Former Minister of Information and Culture, Prince Tony Momoh, has declared that last Saturday’s presidential election was the freest, fairest and least expensive in the country. Momoh, who is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), believes that the insistence of the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, on heading for the court to challenge President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory at the poll will send him into political oblivion.
How would you react to President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory in the presidential election conducted in the penultimate Saturday?
I think it was the freest, fairest and least expensive election in the country in recent times. Freest, fairest and least expensive in the sense that what we were used to, which was to take money from NNPC, CBN, PTDF and other MDAs didn’t happen this time around. You will be shocked to learn that the ruling party was “broke” because the money that usually comes from the MDAs to the ruling party over the years wasn’t forthcoming. You can find that out as a journalist. So, lots of people were on their own. I was discussing with one of the agents and he told me that in some areas, they couldn’t even pay agents, because where you normally had a lot of money coming in, money was not coming in. People had no access to money. You know you pay money through the TSA to the Central Bank now. So, if you want to get money, you have to get it through due process. What I am, therefore, saying is that we should give the outcome of this election a chance. That was why I had said that Atiku is a very well known person; he should not go into political oblivion by pursuing this matter. I am speaking from experience. In 2003, 2007 and 2011, I was with Buhari and we lost in the presidential election. He pursued it through the courts. But I am not aware of anytime that he was invited to an international election outing to come and monitor like Obasanjo was doing and like Jonathan has been doing. You saw how Jonathan became a national and an international figure for conceding victory to Buhari. If a person like Atiku had conceded, I’m telling you he would have become a national figure and an international figure over night. And he would have been treated like a Head of State because they will invite him worldwide to come and monitor elections, which I think would have helped his image and his business. But for him to say he is going to court, it is okay to go to court, but I am now telling you that it is a journey into political oblivion. So, this election was very credible. Look at the celebrations all over the country. Look at Buhari’s magnetic hold on the hoi polloi of this country. Sixty per cent of the population of this country is rural and Buhari has a hold on them. This social media thing doesn’t touch them; it doesn’t affect them. And you can see how the result came out, especially in his traditional areas of control in the North. Buhari has always talked about his constituency; his constituency is the rural person and the poor. These people voted massively for him. So, I would have wanted Atiku to just say congrats and let things move on because nationally, Buhari’s election is popular.
How do you expect him to concede when the election was allegedly marred by some irregularities, some of which he has concrete evidence to prove?
If there was anything untoward, it will not be in the elaborate way we had it over the years. You know over the years we were writing up results routinely. Look at the South-south and Souteast. Buhari did not score a lot, but in the whole of the South-south, he had 25 per cent; even more than 25 per cent in some of the states. In the whole of the Southeast, he had 25 per cent in three out of five states. In 2015, apart from Edo State where Buhari had 46 per cent of the votes cast, in other parts of the South-south and Southeast, he had less than 300,000 votes. He didn’t get 10 per cent votes anywhere in those states. Now, outside the traditional areas of support, he had a spread in the South-south and Southeast. He had 25 per cent in 35 states and Abuja. If you say you are going to conduct elections in the North, there is no way anybody will beat Buhari in the traditional North. That’s the truth! I know there may be problems here and there and so on and so forth, but not such as to wipe out the almost four million votes that he won with. So, I’m looking at national interest and the interest of my own Atiku; he is my friend. But he is going into political oblivion by listening to people who are asking him to fight a case he cannot win. I know that he can go to court, but he cannot win the election. There is no way the election will be managed in such a way that he wins it; he can’t win it. What I am saying now may not be palatable to anybody, but I speak from a position of strength because I know the issues. I was Minister of Information and Culture. I know the thinking of our people. Many of these people who are hungry can take money and still vote their mind. That’s the thing! And then some people think that the people in the North are illiterate. They are not illiterate; they are only not literate in the English Language. They are not illiterate and they are more politically enlightened than you and I. Many of our youths were playing football in Lagos while they were struggling to vote in the North. How can Lagos not produce up to two million votes?
That is part of the issues the Atiku camp is raising as they accuse the government of using state security agents to deliberately suppress voter turnout in PDP strongholds…
Look, my friend, don’t deceive yourself. In 2015, in the Southeast and South-south, there was a decision to deliver the votes to Jonathan. I was aware as a leader in my party. In 2011, there was also a decision to deliver the votes to Jonathan. Then I was the National Chairman of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), so it was agreed that in my part of Edo State, people should be allowed to vote; and we got about 29, 000 votes, the highest in the South. You know that in the Southwest, we couldn’t reach an agreement to merge with the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in 2011. So, ACN now abandoned the whole of the Southwest to PDP and they overran the zone. We didn’t have the money to secure votes; we didn’t have the money to pay agents. Even Nuhu Ribadu, the presidential candidate of the ACN was abandoned. It was only former Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State that refused to abandon Ribadu and he won in Osun. So, in the whole of the South, Edo North, my area, had the largest number of votes for Buhari because it was agreed that my people should be allowed to vote their own mind. Oshiomhole was the governor at that time. We had about 29,000 votes, but in other areas, they had between 97, 98 and 99 per cent votes at presidential level. Have you ever heard of such thing? Meanwhile at the gubernatorial level, the voter turnout was less than 50 per cent. So, there was opportunity for people to vote rather than write up result, which had been happening before. Buhari told everybody, ‘do not rig for me because in 2003, I complained; in 2007, I complained; in 2011, I complained. I don’t want to do what I was complaining about. If I do it, God won’t forgive me.’ So, if there was any rigging, go and find out who did the rigging through money. For instance, I spoke with someone recently and got to know that the ruling party earmarked N14 million for all the wards in Abuja for the election, but the other party was spending N10 to N11 million per ward in Abuja. They had money all over the place; we didn’t have money. So, what I’m saying is that there is no day you will conduct election in Buhari’s northern traditional strongholds, which has even expanded to the South that he won’t win. So, what I’m saying is that in the national interest, let us say let by gone be by gone and not pull Atiku to go to the tribunal and spend money because PDP is not going to bring the money. It is his own money that he is spending.
What is your take away from the voting patterns in the election across the geo-political zones?
In the last interview I had with you, I told you how I felt Buhari would get votes in the election. For instance, I said the Igbo wouldn’t be asking for money; I said the Igbo are sophisticated politicians than lots of people think. I also said that Igbo would be sympathetic to Buhari on the basis of how much of the infrastructural deficit in their area he is able to meet. You know, first of all, it was being said 95 over five; in other words, you provide five per cent of the votes, you get five per cent of infrastructure. Looking at it, Buhari agreed that roads don’t vote and that infrastructure doesn’t vote. He believes that if you secure the territory and stabilise it through infrastructural development, the outcome is prosperity. So, his campaign slogan since 2003 has been S + S = P, meaning secure the terrain you are governing, stabilise it through infrastructural development, and the outcome is prosperity. There is no other way prosperity can happen. So, he said the area that has most infrastructure deficit is the Southeast, so there must be concentration on the zone. And he started pursuing the Second Niger Bridge, which is very dear to South easterners; Onitsha-Enugu Expressway, Enugu-Okigwe-Port Harcourt Expressway and lots of other projects. At least 11 or 12 erosion areas were attended to. Lots of people appreciate these. Apart from that, some top Igbo personalities joined the APC and you cannot say that those people have no support. So, all these people turned in the votes. Then, 9.2 million children are fed every for five days in a week through the school feeding programme. The food is grown by the farmers in the area and cooked by the women in the area. All these are areas people will say this man has tried, let us give him our support. So, those are the things that got the votes in spite of attempts to rig everybody out in the South-south, Southeast and other parts of the country. So, he earned sympathy; people may still be resisting, but the fact is that Buhari has earned this verdict through good governance. All the indices are showing favourably in the area of governance. Like this next level they are talking about, I am aware of the challenges we have had. There are some people who don’t want anything good for this country, who are there to destabilise this country. But I said it even before the president made the statement that those who want to rig and destroy due process in this country would meet their waterloo. And it’s not that they didn’t try. But the fact is that Nigeria does not just have a future; it has a mission. I have been saying so since my days as a minister and I know that mission. The foundation is being laid now and nobody can stop it.