Until we see democracy as a governance thing, more the performance of duty than the enjoyment of rights, we still have a long way to go.
Are you talking about implementation of programmes and policies?
No. In fact, designing policies, having strategies for implementation, implementing, monitoring and having feedback, that is what it should be, not just going to take oil and then, nobody is working. All we do is just collect the dues and then share and everybody is pre-occupied with sharing.
And the political reform conference (of 2005), what is happening? People are even talking about who will be the next president! Take for instance, if the Yoruba had been told in 1999, “It is your turn to become president. Every state in the South West would have to contribute one hundred million every month, towards running Nigeria…” Nobody would have been attracted to become president in the South West or any of the other zones – South East, South South, North East, North Central and North West. But the fact is, people want the president to come from their area because of the opportunity to eat the cake that nobody wants to help bake.
That is the truth and it is a very wrong upbringing. It’s indiscipline of the highest order. It is not acceptable in the sight of God because God is always giving. God doesn’t take! He gives sunlight. He gives day, He gives night, He gives the air we breathe. He provides rain, sunshine, stars and the moon in the night and these have seasons. He has not demanded anything from us.
But He says in the Qur’an. “I created man and jinn to worship me”. And the worship God is telling us about is work. Help to spread what He has given. That is our share, to spread what God has given.
But what are we doing? We are accumulating, or how can someone have thirteen billion naira in his account, to do what with it? When people are suffering, how can someone have five hundred billion dollars in his account? Not the money he earned, but the money he stole. For the simple reason that you have taken all these things, you owe an explanation.
Let me give you a spiritual fact, the only thing which is yours is what you have given out, to another!Everything you take is a debt you owe, that must be repayed, today or tomorrow. There is no exception to the rule.
The more you take, the more you pay. And incidentally, when you sow a corn seed in the soil, it grows and brings forth hundreds and thousands of grains. When you sow a mango seed, it grows and for years during its season, it produces hundreds and thousands of mangoes. It is the same thing with giving and taking.
When you take one naira that does not belong to you, you will lose double or triple that amount. When you give one naira, you will get twice or triple that amount. That is the law of nature. What you put out is multiplied and returned to you. Until we know these things, we are not going to get on and Nigeria is in trouble.
And democracy, which involves giving service, we have reduced it in Nigeria to an opportunity for looting the treasury. It is not healthy at all. So we are treading the right path wrongly; and if we do not design structures to ensure that we give some service, rather than use the opportunity to rob the treasury, we are in trouble.
What type of structures are you talking about?
For instance, our democracy is too expensive. We are doing everything full-time. The councillor is full-time, why should a councilor be full-time? Civil servants are there, why can’t they run the councils?When elected people go to the council, they should bring out policies and leave civil servants to execute them. And that policy-making work should be part-time.
Our councilors should earn a sitting allowance. I have suggested N2,000 per sitting.
If they sit 10 times a year, they earn N20,000 and no more. Retired teachers and civil servants will then be begged to go to the council, and no one will kill to go there or sell the property of the parents to go there.
The council chairman should be a traditional ruler, and he can earn N3,000 sitting allowance where the elected councilor earns N2,000. The cost of running the council will therefore be considerably reduced and the funds coming to it will be used for development.
This full-time thing we call democracy is not democracy. We are not just ripe for it.
There is nowhere in the world where you have democracy before development.
Democracy is, in saner societies, the luxury of development. When you have developed, you now have the quantum of democracy that will nourish you, sustain the development.
In other words democracy has to do with rights; and the rights you have must be determined by the duties you perform. In our system, everybody is on the rampage for fundamental rights, but nobody is looking at the fundamental duties, the work you must do before you access the rights you want to prematurely enjoy.
Chapter Two of the constitution deals with the duties imposed by the system on those who perform public duties.
What you are ripe for is what you should do. That’s how God made creation.
You mean we are not ripe for democracy in Nigeria?
No, we are not ripe for the level of democracy we are practising in Nigeria.
Which type are we ripe for?
What we are ripe for is doing the work part-time, not full-time. The only people who should be full-time are the president and his ministers, the governors and their commissioners. The lawmakers should be part-time from council level to the National Assembly.
The House of Representatives is not necessary. The senators should make the 109 lawmakers at the national level, then you pick one elder statesman from each state, that is 36 states plus Abuja, making 37. The present 109 senators should be the House of Representatives. Then the 37 elder statesmen, will be the senators or you can say Council of Elders…
Is it part-time or full-time for the Council of Elders?
Part-time! Senators should be part-time. They were part-time in the First Republic, why shouldn’t they be part-time now?
Then the governor! We have no business with the present structure where you have governor who sits on the money pot and spends it as he deems fit! And even more painful – he rewards those who failed nominations by sending them to man the money pots and cater for those who nominated them, not the people who rejected them at the primaries! Then the people who won election go to those they defeated to beg for contracts. It doesn’t make sense!
We are not ripe for all that! Even America is not doing this job full-time in certain areas. At least they do not borrow to meet the insatiable tastes of public officers.
What we are doing in public office now, full-time work by public officers in the three tiers of government, is many years away if we must measure it against our level of development.
In which area are we yet to develop?
If you look at Chapter Two of the constitution, which deals with fundamental objectives and direct principles of state policy, what Nigeria wants done is settled – in the social, economic, political, educational, cultural, environmental, foreign policy areas. Yes, the issues are settled.
“Seek the welfare and security of the people in the areas listed”, they are told.
Before they even take office, they swear an oath of allegiance and the oath of office. In other words, you accept that you are a Nigerian and you owe allegiance to the country and will defend its constitution and obey its laws.
The code of conduct for public officers is also there and they swear to abide by its provisions. It forbids the opening and operating of foreign accounts. But what is money laundering if it is not regularly carting our money into foreign banks and companies we set up there!
Chapter Two anchors all the duties they should perform. They don’t perform them and nobody cares.The courts are barred from caring about what happens to Chapter Two. The press is asked to ensure compliance with the provisions of Chapter Two, but the press is identified for ownership, not for freedom!
We have work to do and those who provide guidelines, the politicians, must do so part time, at this time of our development. And until, for example, you have a well-grounded, rounded, focused educational system of Nigeria in which teachers are well paid, until you have working power plants, motorable roads, water to drink, hospitals to go to etc, you cannot be talking of bloated expenditure in the political area. In 2002, we spent 92 per cent of our earnings on recurrent expenditure and before the end of the year, we were borrowing. Anything that was capital was at the expense of recurrent and we were owing N1.3 trillion to pensioners and local contractors.
Sir, you look at the way things are now, especially to the area of corruption, people are saying that it was Babangida’s regime that popularized corruption. You were part of that regime, how would you react to that allegation?
My salary was N16,000 per annum when I started and by the time I left, they had increased the salary to N28,000 per annum. My entitlement per month was N250 non-accountable allowance. I did not ever take money to spend and account for. The Babangida time, there was no opportunity for you to take any money to say you are accounting for. A military governor during Babangida regime was retired. He was driven from the military governor’s office, replaced, and retired from the army, because he spent N250,000 on another project rather than the one itemized for the amount.
Rasaki is there. He was governor of Lagos. When there was a problem in Lagos, he spent N20,000 outside the budgeted figure and he almost lost his job. Go and ask him. Rasaki is alive. Many of the military governors were removed and retired because of excesses. I am only telling you now, that I had a brief, every minister had a brief. There was nowhere in the brief where I was told, ‘take 10 per cent of any contract sum. Be corrupt.’ So, corruption in any regime including Babangida’s regime was a personal decision of the corrupt.
Are you saying those were just bad eggs in the system?
Those who were corrupt were corrupt as a personal decision. Let me now again tell you, the fact is that many of the structures of corruption were demolished by IBB. Import licence was a source of corruption, he cancelled it. Before you would set up an industry, you have to acquire locational approval, he cancelled it. A person like Ernest Sonekan from the UAC would go to the Ministry of Trade and spend about five hours waiting for an officer to attend to him to give him a licence for what UACN needed. They would give him N700,000 licence for all the UAC needs. Someone would go to the same ministry with a briefcase. He doesn’t have any other office. They would give him seven million naira licence. He would now start selling the licence to these industries. Babangida destroyed it.
Babangida started TCPC the Technical Committee on Privatization and Commercialization and Chief Omowale Kuye, a great Nigerian by any standard, with Zayad, they were running TCPC, not the BPE (Bureau of Public Enterprises) you have now, which has so much to run it down. The abuses you have everyday that lead to canceling what has been sold were not there during that time. Go and find out.The fact is that Babangida removed the area of currency hoarding and currency trading. Nigerian students were trading in currency!
If, for instance, you went to London, you got to Heathrow, they would tell you if you have one pound you would sell it N3, when one pound was officially N1.50k and that’s what it was. People were making money selling currency. In 1992 it was N9 to the dollar but as that time, people were spending N18, N15 and N20 to the dollar. When Abacha came, he had two regimes, N22 officially to the dollar and as at that time, people were buying the dollar for N70. So, what they would do is they would carry this money, go and trade with it. Just going round making money from selling currency, the deregulation did mess up the naira but that is what we merit. If you don’t produce, you don’t have a currency that works.
So, the so much maligned Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) decongested a lot of things, deregulated a lot of things. Take the Ministry of Trade. It had the most beautiful women in the service because that was where every beautiful girl wanted to go to, to have access to trade in licences.People had offices where they were procuring licence because of linkages but that was wiped out, the whole army of traders in licensing.
IBB decongested the banking sector by setting up Bureau de Change, People’s Bank, Community Banks. Many new banks sprang up. Was it not that time it became fashionable for young men in Nigeria to say if at 30 you’re not a millionaire, you are a failure in life! All these were pluses for IBB. But it is in the nature of man to look at the minuses and even exaggerate them. So it has been with IBB.
But why is IBB today such an issue?
IBB is today an issue because of the June 12, 1993 election which he annulled. That is the truth. That was what destroyed him! Before June 1993, IBB was a name everybody was interested in but, when he started maneuvering or manipulating the transition programme, he fell into trouble. He disqualified a lot of people who would have contested election, then started all over. And then Tofa and Abiola emerged and at the end of the day, they annulled the election. IBB was the person who conducted the freest election in Nigeria, and they annulled it! That is what he’s paying for today. And he tried to make it up by helping to install someone from the West, but the thing won’t go away.
Though, you had left the IBB government when the annulment was done, did you do anything to try to stop it or were you part of the people routing for It?
I was minister from 1986 to 1990. Elections were conducted in 1993, and then the annulment took place. I wasn’t there. Incidentally, I wrote a book, Experiment with Disintegration, (the book is being serialized on this site–administrator) in which I recorded events of the time as they took place.
Distribution was restricted.
I wrote to the president warning against the annulment; saying that the annulment would destroy all his records because people would not believe that he did not set out deliberately to frustrate the transition programme he had been prosecuting.
I also wrote a letter to Abacha when IBB had left, advising him to call Abiola to assume office so that thereby he could redeem the flagging image of the military as gentlemen. I said if Abiola had committed any offence, he should be tried. If not, he should be allowed to rule for four years, which I said were not forever. If Abiola was not allowed to assume the office he was elected to, I said, it would be difficult for power to return to the caliphate.
Interview by Ayo-Lawal Gbenoba in SUNDAY TRIBUNE, 12 JUNE 2005, PAGE 27