Former Minister of Information and National Chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, that merged with others to form the All Progressives Congress (CPC), Prince Tony Momoh speaks with candour and depth. As a journalist of repute, he unlike soldiers at the warfront who duck from bullets, absorbs questions and responds candidly. The Auchi born prince who is also a lawyer, and a leader of the APC warns in this interview that his party will not sit by and watch the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), get away with impunity, before and during the 2015 elections. “We are not going to sit down and watch Nigerians being slaughtered because they are importing arms and trying to write-up results as they had done in the past. Nobody will write results and go away with it. Nobody. Take it from me. You see, we are not going to go to court. Let us fight our election at the polling units and that is what is going to happen.
He speaks on the presidential ambition of former military ruler, Gen Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd) saying that those who want him to fly the banner of the APC should beg him to take up the challenge. On the run on PDP, which has witnessed massive defections from the party to the APC, he says it will not stop until the party collapses. Momoh, who was former Editor of Daily Times, describes the proposed national dialogue as “dead on arrival”. He says it is a political gimmick by the government to diffuse the implosion of PDP. Momoh insists nothing will come out of it and that APC will not be part of it. He speaks on other key national issues including corruption and the judiciary.
Very soon, the country will go for general elections again. For the first time in this dispensation, there is a vibrant opposition. How do you look at the general elections in 2015, given the tension in the land today?
You know an election year is always tense and Nigeria will never be different. Tense in the sense that people go all over to say what they want to give to the people when they have access to power. And from our own history, we have been sometimes very violent during such campaigns. Since experience is the best teacher, one can only plead that we take the cues from other countries where democracy works and ensure that we jaw-jaw during campaigns instead of war-war. This is because, the outcome of war-war which is the very definition of doing things outside due process has always been disastrous to any democracy. So we look forward to the elections with hope that change will come. That is our dream.
But the APC appears to be going for self-help, going by the directive it gave to its members to block all executive bills. This self-help has the tendency as you rightly said of leading to war-war. Are we expecting war-war?
You see, a lot of people just jump to conclusions without looking at preceding occurrences that led to the statements on which they are making conclusions that are not tenable. For instance, you sit down and say you are in a democracy and you forget that in a democracy, numbers count. You say that 5 is superior to 27. That is not democracy. You say that 16 is superior to 19. That is not democracy. You say that 5 people can impeach a speaker who is in a House where you have 32 members; in other words overriding the presence of 27. That is not democracy.
So, when you have all these obvious abuses of due process and those who should be the mediators of order and discipline have become part and parcel of the problem, what are you going to do?
Let me tell you, freedom is never given. Freedom is taken. If we are all Nigerians, if we are all part and parcel of basic due process, if we are all agreed that democracy and social justice should be our mantra, on walking democracy highway, and someone wants to sit down and tear the constitution to pieces, you sit down and allow your head to be broken, then you are not a human being. The human person is a spirit and spirits do not accommodate submission. They are loyal to the instrument that regulate life in the polity. The instrument regulating our lives in the polity is the constitution. When people just tear the constitution apart and do what they like, then the commissioner of Police becomes the defacto ruler. In a state where there is order, discipline and due process through elections, then someone is asking for a resort to means outside of due process.
I want to take you up on what you mean by “Means outside due process” and you also said “freedom is not given, it is taken”. By implication, are we saying APC and PDP are heading for a showdown?
No. We are not heading for a showdown. For instance, there has been impunity. One political party has been dominant, even predicted they will be there for 60 years. The way they were going, infact they would have even gone on for 200 years. But the fact is that, merger became an option. We have never had a merger in our political experience in Nigeria. For people to forgo their tenures? I had to forgo my tenure, as National Chairman of Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, Bisi Akande had to forgo his tenure as National Chairman of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Dr Ogbonnaya Onu had to forgo his tenure as the National Chairman of All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP and all the state SECS, all the local government EXCOs, all the ward excos had to forgo their tenures, because we wanted a merger. We are now under one house, one roof called the APC. That has established an order where we look eye ball to eye ball. So, we have a viable two party system in Nigeria today. And when you have that kind of system, impunity cannot be tolerated. Infact, impunity dissolves, because there is now a balance of power. Some will even say, balance of violence. If you hit me, I won’t turn the other cheek. That’s what we are up to and PDP ought to know that.
It is not business as usual. In every polling unit in the whole country we are there to see what is happening. You can’t come and write up results and announce them as it has been happening before. So, it is not that those people just want to fight. Nobody wants to fight. Look at the beautiful things that happened in Rivers state. We have been critical of the police, but I say kudos to the IGP, because last Saturday, there was a rally in Ogoni, and it was peaceful. Nobody succeeded in importing people to come and destabilize it. You cannot give protection to one party and then refuse to give protection to the other. This is what I am saying,that the human spirit does not submit, it does not know submission. Go and ask those who know what I am talking about. The human spirit knows loyalty. We are all supposed to be loyal to the constitution.
Even during slave trade, people tried to escape from the oppression and suppression of slavery. You know freedom is never given, freedom is taken. Part of the inalienable rights of the human spirit is freedom. You can’t take it. If you take, then the person you are taking it from has descended to a level of being a dog, that submits to the owner. We are not animals. Let us look at the constitution, which the president and all of them swore to abide by and promote. We have to obey all the rules in the constitution. Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria and from the constitution government derives all its powers and authority. It is there in Section 14 of the constitution. Why should anybody think he’s the alpha and omega?. No human being, no creature, can purport to be a creator. People are acting God in Nigeria, and it must be stopped.
Some people are of the view that APC is taking advantage of the fact that the president is not tough. That a tough president would have curtailed their excesses. Correct?
Those who are saying this are encouraging President Jonathan to do certain things that are not in the constitution. President Jonathan is the most academically qualified president we have had in this country. He has a PHD. His intellectual horizon is widened. He has the experience. He has been exposed to public office than any other average ruler in the country. He was a deputy governor, he was a governor, he was a vice-president, he was acting president, now he is an elected president. So President Jonathan has no business to allow anybody ride roughshod over him. He said he will not want any human blood to be shed because of winning an election. But he knows that elections have been won over the broken bones of Nigerians. He knows. And what has he done about it? So this little crowd around him are the ones trying to mislead him. And if he can be so led, then his credentials for leadership must be questioned. I pity him. Look at the locus classicus on this matter. Here is a president who was aware of corruption in the area of oil subsidy payments. And he said let me deal with these people and wanted to stop it. He couldn’t stop it. What did he do? He told Nigerians to go and pay money to the marketers instead of paying to the government and people will follow it up. In other words, because of the indiscretions of a few people, he abandoned the protection in the market place for the consumer and told Nigerians to go and pay. Go and pay N97 per litre instead of N65. And everybody knows that the landing cost of refined fuel is less than N34. So Nigerians have been subsidizing government. But because he is helpless and he says the landing cost is N141, that is where countries without oil and refining capacities have their own. Nigeria has oil and refineries giving the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, 445,000 barrels a day, and you say go and pay. So, the only gain Nigeria has is the petroleum marketing companies of NNPC. That is the only share of the increased fuel price that Nigerians have. So SURE-P, where do you get the money to run it? Money for SURE-P is not from the so-called subsidy savings. Because the money paid to the marketers is straight to them and not to the government. And that is where the president is so helpless that he had to abandon those people he should protect. Instead of giving money to the orphan, food to the orphan, protection to the orphan, he takes it away because he does not know how to tame the undisciplined, corrupt, and the fraudulent around him.
With these ugly scenarios you have painted, how do you look at the electioneering and the 2015 elections proper?
Let me tell you, very soon, very soon, the issues will be tabled. APC is not there because it wants power at all cost. APC is there to market what Nigerians are entitled to. Democracy is freedom. We will market that democracy. It is like saying it’s panadol, but it’s not the same thing as panadol. You either have democracy or no democracy. Democracy has to do with freedom and dividends of democracy has to do with freedom. It has nothing to do with water boreholes, hospitals and education. So when you are talking about social justice which is the second leg on which Nigeria stands, you will look at how it is reflected in infrastructure and other areas. There is massive unemployment in Nigeria. So we are not giving Nigerians social justice through development of infrastructure, we are giving them democracy through freedom. Government is there, because of the welfare and security of the citizens. No welfare, no security.
Some political observers are saying that PDP and APC are the same. All they want is power. What do you think?
What I am saying is that, we are not talking of power by having APC. We are talking of addressing the issues in whom sovereignty resides. That is democracy and freedom. Social justice is reflected in infrastructure – roads, education, health, food, water and others. Okay, we are talking in my office and the generator has been on.For three days we have not had light and I saw the president saying at an international forum that in the Lagos area there was light for 20 hours . But we don’t have light for 20 hours. So it is not just power, grabbing power. If it is about power, all of us would have been in PDP now. What is happening is that we are giving Nigerians the opportunity to sort themselves out. You have the progressives and the conservatives.
The progressive is APC. The conservative is PDP. There are some people in the APC who will move to PDP because they find it more comfortable in PDP. And some people in PDP will move to APC because of the same reasons. That is what is going to happen. We will market our programmes. Very soon, you will see why we are there. Every area will be addressed in the public space and then Nigerians will know that we are not just there because we want to share the cake that nobody wants to be part of baking. We are there because we want to help bake the cake that everybody will be able to share .
With the increase in the tempo of activities of APC, which some people say smacks of desperation, what will happen if at the end of the day, APC fails to clinch power?
We will congratulate whoever wins, if the elections are free, fair and transparent.
What if they’re not free, fair and transparent?
If the elections are not transparent, then someone is calling the weapons of war into place. What are you talking about? I say freedom is taken. Freedom is not given. Can’t you listen to what I am saying? We are not going to sit down for Nigerians to be slaughtered because they are importing arms and trying to write-up results as they had done in the past. Nobody will write results and get away with it. Nobody. Take it from me. You see, we are not going to go to court. Let us fight our elections at the polling units and that is what is going to happen.
There are so many people in APC with presidential ambition. How are you going to manage it? Who do you think should be the standard bearer of APC?
You. If you join us. If you are up to 40 years old and qualified constitutionally, you can be our candidate. But you will fight your way from the polling unit to the national convention. Nobody is going to be imposed. I can assure you.
Gen Muhammadu Buhari is touted widely as the man to be the presidential candidate. Some leaders of the party are also giving vent to that insinuation by saying the ticket will be ceded to the North. What do you think?
Let me tell you, if some people want Buhari, let them go and beg him. Buhari is more than qualified. You, with your name in the media today, you can bring order and discipline. So if you want to be president, go and campaign, we will give you the ticket, if you win at the convention. When we get to the bridge, we will cross it. People are just speculating. We are going to start registration very soon. And when we start registration, then we go into congresses, then the national convention. After that, looking at what INEC has said, electioneering will start. Anybody who is interested will go and show interest at the appropriate level. So, if Buhari is interested he will do so.
But you said those who want Buhari should go and beg him. In 2003, 2007, 2011 he ran without anyone begging him to run. Why does he want to be begged now?
You initiated it. You made a statement about Buhari’s ambition and others aspiring. You didn’t say Buhari aspiring . You said Buhari becoming and others aspiring. I told you that if Buhari is to become candidate, then let them beg him. Those who want him should go and beg him. Are you not aware that anyone who is a candidate for an office, people plead with him? Are you not aware that people who brought Buhari into politics in 2003 had a project they called Nigeria project; addressing every aspect of Nigerian life. Again, there is the Buhari Organization. I was a member of the Buhari Organization, I was not a member of the ANPP. People who thought that Buhari could manage Nigeria, could bring discipline and order to Nigeria went and pleaded with him to come and prosecute the Nigeria project. He took that document, looked at it, studied it, made corrections and it was printed. The book is available. People went to him and pleaded, come and he came. There were some other leaders they went to and they said no, we can’t face the crowd. He came and has never stopped. So if you want people to run, you go and plead with them. There are forms to fill and you have people from all over the country putting their names down that they want you to run.
There is a belief that Buhari is an off shoot of the decadent military era and that accounts for his relative failure over the years. That is one.
Secondly, in your heart of hearts, who would you cast your lot for among all those jostling for the presidential ticket of APC?
You know me as a senior colleague. I don’t jump the gun. We have not even started registration, so who is a member of APC dejure? I am a member of APC defacto. As a legacy chairman of CPC, we have legacy chairman of ACN, and legacy chairman of ANPP. We are all defacto members of APC, but not dejure members until registration. There are 14 organs. When you populate them with those who are willing to be members of APC, then you are going to have congresses that will choose the executives at all levels. I think, whoever is qualified and interested should go and contest. Or whoever is qualified and people think he should rule, they should go and beg the person to come and contest. I don’t have a candidate.
With the spate of defections from the PDP to the APC, do you think some sanctions should be meted out to the defectors as some people are canvassing?
The fact is that there is problem in PDP and it is factionalised. Everyone knows that. But the problem has been resolved and there is no new PDP again.
If a party is factionalised and those in that place move to the other party, what do you call that?
It is still factionalised. If it is not, why do they have their new chairman going round, pleading with those who left to come back? Constitutionally, any factionalised party can lose its members. The fact is that there is a run on PDP. It is like a run on a bank, when you go and withdraw your money and it cannot be stopped.
But the defections seem to cast a gloom on the future of the country. Do we repeal that section of the constitution for sanity to prevail?
You don’t look at the faces of the people and start changing the law. You change the law on the basis of the needs of the populace. The constitution is a documentation of delegated powers. There is no way the constitution is sovereign in Nigeria. The people are sovereign and through the constitution they provide the organs of government, powers to administer the government on their behalf. These organs are the legislature, executive, judiciary and the press. The powers denied the courts under Section 6, subsection 6c of the constitution are given to the press in Chapter 2 to monitor governance.
For some time, the courts have completely taken charge of the political process through the avalanche of cases in court and their rulings. Are they intruding?
There is no intrusion of the judiciary into the political arena. No. The fact is that the judiciary is part and parcel of the electoral process in our jurisprudence. Elections are not over until the courts look into the issues raised. So the judiciary is an arbiter. Infact no one should be sworn in until the judiciary has taken a decision one way or the other.
Preparations are in top gear for a national dialogue which is said to hold the ace in solving the myriads of problems confronting the nation. Do you agree with that?
We all support a national dialogue so that Nigeria can be better restructured and be better governed. We believe in dialogue. But the fact is that what the PDP is doing with this national dialogue is a diversion. It is one of their strategies to stem the implosion that is facing the PDP. The president himself unfortunately, let the cat out of the bag when he said that the decisions will be taken to the National Assembly. The National Assembly is an organ of the people. So, you cannot let the people discuss and then you package what they have done to an organ.
The best you can do, perhaps is to have a plebiscite. We are aware that they are not well meaning. It is diversionary and in any case how many times have we had such conference? That of Obasanjo was thrown out because of his tenure extension plans. This one, nothing will come out of it. And in an election year, where does national dialogue come in? When are you going to do the dialoguing? When are you going to debate the provisions? When are you going to pass the law ? Is it going to be passed when people are in the field trying to return to the House? When the president will be campaigning all over the place, if he wants to contest. So the thing is too tight and it is a political gimmick. This is why we oppose it.
In essence, would you want people to boycott it?
No. It’s not a question of people boycotting it. But the fact is that the basis for it has not even been established. So who is going to attend? The committee has even gone back to change its own recommendations. And lots of people that were supporting it are now questioning the basis for the selection of those who will attend. It’s dead on arrival.
So, no hope for it?
Where is the hope? Nothing will come out of it.
Then what is your own recipe towards confronting the Nigerian question?
We have to organize a proper talk shop and then address Nigeria’s problems and take decisions that will be binding on Nigerians.
Who will do that and when?
It is better after the elections? If you do it now, when are you going to implement them? You cannot package something to bind the government that has not come. You and I know that.
Will the APC be part of this conference?
Which one? This one that is being organized? How can we be part of a conference that died before it started. There is no conference.
Away from the conference, let’s talk about corruption. Obasanjo did not do well on it. How is Jonathan faring?
Jonathan has not appropriately defined corruption. He does not even believe that corruption is the main problem in Nigeria. So how can he fight it? His public utterances have not shown that he knows what corruption involves. If you look at the definition of corruption in the ICPC law, then you know that most of the things happening everyday are corrupt practices under the law. I don’t think anybody in Jonathan’s government has sat down to study that law, which the PDP government brought into being. Who has been prosecuted under the ICPC or EFCC acts? If you are charged to court and you join PDP, they don’t pursue the case against you. You look at the recent happenings, when PDP said their chairman is not under probe and we are aware of what the PDP governor in Bauchi state did to Muazu. I have high respect for Muazu. I think he worked when he was governor. I visited Bauchi state and he hosted us. We went round and I saw a lot of developments. What happened to him is not what should happen to a person who worked that hard. He even lost his senatorial seat. He went away for 5 years or so running away from those who were after him that found him guilty. Being victimised there is a procedure for that. But to say that nothing of the sort happened shows that even PDP itself is not interested in fighting corruption.So, Jonathan accommodates a lot. He has all the weapons to fight corruption.
He has too many friends and these friends are the ones destroying him. He believes everything people tell him. “Oh they are victimizing me” and he lets go. So don’t give someone work he cannot do. He cannot fight corruption.
Internal power squabbles is taking centre stage in APC. Bafarawa dumped the party because of that. Others are on queue. How is APC going to manage it?
On a serious note, joining the party is an individual decision. And squabbles are expected in a party that is just blossoming. The in thing today, is that if you are a political activist it is APC.We are going to stabilize it through registration which is coming soon. Bafarawa should not have left. He should have tried to stay and since he says he has grassroots support, he could have tried to control the registration process at the wards, local governments and other groups that are going to the convention. There must be other reasons for his leaving other than what we were told.
Who is in charge of the Senate and the House? APC or PDP?
Count them. Did I say that the Senate or the House? In the next few weeks we will know what happens. Things will sort themselves out. There is a run on PDP and it has not stopped. You know all those wonder banks that people used, when there was a run on them, they all collapsed. PDP will collapse.