BY OMONIYI SALAUDEEN
Prince Tony Momoh, a former Minister of Information, is one of the national leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Having been together with the President-elect, Gen MuhammaduBuhari, in the days of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), one can hardly ignore any of his predictions about this incoming government. In this interview, he gives an insight into what Nigerians should expect from the new incoming administration.
Expectations of Nigerians from this incoming government are very high. What are the chances that these expectations will not be dashed again?
There are lots of expectations in different areas. Some people say corruption must be stopped; others want jobs, many others want light. The educational system too is rotten. What do we do? So, there are different expectations. But with the change of government and Buhari coming on, Insha Allah, all these areas will be addressed to satisfy the different people who are yearning for change. However, we have not come to wipe out corruption that has become an institution for so many years by saying corruption go and it goes in two days.
We did not say on day one, “let there be light” that has been absent for years and there is light. We are not God. We have to look at the issues and see the best way to address the light question. What I am saying is that there are different areas to be addressed and I can assure you that they will be addressed. If you look at the manifesto of the APC, the issues are settled there and they will be addressed. In fact, some people say how can you say you will feed school children? And I say, if we made the promise, we will feed school children. And once it starts, I won’t fail because Gen MuhammaduBuhari cannot sleep if he cannot fulfill the promises he made.
Where will the money come from? The money will come because the money we have which is diverted will be channeled properly. We are going to do it through discipline. Every wrong doing is as a result of indiscipline. You set the rule, you follow them. That’s why I say Buhari is one of the simplest men on earth. Some people will say, ‘oh, he is difficult.’ The fact is that he does not protect anybody who breaks the law. Once discipline is restored, the backbone of incompetence, the backbone of fraud, the backbone of corruption will be broken. In less time than you expect, order will return and Nigeria will work again. Nigerians are law abiding. They don’t do what you say they should do, they do what they see you doing.
What manner of anti-corruption war are we likely to see under the new regime?
Let me give you an example of what he said he would do. And I know he will do it because he is a procedure man. Gen Buhari will look at all the ministries, agencies and parastatals, and ensure that the document setting them up is followed to the letter. What that means is that you must follow the guidelines in anything you do. The key thing here is the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It’s the guide for all of us. The constitution is not supreme; the people are supreme. Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria. Through the constitution, the government derives all its power and authority.
So, the roadmap is the constitution. Anybody who exercises executive, legislative and judicial duty must abide by the provision in chapter two of the constitution. So, the first thing the General will tell you is what the constitution says. We obey the code of conduct more in the breach. A person like Gen Buhari will look at what the code of conduct says. The code of conduct says declare your assets. Many people refused to declare their assets. He will look at the code of conduct; he will look at the oath of office. Are you aware that the oath of office does not allow a governor to do what he likes?
If you look at the immunity clause and the oath of office, the immunity clause is very clear that the president, the vice president, governor and deputy governor are immune from prosecution. You cannot invite them to court. You cannot jail them. But they are not immune from investigation. When they are investigated, the press will hammer them and ask that they should be taken to the code of conduct tribunal. They are not free from going to the code of conduct tribunal even while in office. What the code of conduct can do is to seize what you collected illegally. But if there is a criminal aspect of it, it will wait until you leave office and then send you to court. If we block all the leakages, we will have more money not only to feed the school children but also their parents. Nigerians will sing more songs about Buhari in four years’ time because he will satiate their yearnings and aspirations. But if he chickens out; and I know he won’t chicken out, and it becomes business as usual, they will stone him and stone all of us. May God forbid.
There is this general fear that the new government may go as far as digging records of past public office holders and the possibility of witch hunting. What is your take on this?
No, he won’t. When he analyses this to you, you wonder where he gets all the wisdom from. In 2003, when my community said I should go and work with him, I wanted to see who I was going to work with. So, I took two journalists to Abuja and I ensured that they were the people who didn’t like Gen Buhari so that we could tackle him.
My first discovery was that he has no house in Abuja. He was in a service flat-two rooms and a sitting room. Many of his followers were in one room and the sitting room. He himself was in one room. We conducted the interview in his room. Gen Buhari does not believe that a government that takes over from another government has a right to question the use of power by the government it took over from.
So, he says he is not going to investigate the activities of any government before he got there. But the fact is that there are institutions like EFCC which have responsibility to investigate people.
If in the course of doing their work, they bring out anything against any individual; then whoever is involved will go and answer either in the court or through due process. It’s not Buhari that will say go and investigate that person because there is division of labour in the system. Again, you have to understand that crime has no life span. They can go as far as 1980 to start investigating and dig up files. All those files that were buried because of people who ran to PDP for cover can be dug up and Gen Buhari will not stop them from investigating because there is division of labour. He will also not protect you because you are now running to his party. Even if it is his wife, his wife will go and answer.
The audit of the NNPC is one issue Nigerians are watching to see the end of. Should the incoming government conduct another audit or just let go?
When Nigerians talk of millions and trillions, do they have perception of number? There is no language in Nigeria that can appreciate counting more than a few hundreds. Our property is yam, corn and so on. If you go to a barn, you cannot have a barn where you have more than a few hundred yams. People will say they stole millions and billions. Where will they keep the cash? Where is the storehouse that will contain billions of dollars? So, there are lots of exaggerations. There is no bank where we have so much money we are talking about outside the Central Bank. But investigation will reveal the real situation of things through auditing. All the accounts will be audited.
This government is coming in at a time when the price of crude oil is dwindling in the international market. Will this not affect the performance of the administration?
In our history, there was a time when oil price was nine dollars per barrel and the country did not collapse.
Do you think Buhari will be able to deal with the cabal in the oil industry?
Let me give you an example. Jonathan is a very good man. Jonathan does not want to hurt anybody. But he made a mistake. He wanted to deal with the elite but he discovered that he couldn’t deal with them. So, the cabals were sucking the system. Instead of dealing with the cabal, he started dealing with the marketers as well as you and I. So, he transferred the solution from the pockets of the cabals to the pockets of the marketers. He couldn’t make a litre of petrol N65.00 and let it stay at N65.00. The cabal won’t allow him. When Gen Buhari comes in, he is going to sustain what is happening now only if you persuade him that this is the market price. And you will explain what happens to the residue.
There is a lot of money coming out of refining one barrel of crude oil. All the things coming out, who pockets the money? Who refines the 444 barrels being given to the NNPC? Where is the money coming out from the bye products? Let me tell you, there is money in this system, but the money is going somewhere. What is needed is blocking the leakages. Then, there will be money to channel to all other areas-education, roads, power, job creation and so on. Our environment will be so open that people will be coming from the West African sub region to work in Nigeria. The world is already jittery about Nigeria. The world is already celebrating Nigeria because of this election. The world does not understand Nigeria. And unfortunately, Nigeria does not understand itself.
Is there any possibility of Nigeria refining petroleum by itself?
Let me tell you, Gen Buhari will not look at Nigeria importing fuel and be satisfied and say that is what we need. In other words, refining this product is going to be a major preoccupation of Buhari. When he was a former Head of State, Nigeria was exporting finished products from our refineries.
Why should he come now and be encouraging importation of refined products? When Gen Buhari comes in, importation of fuel will be a thing of the past because there will be a preoccupation with the local refineries.
Privatization of the power sector by the outgoing administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has not yielded the expected result. What exactly is the APC’s roadmap to a stable power supply in this country?
Let me not do for you what you need to do for yourself. Go and read the manifesto of APC. Everything about education, power, road infrastructure and so on are there.
Is your party going to continue with privatization?
Why would we not continue with programmes that are good? I can assure you that the only thing that will grow Nigeria is what we will go for not what will deny Nigeria growth.
What’s the level of cooperation between your transition committee and that of the outgoing government?
I am not a member of the transition committee. I am one of the national leaders of APC. When our report comes, we will look at it. But I don’t envisage any problem. There is an obligation for a government that was there to account for what it had done for the incoming one because government is a continuum. And no question should embarrass anybody. In fact, there is no constitutional provision for handing over.
What are the short term measures Nigerians should expect from this government, while waiting for the longer term ones?
Buhari may meet an embarrassing situation of rot in the system which may delay a few things. I am saying this because no government throws a press conference to destroy itself. I think we should be allowed to get there and see what the situation is like. If nothing happens before the next election, Nigerians will stone us. But that won’t happen because we will keep our promises.
Nigerians are waiting patiently to see the manner of cabinet the new administration will come up with. What is really in the offing; a slim cabinet or a bloated cabinet?
I think you are giving me an honour I am not entitled to. I am not Gen Muhammadu Buhari. But I can assure you, if we have less than 36 states, Buhari will like to have fewer ministers. I don’t think he is preoccupied with having a huge and unmanageable cabinet. There is a constitutional requirement for 36 ministers from the 36 states. I don’t think he will be excited to go beyond that.
In that case, you can say he will prefer a smaller cabinet than the huge type we have had before. I think he will prefer a slim government. He will ensure that the institutions work. Buhari is in politics to change the system.