We agree that Nigerians are hungry but…— Tony Momoh

hungry-nigerian-children
By Bashir Adefaka
Let me start by saying, Nigeria, APC, Buhari and Nigerians, what is your general assessment?

Nigeria as a nation is highly stressed and Nigerians as a people are under stress and that stress can only be cured through attending to the causes of the stress. President Muhammadu Buhari is the “stubborn” man who is not swallowed by problems and I can say that he is the man at the moment who can address that stress. When you look at w3hat is happening in Nigeria economically, even in the area of security and politically too, they are signs of the time. In other words, they are worldwide. And the solution needs a wide approach, not in terms of our training to take and take and take but the need to establish value to enable us give and give and give.

 

You linked the stress that Nigeria suffers to some causes. What are those causes?

 

The causes of the stress in Nigeria, let us take economy, is that we are not in charge of the price of oil. It is a world event. Unfortunately more than 80 percent of our income comes from oil and this oil, the price of it in the international market, is less than $40 barrels a day and the production of oil, about two million barrels a day, has reduced to less than one million barrels a day because of the Niger Delta Avengers’ destruction of pipelines. So, we are not in charge of the price of oil and we are not even in charge of full production of our quota. Those are areas to address. And then addressing it is through short term and long term.

 

Address the problems through short term and long term, how?
Long term is talking about other sources of earning, for example, agriculture. If you know the massive output we have from agriculture now in the North, you will wonder why we did not do so years ago. If what is happening now is followed through, within the next two, three years, we will be exporting food. That is a solution because it is better late than never. That is part of diversification of our sources of revenue. We cannot be a mono-economy. Then solid minerals; the danger of what is happening in the Niger Delta, and I am from Niger Delta, is that the region will lose substantially on derivation and so if you have solid minerals being tapped from all over the country and 70 percent of such solid minerals are from the North, you will see the governments in the North accessing the 13 percent derivation which is Constitution guaranteed, we will now be abandoned in the South-South and Niger Delta to our pollution arising from the anger we are expressing now through the Avengers.
But critics say if there was any grievance, it should have been expressed during the time their kinsman, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, was President. Do you realise any grievance as a Niger Delta yourself and leader of the ruling party?
Why not? But the grievance of a person is his perception of how life is manifested in the environment where he lives. The people of the Niger Delta feel marginalized. They quarrel about ownership of oil wells. They quarrel about the neglect of the communities. They are even asking for the control of the resources there. Then again they are also asking for the restructuring of the country. Those are what they believe will solve the problems of denial, the problems of deprivation. But that is from their own perception and so, as far as they are concerned, there is injustice if what they are asking for is not done.
Then what is the solution from your own perspective?
Justice.
In what way?
Through dialogue. All wars have always led to dialogue because, peace comes not through war but through dialogue.
But government appears to be in dilemma in the sense that, as it prepared to dialogue with a group of people, some other groups came up. What do you say to that?
Yes. The fact is, if there are one hundred groups, there should be one hundred dialogues. You cannot say because there are many groups, therefore, war will resolve the situation. War has never resolved any situation. People who say “If you want peace prepare for war” are misrepresenting life. If you prepare for war you have war. If you want peace, prepare for peace through dialogue, communication. There is no substitute to communication. War can only draw attention when you have parity in the power to inflict, the power to ensure your presence. Then people are weakened or you recognise yourself. You can now sit down and talk and, at the end of the day, dialogue.
Last year, you told me in this office that there was no issue with the opposition the PDP and others were mounting against the government as they were only doing the needful. But that needful has led to why Nigerians are now saying that the executive has tried, but one year down the line your party, the APC seems not to have moved Nigeria forward due to the challenges posed by opposition elements in the National Assembly. Do you still hold that view?
Well, our party has moved Nigeria forward because it is the party that presented Muhammadu Buhari to the Nigerian people and Buhari has moved Nigeria forward. You see, when things go on well they take you for granted. For the first time, there are no fuel queues. And when there is power, nobody will say there is no power. When the roads are done, nobody will say there are no roads. When there is no water and boreholes are drilled, you can’t say you have no water. So, infrastructure, satisfies the aspect of governance that addresses stabilization of the system because, first of all, you secure the system, you stabilise the system through infrastructure satisfies development, then prosperity will emerge. The only language that the hunger understands is food. You can’t be talking to the people to be patient about hunger. The fact is someone is hungry, you put food on his table and he fires on because that is the language that hunger understands. And that food you must grow. If you have not grown food for years, it is rather late than never. You must grow food.
So, the people crying that they are hungry, going by where the leadership stands, are right?

Of course. The people who are crying that they are hungry are right. There is a government now in town growing food and is addressing the issue of food which ought to have been but, before now, they failed to grow food as they were, spending billions of dollars importing food. When I was Minister of Information I brought a campaign slogan which I reflected in “Letters to My Country Men”, especially the one dealing with the food question and I said, “Grow what you eat and eat what you grow.” If, for instance, what you want to eat you don’t grow it, don’t eat it. Don’t spend money on what you can’t grow. Why do you import rice from Thailand when you can grow rice here?

 

What at that time were the challenges that slogan of ‘Grow what you eat and eat what you grow’ was faced with?
Do you know that, at that time, while we encouraged agriculture, market women refused to sell our rice? They said there were stones and so they preferred to sell Uncle Ben’s. When Jonathan was there, they had a lot of dollars, more than $100 per barrel. But now, we don’t have such money. So, how are you going to import food? Are you going to borrow money to import food?
They say you should cut your coat according to your size. But the fact is we must cut our coat according to our cloth. A barrel of oil is less than $40 and production is not two million barrels per day but less than one million barrels per day and we are losing. We earn less than a billion dollars and, if our needs are one billion dollars a month, where are we going to get the balance from?Are we going to borrow money to import food? These are the challenges which someone must be strong enough to face and Buhari is strong enough to do that. But Nigerians really have to understand that.
And if Nigerians are not showing understanding as it looks, do you feel disappointed?
Let me tell you one story. One Imam sat down reading the Qur’an and then someone came and screamed, “Imam, Imam” and he lifted up his head. And the person said to the Imam, “Your farm has gone up in flame.” The Imam said, “Glory be to Allah” and continued his reading of the Qur’an. This same man came back later and again screamed, “Imam, Imam” and he said, “Yes?” And he said, “The farm that caught fire was not your own. It was another person’s farm.”The Imam again said “Glory be to Allah.” I am not saying people should be insensitive but the fact is, when you have hope in yourself and you know where the road is, be steadfast. At the end of the day, the people will be crying and asking you to do something that would undermine your journey to a particular destination, until you reach that destination, don’t give up. There were two cartoons I saw. The first cartoon said, “Those who want change, raise your hands.” Everybody raises hand. And the other said, “Those who want to be changed, raises your hand.” Everybody put down his hand (laughs).
Hypocrisy?
No! It is not hypocrisy. It is that there is nobody who doesn’t want a change but nobody wants to be changed and there can never be change without those wanting a change accepting themselves to be changed. There is nothing you can do about it, you must be changed. For instance, some people said nothing has been done.
Has anything really been changed?
The first thing is that the mindset of Nigerians itself has changed because of the circumstances facing us today. Did you not see You Tube when some Nigerians were throwing dollars at parties? But today I don’t know how many Nigerians are still throwing naira at parties. They were throwing dollars and naira because that was unearned income. There is the issue of unearned because it is the outcome of corruption that is being addressed frontally. So, people are changing without knowing it. There is a saying, “If you say you are not poor, you should be investigated.”They say, “Ha! There is hunger in the land. If you say you are not hungry, you must be investigated.” Someone told me, “Oh, I have no money.” I said, “If you have money, you must be investigated.” (laughs). Because these are signs of the time.
Signs of the time?
Yes. When I was writing “Letters to my Country Men,” I said Nigeria does not just have a future, it has a mission. And when America said Nigeria would collapse in 2015, I wrote, “Will Nigeria collapse?” And I said Americans were looking at the physical manifestation and that they were right but that man is just about physical manifestation, there is spiritual aspect to man’s existence. I said so my “Letters to my Country Men” that Nigeria does not just have a future but it has a mission. And if Nigeria has a mission, it is an anointing of what Nigeria will do for the world in the next 25 years after 2015. So how can Nigeria collapse? I said Nigeria would not collapse. America may be right but the spiritual dimension is that Nigeria would not collapse because Nigeria has an anointing. Where are we now? 2016, and Nigeria has not collapsed because Nigeria has an anointing. In spite of all these problems, the anointing is still on and Nigerians could make a statement to the world in the next 20 years and there is nothing anybody can do about it. God has done it. Why do you think that there are so many churches in Nigeria, and Nigeria has the fastest growing churches in the world? It is because there is so much evil in the land and whereas God’s presence is profound in the country, darkness works where the light is. So, all these areas of depression and so on and so forth, the problems we have are the work from the darkness and because the light is forever stronger than darkness, Nigeria will survive.
You have consistently talked about two things President Buhari would do to restore prosperity in Nigeria: securing and stabilizing the country through infrastructural development. Would you say your party’s government has really done any of these?
For instance, look at the problems of the nation, there used to be Boko Haram everywhere and, if you went to anywhere, you saw Army barricades. But now, there is more sense of security from Boko Haram insurgency that we had before. There was a time that Boko Haram was in charge of 14 local governments. They even hoisted their flag on Nigerian soil which had never happened since 1914. Now, there are no such cases.
But some people don’t believe that the security problem has been tackled?
There will be skirmishes, yes, but the fact is that Boko Haram has been contained. Now where you have armed robbery, kidnapping, militancy in the Niger Delta, all those will disappear through dialogue. And then there will be security presence in areas where you have kidnapping and so on and so forth.
Much has been said about Nigeria’s unity not negotiable but there is also this talk about restructuring. Where do you stand?
Nigeria unity in the sense of Nigeria being indivisible is not negotiable but governance of Nigeria is negotiable and that governance includes restructuring.
I would be right to say that you favour restructuring but that you don’t favour negotiating Nigeria’s unity?
But the question is, why do you want to negotiate the unity of Nigeria? We fought a gory war in 30 months from 1966 to 1970 because of the threat to Nigeria’s unity through the decision of Biafra at that time. And then look at what is happening in the North East, because Boko Haram hoisted a flag there, they were saying they were no longer Nigeria. Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable. I told you Nigeria had an anointing and Nigeria is the only federation that came in the first quarter of the last century that is standing. All other federations: EU, USSR and all others have collapsed. Only Nigeria is standing because there is an anointing. And we should look at what God has in plan for Nigeria to make a statement that will help rule the world in the next few years because of the spiritual dimension associated with it. If we really know what Nigerians are today, spiritually, we won’t be talking of breakup. We will be talking of how to cooperate to rule the world.
They say your schools are not among the first 1000 in the world, but your own students go to the first, second, third school in America and within three months dominate the environment. It is spiritual. It is not intellectual. And those who reason must know the difference between intellectual presence of man on earth and the spiritual presence of man on earth. We are in this world but not of this world and the world we are all in is spiritual.
But what do you make of the confab report that is one of the issues dominating public discourse?
The fact is that the President said he had not read it. It doesn’t meant that he will not read it. President Buhari is a very, very blunt man and so he says what is in his mind. Myself, I said I would not read it because while we are talking of collapsing states, they are talking of 52 states. Where is the money to grow 36 states and you are talking of 52 states? And I said I won’t read it. It was my friend, Wole Okuniyi, who said to me, “There is sense in what they are saying.” And I reluctantly said he should send it to me. I looked at the thing, the 52 states they are talking about is in the context of the six geo-political zones which we have been asking for. The federating units should be six geo-political zones but they are talking about 52 states. As far as I am concerned, those 52 states or even 36 states today should practice parliamentary system without executive governor. Let whoever rules the state be the party with the majority and then, like the Speaker, now becomes the head of government in the state because he is elected and, by so doing, you have cut down recurrent expenditure by 80 percent.
When you are talking of restructuring, restructuring should be fundamental. National Assembly, the Senate where you have equal representation should be the law making arm at the centre while members of the House of Representatives should go to their respective geo-political zones to become the law making arm in the zones. And then lawmaking becomes part-time.

Is this also the APC’s idea of restructuring?

I am talking as a public analyst. I look at three volumes of Democracy Watch, a monitor diary since 1999 and I have monitored our democracy every week for 12 years; these are the three volumes, one, two, three. So, I am still talking as an analyst, not as a party chieftain.
What do you make of Senator David Mark going to the President to ask for forgiveness for Senate President Bukola Saraki?
First of all, have they told you why they went to meet the President? I don’t know why they went to him but they are Nigerians and leaders in their own rights. If I can go to see the President, any other person can see the President, why not David Mark who was President of the Senate, Nnamani who was also President of the Senate and Masari who was Speaker of the House of Representatives?They are leaders.
But the case is that the Presidency has continued to voice its neutrality in the Saraki matter. but the lawmakers are not letting it go that way. Why do people wanting always try to rubbish an anti-corruption executive?
You are even reading into it what is not obvious. You are taking that they want to beg the President because of Saraki. That is what you are saying.
But that is what you have read in the media.

No, it doesn’t mean that what you have read is true. We don’t know the reason they went there. Whatever reason they have for going there, it would be something that would be resolved through dialogue and, I have told you, if there is any problem, jaw-jaw, not war-war.

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